Lift-and-Cut Shavers

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by R. Gil Student

There is a website dedicated to adjusting Norelco Lift-and-Cut Shavers called Kosher Shaver. I always found this a bit amusing because when I was in yeshiva “everyone” used a Lift-and-Cut, after a senior rosh yeshiva declared it permissible (as is this rosh yeshiva‘s policy, he does not want his name mentioned in the media.). His reason: he tested it out on his hand and found that the shave was not very close. I used a Lift-and-Cut for a number of years, until I grew my current beard, and found no difference in the shave between that shaver and a screen shaver. I still had the same small stubble that I could feel with my hand after using either kind.

On the Kosher Shaver website, there is a write-up on the subject of electric shavers from the Torah sheet Halacha Berurah (link). The write-up is fairly comprehensive, in that it discusses whether electric shavers are permitted at all — many posekim forbid them entirely; others, such as R. Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, R. Tzvi Pesach Frank, R. Yosef Eliyahu Henkin and R. Moshe Feinstein, permitted their use. (I am still trying to find out whether R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, when he had a goatee, used depilatory cream or an electric shaver. If anyone knows, please inform us in the response section.) R. Henkin’s reason to permit electric shavers is that there is still a remaining stubble. R. Moshe Feinstein allows them because the cutting is done through both the screen and the blade, thus acting like scissors rather than like a single blade razor.

The article then progresses to Lift-and-Cut shavers and claims that according to R. Moshe Feinstein’s position, these shavers would be prohibited because the hair is lifted up by one blade and then cut by another, single blade rather than by the screen and the blade. This is acting like a razor and not like scissors. The article’s author writes that he confirmed this understanding with R. David Feinstein, R. Reuven Feinstein and R. Yisrael Belsky.

Evidently, the rosh yeshiva I mentioned at the beginning who permitted Lift-and-Cut shavers held a position similar to R. Henkin’s — that the shave must be close in order for it to be prohibited. Despite company marketing, in my experience the shave is not noticeably closer than most other shavers.

Missing from the article is the position of R. Nachum Rabinovich. In his Melumedei Milchamah (no. 128), R. Rabinovich rules that all electric shavers are categorized as melaket and rahitni because they cut hairs individually, as opposed to razors that cut a large number of hairs at a time. Therefore, according to him, there is no difference between a screen shaver and a Lift-and-Cut shaver, and the latter is entirely permitted.

R. Moshe Feinstein’s grandson-through-marriage, R. Shabtai Rappaport, wrote an article on electric shavers that is available in English translation online (link). Not surprisingly, he follows his wife’s grandfather’s position on electric shavers in general. However, when it comes to Lift-and-Cut shavers, he takes this reasoning in a different direction than described above:

Norelco (Phillips in Europe) developed a shaver that they claim (though other manufacturers denied their claim) gives a totally smooth shave. It is made of two interlocking sets of blades, with one of the blades of the first set placed between two of the second. The function of the first blade is to pull out the hair from the skin. Before it has a chance to sink back below the skin, the second blade cuts it off, achieving a very smooth shave.

It seems that this shaver is also not operating as a razor, but as a combination of a tweezers (melaket) and scissors. If one would pull out hair from the skin with a tweezers and then snip it off with scissors, one should also achieve a close shave; but the Torah never prohibited such a process. This similar process, though it achieves a very close shave, is not a razor cut.

The above is not intended to argue in favor of using a Lift-and-Cut. My point is that you should not assume that it is prohibited. As should be obvious, ask your rabbi about it.

(In case anyone is interested, the reason I used a Lift-and-Cut is that when I went to buy a new electric shaver 20+ years ago, it was one of the few shavers in the store and I saw no reason not to buy it. I still use it on the hair that grows below my beard line, where according to the Rema you can use an actual razor but according to some others you should not.)

(adapted from a July ’07 essay)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor 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, 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 has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as 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.

6 comments

  1. “the rosh yeshiva I mentioned at the beginning who permitted Lift-and-Cut shavers held a position similar to R. Henkin’s”

    The Halacha Berura article you quoted argues that even according to R’ Henkin lift-and-cut shavers would be prohibited because they cut too close. Then again, the article assumes that Norelco’s marketing claims are true and, as you point out, this does not seem to be the case.

    R’ Shabbatai Rappaport bases his heter on a very different understanding of how the shaver functions. According to R’ Moshe’s sons, not just lift-and-cut shavers but many of the new shavers that have very sharp blades and sharpened micro-screens are also forbidden because they supposedly can cut hairs with just their own edge and do not need the blade that moves in the opposite direction to cut the hair, which makes them them into an halachic tar.

    The responsa in Melumedei Milchamah was responsa 122 in my edition. I must say that after reading it I am very surprised. His heter is not exactly as you put it. Electric shavers do cut multiple hairs simultaneously. It is just that they cannot handle long hairs and it is necessary to first trim the hairs before they can be cut with an electric shaver. R’ Rabinnovitch attempts to prove from the Ramban that the definition of a tar is a blade that can cut many hairs at once. Since electric shavers can only be used after trimming, the cutting an electric shaver performs, R’ Rabinovitch argues, is qualified as similar to a tweezer which is permitted. This seems like specious reasoning to me. Ramban’s explanation of the way a razor cuts is meant to highlight how it is different than a tweezers which is permitted. Tweezers are permitted because they are not commonly used for removing one’s beard since only one hair can be removed at a time and are thus not included in the Torah’s prohibition of giluach. The Ramban never meant to say that a razor must cut in certain way to be forbidden. As such, since electric shavers are now commonly used for shaving they cannot be qualified as a tweezers.

  2. When I asked Rav Aharon Soleveitchik he said that lift and cut is marketing, and does not really work. It is therefore muttar. Similar to your unnamed rosh yeshiva.

  3. Rabbi Yisroel Rosen, the director of the Zomet Institute, wrote an article explaining that either all electric shavers are not acceptable OR that they are all acceptable. He produced a high speed video that showed that the Norelco lift and cut shavers do not function differently than other electric shavers. So if you accept the permissibility of using an electric shaver, the brand may be irrelevant.

    Here is a synopsis:

    מכונות גילוח

    א. משום מה הנושא עלה לכותרות בשנים האחרונה בשל חששות שהתעוררו בקשר לשימוש במכונות גילוח. כידוע, גילוח בתער הוא איסור דאורייתא. גילוח במספרים מותר לכתחילה. בשלחן ערוך (יורה דעה קפא,י) נאמר כי גם ‘מספריים כעין תער’ מותרים לכתחילה, ללא מחלוקת.

    לב השאלה הוא איפוא מהי הגדרת ‘מספרים כעין תער’ ומהי מכונות גילוח מבחינה זו?

    ב. לפני שנים (עד שנת תשס”א) גם במכון ‘צומת’ התיישרנו לפי מאמר שהתפרסם ב’תחומין’ י”ג (עמ’ 200) מאת הרב שבתי רפפורט. בעל המאמר מציע לבדוק האם להב המכונה מסוגל לחתוך שערות גם ללא הרשת (ה’ראש’). ואכן התברר כי ללא הרשת אין גזיזה ובאותם שנים הוצאנו אישורי כשרות על המכונות הללו (למעשה כולן) בהם נצפה שאין הלהב חותך שיער ללא הרשת.

    ג. היו פקפוקים ביחס לשיטת הבדיקה ולאמינותה והחלטנו להכנס לעבי הקורה. בדיקה מדוקדקת בתצלומי תקריב ערערה הנחה זו. במאמר שהתפרסם ב’תחומין’ כ”ב (אייר תשס”ב) נשטחה היריעה כיכולתי, כולל מצגת וידאו על שלבי הגילוח.

    ד. מסקנת הדברים היא כי לא ניתן להגדיר הבדל משמעותי מבחינת התוצאה, וכן מן הבחינה ההלכתית, בין הדגמים השונים. אם ה’תוצאה’ היא הקובעת אזי כל המכונות אסורות, שהרי כולן לא משאירות שערות כדי אחיזה בהן או אפי’ כדי יכולת מישוש.

    ה. מאידך, היתר המכונה בנוי על הגדרת ‘מספרים כעין תער’ לפי טכניקת הפעולה ולא לפי התוצאה; אם בתהליך הגזיזה משתתפים 2 אלמנטים או יותר – אלו מספרים ולא תער.

    ו. בכל מכונות הגילוח התהליך מתבסס על תנועת הסכין ועל אחיזת ה’ראש’ (ה’רשת’). לכן, מנקודת מבט זו של טכניקת הפעולה – אלו מספריים. ולכך דעתנו נוטה.

    ז. יתר על כן, הנוהג שפשט להוריד רכיב הקרוי ‘ליפט אנד קט’ תמוה בעינינו. אדרבה, הימצאותו משייכת יותר את מכונת הגילוח למספרים שכן בתהליך הגזיזה משתתפים 3 אלמנטים: הסכין, הרשת ורכיב זה.

    ח. חברות שבקשו, קיבלו אישור לדגמים ספציפיים שהיו לנגד עינינו, אם כי לכאורה הם אינם שונים מכל שאר הדגמים. לסיכום: דעתנו נוטה להתיר את השימוש כמעט בכל מכונות הגילוח, הפועלות בשיטה המתוארת לעיל.

    • When I reviewed your book I found it to be unabashedly one sided. In a book that gets bigger with each printing, in the almost 1,000 pages it seemed to me that there was almost no earnest discussion of the actual permissibility of modern shaving methods.

      • Thank you for spurring me to look at that website. Very one-sided. An outside observer would not know of the teshuvos permitting the use of shavers and Gedolim who actually used them. I have confirmed with one of his shamashim that Rav Soloveitchik used an electric shaver, when he did not have a full beard.

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