Levi. 19:27 “You[p] shall not round off the extremity of your[p] head, and you[s] shall not mar the end of your[s] beard.” [Return to Jere. 25:23]
This verse seems to be telling us that each of us men may not trim our hair; nor may men cut the end of their beard. I believe the reason for the change in number from plural to singular is this: Every male has hair on his head, no matter how little, but not every male has a beard. Therefore the latter admonition is for the community as a whole, leaving out those unable to grow beards (young men). [Return to Ezek. 5:1]
However, this verse brings up questions in my mind. For one, what precisely is meant by rounding off the extremity or edge of the head? The specific word in question is the second Hebrew word. It seems we are not to trim our hair, to let it grow as long as it can. But I have a problem with this interpretation. We are told in Numb. 6:5 that a Nazirite, a person dedicated to the Lord for some defined period, may not put a razor to his head during the period of his dedication. Logic leads me to conclude from this that anyone may put a razor to his head if he is not a Nazirite. So how can I put a razor to my head without rounding off the extremity of my head? It makes little sense to me. So perhaps a different interpretation must be gleaned from the other meanings of the word for round off. The root of the word is נקף. Some of its other meanings are beat or bruise, surround, strike off, go around, encompass, and enclose. Maybe the correct translation is “You shall not enclose the extremity of your head,” or “You shall not encompass the edge of your head,” or “You shall not go around the edge of your head.” Any of these could be interpreted to mean do not wear a turban or other head covering. Is that a more reasonable interpretation given Numb. 6:5? Possibly. I would have to conclude from this discussion that we may cut our hair. But should I also conclude from this that we are not to wear a kippah? If by the extremity of our head is meant the top, then we may not wear a head covering of any kind. However, there is a Hebrew term for the crown of the head, and it is not in this verse.
There’s more to this discussion, however. A better word for hair is שְׂעָר, which is found in a number of verses, including Gene. 25:25 and several in Leviticus 13. In fact, in Levi. 14:9 (as well as later in Numb. 6:18) both the words hair and head appear in the same verse. Then maybe the edge of your head doesn’t refer to hair at all. So to what does it refer? If we examine Levi. 13:41 in particular, we will find that the edge of the face refers to the forehead hairline. Then does the edge of the head refer to the neckline at the back of the head? However, Levi. 13:29 and 13:30 seem to hint at the possibility that the head implies the hair of the head. To add to this dilemma, the word in question whose root is נקף is found no where else in the bible. So the only clue to the real meaning of this verse is right here, in this verse. My conclusion? When in doubt, the safest interpretation is one that leaves us with the fewest doubts or uncertainties. In the absence of a preponderance of evidence, we have to assume both interpretations. To my way of thinking, that means we should neither wind a covering around our heads nor trim our hair. On the other hand, there seems to be some evidence for the appropriate meaning of the first part of this verse later in the bible. In Ezek. 8:3 we read that a hand took hold of a lock of Ezekiel’s head. Does that mean that as far as the hair on the head is concerned, head and hair are synonymous? I have to conclude that it may be plausible.
No wonder a roomful of sages were needed to interpret the Torah!
Another question I have is what is meant by the admonition to not mar the end of your beard? Again we need to investigate the root of the word translated as to mar, which is שַׁחַת. Some of its other meanings are to destroy, corrupt, spoil, and ruin. Almost everywhere else this word is used in the Torah it is translated as destroy. If we are not to destroy our beard, what are we permitted to do with it? May we trim it? To my way of thinking, trimming any unevenness of the beard does not destroy or mar the end of it. Nevertheless, we must grow a beard. To shave the face would be to destroy or mar the end of the beard.ַ [Back]