Why hair? you may ask. In the same sense that we find hair so vital a part of our beauty and self-image, so too did Jewish tradition relate to its mystique, its power, and its temptations, and often in ambiguous ways.

His head is finest gold; his locks are curled and black as a raven"
(Song of Songs 5:11 )

The custom of shaving the beard and the hair of the head was avoided by the ancient Hebrews[1]; its continuous growth, as in the case of the nazir, was associated with a person's vital spirit. At the same time, absence of hair is associated with loss and death. Curiously, during the First Temple period, a shaved head and beard was a sign of disgrace and of mourning, [2] while by Talmudic times, the prohibition against cutting the hair and shaving had already been established as one of the main precepts of mourning.[3]

The tradition regards the woman's hair as part of her vital beauty, and therefore a source of temptation to men; the demon Lilith is usually described as having long, unkempt hair. The rabbis required married women to cover their hair as a sign of their shame resulting from Eve's sin[4], and some even compared exposed hair to exposed genitalia.[5]. The tension between the attraction of hair and the shame associated with its exposure is expressed most poignantly in Bialik's love ballad, With Window Wide Open (we include in this edition a choral rendition as well).

Whatever you do — comb it, curl it, grease it, cut it, shave it, cover it, expose it — just remember the golden of all rules: keep it clean! As the 2nd century teacher Samuel taught us: "Neglected and filthy hair causes blindness; neglected and filthy garments cause wit's dulling; a neglected and filthy body causes boils and pimples."[6]

Pleasant reading!

[1] Leviticus, 21 :5, 19:27 [Back]
[2] II Samuel, 10:4; Jeremiah, 41:5 [back]
[3] Babyl. Moed Kftan, 14a [back]
[4] Genesis Rabbah 17:8, Eruvin 100b; Rashi [back]
[5] Berakhot 24a [back]
[6] ] BT Nedarim 81a [back]




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