The Omer period between Pesach and Shavuos was originally not a time of mourning. As the build-up to receiving the Torah on Shavuos, the Ramban considers it an extended Chol Hamo’ed, joining the festivals of Pesach and Shavuos – a time of joy rather than of sadness.
Yet, because Rabbi Akiva’s disciples died between Pesach and Atzeres, the joy of the time is marred, and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 493) rules that a number of activities are customarily prohibited during this period. Specifically, two prohibitions are mentioned: weddings are not made during the Sefirah, and haircuts are not taken.
In the present article, we will focus on the prohibition against taking haircuts, and ask the question: Is shaving included?
Included in this issue is the question of whether a person must refrain from shaving even in honor of Shabbos. Perhaps someone who shaves weekly for Shabbos should continue to do so during the Omer period? In addition, is it permitted for somebody who wishes to look presentable in his workplace to shave during this time?
These questions are discussed below.
Prohibitions of the Sefirah
Some primary sources for the customary mourning during the Omer period refer only to getting married.
Ri Ibn Gias writes “The custom of all Israel is to refrain from getting married between Pesach and Atzeres. This is because of Aveilus and not as a prohibition… this applies only to marriage, and not to betrothal… This was the ruling of the Geonim.”
Later sources, however, refer to a prohibition against haircuts as well. This is recorded by the Tur (Orach Chaim 493) and the Abudraham (Page 245) in the name of the Ba’al Hamo’or.
The question is what the prohibition against tispores includes: Does this refer only to cutting hair, or is shaving or trimming one’s beard also included?
The Prohibition for Mourners
In the laws of mourning, we seem to find a clear answer to this question. The Braisa in Maseches Semachos (7:11) reads: “[The prohibition] against taking a haircut – how so? It is forbidden to cut one’s hair, including the head, the moustache and the beard, and any other hair.”
The Rambam (Evel 5:2) as well writes clearly that a person’s beard is also included:
“How do we know that an avel is forbidden to take a haircut? For the sons of Aharon are warned, “Do not grow your hair long” – implying that any other mourner must refrain from cutting his hair, and must leave it unkempt? Just as it is forbidden to cut one’s hair, so it is forbidden to shave one’s beard, or any other hair.”
Levels of Mourning
As the sources mentioned above indicate, the prohibitions of the Omer period relate to mourning practices. It is therefore important to clarify the level of mourning that the Omer period involves.
There are three basic levels of mourning with their respective customs: The Shiva (first week after burial), the Shloshim (thirty days) and, for children mourning a deceased parent, the year (twelve months from the time of death).
The customs of the Omer period might parallel the latter level: It is customarily forbidden to wed, to celebrate at wine-parties, and to take haircuts – practices that we refrain from for the entire twelve months following a parent’s death.
During the twelve-month period, both getting a haircut and shaving are prohibited, but only “until one’s friends scold him [to tell him that his hair is too long].” After a mourner’s friends notify him that his hair is too long and unkempt, and he requires a haircut, it is permitted to get a haircut (Moed Katan 22b; Rambam, Hilchos Evel 6:3).
However, this will apparently not apply to shaving during the Omer. Although a person (who shaves daily) does look quite unkempt after a number of days without shaving, during the Omer this is not a reason for his friends to scold him since the customs of the Omer generally cause people to look unkempt.
Because it is unlikely that anybody will scold a person for not shaving during the Omer, this will not be a heter for shaving during this time.
Trimming Mustache for Eating
Rishonim debate whether it is permitted for a mourner to trim his mustache if it interferes with eating. The Ramban permits doing so even during the first seven days of mourning, whereas the Ra’avad prohibits the practice for thirty days.
According to the Ramban, trimming a mustache for eating does not conflict with the practices of mourning, whereas according to the Ra’avad it does.
The Ritz Gias presents a compromise approach, forbidding the practice during the first seven days of mourning, but permitting it later. This is the ruling given by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 390:1), and it raises an obvious question: If haircuts are forbidden all thirty days, including trimming one’s mustache, why is there a distinction in this matter between the first seven days (Shiva) and the first thirty (Shloshim)?
It appears that the distinction is between acts of luxury which are forbidden all thirty days, and those that remove discomfort, which are forbidden only during the Shiva. Thus, it is forbidden to trim one’s mustache during the Shiva even if this causes discomfort, for even acts of relief are forbidden in the Shiva. After the Shiva, however, acts that relieve discomfort are permitted, and only those of luxury are forbidden, so that it is permitted to trim one’s mustache if it interferes with eating.
Shaving in the Omer
Based on the foregoing distinction, it is possible to suggest that shaving, for people who shave regularly, is not an act of luxury, but rather an act that dispels discomfort – much like trimming one’s mustache when this interferes with eating. This distinction is raised by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.
However, rulings of great halachic authorities indicate that this is not sufficient cause for leniency.
For instance, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Orach Chaim 4:102) rules (concerning the Three Weeks – the same will be true of the Omer period) that the custom to refrain from shaving does not apply to situations where a monetary loss would result. Accordingly, if one would incur a loss by not shaving, it is permitted to shave.
As Rav Moshe explains elsewhere (Choshen Mishpat 1:93), this leniency only applies if an actual loss would be incurred. If appearing unshaven merely causes ridicule or embarrassment, the leniency does not apply. Clearly, this will also be true of the discomfort a person suffers from not shaving for a number of days.
A similar ruling was given by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Maadanei Shlomo) concerning the Omer period: It is permitted to shave for one’s livelihood, but it is otherwise forbidden.
In fact, “Kuntress Liknos Chochmah” cites Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv that today it is forbidden to shave during the Omer even for purposes of one’s livelihood, since being unshaven today does not cause a person to look odd. This clearly depends on a person’s environment and in practice if a person’s livelihood might be at stake the consensus is to be lenient.
Shaving in Honor of Shabbos
Is there any room for leniency to shave in honor of Shabbos?
The Rema (Orach Chaim 551:3) permits laundering [during the Nine Days] for Shabbos if one has no other garments to wear. The Magen Avraham wonders why a similar leniency does not apply to cutting one’s hair. He concludes that haircutting is not permitted since people do not take a haircut every week, while everyone needs clean clothing every week. Thus, the Rabbis permitted laundering for Shabbos (under certain circumstances) but did not allow hair cutting.
The ruling and rationale of the Magen Avraham is quoted by all later authorities (including the Mishnah Berurah 551:32).
Based on this approach, it can be argued (see Chasam Sofer, Yoreh De’ah 348) that in our times, the restriction on haircutting – in the Three Weeks period, and the more so during the Omer weeks – applies only to taking a haircut, but not to shaving.
The reason for this is that many men shave several times a week or even daily, so that shaving is comparable to laundering, not to hair cutting. Accordingly, it would be permitted to shave on Erev Shabbos, and possibly this is the source for those who are lenient in doing so (She’arim Metzuyanim b’Halachah 122:5; see Biur Halachah 551:3).
Most communities, however, have not accepted this custom, and are stringent with regard to shaving in the Three Weeks and during the Omer, even on Erev Shabbos (see Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 42:52).
Likewise, Rav Ovadya Yosef (Kol Sinai, p. 89) writes that the universal custom is to prohibit haircuts in the Omer period, and that “those who fear the word of Hashem” refrain even from shaving. He adds that for those who find this troubling it is permitted to shave on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, or on Erev Rosh Chodesh for those who are particular not to shave on Rosh Chodesh. He does not mention permission to shave in honor of Shabbos.
Yet, one should not reprimand those who are lenient in this matter, for they have poskim to rely upon.