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The Elements of Jewish Living

Manscaping and Other Cross-Gender Dress Issues

By Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber

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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