Beard / Hair
This booklet is written with the idea of providing a means to get started in this study. It is by no means an effort to answer every question or give you all the proof you need. To truly understand, you need to do some research on your own. Most of the Scriptures quoted are from The Interlinear Bible, by Jay P. Green, Sr., as general editor and translator.
Questions have arisen from time to time about the proper length of men's hair and whether or not it is necessary for them to maintain a beard. Can a man have long hair? What about shaving the head? If Yahweh expects a beard, can it be trimmed? Or is it to grow I without cutting? What about the long side curls seen on some Orthodox Jews? Are those from Scripture?
As we've done in other articles, let's look first at what some historical sources say. They may raise additional questions or help understand the issue. Then we will check to see exactly what Yahweh does or does not say.
Manners and Customs of the Bible, James M Freeman -
Page 149, regarding II Samuel 20:9 - "To touch the beard of another was an insult, unless it was done as an act of friendship and a token of respect. Joab therefore showed the base treachery of his heart by coming to Amasa in the manner of a friend, thus entirely concealing his murderous intent. He inquired after his health, gently touched his beard as if to give a kiss, and then suddenly grasped it with his right hand and quickly stabbed the unsuspecting Amasa with the unnoticed sword which he held in his left."
Page 93-94, regarding Leviticus 19:27 - "Among the ancients the hair was often used in divinations. The worshipers of the stars and planets cut their hair evenly around, trimming the extremities. According to Herodotus the Arabs were accustomed to shave the hair around the head, and let a tuft stand up on the crown in honor of Bacchus. He says the same thing concerning the Macians, a people of North Africa.
"By the idolaters the beard was also carefully trimmed round and even. This was forbidden to the Jews.
"The expression 'utmost corners' in Jeremiah ix, 26; xxv, 23; xlix, 32 refers not to any dwelling-place, but to the custom forbidden in Leviticus; and accordingly the margin reads, 'cut off into corners, or having the corners [of their hair] polled'."
Pages 46-47, regarding Genesis 41:14 - "Contrary to the custom of the Hebrews and other Orientals, the Egyptians shaved closely, only allowing the beard to grow as a sign of mourning; thus reversing the custom of the Hebrews, who shaved as a sign of mourning. Strange to say, the Egyptians, while so careful to shave the beard, sometimes fastened false beards to the chin. These were made of plaited hair, and were of different shapes and sizes, according to the rank of the wearer.
"Joseph, while in prison, allowed his beard to grow; now that he is released, he shaves, according to the Egyptian custom, as it would have been a disgrace for him to appear with a beard in the presence of the king."
Harper's Encyclopedia of Bible Life, Madeleine S and J Lane Miller -
Page 52 - "The book of Leviticus prescribed (19:27) that 'You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard' - an ancient heathen practice for mourning the dead - and one of the requirements for such Nazirites as Samson and Samuel was that they never take a razor to their hair, but instead let it grow long, as an offering to God. Other Israelites were not forbidden to cut their hair, of course, but through most of the Old Testament period long hair was admired on men and women alike. Absalom cut his hair only once a year, and the amount he cut reportedly (2 Samuel 14:26) weighed two hundred shekels - or about five pounds!"
Page 86 - "The Assyrian and Babylonians perfumed their beards, and some Jews after the Exile probably did likewise. The male Jew wore his hair long, and his beard also, but not without an occasional grooming by the local barber. The Hebrews were forbidden by their Law to shave their heads entirely (Lev 19:27), and priests were enjoined not to make tonsures upon their heads (Lev 21:5). These prohibitions probably were in reaction to the practices of the priests of the pagan cults of the people among whom the Israelites settled in the Promised Land. To the prophets, artificial baldness was a figure of impending doom (e.g., Isa 15:2; Jer 48:37; Mic 1:16). Shaving the head was acceptable only under special circumstances as a sign of mourning (Job 1:20); at the termination of a Nazirite vow, so that the hair could be dedicated to the Lord (Num 6:9, 18); and when leprosy had been found on the head (Lev 13:33; 14:8-9). Long hair was much admired (2 Sam 14:25-26; Song of Solomon 5:11). The proscription of cutting the hair on the temples of males is still observed by strict Jews."
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia -
From Volume 1, page 403 -
"(1) The English word 'barber' is from Lat barba, 'beard' = a man who shaves the beard. Dressing and trimming the hair came to be added to his work. 'Barber' is found only once EV, in Ezk 5:1, 'Take thee a sharp sword; as a barber's razor shalt thou take it unto thee, and shalt cause it to pass upon thy head and upon thy beard'.
"(2) In Gen 41:14 we probably have a case of conformity to Egyptians, rather than Palestinian custom, where Joseph 'shaved himself, and changed his raiment, and came in unto Pharaoh.' It is known that the Egyptians of the higher classes shaved the beard regularly and completely (as the Hittites, Elamites, and early Babylonians seem to have done), except that fashion allowed, as an exception to the rule, a small tuft, or 'goatee,' under the chin.
"(3) We learn from various Scriptures allusions, as well as from other sources (cf W. Max Muller, Asien und Europa, 296ff), that the business of the oriental barber included, besides ceremonial shaving, the trimming and polling of the hair and the beard. Cf 2 S 19:24 where it appears that the moustache (Hebrew sapham; AV 'beard') received regular trimming; and I S 21:14, where the neglect of the beard is set down as a sign of madness.
"(4) The business of the barber, … outside of ceremonial shaving, may have consisted in trimming and polling the beard and the hair of the head. Of other nations with whom Israel of old came in contact, the Hittites and Elamites, it is now known, shaved the beard completely, as the earliest Babylonian also seem to have done."
From Volume 1, page 418 -
"(1) - Western Semites in general, according to the monuments, wore full round beards, to which they evidently devoted great care. The nomads of the desert, in distinction from the settled Semites, wore a clipped and pointed beard (see Jer 9:26: 'all that have the corners of their hair cut off, that dwell in the wilderness'; and cf 25:23; 49:32, etc).
"(2) - Long beards are found on Assyrian and Babylonian monuments and sculptures as a mark of the highest aristocracy. It is not clear that it was ever so with the Jews. Yet it is significant that the Hebrew 'elder' (zaken) seems to have received his name from his long beard.
"(3) - The view of some that it was customary among the Hebrews to shave the upper lip is considered by the best authorities as without foundation. The mustache (Hebrew sapham, 'beard'), according to 2 Sam 19:24, received regular 'trimming'.
"(4) - In one case (1 Sam 21:13-14) the neglect of the beard is set down as a sign of madness: '[He] let his spittle fall down upon his beard. Then said Achish,… Lo, ye see the man is mad.'
"(5) - It was common Semite custom to cut both hair and beard as a token of grief or distress. Isaiah (15:2), describing the heathen who have 'gone up to the high places to weep,' says 'Moab waileth over Nebo, and over Medeba; on all their heads is baldness, every beard is cut off.' Jeremiah (41:5), describing the grief of the men of Samaria for their slain governor, Gedaliah, says, 'There came men from…Samaria [his sorrowing subjects] even four score men, having their beards shaven and their clothes rent,' etc. And Amos, in his prophecy of the vision of the 'basket of summer fruit,' (8:1ff), makes Jehovah say to His people: 'I will turn your feasts into mourning;…I will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head' (8:10). On the other hand it was even more significant of great distress or fear to leave the beard untrimmed, as did Mephibosheth, the son of Saul, when he went to meet King David in the crisis of his guilty failure to go up with the king according to his expectation: 'He had neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came home in peace.' (Cf 1 Sam 21:13-14; 2 Sam 19:24).
"(6) - Absalom's hair was cut only once a year, it would seem (2 Sam 14:26; cf rules for priests, Levites, etc, Ezek 44:20). But men then generally wore their hair longer than is customary or seemly with us. Later, in New Testament times, it was a disgrace for a man to wear long hair (I Cor 11:6-15). To mutilate the beard of another was considered a great indignity (see 2 Sam 10:4; cf Isa 50:6, 'plucked off the hair'). The shaving of the head of a captive slave-girl who was to be married to her captor marked her change of condition and prospects (Deut 21:12; W R Smith, Kinship, 209)."
From Volume 2, page 1320 -
"…the dwellers on the Nile had their heads shaved in early youth, leaving but a side lock until maturity was attained, when this mark of childhood was taken away."
"On the other hand, the Hebrew people, like their Babylonian neighbors affected long and well-cared-for, bush curls of hair as emblems of manly beauty. Proofs thereof are not infrequent in the Scriptures and elsewhere. Samson's (Jgs 16:13, 19) and Absalom's (2 S 14:26) long luxuriant hair is specially mentioned, and the Shulammite sings of the locks of her beloved which are 'busy [RVm 'curling'], and black as a raven' (Cant 5:11). Josephus (Ant, VIII, vii, 3) reports that Solomon's body-guard was distinguished by youthful beauty and 'luxuriant heads of hair'."
"It is well known that among the surrounding heathen nations the hair of childhood or youth was often shaved and consecrated at idolatrous shrines. Frequently this custom marked an initiatory rite into the service of a divinity. It was therefore an abomination of the Gentiles in the eyes of the Jew, which is referred to in Lev 19:27; Jer 9:26; 25:23; 49:32. The Syriac version of the latter passage renders, 'Ye shall not let your hair grow long' (ie in order to cut it as a religious rite in honor of an idol). It is, however, probable that among the Jews, as now among many classes of Mohammedans, the periodical cropping of the hair, when it had become too cumbersome, was connected with some small festivity, when the weight of the hair was ascertained, and its weight in silver was given in charity to the poor.
"We may also compare the shaving of the head of the Nazirite to these heathen practices, though the resemblance is merely superficial. The man who made a vow to God was responsible to Him with his whole body and being. Not even a hair was to be injured wilfully during the whole period of the vow, for all belonged to God. The conclusion of the Nazirite vow was marked by sacrifices and the shaving of the head at the door of the sanctuary (Nu 6:1-21), indicative of a new beginning of life. The long untouched hair was therefore considered as the emblem of personal devotion (or devotedness) to the God of all strength.
"The care of the hair, especially the periodical cutting of the same, early necessitated the trade of the barber. The Hebrew word gallabh, is found in Ezk 5:1, and the plural form of the same word occurs in an inscription at Citium (Cyprus), where the persons thus described clearly belonged to the priests or servants of a temple."
Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible, Herbert Lockyer, Sr, editor -
From page 140 - "Beard - the hair on a man's face. In biblical times most adult males of Israel wore full beards. An oiled and well-kept beard was a mark of pride (Psa 133:2). The Law of Moses required Israelite men not to 'disfigure the edges' of their beards (Lev 19:27), a common practice of Israel's pagan neighbors.
"To shave or pull out part of the beard was a sign of grief (Jer 48:37-38), and to cut off someone's beard was to insult him (2 Sam 20:4-5). Isaiah 7:20 pictures God's judgment on Israel as a shaving of the nation's beard, an intentional disgrace. The word beard does not appear in the New Testament."
From page 973 - "Shaving - removal of the beard or other body hair, as with a razor. Among the Jewish people, beards were common, especially in early times when the Hebrews lived as wandering shepherds. But the Egyptians shaved their faces closely and preferred short hair. The Greeks and Romans also preferred the clean-shaven style.
"Shaving was a part of the ritual by which a Levite was set apart for priestly service (Num 8:7). Shaving was also required for those unclean with plague (Lev 13:33) or leprosy (Lev 14:8). Refusing to allow a man-made instrument to touch their heads, a group of Hebrews known as the Nazirites kept their hair uncut until a particular vow had been fulfilled (Num 6:18; Acts 18:18). But if a Nazirite touched a dead body, he was required to cut his hair immediately (Num 6:9).
"Although shaving the head was often a sign of mourning (Deut 14:1; Job 1:10), priests did not follow this practice (Lev 21:5)."
From page 1065 - "Razor - Razors of the ancient world were usually bronze or iron blades fastened to wooden handles. Those used by kings or for ritual purposes often had more elaborate bone or ivory handles. The prophet Isaiah predicted the Assyrians would conquer the northern kingdom of Israel, shaving Israel with a razor and bringing judgment on His people. The prophet Ezekiel (5:1-2), used a similar picture to illustrate the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians."
From page 453 - "Hair - the hairy coating of an animal or the human body, especially the hairs covering a human head. In the Bible the word hair usually means the hair on a human head. In a few cases the word refers to animal hair or human hair other than on the head (Gen 25:25; Mark 1:6).
"In the New Testament era, men wore their hair much shorter than women's (I Cor 11:14-15). Christian women were instructed not to wear elaborately arranged hair (I Pet 3:3). In Palestine, honored guests often had their heads anointed. On two occasions Jesus' feet were anointed by women who then dried them with their hair (Luke 7:38-46; John 21:1-8). Jesus' statement that the Father has numbered each person's hairs (Matt 10:30) shows God's concern for even the tiny and insignificant details of life."
Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible, J I Packer, M C Tenney, editors -
From page 272 - "Razor - The practice of shaving a man's head after he completed a vow indicates that the Israelites had barbers (Num 6:9; 8:7; Lev 14:8; Isa 7:20; Ezek 5:1). In some instances the whole body was shaved (Num 8:7).
"Scripture gives us no exact account of what the ancient Hebrew razor looked like, but similar cultures used sharp pieces of obsidian glass and thin flakes of flint. The subject is, however, mentioned by ancient secular writers and illustrated by works of art. The trade of barbering was common among the Egyptians and other nations of antiquity."
From page 482 - "Hair Style - Hebrew men considered the hair to be an important personal ornament, so they gave much care and attention to it. Egyptian and Assyrian monuments show examples of elaborate hair arrangements in those cultures. The Egyptians also wore various types of wigs. But we see an important difference between Hebrew and Egyptian hair styles in Genesis 41:14, which says that Joseph 'shaved himself' before he was presented to the pharaoh. An Egyptian would have been content to comb his hair and trim his beard; but Hebrew men cut their hair much as modern Western men do, using a primitive kind of scissors (2 Sam 14:26). The word polled in this text means 'to cut the hair from the head.' The Jews also used razors, as we see in Numbers 6:5.
"When a Jewish man made a religious vow, he did not cut his hair (cf Judg 13:5). The Israelites were not to shave their hair so closely that they resembled heathen gods who had shaved heads. Nor were they to resemble the Nazirites, who refused to cut their hair at all (Ezek 44:20). In the New Testament times, long hair on men was considered to be contrary to nature (I Cor 11:14).
"Men often applied perfumed oil to their hair before festivals or other joyous occasions (Psa 23:5). Jesus mentions this custom in Luke 7:45, when He says, 'My head with oil thou didst not anoint…'.
"Jewish men also paid much attention to the care of the beard. It was an insult to attempt to touch a man's beard, except when kissing it respectfully and affectionately as a sign of friendship (2 Sam 20:9). Tearing out the beard, cutting it off entirely, or neglecting to trim it were expressions of deep mourning (cf Ezra 9:3; Isa 15:2; Jer 41:5). Egyptian and Roman men preferred clean-shaven faces, although Egyptian rulers did wear artificial beards."
The Torah, A Modern Commentary, W Gunther Plaut, editor -
From page 898, regarding Leviticus 19:27-28 - "Other forbidden pagan practices were certain ways of cutting the hair, 'destroying' the beard, gashing oneself as a sign of mourning, tattooing (perhaps with heathen emblems). The wearing of side curls (peot) by extreme Orthodox Jews is an attempt to carry out strictly the law of verse 27."
From page 1058, regarding Numbers 6:7 - "Hair. The Hebrew reads nezer (consecration). The symbol of this consecration is the hair on his head."
From page 1059, regarding Numbers 6:18 - "Locks…on the fire. They were burned not as a sacrifice but to prevent an object of consecration from being profaned."
From page 1061 - "Hair. Throughout history the hair of the head has been important to people. Men and women have usually considered it as the crown of the visible self, the most malleable part of their external personality; they have beautified it; shaped or colored it, and have on occasion removed or hidden it. Already in biblical times, cutting a man's beard against his will (as was done by the Nazis to Jews) or a woman's hair as a punishment … represents the ultimate in public humiliation (2 Sam 10:4; Isa 3:17). Where hair was or is cut or shaved voluntarily, the act symbolizes consecration. And so does the reverse: a Nazirite, a medieval king, or a hermit set themselves aside for special purposes and their hair signified their status.
"Frequently, hirsute appearance has symbolized personal integrity. In cultures favoring short hair, the growing of long hair may indicate a rebellious spirit or a different value system. Not long ago the expression 'long hair' meant classic or esoteric taste in the arts. To this day, the Jews observant of biblical tradition (Lev 19:27; 21:5) will not let a razor come upon the corners of his beard. Detailed halachic regulations govern the methods of trimming the beard, and a Chasid is distinguished by his earlocks (pe-ot). By their appearance, the observant aim to testify to membership in a people who, all of them, are consecrated to God. In light of these ancient identifications of hair with separateness and holiness, we can better understand the profound unease with which, in our century, young people's preoccupation with short or (later) long hair was greeted by their elders, for more than mere appearance was at stake."
From page 1062 - "It is a common belief that the hair is part of the man's vital being. If the one main object is to keep the man's power and vitality at the full, the hair is never shorn; if the object is to present the deity with part of man's life, the hair is a suitable means of achieving this. The practice is in no way peculiar to the Hebrews, nor is the origin to be sought in peculiar Hebrew beliefs."
From page 107, regarding Numbers 8:7 - "Their whole body with a razor. This is what certain physically afflicted people had to do (Lev 14:8), and it emphasizes that the Torah considers the Levites spiritually separated from the rest of the people, even as lepers and others were separated bodily. On the other hand, a Nazirite who had been defiled only shaved his head (Num 6:9). Egyptian priests shaved their bodies every second day for hygienic reasons, especially to avoid lice."
From page 1437, regarding Deuteronomy 14:1 - "Or shave. Addressed in Lev. 21:5 to the priests only, but here to everybody. In Lev. 19:28 the general rule goes on to forbid the practice of tattooing.
"Because of the dead. Apparently these customs were primarily mourning rites."
From page 1483, regarding Deuteronomy 21:12 - "Trim her hair. Others, 'shave her head.' The procedure signifies a change in the woman's status.
"The custom persists among some Orthodox women who cut off their hair prior to marriage."
Pentateuch and Haftorahs, Dr J H Hertz C H, editor -
From page 471, regarding Leviticus 14:9 - "shave. No longer to purify him of his former defilement, but to prepare him for the rite of consecration, even as the Levites should be shaven (Num VIII, 7) before their induction to the service of the Sanctuary."
From page 503, regarding Leviticus 19:27 - "round the corners. In this and the following verse, various mourning customs connected with the heathen worship of the dead are forbidden, as unbecoming the dignity of God's people and incompatible with loyalty to a God of holiness."
From page 592, regarding Numbers 6:5 - "no razor come upon his head. The hair was regarded as the symbol of the vital power at its full natural development; and the free growth of the hair on the head of the Nazirite represented the dedication of the man with all his strength and power to the service of God."
From page 593, regarding Numbers 6:13 - "he shall bring it, i.e., he shall come with his consecrated head unshaven to the door of the Tent of Meeting."
From page 593, regarding Numbers 6:18 - "and shall take the hair. As the Nazirite had during his vow worn his hair unshorn in honour of God, so when the time was complete it was natural that the hair, the symbol of his vow, should be cut off at the Sanctuary. In the times of the Mishnah, a special room was assigned to the Nazirites for that purpose in one of the Temple courts."
From page 808, regarding Deuteronomy 14:1 - "nor make any baldness. This disfigurement was likewise a heathen mourning custom, the hair being sometimes buried with the corpse as an offering to the dead. In Lev XXXI, 5 a similar prohibition had been addressed to the priests; in Deuteronomy the law is given a wider application, in order to embrace the whole of the people, who were 'a kingdom of priests'."
Biblical Literacy, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, page 548 -
"Lev. 19:27 - In fulfillment of this commandment, many of the most traditional Orthodox men grow side-curls (peyot). Jewish law understands this prohibition as applying only to a hand razor, and permits men to use electric shavers."
To Be A Jew, by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, pages 181-182 -
" 'You shall not…destroy the corners of your beard' (Lev. 19:27). The halakha (by relating this verse to Lev. 21:5) clearly understood this prohibition as one which prohibited the use of a razor blade or knife to shave the beard of one's face. (Technically, it's only the five corners that are thus forbidden: at the chin, in front of but just above and just below the ears.)
"This law, as well as several others which forbid tattooing and other forms of self-mutilation, were directed against practices common to idolatry and associated with pagan customs. 'It was the practice of pagan priests to destroy (shave) their beards. Therefore did the Torah forbid it… But one is not culpable for it unless it is done with a razor… therefore if one cut the beard of his face with scissors, one is not liable' (Hil. Avodat Kochavim 12:7).
"This prohibition had an obvious impact on the historical style of Jewish grooming; hence the traditional image of the Jew as a full-bearded person.
"It is only since this past century when it became possible to use means other than a razor with which to remove facial hair that even observant Jews began to appear clean-shaven. At first, clippers (which operate on the principle of a scissors rather than a knife), powder and similar depilatories came into use. The modern electric shaver (which operates on the scissors principle rather than as a blade) was ruled permissible by religious authorities. This made it possible for even the pious Jew to be clean-shaven or partially bearded without violating the Torah law. Nevertheless, the bearded face probably still reflects an image of greater piety.
"The first part of this same Torah sentence states 'You shall not round the corners of your head…' The reasons are still the same as given above. Because of this, it is not permissible to totally remove the sideburns. While halakhic rulings permit the use of scissors or clippers to trim the sideburns, the custom of refusing to take advantage of such rulings prevailed among Hasidic Jews and they do not touch the sideburns at all; hence their dangling side-curls (payos), most noticeable on the children and young boys whose beards are not yet fully grown."
Costume of the Classical World, Marion Sichel - From page 18 - "Unlike the Egyptians, who shaved their heads, the Hebrews allowed their hair to grow quite long. To beautify it they sometimes powdered it with gold dust. Beards were also grown and trimmed with care."
Costume, Margot Lister -
From page 17 - "In the third millennium B.C. shaved heads and a small fringe of beard round the chin distinguished the men of early Chaldea."
From page 19 - "The hair of the Assyrians was black and bushy and was allowed to grow long, often past the shoulders… All men wore thick, curling beards and moustaches, with the exception of eunuchs."
From page 40 - "The hair of Persian men was curly and thick but was worn shorter than that of the Assyrians. Moustaches are almost always present in ancient Persian art, but beards are not necessarily worn and some men are seen as clean-shaven."
From page 51 - "The Alexandrian and Hellenistic Periods (338-146 B.C.): Men's hair was allowed to grow longer than the preceding epoch and was now worn in curls all over the head. By 200 B.C. it was cut short again and remained so while Greek independence listed.
"Most men were clean-shaven, though orators, philosophers and scholars wore beards as before."
From page 66 - "Under Roman rule "The men of the Republic wore their hair short, combed forward from the crown of the head towards the brow and above the ears."
Mysteries of the Bible, Reader's Digest Association, Inc, Alma E Guinness, editor - from pages 113-114 -
"The Ammonites knew what they were doing when they mutilated the Hebrews beards. The cutting of a man's beard was a deadly insult among the ancient Hebrews, a people to whom a full set of whiskers represented masculine dignity and honor and beautiful hair was a mark of male as well as female beauty: 'the beauty of old men is their gray hair' (Proverbs 20:29).
"Although razors, shaving, and cutting the hair are mentioned on numerous occasions in the Bible, only a single passage in the Old Testament, Ezekiel 5:1, makes reference to barbers. And although barbers are not even mentioned in the New Testament, there is outside evidence of their existence. In the time of Herod the Great, there was a staff of barbers at the royal court, as indicated by the Jewish historian Josephus. In all probability, there were also Temple barbers, who administered the ritual shavings of Nazirites and Levite initiates.
"Throughout the history of ancient Israel the shaving of all the hair either from the head or the face was a radical act that marked a time of great grief or suffering (Job 1:20 and Jeremiah 48:37).
"In Leviticus 19:27, the Lord ordered Moses to tell the children of Israel: 'You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.' The reason for these strictures is unknown; possibly it was to distinguish the Israelites from neighboring people. Thus, shaving the head and beard was not ordinarily permitted. The exceptions were ritual shavings performed during certain purification ceremonies.
In modern times, "In Me'ah She'arim, the neighborhood just north of the Old City of Jerusalem, men and boys commonly wear pe'ot, or side locks, grown in accordance with the biblical prohibition: 'You shall not round off the hair on your temples.' Me'ah She'arim, like some neighborhoods in Brooklyn, New York, has a high concentration of Orthodox Hasidic families. It is, in fact, a common practice among many Orthodox and Hasidic Jews all over the world to wear pe'ot - a style that instantly identifies the wearer as Jewish. Yet there is no evidence that the ancient Hebrews wore pe'ot. The wearing of side curls did not become the custom until the sixteenth century, when it was started by the disciples of the philosopher Isaac Luria. It later became popular in central and eastern Europe."
Oxford Concise Companion to the Jewish Religion, Louis Jacobs -
From page 15 - "Beard - The verse: 'Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard' (Leviticus 19:27) is understood by the Talmudic Rabbis not to mean that it is wrong for a man to be clean-shaven, but only that facial hair must not be removed with a razor. Reform Jews do not consider the prohibition on shaving with a razor still to be binding."
From page 177 - "Peot - 'corners', the sidelocks worn in obedience to the injunction: 'Ye shall not round the corners of your heads' (Leviticus 19:27). The Talmudic Rabbis interpret this to mean that the hair of the head must not be removed in such a way that there is no hair between the back of the ears and the forehead. Maimonides gives as the reason for growing peot that the idolatrous priests used to 'round the corners of their heads' and thus the practical symbolic rejection of idolatry. Hasidim tend to cultivate long, corkscrew peot, although this is not required by law. A typical description of a Hasid is 'a Jew with beard and peot'."
Okay, now let's look at some of the Scriptures, one at a time.
Genesis 41: 14
And Pharaoh sent and called Joseph; and they made him hasten from the dungeon. And he shaved and changed his clothing and came in to Pharaoh.
This event took place before Yahweh gave His law to the children of Israel. If Joseph took the time to shave and change before meeting Pharaoh, could it be that was part of his normal grooming routine? After all, the Pharaoh was waiting. It doesn't say he was told to do so - possibly it was his custom.
Leviticus 14: 8-9
8 - And he is to be cleansed shall wash his garments, and shall shave all his hair, and shall bathe with water, and shall be clean. And afterwards he shall come into the camp, and shall live on the outside of his tent seven days.
9 - And it shall be on the seventh day, he shall shave all his hair, his head, and his beard and his eyebrows; he shall even shave all his hair. And he shall wash his garments, and shall bathe his flesh with water, and shall be clean.
These are specific commands from Yahweh to a leper. It entails a lot more than just the hair on the head or the beard. This is part of his cleansing, or purification ritual.
Leviticus 19: 17
You shall not round the corner of your head, nor mar the corner of your beard.
This is the verse most often used to support the doctrine of a beard on every man. But is that really what it says? Yahweh is describing a particular way of cutting and/or trimming the beard and hair. He is saying they are not to do it that way.
The word "round" is Hebrew #5362, nakaf, which means to strike with more or less violence (beat, fell, corrode); by implication (of attack) to knock together; i.e. surround or circulate.
The Hebrew word for "mar" is #7843 shachat, meaning to decay, i.e. ruin - destroy, mar, waste.
"Corner" is the Hebrew word #6285, peah, which means mouth in a figurative sense, i.e. direction, region, extremity.
This has most often been understood that they were not to trim their hair and beard in a manner that framed their face with a circle. Note the last definition of round - to surround or circulate. Some of the pagans did this to honor the sun god. It defined them as sun-worshippers. It did not define a worshipper of Yahweh.
Leviticus 21: 15
They shall not make their heads bald, and they shall not shave the edge of their beard…
Check the context. To whom does this apply? All the Israelite men? No, the instructions are to the priests only.
Now, how many men did that affect? All the Levites, right? No. The priests were only the family of Aaron. When these laws were given, that included only Aaron and his four sons (Numbers 3:2). The Levites were to work for and under Aaron (Numbers 3:6-9). They were not of the priesthood.
Numbers 6: 5, 9, 18
5 - All the days of the vow of his separation, a razor shall not pass over his head; he shall be holy until all the days are fulfilled which he has separated to Yahweh, he shall allow the locks of the hair of his head to grow long.
9 - And if any man dies very suddenly beside him, and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing, on the seventh day he shall shave it.
18 - And the Nazirite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation and shall put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offering.
These rules bring to mind a question - if the instructions were to keep a razor from his head, then was it okay at other times? Could other men shave their heads then? Otherwise, there would be no need for these instructions if everyone had already been instructed not to shave the head or trim the beard. Something to think about.
Numbers 8: 6-7
6 - Take the Levites from among the sons of Israel, and you shall cleanse them: sprinkle on them water of sin offering.
7 - And they shall cause a razor to pass over all their flesh and shall wash their garments and cleanse themselves.
Two points here: 1) - This was specific to the Levites and 2) - it was part of a cleansing or purification ritual.
Deuteronomy 14: 1
You are sons to Yahweh your Elohim; you shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.
Wrong to shave your head and be bald? No, that is not what it says! There are two specific things here - "between the eyes" and "for the dead." Apparently this was a custom of some of the people the Israelites either had or would encounter. It was a part of their religious tradition and Yahweh did not want them doing that. It was referring to only a specific shaving - not the whole head and it was for the purpose of honoring someone other than Yahweh.
At this point, we've checked the Torah. In it there are no direct commands for a man to have or not have a beard or for him to keep his hair either short or long. And, as we have seen, there are times that shaving the head is the proper thing to do.
II Samuel 10: 4
And Hanun took David's servants and shaved all half of their beards, and cut off their long robes in the center, to their buttocks; and he sent them away.
So what was the problem? They were most likely ashamed and humiliated because they had been caught and had their beards and robes cut. If they went home in that state, they would probably have faced taunting and teasing that they didn't want to deal with. An insult to their manhood?
II Samuel 14: 25-26
25 - And no man was handsome like Absalom in all Israel, to be so greatly praised. From the sole of his foot to his crown, there was not a blemish in him.
26 - And when he sheared his head - for it was at the end of days of days that he sheared it, because the hair was heavy on him, and he sheared it, he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels by the king's weight.
Notice where it says "it was at the end of days of days that he sheared it". The Tanach translates that as "at the end of every year he would have his hair barbered." Think how long a person's hair can grow in a year's time. Apparently letting it grow like that for a man was not a problem. And neither was cutting it off.
Ezra 9: 3
And when I heard this thing, I tore my garments and my robe, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down stricken dumb.
Shaving head and beard, as well as tearing of the clothes, was a sign of deep mourning.
Job 1: 20
And Job rose up and tore his robe, and shaved his head.
Job was also mourning - the death of all his children.
Song Of Solomon 5: 11
His head is like refined gold; his locks are bushy and black as a raven.
"Bushy" certainly is not closely-cropped hair. It is the Hebrew #8534, taltal, meaning through the idea of vibration; a trailing bough (as pendulous). That would indicate longer hair than we had thought they wore.
In Isaiah and Jeremiah there are several references to baldness or a razor on the head. We won't go through all of those. Often it has to do with punishment or mourning.
Jeremiah 25: 23
Dedan; and Tema; and Buz; and all who cut the corners (of their beards).
There are a few verses phrased this way. But note that the words "of their beards" are in parentheses. They are not in the original Hebrew. So we could logically ask, corners of what? It does not clearly say here. This could refer to those who cut their beards and hair to copy a pagan style. Or it could be referring to something else altogether.
Jeremiah 48: 37
For every head shall be bald, and every beard clipped. On all the hands shall be cuttings, and sackcloth on the loins.
These verses are referring to those in Moab. It seems to describe someone in mourning. But in includes one thing Yahweh specifically condemned - cuttings. They are not to be a part of the customs of Yahweh's people.
Ezekiel 44: 20
And they shall not shave their heads; and they shall not send forth long hair; they shall surely trim their heads.
Some jump on this Scripture as it is yet prophetic and apply it to themselves and others. But again, check the context. To whom is this referring? The priests, again - the sons of Zadok. Not the average man.
I Corinthians 11: 14
Or does not nature herself teach you that if a man indeed adorns the hair, it is a dishonor to him?
The word "adorns" here is the Greek #2863, komao. It means to wear tresses of hair; to have long hair.
These are the words of the Apostle Paul. Notice that he makes reference to nature. There is no "Yahweh says…" in this verse.
This is the only verse in the New Testament where anything is said regarding the length of men's hair. The word beard does not even appear in the New Testament. There is no indication whether men of that time wore beards or were clean-shaven or whether it was their choice.
Based on the Scriptures listed, we cannot give anyone a specific "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not" when it comes to making a decision on whether or not to have a beard, or shave, or maintain the hair short or somewhat longer. With these verses, we cannot legislate this for anyone else. We can definitely say that the hair or beard should be clean and well groomed. And also that is should not be grown or trimmed to copy the fashions that were or are used in religious worship. Yahweh does not want us to follow the ways of the heathen, whatever the century or the customs or our reason.
You may have begun reading this article, looking for a definitive conclusion. If you can find it, based on what Scriptures actually say, please share it with us.