April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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Sephardic Jews and Electric Shavers

Rav Ovadia on Electric Shavers

Many of Shaarei Orah’s male congregants are concerned about Rav Ovadia Yosef’s ruling (Yabia Omer 9 Yoreh De’ah 10:15) regarding electric razors. He permits a man to use an electric razor only if he refrains from pressing the shaver close to his face and leaves at least a thin layer of facial hair. Otherwise, Rav Ovadia rules that one violates the Torah’s prohibition to destroy the corners of his beard (Vayikra 19:27). The congregants worry that such an appearance is not acceptable in professional settings. They wonder if, as Sephardic Jews, they must adhere to this ruling of Chacham Ovadia.

My response is that Sephardic Jews are not locked into this ruling of Rav Ovadia, even though Rav Yitzchak Yosef in his Yalkut Yosef (Yoreh De’ ah 181) codifies his father’s approach. Many Sephardic Jews (especially in North America), in a rare but not unparalleled moment, do not accept this ruling of Rav Ovadia.

Rav Ovadia’s approach is difficult to uphold. Therefore we are not surprised that even Sephardic men who usually follow Rav Ovadia’s decisions do not follow this ruling. What is their basis?

The More Lenient View of Rav Eliyahu and Chacham Ben-Zion

It turns out that at least two of Rav Ovadia’s contemporaries permit getting a close shave using an electric razor. The great Sephardic sage, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu (in his comments to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 170:2), allows trimming one’s beard with an electric shaver even if it cuts the hair so that the face is smooth. Similarly, Rav Ovadia (Yabia Omer 9 Yoreh De’ah 10:15) reports that his great contemporary, Rav Ben Zion Abba Shaul, permits a clean shave using an electric shaver. Rav Ovadia even notes that the Perisha (Yoreh De’ah 181:3) supports this ruling.

A long list of Ashkenazic authorities permit a clean shave with an electric razor. These authorities include Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Eliyahu Henkin and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. Electric shaver use is not an issue that runs along the Sephardic-Ashkenazic divide. All opinions revolve around how to interpret and apply the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch’s permission to trim facial hair with a misparayim “k’ein ta’ar” (scissors that trim as close as a blade).

Thus, Sephardic Jews rely on the great sages Rav Abba Shaul and Rav Eliyahu. Rav Ovadia in many of his teshuvot is fond of invoking the Gemara’s principle (Brachot 45a) that if one is unsure of a halachic matter, “pook chazi mai ama devar,” he should follow the commonly accepted practice. Many Sephardic Jews follow Chacham Abba Shaul and Rav Eliyahu’s permission to obtain a clean shave using an electric razor.

The Stricter View of the Chafetz Chaim and Chazon Ish

Chacham Ovadia does not adopt the strictest view in regard to electric shavers. The Chafetz Chaim and Chazon Ish forbid use of any electric shavers. Although the Gemara (Makkot 21a) permits a man to use scissors to trim his facial hair, these poskim argue that electric shavers are forbidden. The fact that they destroy facial hair makes them the equivalent of a razor. Men who follow this approach either grow a beard or remove facial hair using a depilatory cream.

At the other end of the spectrum, those who permit electric shavers even to obtain a clean shave argue that electric shavers qualify as scissors. The blade and screen operate in tandem similar to a scissors where the blades together cut hair.

Rav Ovadia writes that it is best to accommodate the stricter opinion and use only a depilatory cream to remove facial hair. Rav Yitzchak Yosef recounts (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-60EP_igo1k) his father telling him that he finds the position of the Chafetz Chaim and Chazon Ish compelling. Rav Ovadia would have forbidden using electric shavers were it not for Rav Zvi Pesach Frank (in a letter included in Teshuvot Chelkat Yaakov Yoreh De’ah 90) permitting it (if stubble is left).

Chacham Yitzchak, though, reports that his father allowed his sons to use electric shavers (provided they left some stubble) until they married. At that juncture, Rav Ovadia expected his sons to raise a beard.


Rav Ovadia Yosef adopts a compromise approach to electric shavers. He encourages adherence to the stricter view but permits using an electric razor if some stubble is left. Although Sephardic Jews typically follow Chacham Ovadia’s rulings, many Sephardic men use electric shavers for a clean shave. This practice is supported by two other Sephardic poskim, Rav Ben Zion Abba Shaul and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu.

A practical option for those wishing to satisfy Rav Yosef’s ruling might be the recently introduced Norelco One Blade, which leaves a thin layer of stubble.

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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