Monday, June 15, 2009

The Image of a Jew

When the Nodah B’Yehudah, zt”l, was first appointed Rav and Av Beis Din of Prague, the portion of the week was Parshas Vayikra. His very first drasha was a fiery sermon against shaving. This seems a little difficult to understand in light of some of his teshuvos.

For example, someone once asked if a person who shaves regularly is permitted to do so on chol hamoed. The Nodah B’Yehudah replied, “We find that Rabbeinu Tam permitted one who shaved erev Yom Tov to do so on chol hamoed. The Hagahos Ha’ashrei asks that if this were correct, why don’t we find this among the examples listed in the Mishnah in Moed Katan 14a of those who may shave on chol hamoed?

The Noda Biyehuda went on to explain, “Although shaving is a melachah, it should be permitted on chol hamoed. Chazal only prohibited it to prevent people from deferring shaving until chol hamoed purposefully.”

The Chasam Sofer zt”l, disagreed with the Nodah B’Yehudah, and there are several sources that claim that he changed his mind toward the end of his life. The Sdei Chemed, zt”l, argues this point straightforwardly. “The posthumous section of the Nodah B’Yehudah also contains a teshuvah that permits this. If the Nodah B’Yehudah had changed his mind, then at the very least this those responsible for the publication would have removed this particular teshuvah!”

One can resolve this apparent contradiction very simply. When the Chazon Ish, zt”l, was asked about shaving, he said, “The way of Jews everywhere, always, has been to have a beard. This is the image of a Jew!”

While the Nodah B’Yehudah apparently felt similarly, he also answered the queries about shaving not in terms of the ideal, but according to the strict letter of the halachah. As he once wrote to a Rav who vehemently opposed his leniency in this area, “Why should I not be matzdik the tzaddik Rabbeinu Tam when I agree with his words?”

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