A question arises regarding the issue of shaving during the Omer period. Is one who shaves [regularly] throughout the year allowed to shave during Sefirah? Many authorities maintain that shaving is included in [the prohibition of] taking haircuts and whenever it is forbidden to cut one’s hair, it is also forbidden to shave. Most yeshiva students follow this practice, to the point that refraining from shaving has become the most prominent and discernable [sign] of mourning during the Omer period.
Some poskim, however, hold that there is a fundamental difference between taking a haircut and shaving. Haircuts are celebratory; it is therefore accepted that people get their hair cut before holidays and festive occasions. Shaving, on the other hand, has become an ordinary task nowadays, done every day, or every few days, in order to remove the stubble that mars the faces of those who are accustomed to shaving frequently. Therefore, the custom to refrain from cutting hair does not apply to shaving. [According to this opinion], it is especially appropriate to shave on Fridays, to avoid bringing in the Sabbath disgracefully.
Those who want to rely on the lenient opinion may do so, and one should not rebuke them [for this]. In practice, however, everyone should follow his father’s custom or his rabbi’s instructions. For even though, according to the letter of the law, one can rely on the reasoning of those who rule leniently, one cannot ignore the fact that the custom to abstain from shaving during Sefirah is an indelible expression of willingness to sacrifice for the sake of mitzvah observance, and there is room for concern that nullifying this custom will compromise one’s dedication to upholding customs. Therefore, it is appropriate for everyone to do as his father does, or as his rabbi instructs him to do, because the issues of tradition and how one’s actions influence others are more important here than the specific question of whether or not shaving is included in the customs of mourning. 1 rule strictly, forbidding all shaving during the Omer mourning period. So writes the author of K.H.C. (551:66). In section 493:19, he quotes the Acharonim as saying that one may shave only if not doing so will cause a loss of income. In Iggrot Moshe (O.C. 4:102), as well, [R. Moshe Feinstein] allows one to shave in order to avoid financial loss; for example, if his employers demand it. On the other hand, one could say that daily shaving is not like taking a haircut. After all, this concept [of shaving daily] did not exist when the custom to show our mourning through [the avoidance of] haircuts first began. And just as there is a distinction, regarding a mourner’s prohibition to bathe, between bathing for pleasure or refreshment and bathing in order to remove filth, so too, one could make a distinction between festive shaving and shaving in order to remove unsightly [facial hairs]. The purpose of all the Sefirah customs is to avoid merrymaking, not to exhibit mourning, and beard stubble exhibits mourning. Granted, one should not be lenient on this issue during shiva and shloshim (the seven- and thirty-day mourning periods after the death of a close relative), but just as we allow shaving during the year-long mourning period [after the death of a parent], so may we be lenient during the Omer period and the Three Weeks, until Rosh Chodesh Av. Rabbi Schachter cites this in Nefesh HaRav (p. 191) in the name of Rav Soloveitchik. This is especially true with regard to shaving for the sake of Shabbat. After all, the Magen Avraham (551:14) cites Hagahot Oshri as saying that Ashkenazim, who are accustomed not to take haircuts the entire Three Week period, should not cut their hair even before Shabbat, because [people] do not cut their hair every week. This implies that those who are accustomed to shaving [every week] may shave in honor of Shabbat. See B.H. (551:3), which states that the Yerushalmi also indicates that one may shave for the sake of Shabbat. In addition to all this, it should be noted that the custom to mourn during Sefirah originally prohibited only weddings. And according to the Ge’onim, Jews already began refraining from getting married soon after Rabbi Akiva’s students died. In contrast, the custom to avoid haircuts is first mentioned in the writings of the Rishonim: Orchot Chayim, Shibolei HaLeket, and others. Perhaps, they instituted it after additional tragedies befell the Jewish people (like the Crusades; see Minhagei Yisrael, vol. 1, pp. 105, 112-117). The Ridbaz writes in his Responsa (2:687) that some people have a custom to take haircuts the entire month of Nissan, during which fasting and eulogizing is forbidden, while others cut their hair every Friday. He also permits haircuts on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, disputing the Shulchan Aruch’s opinion (493:3). His words indicate that one may follow the more lenient opinions when it comes to this custom [of not taking haircuts]. Ancient Yemenite custom did not forbid haircuts during Sefirah; they began acting strictly only later on. R. Mashraki (the author of Shtilei Zeitim) and the Maharitz (Responsa Pe’ulat Tzaddik 2:76) rule that one should cut one’s hair on the eve of Shabbat. Thus, when there is a doubt whether shaving has the same status as haircutting, one may take into consideration those who rule leniently altogether. See Responsa Ner Ezra (vol. 2, pp. 155-58), where the author concludes that one may shave before Shabbat, writing that this is the opinion of Rabbi Min-Hahar and R. Lichtenstein. Rabbi Rabinowitz, Rosh Yeshivat Ma’aleh Adumim, recommends that everyone act as his father does, to avoid a situation in which a father shaves and his son does not, or vice versa, thus violating the father’s honor.
Another reason to permit [shaving on Fridays]: those who shave regularly usually feel great distress when unable to shave for several days. Perhaps this is similar to the dispensation to trim one’s mustache if it interferes with one’s eating, or to remove hairs that cause head sores or headaches. See K.H.C. 493:17, where the author allows one to cut his hair in honor of the Sabbath, if [his long hair] causes him suffering. In addition, the Chida mentions (in Yosef Ometz 40) the rationale that those who shave [regularly] suffer greatly [when they do not shave], even more than one suffers due to [long] hair.
In my humble opinion, it would be proper – according to the letter of the law – to rule that those who shave throughout the year should shave in honor of Shabbat, and those who wish to act leniently may shave every day, because the customs of mourning do not apply to daily shaving. However, as I stated above, one should be careful not to undermine the tradition of such a prominent custom. Therefore, everyone should follow his father’s custom, or do as his rabbi instructs him. See a similar discussion below, 8.11, regarding shaving during the Three Weeks. ]
- Many [authorities ↩