Parsha Q&A

For the week ending 19 January 2019 / 13 Shevat 5779

Ponytails for Men

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
Library Kaddish

From: Anonymous

Dear Rabbi,

I am an observant divorcee woman and after many years of being single, I have finally found a man who is suitable and whom I plan to marry. He is also religious and we are very compatible. The only thing is, he has a ponytail, which I actually like very much, but I was wondering if it’s forbidden or if there are spiritual considerations that might warrant cutting it off

Dear Anonymous,

First let me wish you a heart-felt mazal tov on your wedding plans. May everything work out smoothly, and may G-d bless the two of you with happiness and fulfillment together in a life of Torah and mitzvahs.

Regarding the issue of a man having a ponytail or long hair in general, there are halachic and kabbalistic issues to consider.

Unlike a nazir, who grows his hair for religious reasons and not as a matter of style, when a man grows long hair or a ponytail, one concern would be the prohibition against dressing up or appearing in a way that women do. This concern applies to men’s earrings as well. The question is whether long hair or earrings are exclusively associated with the female gender.

The definition of what constitutes male or female dress becomes unclear when the style is worn by both genders, even if more prevalent by one than the other. It would seem that since some men have long hair and/or earrings, and are usually recognized as men and not women, technically it would be permitted. In fact, Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg, zatzal, said that although he doesn’t condone men wearing earrings, it’s not forbidden to do so according to halacha.

Another halachic concern pertains to tefillin. Excessive hair between the tefillin and the head, for example, may be considered an intervening substance that invalidates the mitzvah. However, the main problem with this seems to be with a certain hairstyle (blorit) where the hair is grown long and folded over to a place where it doesn’t grow. Tefillin which rests on such a patch of hair is considered to be resting in an unnatural way, which disqualifies the mitzvah. (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 27:4; M.B. and Kaf HaChaim).

In the case of a ponytail, while this wouldn’t pose a problem with the tefillin at the front of the head, it could pose a problem regarding the knot at the back if the knot of the tefillin would be resting on hair pulled back from the front. If the hair were let loose though so that the knot rests on the hair that grows there naturally (or if the knot of the tefillin was placed below the ponytail), it seems that it would be alright. After all, a nazir fulfills the mitzvah of tefillin despite his long hair.

Nevertheless, from a social or spiritual point of view, it may be improper or inappropriate for an observant Jewish man to wear a ponytail. Firstly, it is not the Jewish custom for men to have long hair and ponytails, and incorporating that style from the non-Jews into Judaism would seem improper. Also, long hair (and hairstyles in general) normally stem from, or lead to, vanity. While it’s a mitzvah to be presentable, it’s inappropriate for a Jewish man to focus too much on his appearance, and the appearance of his hair. Even those who growside-locks for religious reasons must not be preoccupied with them more than what’s necessary for an orderly appearance.

According to the Kabbala, in a spiritual sense hair is the “waste product” of the brain. Long strands of hair in men may act as “ropes” to which negative influences can take hold. This is considered particularly true regarding the hair at the back of the neck near the brain stem, which is the point of connection between the brain and the rest of the body. “Harmful influences” seek to attach themselves there in order to sever a healthy connection between the spiritual and physical, causing a sort of “spiritual decapitation”.

Thus, the Zohar (Ha’azinu) states that long hair in general is a place for harsh judgment, as in the verse, “For He crushes me with a tempest (se’arah)” (Job 9:17), where the Hebrew word for tempest is phonetically similar to the word for hair (sa’arah). And in particular, hair at the back of the neck indicates harsh judgment, as in the verse, “and they have turned their back to Me and not their face” (Jeremiah 32:33).

Interestingly, the Zohar (Naso) differentiates between the rest of the hair and the hair at the sides of the head and of the beard. This latter hair is said to originate from holy sources and projects positive spiritual energy: “The hair locks are shaped and hang in wavy curls from one side to the other side of the skull. This is what is written, ‘His locks are wavy’….They are situated as hanging in curls because they flow forth from great springs of the three divisions of the brain. From the spring of the first space in the skull, [Chochma]….From the second space, [Bina]….From the third space, [Da’at] go forth thousands of thousands of rooms and chambers, and the hairs flow forth continuously from all.”

In summary: 1) Strictly speaking, according to Jewish law there seems to be no prohibition; 2) Since long hair may affect character traits, he should be careful, and anyway a ponytail is undesirable as it is a non-Jewish style; 3) Most people don’t conduct themselves according to the Kabbala. Therefore, while I’m not condoning long hair for men, his not cutting it off shouldn’t be a reason to “cut it off” (your relationship, that is). Rather, patiently and lovingly encourage him to round off his present observance with a more outward Jewish appearance, cutting off the unwanted split-ends of non-Jewish influence, in order to spur new growth together from Jewish roots.

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