The Truth About the Beard

Should Followers of Messiah Grow Their Beards?

Table of Contents

Shaving the Forehead For the Dead in Deuteronomy 14:1

The Prohibitions for the Priests in Leviticus 21:1-6

The Prohibition of Trimming the Beard in Leviticus 19:27

Scriptural Requirements for Cutting the Hair and Beard

Making Baldness on the Head for the Dead: The Prophets Speak



The Spirit of Elohim is impressing upon his people in these last days the need to believe and obey His word.  This includes the Torah - which is usually referred to as the "Law."  "Torah" is better translated as "instruction."   Those who take seriously what Yahusha said to his disciples, "If you love me you will obey my commandments," realize that "his commandments" are not just those he gave to his New Testament disciples.  On the contrary, Yahusha gave his people Israel his commandments at Mt Sinai through Moses.  Then, to his disciples, Yahusha reaffirmed the meaning and applicability of those commandments that he issued at Mt Sinai for his New Testament people (see Matthew 5-7).

Thus, if we love him and desire to obey his commandments (as he said we would), it is important to understand what those commandments are and what they mean.  One such difficult to understand commandment is found in Leviticus 19:27 and reads as follows:

Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard (NIV).

This commandment sounds like Elohim does not want men to cut their hair or beards.  If this is so, then nearly every male believer in Yahusha is in violation of Elohim's will regarding their hair.

In addition to the Leviticus 19:27 text quoted above, there are two other major texts in the Torah which describe the need for men to abstain from trimming the beard.  The first is in Leviticus 21:5 which reads:

Priests must not shave their heads or shave off the edges of their beards or cut their bodies (NIV)

And the other is in Devarim (Deuteronomy)14:1, which the New International Version (with Hebrew naming convention added) renders:

You are the children of Yahuwah your Elohim. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead.

The Orthodox Jews interpret this mitzvah (commandment) to avoid cutting the beard at face value.  It is normal for Orthodox males to have long, untrimmed beards and long hair at the sides of their heads.  To their credit, the Orthodox are zealous to obey the Torah.  They do not allow current cultural or popular trends to influence the way they live.  This has the effect of "setting them apart" from all others.  The long beards are a tell-tale sign of an individual who is striving to obey Elohim's Word.

But the mere appearance of obedience to the Torah does not mean that they are actually in compliance with the intended meaning of this commandment.  A long history of man-inspired tradition and erroneous interpretation has led the orthodox to miss the true interpretation of many of their own Scriptures handed down to them from Mosheh and the prophets.  Therefore, the precise meaning of Leviticus 19:27 and other texts like it need to be re-examined.  Thus it behooves us to find out the exact understanding of the three texts cited above.  Only in open-minded and level-headed thinking and research and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit of Elohim can we ascertain the intention of such commandments as these.  So, without further ado, let's dig in.

Shaving the Forehead For the Dead in Deuteronomy 14:1

Our first task is to examine the text of Devarim 14:1 to discover its precise meaning.  Here is the Hebrew script of Devarim 14:1:

 Wdd>GO*t.ti al{ ~k,yhel{a/ hwhyl; ~T,a ~ynIB'

`tmel' ~k,ynEy[e !yBe hx'r>q' Wmyfit'-al{)w>

The following are popular English Bible translations of this verse:

Ye are the children of the LORD your God: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead. (king jimmy version)

You are the sons of the LORD your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave your forehead for the sake of the dead. (NAS)

You are the children of the LORD your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead (NIV)

Since you are the people of the LORD your God, never cut yourselves or shave the hair above your foreheads for the sake of the dead. (New Living Translation)

My translation is not much different.  This is because the words are very clear to understand:

You are the sons of YHWH your Elohim; you shall not cut yourselves nor make baldness between your eyes on behalf of the dead (DRV)

This verse refers to a well known mourning custom of the pagans.  The people of the world, who do not know Elohim the Creator, both in ancient times and in modern culture, perform radical and sometimes bazaar acts against their own bodies while mourning over their dead.  Cutting the body for the dead was and still is practiced by many religions around the world.  Some Catholics, Muslims, Satan worshippers, and others perform ritual hacking of their bodies to draw blood in mourning for and in remembrance of their dead loved ones and heroes.  A contemporary example of this is reported on every year by the media as Muslims memorialize one of their great ones.  Participators gash themselves and teach their little ones to slash themselves as well, usually across the head.

  This kind of meaningless and vain worship is what Sha'ul was referring to in his letter to the Colossians when he states:

These are all destined to perish with use, founded as they are on human commands and teachings.  Even though they have the appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship and false humility achieved by an unsparing treatment of the body--a wisdom with no true value--they in reality result in fleshly indulgence. (Colossians 2:22-23)

The Creator Elohim does not desire that we mistreat ourselves, cut ourselves or harm ourselves in any way.  This is not acceptable worship to him.  He made us in his image and requires that we love our own bodies because they are the temple of Elohim.

The Torah speaks to the kind of worship which Elohim is looking for in us and also to the kind of worship which he rejects.  He first tells us that he wants us to obey his commandments, not the commandments of the religious systems of men:

These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that Yahuwah, the Elohim of your fathers, has given you to possess-- as long as you live in the land.  Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. 

Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.  You must not worship Yahuwah your Elohim in their way  (Devarim 12:1-4).

Yahuwah demands that we worship him his way - the righteous way.  The ways of man are detestable to him and thus, he doesn't receive such worship as men think is acceptable:

You must not worship Yahuwah your Elohim in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things Yahuwah hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.  See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it. (Devarim 12:31,32)

Cutting oneself and making baldness on the forehead on behalf of the dead flies in the face of what Yahuwah wants for us.  So it is clear by the context of this verse that the prohibition of making baldness on the forehead is not a general rule for all Yisrael.  It is prohibited by this commandment only in the case of doing it in mourning for the dead.

The Prohibitions for the Priests in Leviticus 21:1-6

The prohibition instructed to the priests who are told not to shave off the corner of their beards also comes in the context of things done during funeral activities:

Leviticus 21:1  Then Yahuwah said to Mosheh, "Speak to the priests, the sons of Aharon, and say to them: 'No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his people....

The whole of verses 1-6 are speaking to a particular situation: things not to be done on behalf of a dead person.  Priests are told that they may not defile themselves (i.e. participate in the funeral by touching a corpse) except in the case of a brother, a sister, a mother, a father or a close relative.  He may not even defile himself by touching his own dead wife!! 

Then on the tail of this instruction comes verse 5:

  WxLeg:y> al{ ~n"q'z> ta;p.W ~v'aroB.  hx'r>q'-al

`tj,r"(f' Wjr>f.yI al{ ~r"f'b.biW

The popular English Bible translations render this verse as follows: 

Leviticus 21:5 They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh. (king jimmy version)

Leviticus 21:5 They shall not make any baldness on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts in their flesh. (NAS)

Leviticus 21:5 Priests must not shave their heads or shave off the edges of their beards or cut their bodies. (NIV)

Leviticus 21:5 They shall not shave smooth any part of their heads, or cut the side-growth of their beards, or make gashes in their flesh. (New Living)

I would render it (literally) this way:

They shall not make baldness on their heads, and the sides of their beard they shall not shave, and in their flesh they shall not cut incisions.

This sounds very much like the prohibitions of Devarim 14:1 which were clearly shown to be instructions concerning prohibitions during a mourning for the dead.  So, Vayiqra (Leviticus) 21:5 also, when the immediate context is consulted (verses 1-4), is referring to mourning customs of the pagans.  The priests of Yahuwah, who are especially called to be set-apart from sin and sinful practices, are called to be especially pure and clean.  By completely avoiding engagement in practices of the pagans who mourn for their dead by cutting their flesh and body hair, priests can be a testimony to the purity of the Creator.

The Prohibition of Trimming the Beard in Leviticus 19:27

With the above two passages of Torah which prohibit cutting the beard as a mourning ritual, we approach Vayiqra 19, which in the Hebrew reads:

 ~k,_v.aro ta;P. WpQit; al{

^n<)q'z> ta;P. tae tyxiv.t; al{w>

 Again, the popular English Bible translations interpret as follows:

Leviticus 19:27 Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. (king jimmy version)

Leviticus 19:27 'You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. (NAS)

Leviticus 19:27 Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.  (NIV)

Leviticus 19:27 You shall not round off the side-growth on your head, or destroy the side-growth of your beard. (New Living)

My translation is:

You shall not trim the side of your heads and you shall not ruin the side of your beard.

Is this prohibition parallel to the other two, or is this referring to a different situation?  Let's look at the immediate context (the next verse) of this prohibition:

28 You shall not slash your body for a dead person or incise a tattoo on yourself. I am Yahuwah.

Wow!  There it is again!  This prohibition given to all Yisrael to refrain from cutting or marring the hair on ones head is immediately followed by another prohibition against ritual self-infliction of injury on behalf of the dead. 

Following the Hebrew language pattern, one may even translate these two verses without a period (i.e. as a continuation of the same thought) by rendering it as follows:

You shall not trim the side of your heads and you shall not ruin the side of your beard and you shall not slash your body for a dead person or incise a tattoo on yourself. I am Yahuwah.

The phrase "for a dead person" actually should be understood to apply to each of the three prohibitions and to the prohibition that follows regarding tattooing the flesh!  Just as in the preceding two passages in the Torah, this one also is clearly speaking to the specific practices done by the pagans when they mourn for their dead.  These practices of cutting the flesh and cutting the hair on the head for the dead are always prohibited for Yahuwah's people, whether priests or otherwise.

Nowhere in the Torah are the sons of Yisrael ever told that they must never cut their hair or trim their beards.  What the sons of Yisrael are told to do is to refrain from participating in the ritual mourning practices of the pagans.

There is one case in Scripture when a man is commanded not to cut his hair or beard.  This is the Nazirite vow (Bemidbar 6).  In this instance, one who takes this vow is to do so for a predetermined length of time, after which, he may again shave and drink of the fruit of the vine.  But this is the only time when the Scripture commands one to refrain from cutting the hair or the beard (apart from the case of mourning for the dead).

Rabbinical interpretation has all "Torah-observant" Jews letting their hair and their beards grow long and ragged.  This is a long standing tradition that has handcuffed Jews for centuries, yea, even millennia.  But there is no requirement in the written Scriptures for obedient members of the community of Yisrael to let their hair and beards grow unchecked. 

As in the background graphic depicting a devout Jew with a long beard, the Jews wear their beards as a sign of their obedience to Torah.  Ironically, the long beard is not a requirement of the written Scriptures.  Rather, the long, untrimmed beard can be interpreted as a sign worn by one who is entrapped by the Oral Tradition of the Rabbis!  There is nothing intrinsically wrong with growing ones beard untrimmed.  But one must be careful that we do not grow our beards "for a show" like the Pharisees who did many things "for a show" such as praying long, loud public prayers, and wearing their tassels very long so as to be noticed and thought to be "more righteous."

Scriptural Requirements for Cutting the Hair and Beard

Additional support for our interpretation is found in the Torah.  Not only is there no commandment in the written Torah directed at all men telling us not to cut the hair on the head or the beard, but there are explicit times when a complete shaving of the hair on the head and the beard are required.  One such time is when someone has an infection on the head or in the beard:

"When a man or a woman has an infection on the head or in the beard, the priest is to examine the infection, and if it appears to be deeper than the skin and the hair in it is reddish yellow and thin, then the priest is to pronounce the person unclean. It is scall, a disease of the head or the beard.  But if the priest examines the scall infection and it does not appear to be deeper than the skin, and there is no black hair in it, then the priest is to quarantine the person with the scall infection for seven days.  The priest must then examine the infection on the seventh day, and if the scall has not spread, there is no reddish yellow hair in it, and the scall does not appear to be deeper than the skin, then the individual is to shave himself, but he must not shave the scall, and the priest is to quarantine the person with the scall for another seven days (Vayiqra 13:29-33).

This requirement to shave himself applies only to the person who has the infection.  If there were a requirement to NOT shave the hair or cut the beard, then this commandment would contradict the other.

Another case is the purification of any diseased person:

"This is the instruction of the diseased person on the day of his purification, when he is brought to the priest.... "The one being cleansed must then wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and bathe in water, and so be clean. Then afterward he may enter the camp, but he must live outside his tent seven days.  When the seventh day comes he must shave all his hair--his head, his beard, his eyebrows, all his hair--and he must wash his clothes, bathe his body in water, and so be clean. (Vayiqra 14:2,8,9)

Again, practical issues sometimes require the shaving of the hair and beard.  But Yahuwah does not require it of everyone.

Making Baldness on the Head for the Dead: The Prophets Speak

Yeshayahu confirms that making baldness on the head and shaving the beard is a ritual custom of the pagans in mourning over their dead:

They went up to the temple, the people of Dibon went up to the high places to lament. Because of what happened to Nebo and Medeba, Moab wails. Every head is shaved bare, every beard is trimmed off.  3 In their streets they wear sackcloth; on their roofs and in their town squares all of them wail, they fall down weeping. (Yeshayahu 15:2)

The mourning of these nations and peoples is a result of the judgment which was to come upon them.  Yirmyahu, likewise, affirms that shaving the heads was a common mourning ritual:

For the time has come to destroy all the Philistines. The time has come to destroy all the help that remains for Tyre and Sidon. For I, Yahuwah, will destroy the Philistines, that remnant that came from the island of Crete.  The people of Gaza will shave their heads in mourning. The people of Ashkelon will be struck dumb. How long will you cut yourselves to show your sorrow, you who are left of Philistia's power? (Yirmyahu 47:4,5)

And again, the mourning customs of Moab is described:

For all of them will shave their heads in mourning. They will all cut off their beards to show their sorrow. They will all make gashes in their hands. They will all put on sackcloth.
On all the housetops in Moab and in all its public squares there will be nothing but mourning. For I will break Moab like an unwanted jar. I, Yahuwah, affirm it.  (Yirmyahu 48:37-38)

Even Israel, in her day of judgment, will mourn in a way that Yahuwah forbids:

They will wear sackcloth, terror will cover them; shame will be on all their faces, and all of their heads will be shaved bald.  (Yechezqel 27:18)

And the judgment of Tyre is described by the same mourning rituals:

They will lament loudly over you and cry bitterly. They will throw dust on their heads and roll in the ashes; they will tear out their hair because of you, and put on sackcloth, and they will bitterly weep over you with intense mourning. (Yechezqel 27:30,31)

And finally, Amos describes a time when Yahuwah's judgments will bring about mourning for the nations:

In that day," says Adonai Yahuwah, "I will make the sun set at noon, and make the earth dark in the middle of the day.  I will turn your festivals into funerals, and all your songs into funeral dirges. I will make everyone wear funeral clothes and cause every head to be shaved bald. I will make you mourn as if you had lost your only son; when it ends it will indeed have been a bitter day. (Amos 8:9-10)

Quite clearly, the prophets confirm our findings from the Torah that mourning of the pagans is accompanied by cutting the body, cutting the hair and cutting the beard.  And Yahuwah has instructed his people not to do these things.


The long standing practice of the Jews to let their hair and especially their beards to grow long and untrimmed is a result of the Oral tradition, not of the written Scriptures.  One should never do something just because a religious person does them.  This applies particularly to worship practices and mourning rituals.

Yahuwah has given us the freedom to grow the hair and beard as we please, with very few exceptions and requirements.  Let us not add to the Torah by insisting on things which Yahuwah does not insist on, nor should we prohibit things which Yahuwah does not prohibit.  Freedom in Messiah means being released from the oral traditions and practices and customs of men and their made-up commandments.


Written by David M Rogers

Published: 2007