The Bible and Talmud contain numerous references to hair. The narrator in the Song of Solomon compares the hair of his beloved to "a flock of goats sliding down Mount Gilead."[1] Isaiah mentions the wicked women of Jerusalem's elaborate hairstyles, which included curling it or rolling it into a knot at the back of the head, with baldness the punishment for such vanity.[2] The married woman suspected of adultery had her hair uncovered publicly to shame her.[3] Samson's unruly hair, which contained his strength and led to his downfall, was left uncut as his mother had been warned that the infant she was carrying was a nazir, a kind of holy man who could not drink wine nor cut his hair.[4]

The Mishnah and Talmud often refer to the elaborate hairstyles of women. There is a discussion of a hairpin and whether it is considered clothing and may be worn outside on the Sabbath.[5] Such hairpins, as well as bands, nets, jewelry and wigs, were used to build up a woman's hair, which was not cut. Wealthy women employed a private hairdresser, who could not arrange or undo an elaborate style on the Sabbath.[6] A bride, however, wore her hair long on her wedding day as a sign of her virginity; she never again wore it loose. In the case of a divorce, where a first-time bride received a larger settlement than a divorced or widowed one, the testimony of the wedding guests might be sought regarding her hair style at the time.[7]

The Talmud writes that Ben Elashah wore a haircut in the style of the High Priest's haircut — "like the Lulian style of haircutting. . . the style of a distinguished person." (Babyl. Nedarim, 51a).

It appears that the "lulian" hairstyle was name after a Roman gentleman, perhaps even the Caesar, who wore his hair in this manner.

Haircare was the subject of concern for both men and women during Talmudic times; hair was washed, anointed, combed, cut (and thinned) regularly, and sometimes dyed). Men were to have their hair cut regularly, with the frequency dependent on the man's status. A king's was cut every day, the High Priest's every Sabbath Eve, and that of ordinary priests every thirty days.[8]

It was believed that the higher a person was on the social scale, the more frequently he went to the barber.[9] While certain styles were forbidden to Jews as pagan customs,[10] the patriarchal family had a dispensation on account of its official contacts with the Roman authorities.[11]

The Talmud advises the people to keep their hair free of vermin. Samuel taught: "Neglected and filthy hair causes blindness; neglected and filthy garments cause wit's dulling; a neglected and filthy body causes boils and pimples."[12] The Talmud warns, too, against the moral dangers of vanity in hairstyle; the rabbis criticize Absalom whose long hair, of which he was overly proud, caught in a tree and led to his capture, and Joseph, who got into trouble with the wife of Potiphar as punishment for preening before the mirror.[13] They also censure those who ostentatiously copied the hairstyle of the High Priest.[14]

[1] 4:1 [back]
[2] 3:24 [back]
[3] Numbers 5:18 [back]
[4] Judges 16 [back]
[5] Shabbat 60a [back]
[6] Shabbat 94b [back]
[7] Ketubbot 2:1 [back]
[8] Sanhedrin 22b [back]
[9] BT Babyl. Nedarim, 51a [back]
[10] Tos. Shab. 6a [back]
[11] TJ Shab. 6: 1, 7d, Av. Zar.2:2, 41a [back]
[12] 11a BT Nedarim 81a [back]
[13] Gen. R. 84: 7; Sot. I: 8 [back]
[14] Nedarim 51a [back]



Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend