Frequently Asked Questions
What the Scriptures say about ...
I remember in the early 70's watching the last broadcasts of the Ed Sullivan Show. One of the last guests was George Carlin, and I still remember him walking out on the stage and beginning his routine with a warning, 'Don't be scared, it's just a beard'. I really don't know why I laughed, but he made it sound funny. One of the most demonstrative aspects of the Messianic movement is the presence of a lot of men with beards. Long beards, short beards, gray beards, heavy beards, thin beards, well groomed beards, and not so well groomed beards, but none the less, beards. The natural question soon arises: Does God command that men have beards, and if so, must we not cut them, shave them, trim them, or otherwise harm them in any way? What do the scriptures teach about beards?
I, like most Bible teachers in this 'messy' movement, have a myriad of Rabbinical commentaries, in which most deal with this particular subject. May I begin by stating that it is hard to find two that really agree. The Hebrew word for beard is zaqan. The Hebrew word for old, as in people, is zaqen. Not much of a difference as you can see. This is because in the colorful, living, breathing language of Hebrew, a beard is a sign of age and maturity. It's etymological root means someone who has the experience. This word appears 20 times as beard or beards, but is probably implied much more than that when we see the word 'old' as it applies to people. This is because Hebrew has several words for old, only one applies to people. Though the context of it's use usually implies the hair on a man's face, the actual meaning of the word can speak of places where the hair grows other than the head. I will not take that any further. Actual commands concerning the beard, are only found in two places.
"Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard."
"They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh."
Beards are one of those subjects in which I find myself standing between the strict precepts of scripture and nature itself. Let me explain. On the one hand, the commandments of God seem to clearly teach us what not to do with a beard. I see no commands to wear a beard. On the other hand, nature itself teaches us that a man's beard is the outward demonstration of his maleness, i.e., that which separates him from the female. (For the sake of time I am not going to address those who make their living in the circus.) It is an open expression of experience and maturity, especially a beard that is gray and aging. One would be hard pressed to find a faithful male in the scriptures that did not have a beard. Beards were a common expression of maleness in the Israelite communities. This brings me to my exegesis of the two commandments concerning beards. The word translated 'round' in Vayikra 19:27 is the Hebrew word naqaph. This word means to chop off, to strike, and literally means to surround and destroy. It is also found in Iyov 19:26, for example:
"And though after my skin worms DESTROY this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:"
The word 'mar' in the Hebrew is the word shachat. I have referred to this word many times in my teachings. This word means to destroy or corrupt. In our first text, this command seems to refer to a well known custom of mourning, especially in the nations that surrounded the encamped Israelites. The custom of tearing out the hair of one's head and beard during a time of mourning was a well known custom. God seems to be saying that He does not want the followers of the God of Israel destroying, marring, or corrupting one of the God ordained representations of maleness. In one of those rabbinical commentaries I told you of earlier we read:
Etz Hayim commentary on Vayikra 19:27-28:
"Tearing out the hair of one's beard, as well as of the head, was a custom associated with mourning over the dead ... Pagan priests gashed themselves as they called upon their gods to answer their prayers."
The other command just 2 chapters later seems to anticipate local religious activity as well. Shaving off the hair upon the head or beard is also understood to be a pagan, religious act as well as tearing at the beard. The English word shaving off is from the Hebrew galach. This word means to uncover or leave unprotected. It happens to be a cognate to the word galut, which is the word used to express the diaspora. Both words mean out in the open, unprotected. This is the result of the scattering of the house of Israel throughout the nations. As long as they are scattered and have still not returned to their God, they are not protected as God's cultivated (natural) tree. The shaving of the head and facial hair was a common Egpytian cultic expression. The next opportunity you have, take a good look at ancient Egyptian art and pictographs. You can hardly tell the difference between the men and women.
There are many rabbinical commentaries in which there is seen a considerable difference between shaving ones beard and trimming or cutting the beard with scissors. However, I see that as splitting hairs. It is my opinion that God's commands concerning our appearance is for the express purpose of making a clear distinction in our society between the genders. I also believe the Rav Sha’ul addresses the Corinthians about that very thing. The scriptures do not command a man to wear a beard, however, they are instructional concerning those who do express their gender with a beard. Do not treat your beard and the hair on your head in the same manner as the nations around you. I do not believe that we should feel compelled to follow the modern customs and fashions in our culture. I do not believe that God is interested in the latest fashions of the MTV crowd, what our favorite athletes are sporting, or what Tom Cruise looks like this week. There are many faithful men who, for whatever reason, do not wear a beard. I personally feel that it is irresponsible and absurd for a man of God to place his family in financial jeopardy because he cannot find a job that lets him wear a full beard. There is a weightier matter in many circumstances. The bottom line is simply this, if you do not wear a beard you are not disobeying Torah. If you do wear a beard, keep in mind that it is an expression of your maleness and godly function, and not an expression of the latest fashion. I would like to conclude this short treatise on beards with a quote from one of my favorite Jewish authors.
"God has divided the sexes, giving each specific tasks in the fulfilment of life. Both tasks, if fulfilled in purity, are equally sublime, equally holy. He also divided them in their external appearance, in order that moral purity should be upheld. And you should also preserve the different outward appearance of the sexes, as willed by God. The woman should appear as woman, the man as man."
Horeb by Samson Raphael Hirsch
It is really as simple as that.