Home – Laws of Religion, Judaism and Islam

 

Ritual Purity Laws of Judaism, Table of Contents

 

 

Laws of Religion

Laws of Judaism

Concerning Ritual Purity and Cleanliness

 

9.  Personal Grooming and Hygiene

 

from the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

and the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

 

Personal Grooming and Hygiene

From the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

 

The Torah commands the Israelites not to follow the laws of other nations, including Egypt from which they escaped or the nations in the land of Canaan which they are to conquer.[1]

 

The Israelites are forbidden from rounding out the corners of the hair on their heads or marring the edges of their beards.[2] An Israelite is not to make any part of his head bald or shave the edges of his beard.[3] Nor shall an Israelite cut his flesh for the dead[4] or have his skin tattooed.[5]

 

Every Israelite male,[6] including slaves of Israelites[7] and those who live among the Israelites and observe the Passover,[8] must be circumcised. Those who are not circumcised, those souls will be cut off from their people.[9]

 

 

Personal Grooming and Hygiene

Jewish Law (Halakha) from the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

Jews are not to follow the practices of idol-worshippers (polytheists) in such things as dress or hair style. Therefore, it is not permitted to shave one's head on the sides, leaving only the center unshaven. Nor may a Jew shave his face from ear to ear, leaving hair only on the back of the head.[10] However, a Jew who must meet with non-Jewish kings is permitted to conform to their style of dress and shave his face if this is necessary to avoid embarrassment.[11]

 

As required by Leviticus 19:27, cited on this page above, it is forbidden to shave the hair from the temples, with a flogging being the punishment for each temple shaved. This punishment is meted out to a man,[12] but not to a woman,[13] who does such shaving. The person who is, himself, shaved is not flogged unless he assisted in the act.[14] Also, a woman may shave the corners of her own head but she is forbidden from shaving the corners of the head of a man or a male child.[15] These prohibitions against removing hair from the temples apply only to complete shaving with a razor; cutting this hair with scissors is permitted.[16]

 

A woman is forbidden from going out in the street without covering her hair.[17] If she transgresses the law by doing so, she is liable to be divorced without receiving the usual monetary compensation that a divorcing woman is entitled to from her husband.[18]

 

Since idol-worshipping (polytheistic) priests remove their beards, it is forbidden by the Torah for Jews to do so. A man's beard is considered to have five corners, and shaving of any one of them is punishable by flogging; thus complete shaving of the beard incurs five floggings. As with the hair on one's head, it is only shaving of the beard with a razor that incurs punishment by flogging; cutting with scissors does not.[19]

 

Shaving one's moustache and the hair just under the lower lip with a razor is permitted, though the custom is to remove only what might interfere with eating or drinking.[20]

 

In places where it is customary for both men and women to remove the hair of their armpits and their pubic hair, such removal is permitted. However, in places where the custom is only for women to remove such hair, men who do so are subject to a flogging for disobedience. This is because (as discussed in the paragraph below) a man is not to adorn himself like a woman.[21]

 

A woman is not to adorn herself as men do, such as by wearing a turban or hat or armor or cutting her hair as men do. Similarly, a man is not to adorn himself as women do. Local custom concerning, for example, whether only women wear brightly colored garments or certain types of jewelry, determines what it means for a man to adorn himself like a woman. The prohibition, however, includes removing any white hairs from the dark hair of his beard or his head or dyeing his hair a dark color.[22] Not only may a woman dye her hair, but she may apply rouge to her face.[23] A woman who adorns herself like a man or a man who adorns himself like a woman is subject to flogging.[24]

 

Circumcision is required for the sons of Jews,[25] for those who convert to Judaism[26] and for slaves of Jews, whether born as the property of a Jew or purchased from a non-Jew.[27] A son who is not circumcised is subject to the punishment of extinction (karet),[28] but this punishment is not inflicted until the son dies after having spent his whole life intentionally uncircumcised.[29] A father who fails to circumcise his son or a master who fails to circumcise his slave has violated a positive commandment of the Torah but is not punished by extinction. The court is to circumcise the son or the slave when it becomes aware of a case in which the father or master failed to carry out this responsibility.[30]

 

Tattooing, forbidden by Leviticus 19:28, cited on this page above, is punishable by flogging. The punishment is to be imposed on a man or woman who both cuts and adds dye to someone’s skin, not on a person who does only one of these two things and not on a person who receives a tattoo unless that person assists in the process.[31]

 

Maimonides says that a person should bathe once a week, using hot water over the whole body and scalding water on the head. This is to be followed by bathing in successively cooler water until the bath is actually cold.[32] Among a wife's obligations to her husband are washing his hands, face and feet.[33]

 

A scholar should wear attractive, clean and unstained clothing. It should be neither the garb of royalty nor that of the poor but rather in the middle. He should not go out into the street with perfume on his body, clothing or hair, though filth may be removed by rubbing perfume on his body.[34] A scholar is to maintain exceptional modesty, baring neither his body nor his head. He should go to the most private place within his house or within a cave to defecate. If he is out in the open when defecating, he should make sure he is out of sight of others so they will not see his bare body. If he defecates behind a fence, he should go far enough away from other people to ensure that they cannot hear the sound of his passing gas. He will not speak when defecting, even when there is a great need to do so. For the sake of modesty, he should not uncover himself in the privy until he is seated. After defecating, he should not use his right hand for wiping himself clean.[35] It is permitted on the Sabbath (when such an action might otherwise be considered as prohibited work) to carry three rounded stones into the privy for cleaning oneself.[36] (Editor's note: This implies that three is the appropriate number of stones for this purpose.) A stone is preferable to a pottery shard for such cleaning unless the shard is from a handle. Likewise, a stone is to be used rather than grass unless the grass is soft. [37] At all times (including today[38]), it is forbidden to defecate or to construct a privy or to sleep facing east or west – the direction of the Temple (in Jerusalem); one must face either north or south.[39]

 

________________

 

Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.

 

Updated October 16, 2016

 

Home – Laws of Religion, Judaism and Islam

 

Ritual Purity Laws of Judaism, Table of Contents

 

Abbreviations used in footnotes:

Gen: The Biblical book of Genesis.

Exod: The Biblical book of Exodus.

Lev: The Biblical book of Leviticus.

Num: The Biblical Book of Numbers.

Deut: The Biblical Book of Deuteronomy.

MT:  The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Code of Maimonides). The names of the specific books and treatises within each book are given according to the Yale University Press translation and also the Moznaim/Touger Hebrew transliterations to facilitate locating the texts posted here.

F:  indicates page numbers in the Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., translation of Book 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Book of Knowledge.

M:  indicates page numbers in the relevant volume of the Moznaim Publishing Corporation’s Touger translation. (Some of the books of Mishneh Torah are published in several volumes by Moznaim, so the Moznaim volume numbers do not correspond to the Book numbers of Maimonides’ work.)

Y:  indicates page numbers in the translation of the Yale University Press Judaica Series.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.

 



[1] Lev 18:3-4, Lev 20:23-24

[2] Lev 19:27

[3] Lev 21:5

[4] Lev 19:28, Lev 21:5

[5] Lev 19:28

[6] Gen 17:10-12, Lev 12:3

[7] Gen 17:12-13

[8] Exod 12:48

[9] Gen 17:14

[10] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 11, sec 1 (pages 78b-79aF 196-198M)

[11] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 11, sec 3 (page 79aF 198-200M)

[12] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 12, sec 1 (pages 80a-80bF 214-216M)

[13] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 12, secs 2-3 (page 80bF 216-218M)

[14] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 12, sec 1 (pages 80a-80bF 214-216M)

[15] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 12, sec 5 (pages 80bF 220M)

[16] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 12, sec 6 (pages 80bF 220M)

[17] MT Book 4,The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 24, sec 11 (pages 314M 153-154Y)

[18] MT Book 4,The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 24, sec 10 (pages 312-314M 153Y)

[19] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 12, sec 7 (pages 80bF 220-222M)

[20] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem, Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 12, sec 8 (pages 80bF 222M)

[21] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem, Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 12, sec 9 (pages 80b-81aF 224M)

[22] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem, Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 12, sec 10 (pages 81aF 224-226M)

[23] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 1 on The Sabbath, Shabbat (Shabbos); Chapter 22, sec 23 (pages 190-192M 146Y) (Editor's note: The citation here is a prohibition against applying rouge on the Sabbath, implying that it is permitted at other times.)

[24] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem, Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 12, sec 10 (pages 81aF 224-226M)

[25] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 6 on Circumcision, Milah; Chapter 1, sec 1 (pages 196-198M 163Y)

[26] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 6 on Circumcision, Milah; Chapter 1, sec 7 (pages 204-206M 164-165Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 13, sec 4 (page 162M 87Y)

[27] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 6 on Circumcision, Milah; Chapter 1, sec 1 (pages 196-198M 163Y); Chapter 1, secs 3-6 (page 200-204M 163-164Y); MT Book 5, The Book of Holiness, Sefer Kedushah; Treatise 1 on Forbidden Intercourse, Issurei Bi’ah; Chapter 13, sec 11 (page 166M 89Y)

[28] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 6 on Circumcision, Milah; Chapter 1, sec 1 (pages 196-198M 163Y)

[29] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 6 on Circumcision, Milah; Chapter 1, sec 2 (pages 198M 163Y)

[30] MT Book 2, The Book of Love, Sefer Ahava; Treatise 6 on Circumcision, Milah; Chapter 1, sec 1 (pages 196-198M 163Y)

[31] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem, Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 12, sec 11 (pages 81aF 226-228M)

[32] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 4, sec 16 (pages 51bF 76M)

[33] MT Book 4, The Book of Women, Sefer Nashim; Treatise 1 on Marriage, Ishut; Chapter 21, sec 3 (pages 268M 131Y); sec 7 (pages 270M 132Y)

[34] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 5, sec 9 (pages 53b-54aF 102-106M)

[35] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 2 De’ot Personality Development, Chapter 5, sec 6 (pages 53aF 94-98M)

[36] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 1 on The Sabbath, Shabbat (Shabbos); Chapter 26, sec 4 (pages 264M 170Y)

[37] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 1 on The Sabbath, Shabbat (Shabbos); Chapter 26, sec 5 (pages 264M 171Y)

[38] Footnote 40 in Moznaim translation page 108M to MT Book 8, The Book of Temple Service, Sefer Ha’Avodah; Treatise 1 on The Temple, Beit HaBechirah; Chapter 7, sec 9 (pages 108M)

[39] MT Book 8, The Book of Temple Service, Sefer Ha’Avodah; Treatise 1 on The Temple, Beit HaBechirah; Chapter 7, sec 9 (pages 108M 31Y)