Saturday, December 30, 2006

Good Beard, Bad Beard

My facial hair and I have an uncomfortable relationship. It is an unruly guest that resides on my face. It has lived there since it first appeared some 30 years ago, usually in a neatly trimmed form, although there was a period of a few years in the early nineties when it vanished completely. In the past decade it has alternated between trimmed and unruly in one-year increments, until about two years ago when I decided to see what it would make of itself if left on its own.

There are robust beards that mountain men wear with pride and birds can nest in, that small children point to with awe and envy, they can cover the entire chest or be tucked into the belt in ZZ Topian grandeur. My beard is not one of those. There are whispy yeshiva boker / Fu Man Chu beards that I could shave away with out a second thought. My beard is not one of those either. My beard tries and yet fails, some areas are thick and bushy, some are thin and whispy, and some have no hair at all. This tends to give it a hummocky unmowed lawn appearance. Also as Mrs. Jude gleefully points out, it does not fall gracefully but “sticks straight out like a garden gnome’s” beard. I was hoping for venerable sage, not wizened leprechaun.

So I occasionally consider reintroducing it to the razor, and was most recently inspired by a posting The Kapote Conundrum that was reposted on A Simple Jew's blog. Now we all tend to wear the uniform of the group that we wish to identify ourselves with, and to make a quick judgment as to which group a person belongs to based on how they appear. So if we see a man wearing a black suit, hat, and full beard, we assume that he is saying that he adheres strictly to halachah. A shiny, satin kipah, blazer and turtleneck, halachah maybe not so much. Sandals, crocheted head covering, and guitar, inventing new “improved” halachah. These, of course, are gross generalities, and may not hold true, but since we don’t know about a person’s level of observance when we meet them we assume based on their dress.
As a side note, let me say…. knickers. IMNSHO the only reason to wear knickers is if you are appearing in an eighteenth century costume drama set in Poland. I don’t believe that there is a special area of gehinnom for people who don’t wear knickers, or that wearing knickers will fast track you to olam haba.
Returning to topic. So while I see nothing wrong with dressing in a chassidische manner if that is what a person aspires to, even if his level of knowledge and observance is not quite there, so long as that is what he is striving for. In my own case, however, I do not know that I will ever achieve that level and worry that the beard may mislead others into believing that I am at a certain level that I actually am not. And so I consider trimming it.

Now every time I make up my mind that I am actually going to trim it, I end up reading something that usually goes like this:
Every single strand of your beard has great mystical significance and you should never cut even one hair, ever, never, ever, EVER…EVER….and those who know will understand.
Being a great believer in synchronicity and, that if you only listen, Hashem is always giving advice to you, I always decide to put off trimming the beard for a little while longer. But I really would like to know the “great mystical significance” beyond the chok “do not mar the corners.”


At 4:56 AM, Blogger Zoe Strickman said...

Rather, for me, having my beard KEPT ME FRUM because there were so many things that I WANTED TO DO, (and in my earlier days, I would have done), but now that I have the beard, it is inappropriate because it might give the wrong message to all the other Jews that are there looking at me as a representation of G-d's law, and if I am there (e.g. at a bar, etc.,) then it must be permitted halachically.

If I didn't have a beard, I might not have abstained from these and other activities over the years.

At 4:58 AM, Blogger Zoe Strickman said...

Oh, and what always got me to keep my beard was "a beard is the beauty of a man's face" -Pirkei Avos


At 9:01 AM, Anonymous A Yid said...

See this article about beard:

The fact that some people judge by beard is funny, but isn't good. It used to be - all Jews had beard, from the most educated rabonim, to the simplest cobblers and water carrier. Beard and peyos was never a sign of education (like some tend to say today). It was simply a sing of a Jew.

Since maskilim together with non Jewish society adopted shaving as a standard, beard becaume much more apparent, so certain groups of observant Jews started to shave also (however wrongly). But it doesn't mean that Jews accepted on themselves to judge everyone by a beard :))

At 1:51 PM, Blogger Alan aka Avrum ben Avrum said...

Dear Crawling,

As I'm sure you have heard the admonition that one should not judge a book by its cover, I'll not belabor the point though we both know, do we not, of many co-religionists who talk the talk but don't walk the walk!

A fellow blogger just a couple of days ago hit the nail on the head when she comented that one can't fake middos! i think that pretty much says it all!

Appearances can be deceiving says the adage or as my rabbi likes to say ... be mindful of them who pray to The One Above in the morning only to prey upon their fellows the rest of the day!

So as far as the beard is considered, I don't take them very seriously; better that kind words should come out of one's mouth than hair from one's face if one has a choice that is!

I am ...

Very Sincerely yours,

Alan D. Busch

At 12:01 AM, Blogger Mottel said...

I'm glad that you liked my post . . .
For the record, when Misnagdim complained to the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, that Chassidim act holier then they really are, the AR responded:
Fake it 'till you make it . . .
By doing that little extra that's beyond you, it pushes you to the next level.

At 6:10 PM, Blogger Shpitzle Shtrimpkind said...

It's something about lechet shikcha and paya. The payos. And the Beard is suppposed to be the other part of the farm that you don't touch in connection with the donations you gave off your garden to the poor.

great post.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Interesting post. I must admit that people often mistake me for a rabbi, and when that happens I get the urge to trim the beard way down.

I would really like to shave it off altogether, but my wife informs me that I have no chin, so I'd better not.

At 5:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good read, you have a good writing style its very well um, 'readable!

Check out To Beard or Not to Beard

Visit: Bagelblogger


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