Dyeing Your Hair

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Can a man dye his hair? The answer is that it depends on why he wants to do it: Is it because he likes the way he will look with dyed hair or because of a practical benefit that he will receive if his hair is dyed? If, for example, people will respect him more or if his hair looks funny and dyeing it will save him from embarrassment.

The Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 182:6) writes that a man may not dye even a single white hair black because it falls under the biblical prohibition of a man dressing like a woman. This seems fairly unequivocal.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the beard of a rabbi in Eastern Europe grew discolored and he asked the great rabbis of his time whether he is allowed to dye his beard to avoid the extreme embarrassment he was suffering. The Sho’el U-Meishiv (first seriess, vol. 1 no. 210) concluded that dyeing your beard black is only rabbinically prohibited. Since this rabbi was suffering extreme embarrassment, he was allowed to violate the rabbinic prohibition to alleviate the pain. Other authorities, however, ruled that he may not, including the Divrei Chaim (Yoreh De’ah, no. 62) and Maharam Schick (Yoreh De’ah nos. 172-173). On all this, see the Darkhei Teshuvah 182:17) and Sedei Chemed (Ma’arekhes Lamed, no. 116).

However, some later authorities disagreed. The Minchas Elazar (vol. 4 no. 23), who was the son of the Darkhei Teshuvah (and, I believe, actually wrote the last volume), disagreed in theory with those authorities who were strict but chose not to dispute them in practice. He concluded that the prohibition is only rabbinic, as above.

The Seridei Esh (Yoreh De’ah no. 41 in the new edition) has a long responsum on this subject. He argued that the entire prohibition is only against trying to beautify yourself. If, however, you have a pragmatic reason for dyeing your hair, then there is not even a rabbinic prohibition.

In an exchange of letters (Sefer Ha-Ma’or vol. 1 nos. 26-27), R. Elazar Meir Preil and R. Moshe Mordechai Epstein both argue similarly: There are two aspects to the prohibition against a man dressing like a woman — to try to pass as a woman, to beautify yourself like a woman does. A man can dye his beard (and presumably hair) in order to look younger to avoid hiring discrimination because that is neither for the sake of passing as a woman nor as a beautifying measure. (The Seridei Esh writes that he saw a responsum from R. Epstein in his Levushei Mordekhai, but I did not have the opportunity to look it up. It seems that he reaches the same conclusion but in a different context than his letter to R. Preil.)

Because of these lenient voices, R. Gersion Appel writes (The Concise Code of Jewish Law, vol. 1 p. 288):

One who is prematurely gray, and finds this to be a handicap with regard to marriage, or in obtaining a suitable position or appointment in his business or profession, is permitted to dye his hair in his natural color. This would also be the case if his intention is to avoid embarrassment, since the prohibition is essentially that a man is not to utilize women’s cosmetics or devices for purposes of adornment.

Of course, ask your rabbi before reaching any conclusion.

Reposted from here: link

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

19 comments

  1. A good example of the uncontroversial evolution of halacha from the Gemara to modern times. The plain meaning of B. Shabbat 94b is straightforward (Koren translation):

    And the Sages agree with Rabbi Eliezer that one who collects and plucks white hairs from among black ones is liable even if he removed a single hair. His actions indicate that one hair is significant for him. And this matter of plucking white hairs is prohibited for men even on weekdays, as it is stated: “A woman shall not don a man’s clothes, and a man shall not wear a woman’s garment” (Deuteronomy 22:5). The Sages derive that any action typically performed by women for beautification is prohibited for men.

    And the linked halacha note:

    It is prohibited for a man to remove white hairs from among black ones due to the prohibition: “And a man shall not wear a woman’s garment” (Deuteronomy 22:5). One who removed a single white hair is liable to receive lashes (Rambam Sefer HaMadda, Hilkhot Avoda Zara 12:10; Shulĥan Arukh, Yoreh De’a 182:6, Oraĥ Ĥayyim 340:1).

    If we paskened according to the Talmud, the halachic issues today would be far greater than the question of a man dyeing his hair.

  2. See this topic:
    http://www.torahlab.org/doitright/manscaping_and_other_cross_gender_issues/

    Do not societal conventions have relevance to this today? In todays society it is extremely common for men to dye their hair, there are even exclusive male hair dye products. It can hardly be considered a female only procedure.

    Why is this issue not similar in nature to a man looking into a mirror etc?

  3. Gil, this is not the first time I suspect you of knowingly leaving out info that is relevant. For some reason the chareidi poskim still insist that it is assur for a man to dye his hair despite changed societal norms. Maybe this is based on the opinion expressed in the Geonim (see Shut Rashba) that some actions may be inherently feminine. This opinion is hard to accept and to my knowledge that does not seem to be the driving force of the ossrim.

    Actually R’ Yuksiel Yehuda Greenwald claims that even during the days of Chazal there times when this is permitted as is implied in some places. In modern times it would therefore be permitted. He was writing in 1939,all the more so nowadays. See the teshuva in his short lived journal Oztar Nechmad here http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=2587&st=&pgnum=38&hilite=

  4. IH, you could say the same thing about numerous pesukim in Tanach, “the plain meaning is straightforward” yet Chazal ended up interpreting it otherwise. In neither case – with regard to interpreting the pesukim or the gemara – is it clear that the interpreters saw themselves as changing anything. If someone had somehow convinced them that their interpretation was a change, they would have abandoned it. This is in contrast to current-day “halachic evolution” proponents, who knowingly and willfully make changes from what was previously observed.

  5. Shlomo,

    How do you understand all the places in Sha”s where the gemara compares “mishna rishona” to “mishna acharona”? Do you think that the Rem”a was unaware that, when he said we don’t allow woment to perform shchita, he was contradicting the Mishanah and the Gemara? That the Rabbonim in Europe who forbade kitniyot did not know the gemara explicitly permits rice? When Chaza”l said that certain areas of monetary law are governed by minhag hasocherim that they thought that did not vary with time and place?

  6. In the modern era where a person can sue for age discrimination or religious discrimination, would one still be allowed to dye their hair for “practical benefit”?

    Seems to me that if dyeing one’s hair was able to give a practical benefit, then they could sue instead of dying their hair…

  7. ” In neither case – with regard to interpreting the pesukim or the gemara – is it clear that the interpreters saw themselves as changing anything.”

    This isn’t true at all. Many places in the Talmud they admit that they are making a change to the pre-exsting law for various reasons.

  8. Isn’t hair dyeing considered a form of ganeivas da’as?

  9. Why would you write a post about dyeing hair and not address the elephant in the room (that the underlying rationale of the prohibition is not currently applicable).

  10. you could say the same thing about numerous pesukim in Tanach

    Shlomo — Well, no. The re-interpretation of the written Torah into halacha is central to Rabbinic Judaiam. Here we are talking about the evolution of halacha within the Oral Torah using “the halachic process”. Why you have the need to deny halachic evolution in light of an obvious example I truly don’t understand.

  11. abba's rantings

    “the elephant in the room (that the underlying rationale of the prohibition is not currently applicable).”

    but one could argue such about many of our contemporary practices

  12. Nishmas Avraham quotes R’ Shlomo Zalman Aurbach as permitting someone who has turning white well before his time to die his hair for shiduch purposes. As long as he discloses it with his potential shiduch.

  13. Mesoret Moshe (pp. 248-9) cites R. Moshe’s view on the topic. (And R. Shmuel Fuerst in one of his online shiurim also quotes something very similar to what is written in Mesoret Moshe.)

  14. MiMedinat HaYam

    “Mair Zvi on April 12, 2013 at 9:02 am
    Isn’t hair dyeing considered a form of ganeivas da’as?”

    RMF specifically allows a divorced woman to not wear a wig in public / when dating) though she must disclose at some unspecified time). also, he allows a woman to not tell she was previously mArried, even to to the mesader kiddushin, though she must disclose to her fiance at some unspecified time before the wedding (though how is the mesdaer kiddushin to specifty the ketubah amount?)

    abba — yes, there are many contenporary practices.

    epfraim — as for charedi opinions, the minchas eluzur is as charedi as you can get. (he was so charedi, he opposed the modernizing agudah; he’s rolling in his grave now as his successor grandson learned in telz in america).

    also, you list no opinions past the divrei chaim prohibiting. and a consensus permitting.

  15. MiMedinat HaYam – I meant permitting it outright because times have changed and now men dye their hair like women. When he paskined it was not common for men to dye their hair. I am speaking about contemporary rabbis.

  16. 1) How do you understand all the places in Sha”s where the gemara compares “mishna rishona” to “mishna acharona”? 2) Do you think that the Rem”a was unaware that, when he said we don’t allow woment to perform shchita, he was contradicting the Mishanah and the Gemara? 3) That the Rabbonim in Europe who forbade kitniyot did not know the gemara explicitly permits rice? 4) When Chaza”l said that certain areas of monetary law are governed by minhag hasocherim that they thought that did not vary with time and place?

    1) The “mishna rishona” was likely not a universally accepted and followed practice; it may have been one rabbi’s theoretical opinion which an equally qualified rabbi of the next generation could overrule. We do not have the same power in relation to the SA’s ruling, the consensus of rishonim/achronim, and/or a universally followed practice.
    2,3) These are additional customs which communities adopted, on top of the existing halacha, not changing it.
    4) “Minhag hasocherim” is an explicit farming out of halacha to outside conventions, so it is no surprise that later authorities should find room to change it.

    The re-interpretation of the written Torah into halacha is central to Rabbinic Judaiam. Here we are talking about the evolution of halacha within the Oral Torah using “the halachic process”.

    You can’t just do whatever you want and say “it used to be forbidden, but now I say it’s OK, and that’s the halachic process”.

    Why you have the need to deny halachic evolution in light of an obvious example I truly don’t understand.

    Because I honestly believe that if you went back in time and asked the rabbis whether they thought they were changing things, they would answer as I said they would. Maybe you are better informed than them about what things changed and what are the same, but I don’t see how that is relevant.

  17. so it is no surprise that later authorities should find room to change it.

    I should have said something like: “room to change the psak based on changes in it”

  18. MiMedinat HaYam

    maier tzvi — i am agreeing, and extending your comment (bringing in the similar case of not wearing a wig)

  19. Shlomo — you’re playing words games. Of course the Rabbis who were making changes were cognizant they were doing so. The “halachic process” does not forbid change, it modulates it such that two things occur: 1) the technical legal reasoning homework; and, 2) its acceptance by the community over time.

    In this case, the Gemara makes a broad prohibition that was winnowed down over a long period of time.

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