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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Manscaping and Other Cross-Gender Dress Issues

I was recently asked about the halachic permissibility of Manscaping. Although waxing my back is not something I would ever succumb to willingly, it is said that there are men who do so. Perhaps more common is eyebrow razing and nose hair plucking. What is the Halachic stance on this?

“Male garb shall not be on a woman, and a man should not wear a woman’s garment, for anyone who does so is an abomination of Hashem.”

The Gemara explains that the potential abomination is that a man or a woman who dresses as the opposite gender does so in order to mingle with that gender for promiscuous reasons. 

The Gemara elaborates on what is included in this prohibition:

It is prohibited for a woman to carry weaponry, traditionally a male item. In fact this is how the Targum translates the first part of our Possuk. Interestingly, the Targum Yonason in Shoftim writes that the reason why Yael killed Sisra with a tent peg and not a conventional weapon was to circumvent this prohibition. Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that a woman may carry a handgun, and learn how to use it, in a dangerous climate.

Clothing includes ornaments, trinkets and jewelry that are normally worn by the other gender.

A woman may not wear a mans hat, jacket or other item of clothing that is not worn by women in that society, and vice versa, a man may not wear a woman’s item even if it is clear from the rest of their garb as to what their true gender is. The Bach and Taz say that in a case of necessity such as when the clothing is worn to protect from the cold or the heat it is permissible, but the Shach is not that comfortable with this heter.

The Yereim explains this is even when it is done as a joke or skit. However the Rema (OC 696), when discussing the laws of Purim, writes that the Minhag is to not be machmir when it is done in fun, and the Pri Megadim adds that this is especially true when only one garment is of the other gender and the masquerader is easily identifiable as their true gender. The Shelah and others however caution against doing so. 

Similarly, in a society where it is usual for men to shave other parts of their body the Gaonim write that it is permissible to do so (although they recommend that a ‘chaver’ refrains from doing so). The Rambam, while conceding that in such circumstances he would not receive Malkos holds that it is still forbidden.

The Rema clearly does pasken like the Gaonim that it is fully permissible to do whatever is acceptable in the society in which he lives. Rav Akiva Eiger, quoting the Perisha, explains that society for this purpose is defined by the society at large and not only by the Jewish community. 

So to answer our question, it would seem that at least for American Ashkenazim it would be permissible to trim their eyebrows and nose hairs. Other body areas, ‘man’icures and so on would depend on contemporary social norms, with which I am not intimately familiar, but I have been led to believe that in least in the cosmopolitan societies of New York and Los Angeles manscaping would be considered normal male behavior.

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Meet Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch HaberRabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber is sought after by all who know him for his Halachic and practical advice. His keen ability to put complicated matters into a digestible perspective coupled with his ability to get the facts, make him the perfect blogger to help us all “Do It Right”.

A native of Buffalo, NY, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber spent his childhood globetrotting with his family. His pioneering spirit first surfaced in Melbourne, Australia, where he was excited to be a member of the opening class of Mesivta Bnei Torah. From Australia the Haber family settled down in Monsey, NY. Ever the maverick, Tzvi promptly left home to study in Yeshiva Ohr Hameir in Peekskill, where he became a mainstay of the Yeshiva, and inspired his younger brothers as well as several friends from the Mesivta in Melbourne to follow him. He then joined his chaburah in Jerusalem, first at the Mir Yeshiva and then at the Bais Medrash of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, a senior scion of the famed Brisk dynasty. As his globetrotting family returned to Jerusalem, Tzvi returned to the US, to freeze in the famed, yet comparatively chilled Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

 In 2004 he met his wife, Suzanne Schor, a native of the warmer Los Angeles climate, and the couple settled in Lakewood, where he focused his pioneering and independent strengths on the study of Halacha, or Jewish law. His innovative spirit and innate ability to help others seeking to clarify the finer points of Judaism and integrate them into their daily lives inspired his decision to commute daily from Lakewood to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in order to bask in the day to day exposure to the world renowned Posek, HaRav David Feinstein. The daily commute was more than compensated for when he received Semicha from Rav Feinstien and the Kollel L’Torah U’lhorah (a division of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem) in Tamuz 5768, June 2008.

In August 2009, the Habers moved west, heading toward Los Angeles where Rabbi Haber joined the LINK-LA Kollel. After being an active member of the Kollel for several years, he joined the business world, however he is still actively involved in teaching and learning in LA.

Actively involved in all aspects of TorahLab, Tzvi has taken upon himself a quasi-role as administrator of quality control and has effectively improved and upgraded many of the smaller yet vital details involved in our site. His advice is eagerly sought and gracefully given.

Rabbi Haber is now living in the La Brea section of Los Angeles with his wonderful family. He can be contacted at tzvi@torahlab.org