In Talmudic times, gray hair was considered a sign of old age, and women tried to eliminate or conceal white hairs that showed up on their heads, as recounted in the Talmud: "Seeing a single white hair, she plucked it out."[1]

Dyeing the hair was common practice. Josephus[2] relates that when King Herod grew old and wanted to hide his age, he started dyeing his hair black.[3] Even the dyeing of beards was known among the Jews:

"How does a man primp?"

"Like the old slave who went and dyed his head and beard [so that he'd looked younger and thus be more marketable]."[4]

A beautiful midrash, however, teaches us to accept our sprouting grey hairs graciously.

"And Abraham became old" (Gen. 24:1).
Until the time of Abraham, there was no old age, so that one who wished to speak with Abraham might mistakenly find himself speak to Isaac, or one who wished to speak with Isaac might mistakenly find himself speaking to Abraham.

But when Abraham came, he pleaded for old age, saying, "Master of the universe, You must make a visible distinction been father and son, between a youth and an old man, so that the old man may be honored by the youth." God replied, "As you live, I shall begin with you."

So Abraham went off, passed the night, and arose in the morning. When he saw that the hair of his head and of his beard had turned white. He said, "Master of the universe, if You given me white hair as a mark of old age, [I do not find it attractive]." "On the contrary," God replied, "the hoary head is a crown of glory" (Prov. 16:31)[5]


[1] JT Shabbat, 6a [7d] [back]
[2] Josephus Flavius (c.38-100 CE), politician, soldier and historian, accompanied Vespasian and Titus during the siege of Jerusalem and later lived in Rome, where he wrote his famous books on Jewish history, The Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. [back]
[3] Antiochus 16, 233 [back]
[4] BT Baba Metzia, 60b [back]
[5] B BM 87a; Gen. R. 65:9 [back]

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