The Rambam on the Cutting Edge Nazir 41 Psychology of the Daf Yomi
Continuing our discussion about Jewish prohibitions of cutting hair, our Gemara on this daf discusses the prohibition of cutting the hair on the side of one’s head, that is peyos harosh. Rabbi Rosner’s Daf Yomi Shiur from the last cycle quoted an intriguing Tur (Tur YD 181):
“That which the Ramban says that the reason for the prohibition of cutting the Peyos is an order to not be similar to the customs of the idolaters, is not explicitly stated in the Torah. We do not need to look for reasons for the mitzvos, because they are simply commandments of the King.”
The Rambam indeed does state in Avodah Zara (11:1) that this, amongst many other commandments, are in order to keep a separation between the customs of the idolaters and the Jews.
The Beis Yosef on the Tur reacts to the Tur’s reaction. Beis Yosef wonders why the Tur would suspect the Rambam of speaking presumptuously in regard toward the mitzvos in any manner. The Rambam himself makes his position clear in the laws of Meila (8:8):
רָאוּי לָאָדָם לְהִתְבּוֹנֵן בְּמִשְׁפְּטֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַקְּדוֹשָׁה וְלֵידַע סוֹף עִנְיָנָם כְּפִי כֹּחוֹ. וְדָבָר שֶׁלֹּא יִמְצָא לוֹ טַעַם וְלֹא יֵדַע לוֹ עִלָּה אַל יְהִי קַל בְּעֵינָיו וְלֹא יַהֲרֹס לַעֲלוֹת אֶל ה’ פֶּן יִפְרֹץ בּוֹ. וְלֹא תְּהֵא מַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ בּוֹ כְּמַחְשַׁבְתּוֹ בִּשְׁאָר דִּבְרֵי הַחל
It is appropriate for a person to meditate on the laws of the holy Torah and know their ultimate purpose according to his capacity. If he cannot find a reason or a motivating rationale for a practice, he should not regard it lightly. Nor should he break through to ascend to God, lest God burst forth against him. One’s thoughts concerning them should not be like his thoughts concerning other ordinary matters.
We see quite clearly the Rambam’s deference for the binding nature of the Torah, no matter what reasons we may be able to give, understand, or not understand. The Beis Yosef’s point is cogent. How then can we understand what seems to be disturbing the Tur so greatly?
I believe the answer lies in how the Rambam approaches these prohibitions in particular. We find a somewhat difficult Rambam (Avodah Zara 11:3) that states:
יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁהָיָה קָרוֹב לַמַּלְכוּת וְצָרִיךְ לֵישֵׁב לִפְנֵי מַלְכֵיהֶם וְהָיֳה לוֹ גְּנַאי לְפִי שֶׁלֹּא יִדְמֶה לָהֶן הֲרֵי זֶה מֻתָּר לִלְבּשׁ בְּמַלְבּוּשֵׁיהֶן וּלְגַלֵּחַ כְּנֶגֶד פָּנָיו כְּדֶרֶךְ שֶׁהֵן עוֹשִׂין:
A Jew who has an important position in a gentile kingdom and must sit before their kings, and would be embarrassed if he did not resemble them, is granted permission to wear clothes which resemble theirs and shave the hair on his face as they do.
The commentaries wonder, just because it is important to conduct diplomatic relations with the Gentiles, how could a biblical prohibition be overridden? The Kesef Mishna (ibid) struggles with this, and suggests that perhaps the Rambam believed that diplomatic relationships typically posed life and death situations, and this was the basis of the heter.
Actually the Rambam’s ruling is based on a Gemara Sotah (49b):
שָׁאנֵי שֶׁל בֵּית רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל דִּקְרוֹבִין לַמַּלְכוּת הֲווֹ דְּתַנְיָא מְסַפֵּר קוֹמֵי הֲרֵי זֶה מִדַּרְכֵי הָאֱמוֹרִי אַבְטוֹלוֹס בֶּן רְאוּבֵן הִתִּירוּ [לוֹ] לְסַפֵּר קוֹמֵי שֶׁהוּא קָרוֹב לַמַּלְכוּת שֶׁל בֵּית רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הִתִּירוּ לָהֶן חׇכְמַת יְווֹנִית מִפְּנֵי שֶׁקְּרוֹבִין לַמַּלְכוּת
The Gemara answers: The members of the house of Rabban Gamliel are different, as they were close to the monarchy, and therefore had to learn Greek wisdom in order to converse with people of authority. As it is taught in a baraisa (Tosefta, Shabbat 7:1): One who cuts his hair in the komi style, which was the gentile fashion of cutting and wearing the hair, is considered to be acting in the ways of the Amorites, and it is prohibited to act in their way. However, they permitted Avtolos ben Reuven to cut his hair in the komi style, as he is close to the monarchy, and similarly they permitted the house of Rabban Gamliel to study Greek wisdom, because they are close to the monarchy.
However, this tradition from the Gemara was not interpreted by other rishonim as a special heter to violate the laws of haircutting the peyos. Instead, it just was a particular kind of hairstyle that normally the rabbis would say is forbidden, but here, in order to blend in, they allowed it. It seems from the context of his words that the Rambam takes it much further, allowing cutting of peyos.
I believe that is exactly what the Rambam was doing and that is what alarmed the Tur. The Tur THOUGHT, or at least, was worried, that others would THINK that the Ramban was using his understanding of the reason for the mitzvah as a basis for shaping his halakhic outcomes. However, my belief is that the Ramban was doing that, albeit under a “limited license” because he saw this Gemara as representative of a tradition, that for this prohibition, it depended on whether the intent was in order to actually adopt the customs of the idolaters, or it was for some other secondary purpose. That is why if the reason of this particular Jewish politician was in order to blend in, but deep down, he had no affiliation or affinity for their worship and practices, it would be permitted. This permission would not come from it being a matter of life and death. Rather, the heter is based on the idea that, with this particular mitzvah, the intention is important. And since the intention wasn’t to adopt and mimic the ideology and practices of the Gentiles, and it was only for superficial adherence, in the situation of duress it was permitted, even if not life-threatening.
I have a proof, for this idea, conceptually from something that is related to the upcoming holiday of Purim. Though it is Biblically prohibited for a man to dress as a woman and for a woman to dress as a man, there is a debate whether it would be permitted on Purim to dress up in costume like the opposite gender.
The Rama OH 696:6 rules:
מה שנהגו ללבוש פרצופים בפורים וגבר לובש שמלת אשה ואשה כלי גבר אין איסור בדבר מאחר שאין מכוונין אלא לשמחה בעלמא וכן בלבישת כלאים דרבנן וי”א דאסור אבל המנהג כסברא הראשונה וכן בני אדם החוטפים זה מזה דרך שמחה אין בזה משום לא תגזול ונהגו כך ובלבד שלא יעשה דבר שלא כהוגן ע”פ טובי העיר: (תשובת מהר”י מינץ סי’ י”ז):
As to the custom of wearing ‘faces’ on Purim, and men who wear women’s dresses and women wearing men’s attire – this is not forbidden, for they have no intention other than pure pleasure. So too the practice of wearing kilayim, rabinically forbidden mixtures of clothes. And although some say it is forbidden, we follow the first opinion. So too, the custom of stealing from each other in a happy way – this does not fall under the prohibition of ‘Do not steal’, and this is what is done, as long as one does not transgress what is considered acceptable by the elders of the town.
We might ask, How does the person’s intention change the prohibition? It is not as if he is accidentally wearing the clothes, and obviously in some way he wants to dress up as someone of the opposite gender. The the answer would seem to be that there was a tradition regarding this particular kind of prohibition that the main intent was to prevent a immoral violation of gender roles, especially perhaps to carry out clandestine sexual violations (see Rashi Devarim 22:5, and I believe the commentary of the Gra on Shulkhan Arukh ibid is making a similar point.) Sadly, in current society, we see this concern being played out, see this article: https://www.standingforfreedom.com/2021/10/skirt-wearing-male-student-is-found-guilty-of-raping-a-15-year-old-girl-in-a-school-bathroom-in-loudoun-county-virginia/ )
Therefore, it would seem that there can be a tradition about certain provisions that come along with a specific intention, and therefore, if there is an expedient motive, and it doesn’t have to do with that intention, it can be permitted. This is what I believe is the basis for the Rambam’s ruling regarding peyos but also provides context for understanding why the Tur reacted so strongly as I believe the Tur would strongly disagree..