Nazir 58

Manscaping.

The word manscaping is a funny portmanteau of man and landscaping. Just as it sounds, it refers to the act of trimming (or “landscaping”) a man’s body hair. We have spent a lot of time discussing all the ways that a nazirite cannot cut the hair on their heads or bodies, and what to do if they need to (because of tzara’at, for example). On the theme of haircutting, on today’s daf, we turn to the non-nazirite and ask: Can he manscape? 

Rav said: A person may lighten all his body with a razor.

Apparently, the answer is yes. Or is it? The Gemara quotes beraita, an earlier tradition, which seems to contradict Rav’s opinion: 

One who removes his armpit or pubic (hair) is flogged.

The rabbis impose flogging only on violations of Torah law — so if a man is flogged for manscaping, wouldn’t that mean that it is forbidden? 

If you’re reading the Steinsaltz translation, you may notice that Steinsaltz adds an explanation for the flogging: “A man shall not put on a woman’s garment” (Deuteronomy 22:5), which is traditionally understood to prohibit one sex from cross-dressing and, in some interpretations, doing things that are traditionally associated with the other sex. We’re going to explore that prohibition in some depth tomorrow. But it’s worth noting now that those words are not in the Talmud, so let us work to understand the Talmud’s discussion as it is presented. 

So far in our discussion all we know is that manscaping is punished by flogging. Or is it?

In this situation (flogging) he removed it with a razor, in that situation (Rav’s view) he removed it with scissors.

According to the anonymous voice of the Talmud, the Torah prohibits manscaping with a razor, but Rav permits manscaping only with scissors. But isn’t this a strange reading of Rav’s original statement? Didn’t Rav explicitly say it was OK to lighten the body with a razor? The anonymous voice insists that no, Rav permitted the cutting of body hair not with a razor (God forbid!) but only with something “similar to a razor.”

The ancient world was filled with tools for removing unwanted body hair that were not razors: scissors, waxing, tweezers, pumice stones, threading and various kinds of chemical depilatories. So if a man wanted to remove his body hair with anything but a razor, he would have had a lot of options.

What I take from today’s discussion is that, though the word is new, manscaping is not a new phenomenon. Whether the discomfort is physical (i.e. chafing) or aesthetic, some men have always been uncomfortable with their body hair and sought to modify it. Doing so was not considered necessarily feminine. And as we will learn on tomorrow’s daf, socially, it seems that not manscaping was the exception, not the rule.

Read all of Nazir 58 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 22nd, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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