June 2, 2024
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June 2, 2024
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A Respectful Disagreement With the Star-K About the Philips Norelco OneBlade

Since my son Binyamin and I have publicized our newly released book on pei’ot and electric shavers titled “Halachic Haircutting Handbook: A Breakthrough Exposure of an Obscure Mitzvah,” we have been bombarded with questions concerning the Philips Norelco OneBlade electric shaver.

The Star-K Stance Regarding The Philips Norelco OneBlade

In 2019, Philips Norelco released a new product that has become quite popular, called the Philips Norelco OneBlade. This shaver raises eyebrows since it has the appearance of a wet blade razor. However, the Zomet Institute has approved its use. Rav Tzvi Rosen of the Star-K writes that its “screen and inner blade work in tandem,” which explains why the Zomet Institute grants its approval. Rav Rosen, however, notes that Rav Moshe Heinemann “left the halachic status of the OneBlade as inconclusive” due to concern that its blade may be sufficiently sharp to cut without the assistance of the screen.

The Basis for the Star-K Ruling

Rav Moshe Heinemann presents how Rav Moshe Feinstein determined if an electric shaver functions in a permitted scissors-like manner https://www.star-k.org/articles/kashrus-kurrents/563/electric-shavers/:

Hagaon R’ Moshe Feinstein זצ”ל, who permitted the use of electric shavers, used criteria similar to the shochet who would demonstrate how sharp his חלף (shechita knife) was. To show the sharp edge of his knife, a shochet would take a hair from his beard, and holding the hair in one hand the shochet would see whether the חלף cut the dangling hair. If the hair was severed, the shochet’s steel passed the test.

So too, in a similar manner, R’ Moshe would often test the sharpness of an electric shaver’s blades. He would take a beard hair and test the blades! The shaver would be acceptable if the hair was held taut and was not split in half.

Rav Heinemann concludes:

However, due to the increased sharpness of the blades of the rotating heads, it is conceivable that the blades could cut the beard hairs off before the combined cutting of blade and screen. Therefore, even according to the poskim that permit electric shavers, this shaver would be problematic because it would be cutting like a ta’ar, which is forbidden.

The only practical suggestion that can be given to one whose shaver failed this test is to dull the blades. This can be done by taking a key or some other hard, flat instrument and running it along the sharp edge of the blade. This shaver will not work as well; nevertheless, it is still effective and will transform a previously questionable shaver into one that is acceptable by the poskim who permit the use of shavers.

A Response to the Star-K

Let us begin with a response focused specifically on the OneBlade. Rav Yona Reiss told me that he administered Rav Moshe’s test to the OneBlade and found it kosher. In his eulogy for Rav David Feinstein, Rav Yisroel Reisman mentioned that Rav David permitted the OneBlade shaver.

More broadly, we believe the test Rav Heinemann administers to electric shavers to be irrelevant. Rav Heinemann is concerned that the electric shaver blade could cut independently from the screen. We believe that this concern is conclusively dispelled by videos provided to us by Philips Norelco in October 2020, along with a PowerPoint explanation setting forth ample scientific evidence that electric shaver blades cannot cut without the combination of the screen.

The videos, recorded in 2016 and 2019, show the blade first moving hair toward the screen, and only after it is at the screen does the blade cut the hair. The 2016 video shows the shaving process from the outside looking into a high-end model, and the 2019 video shows the shaving process from the inside looking out from lower-end and medium-level shavers. Mr. Martin van Veen, senior manager at Philips Norelco, clarified in writing that this is how all current models and models in development operate.

The PowerPoint presents extensive research conducted by Philips Norelco proving that electric shaver blades are incapable of cutting without the counterforce of the screen. Furthermore, the study shows that the skin proves dramatically insufficient counterforce to enable electric shaver blades to cut facial hair.

We were very surprised to discover that Philips Norelco is concerned about whether the electric shaver blades are capable of cutting even without the counterforce of the screen. We were even more surprised to see how much effort they made to conduct highly intricate and sophisticated tests to clarify that the electric shaver blades are incapable of cutting hair without the support of the screen. It seems they are concerned that the blade cutting without the screen would tug at the hair and create an uncomfortable shaving experience for their customers.

Due to security concerns, Philips Norelco permitted us only to screen the videos but not to forward the videos to anyone or post them on a website. However, we have made an effort to show the videos and PowerPoint to leading rabbanim. Each has found them very compelling evidence to prove that electric shavers function exclusively in a scissors fashion. These rabbanim include Rav Mendel Senderovic, Rav Herschel Schachter, Rav Elazar Meyer Teitz, Rav Mordechai Willig, Rav Yirmiyahu Benyowitz, Rav Aryeh Lebowitz, Rav Gidon Perl and Rav Binyamin Zimmerman of the Zomet Institute, Rav Yonah Reiss, Rav Doniel Schreiber, Rav David H. Schwartz, Rav Zvi Sobolofsky and Rav Michael Taubes.

Rav Reiss expressed concern in verifying that this conclusion applies to all electric shavers currently on the market and new models introduced in the future. We responded that electric shaver blades are engineered to be incapable of cutting independently without the combination of the screen. In addition, the Zomet Institute’s test of whether an electric shaver blade is capable of peeling a cucumber indicates that a specific model of an electric shaver functions in a manner consistent with the information yielded by the videos and PowerPoint provided by Philips Norelco in 2020. Thus, it is worthwhile seeing if a particular type of electric shaver appears on Zomet’s approved list before use.

Conclusion: Norelco OneBlade Permitted

Rav Baruch Simon cites Rav Aharon Felder, who quotes Rav Moshe Feinstein as remarking that either all electric shavers are permitted or forbidden. Rav Shmuel Fuerst makes the same report. Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Rav Elazar Meyer Teitz, and Rav Willig all subscribe to this view. The videos and PowerPoint provided to us by Philips Norelco support this view beyond all reasonable doubt.

If one adopts Rav Moshe’s view that it is permitted to use an electric shaver even if it leaves no discernible facial hair, then all electric shavers are allowed. Accordingly, it is undoubtedly permissible for those who follow Rav Moshe Feinstein’s approach to electric shavers to use the Norelco OneBlade.

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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