June 21, 2024
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Some Forbid Lift and Cut Electric Shavers; They Are Mistaken

Rarely do I take sides in a halachic controversy. Almost always, I present both sides to a debate. However, the issue of the lift-and-cut shavers is an exception. I am sure that those who forbid lift-and-cut shavers incorrectly assess the lift and cut mechanisms in electric shavers.

The following discussion is an excerpt from the book my son Binyamin and I just released titled “Halachic Haircutting Handbook: A Breakthrough Exposure of an Obscure Mitzvah.”

The Electric Shaver Controversy

Twentieth-century poskim debate the permissibility of electric shavers. Rav Zvi Pesach Frank, Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik are among the many poskim who permit electric shavers even if they leave a clean shave. They argue that electric shavers operate on a scissors principle in which the blade and the screen cut in tandem. The Gemara (Makkot 21a) explicitly permits men to cut their facial hair with scissors. This opinion is widely accepted in the Orthodox community worldwide.

On the other hand, the Chazon Ish, Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, and Rav Shmuel Wosner are among the many poskim who forbid the use of electric shavers if they leave a clean shave. They argue that the Gemara permits shaving with scissors only if a discernible bit of facial hair remains after the cutting. This opinion is widely accepted in the Israel haredi community.

Those Who Forbid Lift-and-Cut Shavers

However, many claim that lift-and-cut shavers are forbidden even according to the lenient view.

For example, the Aish HaTorah website states:

One would not be permitted to use a shaver that employs “lift-and-cut” technology. Such shavers allege to lift the hairs, cutting them below the skin, and so function precisely as a razor and not as scissors.

Even the Orthodox Union’s Halacha Yomis site states as follows from Rav Yisroel Belsky.

Concerning the “lift and cut” shavers, Rav Belsky writes: “The “lift and cut” shaver presents more of a problem. Based on the company’s description, these shavers possess an internal double-blade, the first of which catches the hair and then pulls it beyond the screen and into the shaver. The second blade is then able to cut the hair (by itself without the use of the screen, which is not a scissor action)… Accordingly, it might be forbidden to shave with such devices, even according to the Shulchan Aruch. Removing the hair-catching [lifting] blade would eliminate the concerns” (ibid p. 128).

Rav Baruch Simon and Rav Moshe Snow cite Rav David Feinstein as forbidding lift-and-cut shavers. Rav Simon reports that Rav David told him that his views on electric shavers represent his own opinion and not necessarily his father Rav Moshe. Rav Moshe Snow says that Rav David Feinstein told him that he rubbed the blades of a lift-and-cut shaver against the skin of his hand and found that it cut his hands. However, my son Binyamin and I tried this and found that the lift-and-cut heads did not cut our skin. Furthermore, Rav Gedaliah Berger observes that people commonly handle the blades without incurring injury when cleaning electric shaver heads, even when cleaning lift-and-cut models. This common experience is dramatic evidence against Rav David’s assessment.

Poskim Who Permit
Lift-and-Cut Shavers

Rav Mordechai Willig permits lift-and-cut shavers for those who follow the lenient view regarding shaving. Rav Hershel Schachter agrees. The Star-K website records that “it is the opinion of Rav Moshe Heinemann, Rabbinic Administrator of STAR-K, that the “lift-and-cut” is no different than a conventional triple header.” Israel’s Zomet Institute agrees.

Why Lift and Cut Shavers are Permitted

Every electric shaver operates using a lift-and-cut mechanism. Rav Breisch already notes this (in 1964) in his teshuva (Teshuvot Chelkat Yaakov Yoreh Deah 90) addressing electric shavers. The only difference between a lift-and-cut shaver and an electric shaver not equipped with this technology is its efficiency.

Electric shavers branded as “lift and cut” raise and cut facial hair more efficiently than non-lift-and-cut shavers. Thus, if one wishes to avoid lift-and-cut shaving, it is insufficient to disable the lift mechanism. In addition, one must take care not to press too hard and avoid shaving over the same area, following Chelkat Yaakov and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 9 Yoreh Deah 10). However, the Orthodox Union and Aish HaTorah websites do not make this recommendation.

Those who advocate the strict position argue that the lift mechanism enables the blade to cut without the aid of the screen. Moreover, they say that disabling the lift mechanism restores the blade to cut only in conjunction with the screen. However, these assumptions have no basis in how lift-and-cut shavers operate in reality. Even electric shavers equipped with lift-and-cut capability cut only due to the blade and screen working in tandem. Electric shaver blades are incapable of cutting without the counterforce of the screen.

The Source of the Error

The animation and illustration of the lift-and-cut mechanism in a 1990 commercial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilYb97vDrzw) offer inaccurate information about the lift and cut and is apparently what led some poskim to forbid lift-and-cut electric shavers. This video at.16 imprecisely shows the blade cutting by itself before it encounters the screen. Rav Mordechai Willig observed that one should not attach halachic significance to the information presented in advertisements.

Conclusion

In our just-released “Halachic Haircutting Handbook,” my son Binyamin and I present extensive evidence from patents, the Gillette website (https://gillette.com/en-us/shaving-tips/how-to-shave/wet-dry-shaving-comparison-razor-vs-electric), interviews with top shaving engineers at Gillette and Philips-Norelco, and slow-motion videos from Philips-Norelco that prove beyond all doubts that even electric shavers equipped with lift-and-cut capability cut only with the blade and screen working in tandem. Bottom line: There is no factual basis to forbid lift-and-cut shavers.


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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