Reader: Of course I realize the spiritual imperative of a yarmulke, but I have been led to believe that the injunction against cutting facial hair leads to the frum Jews wearing a beard and maintaining payis. This is not a custom, is it? This is required from the fully observant, is it not? My Lubavitch friends/teachers wear “the uniform” but my Rabbi at the modern orthodox shul of which I’ve been a member for about 40 years does not wear a beard, and in fact has no observable payis. I am now more confused...I close with a warm Shabbat shalom and my thanks again for your previous kind and personal reply.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: You are partially correct. Cutting facial hair is not a prohibition, as we learn that Moses’ brother Aaron trimmed his beard. This is proper, and becoming, to present one’s self in the most presentable manner. Furthermore, it is stated that a Talmid Chacham is punished if he bears a stain on his garment. Certainly he is punished if he appears disheveled. By doing so, others maintain a poor image of Torah which he represents. “The righteous ones are judged to a hair’s breadth”. This means that God holds those of greater knowledge and perfection to a greater degree of performance. Talmud Sabbath also teaches that in line with one’s knowledge, are his punishments: the more one knows about Sabbath, the greater is his responsibility. The same reasoning applies to the righteous.
Regarding your halachik questions…payis is a law: one should not cut his hair like the heathens, who used to shave off their payis with bowl-shaped haircuts. Christian and Buddhist monks have been depicted with this style…a good reason to avoid duplication. However, no prohibition exists to cut one’s facial hair as I mentioned. The prohibition is to cut one’s face in five spots as a mournful act, performed by heathens. Therefore, we do not use a razor blade on our face above the jaw line, lest we accidentally duplicate those heathen cuts. However, there is no reason not to use an electric shaver since the blades do not come in contact with the face.