March 4, 2024
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Electric Shavers and Halachic Haircuts

Reviewing: “The Halachic Haircutting Handbook: A Breakthrough Exposure of an Obscure Mitzvah” by Rabbi Chaim Jachter and Binyamin Jachter. Independently published. 2021. Paperback. 118 pages. ISBN-13: 979-8730893375.

In the early 2000s, Rav Yitzchak Abadi approved a new method of writing Sifrei Torah using silkscreen printing. His method would have made it much more economical for an individual to own a sefer Torah, in addition to many other benefits. But it was not meant to be.

As Yisrael Kleinhendler writes in “The Silk Screen Sefer Torah,” the project was met with fierce resistance, and many contemporary rabbis prohibited its use. Much confusion surrounded the topic, and many questions were left unanswered. Quite a few silk screen sifrei Torah and Megillos were produced and sold, but the project never took off as intended. The group producing the sifrei Torah decided it would be best to let the dust settle before revisiting the topic.

HaRav Hershel Schachter noted that he came across a pamphlet on the silkscreen printing. Of the many articles in the pamphlet, all of them were polemics against the silkscreen printing of sifrei Torah, and only one piece indeed addressed the halachic issue.

In last week’s issue of The Jewish Link, Aaron Friedman rightfully took issue with the advertisement in the July 26 issue with the over 1,200-page book Hadras Ponim Zaken by Rabbi Moshe Wiener (“The Shaving Shaila” August 10, 2023). The advertisement asked, “Is any shaving machine kosher?” While those who went to the book’s website would read, “There is no such thing as a kosher shaver.”

I have not read Hadras Ponim Zaken, but from what I have seen about the book, it is closer to being a polemic, albeit with many halachic insights. Its length, from a word count perspective, makes it larger than the entire Babylonian Talmud.

The advertisement for Hadras Ponim Zaken quotes two of the greatest sages of the previous generations, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and the Chazon Ish. Yet complex halachic questions require honest analysis, not a polemic-based answer that glosses over the issue’s complexities, spanning close to a thousand years.

In ”The Halachic Haircutting Handbook: A Breakthrough Exposure of an Obscure Mitzvah,” Rabbi Chaim Jachter and his son Binyamin have written a sefer that is brief yet insightful. In under 100 pages, they articulate the serious potential halachic issues that go along with electric razors. Yet show how many poskim allowed the use of electric shavers.

The Jachters detail how many poskim, most prominent of them Rav Moshe Feinstein, allowed electric razors. In fact, Rabbi Jachter quotes Rav Yona Reiss, av Bais Din of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, who said that noted Chicago-based posek Rabbi Shmuel Furst once asked Rav Moshe to write a teshuva, responsa, permitting shavers. Rav Moshe responded that it is so obvious that it is permissible that there is nothing to which to write a teshuva.

Rabbi Jachter quotes the late, great Rav Nota Greenblatt that Rav Moshe was quite generous in writing haskamos, endorsements, of many sefarim of varying quality. But Rav Moshe refused to write one for a sefer that vociferously supported the view forbidding all electric shavers. What Rabbi Jachter left out in the story, clearly due to his serene personality, is that sefer was Hadras Ponim Zaken.

What is unique about Rabbi Jachter’s approach is that not only does he approach the subject as a posek, but he also met with engineers from Phillips Norelco, who provided him with state-of-the-art insights into how electric shavers operate. These insights allowed the Jachters to uniquely approach the topic with all of the necessary halachic information, as well as engineering data on how shavers actually work.

And when it comes to electric shaver technology, one of the areas of great concern, and correspondingly the most confusing, is the nature of the lift-and-cut mechanism. There are, in fact, videos showing how to remove the lift-and-cut elements in a shaver. But Rabbi Jachter quotes Rabbi Yisroel Rosen, who headed the Zomet Institute, that every electric shaver operates using a lift-and-cut mechanism.

It seems that lift-and-cut is more of a marketing hype, as opposed to a genuine halachic concern. And to that, the Jachters didn’t focus on marketing material around lift-and-cut; they looked at the patent information for the technology. The misconception around lift-and-cut is based on years of advertising. But patents are a dramatically more reliable source of information than advertisements.

In his letter to the editor, Aaron Friedman quotes the Noda B’Yehuda, who allowed shaving with a razor on Chol Hamoed. Rabbi Jachter quotes that same Noda B’Yehuda and writes that the reason for this is easy to surmise. For centuries, it was common for every otherwise observant Jewish man to shave with a razor, despite the very serious nature of this prohibition. Friedman is latching on to the idea that every chumra, stringency, can have the effect of leading to a kula, leniency—and forbidding electric shavers would indeed take us back to the old days of using a straight razor.

The ad for Hadras Ponim Zaken asks is any shaving machine kosher? To which Rabbi Jachter articulately and convincingly informs the reader that the answer is an unquestionable yes.

The Jachters have written a book that is intellectually honest and treats the reader as someone who is intelligent enough to make their own decisions. They don’t shy away from the fact that there are serious halachic issues involved with using an electric shaver. But they also have not written a polemic that treats the reader as a child incapable of making an informed decision on their own.

Ben Rothke lives in New Jersey and works in the information security field. He reviews books on religion, technology, philosophy and science. Follow him on Twitter at @benrothke. His new was just published: “The Definitive Guide to PCI DSS Version 4: Documentation, Compliance, and Management.”

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