Shaving, Beards, and Sidelocks

Shaving, Beards, Sidelocks, leviticus, head, mourning, shave, edge, cutting, dead, flesh, yehovah, forbidden, hair, side, hebrew, pe'ah, deuteronomy, baldness, name, hanun, davidIn Leviticus 19:27-28 we are commanded:

"(27) You shall not round the edge of your head, nor shall you destroy the edge of your beard. (28) And you shall not make a cutting for the dead in your flesh, nor shall you make a written tattoo upon you; I am Yehovah."

In these two verses we are forbidden to make four types of "cuttings":

  • 1) Cutting the head or hair
  • 2) Cutting the face or beard
  • 3) Cutting the flesh
  • 4) Inscribing writing on the flesh

What precisely is forbidden by these four commandments? Are we required to grow long Elvis-style side locks? Or rabbinical-style Pe'os (Pe'ot)? To understand these four commandments we must consider the meaning of the words in their immediate literary context in Leviticus, the broader literary context of the entire Hebrew, and the cultural ancient world in which the Torah was given.

Let us begin with the first commandment in the series: rounding the side of one's head. To round the side of the head does not mean to cut the head itself but rather to cut the hair on the head. Specifically we are forbidden from rounding the "Pe'ah" of the head. Pe'ah is often translated as corner or side-lock, but it actually has the meaning of "side" or "edge". This is always the meaning of the word Pe'ah in hundreds of passages throughout the Hebrew Bible. For example:

"and for the second side of the tabernacle, on the north side (Pe'ah), twenty boards."

Exodus 26:20

"And the west side (Pe'ah) shall be the Great Sea, from the border as far as over against the entrance of Hamath. This is the west side (Pe'ah)."

Ezekiel 47:20

To "round the edge of your head" means to cut off the hair around the sides of the head. Many Bible commentators associate this with the pagan "bowl-cut." A bowl-cut was an ancient hair-cut with pagan significance that was created by placing a round bowl on the head and cutting all the exposed hair.

When the prohibition to cut one's hair is repeated in the 14th chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, it says:

"...you shall not cut yourselves nor shall you place baldness between your eyes, for the dead."

Deuteronomy 14:1-2

Since most people do not have any significant hair "between the eyes" this phrase is usually understood as meaning the hair on the front of the head, above the eyes. Bearing this in mind, we learn two things from Deuteronomy 14. Firstly, we learn that the prohibition is not necessarily a bowl-cut, but making any baldness around the edges of the head. Secondly, we see that the prohibition is specifically in the context of mourning. That is, it is prohibited to make baldness in the head as an act of mourning "for the dead." In ancient times, when someone died the surviving relatives were so distraught that they cut their skin until they bled and shaved bald spots on their head.

While cutting one's hair may sound like a strange act of mourning to the modern reader, this was a common practice in the ancient world. In fact, the Torah even permits non-Israelites to perform this despised mourning practice in certain contexts. Thus we read regarding the captive Gentile woman:

"and she shall shave her head... and she shall cry over her mother and her father for a month of days."

Deuteronomy 21:12-14

As an act of mercy, the Torah allows the captured heathen women to shave her head while she mourns her recently killed father and mother (see also, Deuteronomy 20:13-14).

Creating bald spots on the head as a mourning practice is also mentioned by the prophets. Thus we read:

"And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning for an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day."

Amos 8:10

"Make yourself bald, and shear yourself for the children of thy delight; enlarge your baldness as the vulture; for they are gone into captivity from thee."

Micah 1:16

These are only two of many verses that refer to the ancient custom of making bald spots on the head an act of mourning, associated with lamentation, rending of clothes and donning of sackcloth. Within the cultural context of Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 14 to "round the side of your head" and "place baldness between your eyes... for the dead" the meaning is that we may not shave our head or any part thereof as an act of mourning or sadness. There is no implication in the commandment in Lev 19 that we must grow side locks or pony tails. The only thing prohibited in Lev 19:27a is to shave the side of the head as an act of mourning. Were one to shave their head for stylistic reasons there would be no prohibition whatsoever.

We have seen thus far that the Israelite is forbidden to make cuts in his flesh and shave parts of his head as acts of mourning "for the dead". In Leviticus 21 we read of a similar prohibition that specifically applies to the Kohanim (descendants of Aaron). In Leviticus 21 the Kohanim are forbidden from becoming ritually impure from the dead with the exception of their immediate relatives. After listing the relatives that the Kohen may become impure from, we read:

"A man shall not become impurified by his people to defile him. They shall not make bald a baldness in their head nor shall they shave the edge of their beard and in their flesh they shall not cut a cut."

Leviticus 21:4-5

The context of the passage is explicitly defiling oneself for the dead. In this case the Kohanim are forbidden from various mourning practices. Not only are they forbidden from coming in contact with the dead bodies of their deceased friends (see verse 1 and following), but they are also forbidden from defiling themselves by making bald spots on their heads, by shaving their beards, and by cutting their skin. We see here that three of the prohibitions found in Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 14 are repeated in Leviticus 21. In all three passages both the implicit and explicit contexts are that of mourning practices. Every ancient person knew that one cut one's skin or shaved one's head as an act of mourning, and it was these acts of mourning that are being prohibited in Lev 19. While the mourning connotation of cutting flesh and shaving may not be obvious to the modern reader, we have seen that the Torah itself, as well as the later prophets, take it as a given that cutting one's flesh and shaving one's head are characteristic acts of mourning along with crying and wearing sackcloth.

It is worth noting that the Nazir makes a vow not to shave his head (Numbers 6:5). At the end of the period of abstention, the Nazir shaves his entire head, as we read: "And the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the door of the tent of meeting, and shall take the hair of his consecrated head, and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of peace-offerings." The reason the Nazir is permitted to shave his entire head is because he is not doing it as an act of mourning. Similarly, we read in 2 Samuel 14:26 that Absalom, the son of King David, used to grow his hair long and then shave his head every year. Again, this was not an act of mourning and therefore it was permissible to shave the head.

Given that destroying/shaving the beard is mentioned in the context of forbidden mourning rites in both Leviticus 19 and Leviticus 21, we must ask whether shaving the beard was also a forbidden mourning rite. In other words, is the prohibition to destroy/shave the beard a general prohibition for all occasions or is it exclusively prohibited as an act of mourning or sadness?

Perhaps the first clue regarding shaving one's beard is the ritual purification of the Metsora or "leper". We read in Leviticus 14:9: "And it shall be on the seventh day, that he shall shave all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off; and he shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and he shall be clean." We see that in certain contexts a person is required to shave his beard, and this is even an act of purification. Similarly, we read about the consecration of the Levites: "And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: sprinkle the water of purification upon them, and let them cause a razor to pass over all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and cleanse themselves." (Numbers 8:7). Again we see that shaving the beard and indeed all the hair is not only permissible but can be an act of purification. In contrast, the prohibition of Leviticus 19 is to shave the head or beard as an act of mourning!

That shaving the beard was an act of mourning in ancient times is clear from many biblical passages. For example, in the Book of Jeremiah we read about a group of pilgrims mourning the destruction of the Temple: "There came certain men from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, eighty men, having their beards shaven and their clothes rent, and having cut themselves, with meal-offerings and frankincense in their hand to bring them to the house of Yehovah." (Jeremiah 41:5). We see that these pilgrims were mourning and therefore tore their clothes, cut their skin, and shaved their beards. Clearly then shaving the beard was also an act of mourning along with tearing the clothes and cutting the skin.

The fact that shaving was an act of mourning may shed light on a rather obscure passage that till now has defied explanation. In 2 Samuel 9:1-4 we read that David sent emissaries to Hanun king of Amon to comfort him over the death of his father. For some reason Hanun became convinced that David's emissaries had not come to comfort him but to spy out the land. In a strange act of retribution he decided to cut off half their beards and send them humiliated back to Israel. Thus we read:

"...And David's servants came into the land of the children of Amon. But the princes of the children of Amon said unto Hanun their lord: 'Do you think that David does honour your father, that he hath sent comforters to you? has not David sent his servants to thee to search the city, and to spy it out, and to overthrow it?' So Hanun took David's servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away."

2 Samuel 9:2-4

Up till now it always seemed strange that Hanun and his advisers would suspect David's emissaries of being spies without any seeming justification. Even stranger is that his reaction to discovering spies was to cut off their beards. Bearing in mind that ancient peoples shaved off their beards as an act of mourning "for the dead", it becomes clear why Hanun's advisers doubted that David's comforters had come to pay condolences. Presumably Hanun and his cronies sat in the royal court with torn clothes, cut skin, and shaven beards. When David's men arrived with full beards Hanun's advisers assumed they were not coming to mourn the dead king but to spy out the land. For were they really coming to mourn the king they would have shaven their beards. To teach them respect of the dead and humiliate them at the same time, Hanun ordered that half their beards be cut off!

In summation, Leviticus 19:27-28, Leviticus 21:4-5, and Deuteronomy 14:1-2 prohibit 4 different acts of mourning. These are:

  • 1) Making a bald spot on the head as an act of mourning
  • 2) Shaving the beard as an act of mourning
  • 3) Cutting the skin as an act of mourning
  • 4) Writing on the skin as an act of mourning

Interestingly, the making of tattoos as an act of mourning is the most elusive in the list. It is only mentioned once in Leviticus 19:28 and then never alluded to again in the Tanach. Reference is made to writing on the flesh as an act of dedication to Yehovah (Isaiah 44:5), but never as an act of mourning. Yet the practice of inscribing the name of the dead loved one in a tattoo still exists to this very day. Recently this practice has come to the attention of the public when it was reported that New York firemen and policemen were inscribing tattoos on their flesh in memory of their deceased comrades.


Nehemia with henna tattoos of the name of Yehovah, Shaving, Beards, Sidelocks, leviticus, head, mourning, shave, edge, cutting, dead, flesh, yehovah, forbidden, hair, side, hebrew, pe'ah, deuteronomy, baldness, name, hanun, davidI got these henna tattoos - inscribing the name of Yehovah on my arms - in Kathmandu, Nepal for $4 USD. I showed the artist the name Yehovah in Hebrew on my iPad and he did a great job of writing out the name. There was a huge crowd of Nepalese people fascinated by these strange looking letters. When they asked what it said, I told them it is the name of my God, Yehovah, the God of the Jews, the God of Israel, the Creator of the universe. They were in awe, took many photos on their phones, and stared for a long time. Later two people asked if I could bless them in the name of my God. I proclaimed the priestly blessing over them in Hebrew and when I ended with Amen, they responded with Amen and shouts of joy. What an amazing blessing for me. I just wanted to act out part of the verse:

'This one will say, “I belong to Yehovah,” another will be called by the name of Jacob, yet another will write on his hand, “Belonging to Yehovah,” and call himself by the name of Israel.' Isaiah 44:5

I originally asked the artist to write "Belonging to Yehovah" but he didn't have enough room for "belonging to" (in Hebrew a singe letter - lamed). Henna tattoos are temporary, lasting for about 2-3 weeks.

 

86 thoughts on “Shaving, Beards, and Sidelocks

  1. It is still a practice among some Native Americans to cut off one’s hair in mourning.
    So to me your explaination makes perfect sense. Thank you

  2. Wow this is an eye opening write up. Would you imagine pastors in ghana practically condemn ladies who trim/shape their eyebrow using this verse as their reference scripture? They go as far as saying those ladies will miss heaven because of that.
    The irony in the entire situation is that they themselves have “rounded or completely shaved of their hair and beard” and see nothing wrong when the royals for one of our tribes “shave of the hair around their head when performing certain cultural rites.
    Sadly.. though our intentions of spreading the gospel is genuine, our methods are just so faulty when we attempt interpreting the bible. So really sad.

  3. Hello Nehemia!

    I too am a former student of academic biblical studies (and have a solid background in Biblical Hebrew and archaeology), and I found your study to be very interesting and compelling. Do you know if there any good scholarly books that specifically address ancient Near Eastern ritual practices in the Hebrew Bible’s contemporary context, or how its authors responded to the reality of religious/ritual diversity in the ancient Near East? Are there also works or anthologies that critically examine rabbinical interpretations/midrashim or exegeses of these passages? I know that’s a bit open-ended, but I’m aiming for concision in my post. Thanks!

  4. So now I understand you can’t cut your hair or skin out of grief, does that also count for normal life as well?

  5. Nehemia- for years I had the understanding that tattoos are demonic it comes from ha Satan but anyway I had henna done on my hair so it do last around those days you mentioned – I believe personally the only way to understand the scriptures is to learn the Hebrew for oneself because I find every person is giving they own interpretation what they think YAHUWAH is saying – I may be wrong but I m in for correction but they are few of your Jewish guys like your self I love listening to because I have seen youall had been used by the RUACH not for the way people yourself expound that word with clarity of speech and understand – I listen to you and read on your wall all time and wow it blow my mind – I m yet to learn the scripture because I don’t know it

  6. Shalom.

    I was just wondering., if all these things are forbiden in the context of mourning for the dead, then by the same conclusion it is ok to build graven images and idols just as long as you do not bow down to them and serve them. Right?

    KJV
    20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

    20:5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

    Another question that is usualy mentioned by my catholic friends is what about the arc of the covenant? It had a graven images in the form of cherubim. So it looks like Yehovah says one thing first and then later something else.

    Nehemiah could you please respond.

    Toda

      • Thank you Nehemia for your answer.
        But you havent ansewered the part about cherubim on the arc of the covenant. It was a holy object and people honnored it (worshiped, venerate it?). I don t know if you understand what I m trying to say.., The catholics use it (arc of the covenant) to say that it is okay to have graven images and use them in their service (becouse of the cherubim on the arc). Becouse cherubim were images that were used in religious context, not just as some decoration…

        I m sory if I m bothering you with this.

        Thank you for your time.

        • God commanded us specifically to make these images, but they were not worshiped. No one ever saw the cherubim, not even the high priest. When the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, it was only after the smoke filled the room. Also, when it was transported, it was covered in a blue cloth.

  7. Thanks. So the vowel points on Yehovah’s name in the Masoretic text is actually correct, it’s just that many Jews don’t pronounce it?

  8. I like Nehemia’s explanation of this passage. I also like a lot of the comments in this section. As a parallel to the one person who questions why those who have been set apart would want to look like the world, I want to say I see a lot of tattoos and it’s amazing how many are a memorial of a family member or a friend. Questions that arise for me are, what about modesty? What about humility? What about self-promotion? What about attention-seeking? What about self-adoration? What is at the heart of a lot of this? What is at the heart of any of it? People who say they are doing this as a witness, all I hear is I’m building a graffitied shrine to myself. The more elaborate they are the more expensive they become. Colored tattoos are way more expensive than black. People will start a tattoo and then save up enough money to work on it a little more, then a little more. When all is said and done, in many cases a tattoo can hit $1000. For what? I’m talking about believers. Why would anyone spend that much money, time and attention on altering their body unless there was a lesser spoken reason? Nehemia’s henna was like scribbling with a ball point pen. That’s not a tattoo. If it washes off in the shower, it’s not the same thing. These are permanent changes that are pretty much irreversible. I’ve sat around tables where someone had a tattoo and all that was discussed for a half hour was their tattoo, their friends’ tattoos, ideas for new tattoos, tattoos gone bad, why tattoos are their thing, arguing for their right to have a tattoo or to consider it a witness, etc. Speaking of witness, in my experience, what I witness is people loving having others ask them about it and the attention they receive. I think they tell themselves it’s an inroad when it’s really an opportunity to note that someone was checking them out. Tattooing is a culture. It’s not a witness. It’s like the Christian Harley riders who grow their hair long, buy the black vests and the tough guy boots and then want to differentiate themselves with “Harleys For Christ” shirts. Why work so hard to look just like the Hells’ Angels and then sanitize it with a black T-shirt with a Gold Cross on the back? Looks sort of the same to me?….Feels sorta the same when I see you…..on your bike…..in your pack…..rolling down the highway…..

    I say just DO your faith. Just tell people where your allegiances lie through YOUR actions. It’s what you DO that will speak volumes. The tattoo is just that stupid bumper sticker on your mini-van that outs you when the cop stops you for driving 40 in a 25 and you decide to go postal on his dashboard camera.

    And while the Torah doesn’t say that outright?., I think Yehovah was trying to do us all a favor because he could see 2015 coming from that far away.

    In the wise words of Darryl, from The Office, “You can’t unsee that…”

    • I could’nt agree with you more. Posers x100 walk the walk. I have a full dress cruiser but I ride alone well almost snicker 🙂 God and I enjoy the sun the reality of the scenic day being alive I think tatoo’s are an insult to Gods perfect work. I got one little one before I gave my life to Christ I wish I could remove it but that would just be more scaring pain. It’s a good message tat. I can also deliver a message through my tat so ai leave it on I feel God wants it there for the messI like it age I deliver to kids about not getting them. Your message is very thought out 🙂

  9. Another white guy claiming to be a Jew. The original Jew’s were the Blacks and Indians. The Greeks, sent them into slavery ( Joel 3), (Shut.28). It’s a terrific farce to see all these pale whites deceiving the people in the name if the most high. Data wise…good site for info. But..you are only kidding yourselves, or…don’t really believe Hashim. The ” Outcasts” are the children kg Israel. You ate facing off with most high.

    • Afro-american fairy tales and nothing more, not backed up by anything other than wishful thinking and extremely taken out of context verses

    • Job 30:30 says that Job became black and his skin started to peel when he was sick. Again in Lamentations 4:7-4:8 the blackness of skin is attributed to malnourishment and sickness. How can there skin become black if it was black to begin with? Also in Song of Songs 1:6 the woman says not to stare at her because of her dark skin, showing it to be considered unnatural to the location. Jeremiah asks whether an Ethiopian can change his skin color suggesting a skin tone darker then the Jews. Why say anything at all if the Jews were black, would it not be a normal thing for one to have dark skin? Solomon is described as ruddy meaning reddish in color.

      • The point is that darker skinned people become even more dark in famished and distressed conditions where white skinned people become even more white. Look at photos of concentration camp survivors when the liberators arrived. Notice how pale they were? Now look at the Ethiopian pot bellied children they would show us on tv in the 70’s and 80’s. Notice how dark they were?

  10. Thank you for writing this article to help me understand the context and meaning of Lev. 19:27. I am grateful.

  11. Generally I think it’s not good idea to provoke others.
    It’s not love. For THAT reason only I’ll never take a tattoo.
    It’s quite permanent.
    May my hair style and beard style vary because if I’ve proven to be wrong
    I can grow or shave accordingly.
    (unless I laser burn or electrocute hair away)
    BUT
    anyway: I rather please JHVH than any human being

  12. humm very interesting comment…some a bit over the top….as my grand use to say, ” the more I know the dumber I feel”

  13. “…nor shall you make a WRITTEN tattoo upon you…”

    To me, that means the same as was described in the text of the original post

    i.e.: You are not allowed to write names of dead people on you to mourn them.

    it doesn’t say you can’t have a picture of a sunset.
    it doesn’t say you can’t have a picture of a palm tree.
    it doesn’t say you can’t have a military device (unless it’s for mourning)
    it doesn’t say you can’t write the name of YHWH on your skin
    since YHWH certainly isn’t dead and we don’t mourn him.

    It seems to me to say that you SHOULD write the name of YHWH on your hand !

    There’s a huge difference between a tattoo and a written tattoo and as far as I can see, so long as you don’t intentionally have one that either mentions or symbolizes a dead person to mourn them, or one that you’ve decided represents that person even if it’s not apparent to others, then draw all the fluffy bunnies ( or preferably kosher animals 😉 ) or stars or airplanes or sailing ships or hula girls or military units (to show membership not mourning) or pretty patterns or maybe even written Torah passages, that you want. Avoiding, of course, any pagan symbols or ‘tribal’ patterns associated with non Jewish tribes.

    There’s a list somewhere of the symbols that depict the tribes of Israel and I’ve seen them embroidered on tallit, so why not inscribed on the skin of a Jew ? but you would never do that, of course, to mourn them.

    There is a lot of Torah that people have made assumptions and accepted wrong interpretations or deliberate mistranslations of for so long that these errors have come to be held up as infallible truths when they’re not. This, to me anyway, appears to be yet another example of where a very specific prohibition has been turned into such a wide and all-encompassing edict that it actually perverts the original meaning of the Torah by “adding to it”.

    My thoughts only, your mileage may vary.

  14. Reading through Leviticus 19, there are so many spiritual admonitions, such as ‘thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart….’ In the company of such profound instructions, why would the beard reference be included if it was not perpetual and independent of pagan rites for the dead?

  15. Dear Nehemia, I want to thank you for this “article” “discussion” very much, as I’ve been looking for something like this, especially for people that say; ‘Well… why can’t I have tattoos if I want to, there’s no ‘law’ against that!? then you have to try and tell them out of the Torah, Tanach And the New Testament, where exactly Yehovah SAYS SO! so thank you again, Mandy Smith

  16. Does YHWH want us to tattoo our bodies to show our love for Him? The tattoos will eventually fade away as Nehemia’s did. Isn’t better to inscribe His Torah in the “tablet of our heart” (Prov.3:3) where His laws will last forever?

  17. OH! I wanted to encourage my brother Nehemiah. Keep on keeping on brother.

    I love you and pray that you be strong in Yehovah and the power of HIS might.

  18. In ALL THINGS…..Yehovah looks at the HEART! We are instructed to WORSHIP HIM IN SPIRIT & TRUTH. So EVERY ONE if commanded to OBEY. However, we MUST ALLOW the WORD to CONVICT (guide) us or NOT…

    Yehovah’s instructions are THE GUIDE, HIS SPIRIT IS THE ENFORCER, YET thy ARE one and the same. Did Yehovah not instruct HOSEA to marry a HARLOT, yet we know that IF YOU MARRY A HARLOT….YOU BECOME A HARLOT yourself!

    Yehovah, IS NOT ASKING US for wisdom…….HE IS!

    Is it not commanded in the Torah that we should that we should NOT marry such people. Yehovah’s instructions are given to ALL…….YET HE DECIDES WHOM TO GIVE……SPECIFIC instructions to. Not ALL are Prophets, not all are Apostles, not all are Evangelists……BUT we ALL are given something in COMMON……..THE SPIRIT.

    Let US therefore HUMBLE ourselves, and LISTEN and OBEY…….IF YOUR HEART CONVICTS YOU……then please listen, pray and be a peace with what YOU NEED to do.

    Yehovah WILL HOLD YOU ACOUNTABLE for what HE HAS COMMANDED YOU TO DO! He will not hold someone else!

    Hebrews 8:10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith Yahweh; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them an Elohim, and they shall be to me a people:

    Yehovah IS NOT depending on US…..HE IS SELSUFFICIENT AN DOES EVERYTHING……..FOR US……AMEN!

    Due. 8:3, And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knew not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know……………..that man doth not live by bread only,……………..but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of Yehovah doth man live.

    MAN MUST…..LIVE…..BY EVERY WORD! Be Blessed brothers & Sisters

  19. Regarding tattoos. Is it not true that tattooing the skin has historically always been associated only with Gentile, pagan mourning and rebellious practices and never with Torah- defined Israel? The practice is growing worldwide even as more and more lawlessness, rebellion and confusion abounds as we race to the end times. Quite apart from the significant life threatening health risks involved (do some research) … What has happened to spiritual discernment? Are we not, as Israel, called to be set apart from the rest of the world?
    Historically, the only time Israel was tattooed was in the holocaust – along with bald heads and nakedness… the prophesied agony and humiliation in exile for having turned away from our God, YHWH. Tattoo anyone?

        • Some(of many) things to think about.. What does the Word of Truth say about being without Blemish, Spot, Impurities? If you raise a tattoo tool upon flesh you draw blood by cutting/puncturing it and poison it by putting impurities on/in it(Permanently Staining YHVHs’ creation). If it’s sin to do something for “a” reason, would it not be Better/Best to disassociate(be separate) from the UNNECESSARY activity for all reasons?..Reread about Aaron and the golden calf.. Let us not confuse/tempt or lead others astray. It is TRUE to say with All Certainty that it is NOT sin to NOT tattoo yourself, but to say it is NOT a sin to tattoo oneself is Very iffy at best.. I must encourage everyone to Flee from/abstain from all that even resembles evil/sin(Do not do nor be like the Wicked Whatsoever). Tattoos are NOT Normal nor Necessary, so why go there(tempt/antagonize/draw attention) and put a stumbling block before a brother? Also, curious, why do you(Nehemiah) shave the edges of your beard into a Goatee? What’s the difference between doing it for the dead or for some other reason If others can’t tell why one does it? It’s not a natural/normal look..(I’m not trying to be mean or an antagonist, I’m just being honest.(“If” I understand scripture properly).. we shouldn’t shave the edges our beards to make goatees. Am I wrong for thinking of the verse in Leviticus 19:27 when seeing one? I pray this is prayerfully considered and received with a humble heart.. PLEASE.. Genuinely Forgive me if I have offended you or anyone through my wording, it is NOT my intention. I only desire to speak the Truth in Love the best I know.. through my biblical convictions and understanding. My desire is to influence people to keep from Sin & not be tempted by or Flirt with it. May YHVH Bless You & me with Favor and Grant us understanding to walk in Truth.

  20. Common since regarding tattoos: As a Torah keeper and one who fears (reverences) Yehovah; I know of no place in scripture where we are to hurt ourselves in anyway. My understanding is tattooing is very painful. What Nehemia did was temporary, not painful and honored Yehovah—nothing else! The bonus was others saw the Name. I would say Nehemia had an opportunity to be a light. Thanks for your time and effort to help the rest of us grow in grace and knowledge Nehemiah.

  21. So are you saying that one can have these tattoo’s if one wants? And we are looking at the word wrong? That tattoo’s were for the meaning of mourning?
    Some of the Tattoo’s on people I have seen are so disrespectful and just plain ugly and much more. Gotta give me some more understanding of this in the way of cutting your body for a tattoo and that’s ok?

  22. Having a beard or not having a beard is a matter of choice. You will choose or not chose to have a beard. If you grow a beard, grow it and wear it with pride, knowing that He has given you the ability to grow one. Interestingly enough, those that were mentioned to cut their hair or beards, already had hair and beards. I would imagine that it would take a while for most to grow a beard. Anything less than a few months would be considered facial hair. I choose to have a beard. It keeps my face warm during the colder months, and cooler during the warmer months. Lots of laughs : )

  23. I’ve looked in Strong’s Concordance about the word ‘subscribe’ in a King James bible re: Isaiah 44:5, and I’m not clearly seeing that it means to subscribe/write on the flesh(tattoo). Could you please help me to see what your seeing? 🙂

  24. I agree with Nehemia’s interpretation surrounding traditional sidelocks, bowl cuts and not participating in pagan mourning practices. However, I also think that he is overlooking an important aspect and meaning in these commandments and events. I believe that Scripture teaches men to proudly wear their beards. For His pleasure we were and are created..

  25. In my studies regarding beards I got the impression that shaving was something that male temple prostitutes did. I would rather not be associated with that!

  26. Nehemia I get what u call a fade in Miami…and trim my bread …yet I don’t want to offend God…Just that I got thick hair it doesn’t look good puffy lol

  27. Question:

    What is your take on this passage in light of your understanding of the others you mentioned? (Ezekiel 44:20) “Neither shall they shave their heads, nor suffer their locks to grow long; they shall only poll their heads.”

  28. I have doubts about Nehemia Gordon’s interpretation of this passage. Balding ones’ head also has roots in idol worship such as sun and moon worship. The tonsure is an ancient sun worshipers practice of honoring their idol with this way of balding the head. I also know YaHU or Jahu bowed to a king in a relief has the side curls as does another stone image of an Israel king the archeologist have found.

    • While I am thankful to Nehemiah for his teaching and acknowledge all the wisdom Yehovah has given him, I too am doubting this interpretation. For when mention is made in quite a few verses that men where humiliated by cutting off their beards and that in Lev.19:27 there is a break, or a sigh, if you will between talking about mourning and cutting the beard/rounding the head. So It implies to me that the Father is saying NOT to do these things as well as not to cut the flesh and not to tattoo the skin. If you believe the body to be the Temple of Yehovah I think you want to not destroy it nor deface what Father has given you. There is also the point Darrell makes about the cutting of the hair in rituals to demons and other gods. The Bible is not for private interpretation and I pray Yehovah will show me the truth in this discussion.

      • I agree. Yehovah explicitly forbids any kind of practice that was used to worship false gods.
        When a person cuts the corners of the beard what remains is a goaty, which was used to worship the goatheaded idol Mendes. This is why we should not cut the corners of the beard.
        So one could cut the beard altogether you might say. But Yehovah has made most men to grow beards. I believe it is honoring to our creator to let those things flourish, which he has given us.

        Concerning tattoos, I would like to point to the famous showdown of Eliyahu on Mount Carmel. The false prophets of Baal were cutting and beating themselves until the blood flowed in order to call on their idol.
        I believe this is why we are commanded not to put tattoo marks on ourselves or cut ourselves and I believe piercing is included here.

  29. Excellent article. Clear in thought and great inclusion of scripture. I was hoping there would be more info on tattoos though. I understand not getting tattoos for the dead but can you mark yourself in reverence to YHVH? Is that permitted by Yah?

    • I was also hoping for more on tattooing. There is also a reference to Yah writing our names on the palms of His hands. 🙂

  30. quick question, does shaving heads include what the army/navy do with the ‘military cuts’? (im canadian but i think most allies cut their hair the same way.)

    • According to this article: it’s not about mourning of the dead fighters (or civilians or family), but for the combat situations – against fleas, etc. or the Absalom kind of faith and so on
      therefore: ALLOWED!

  31. I always learn something from you Nehemiah, thank you for sharing/teaching … context with culture is incredibly revealing 🙂 I love that our Heavenly Father has given you this portion of time and space that i live in .. press on my brother!

      • Hi Nehemia – you made mention that “Reference is made to writing on the flesh as an act of dedication to Yehovah (Isaiah 44:5)”, yet when I read the verse I cannot see how it refers to making a mark on the flesh? Please help me to understand. “One shall say, I am YHVH’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe (3789) with his hand (3027) unto YHVH and surname (3655) himself by the name of Israel.” – I’ve placed Strongs references.

  32. So, if this is so clear to you, (and it seems clear to me after your wonderful explanation) why then do so many Jews take this passage to mean they must grow their beards long and have strange hair cuts? One would think they would want to take a closer look at what these verses mean so they would feel free to cut their hair and beards as they like.

    Also, I’m a Christian and have always thought God didn’t approve of tattoos, so I’ve never gotten one. (I also obey the dietary laws and try my best to keep Shabbat, so I’m doing my best to be consistent:) So, as long as people don’t get tattoos to mourn a death, it’s OK?

    Thank you for your explanation and I look forward to your answers to these questions.

    • Orthodox Jews have many man made traditions as well as the Torah, writings, and prophets. These man made laws require them to dress, act, and do what they do.

  33. Are tattoos generally prohibited by this passage, or just those of mourning? I’ve heard both sides, but many parts of Leviticus seem to be taken out of context, depending on who is arguing which point.

    • It may sound better to you ..but it not supported by any fully vocalized hebrew text…and by the way the yahweh pronunciation comes from scholars guessing it basing in from outside Jewish sources and how the Samaritans pronounce the name as yafeh they mistook it as the pronunciation of Yahweh…which is not a name but means beautiful ..see they also did not pronounce the name….so they called him the beautiful one, and to tell you the truth that Yahweh pronunciation sounds like broken Hebrew…..Hebrew is fluent and has a rhythm to it..

      • How do you say in Hebrew “I AM”
        then how do you say in Hebrew “He is”.
        Both with the meaning of the ever-existance, because the verb is typically missing in Hebrew.

  34. Interesting mercy for the captive Gentile woman. After you kill her mother and father you allow her to mourn before you rape her.

      • exactly! no where in a proper bible does it say rape is good or marry the rapist. people really like to twist things!

        • Marriage is a covenant and biblically, covenants require two parties to consent 🙂

          Such as in the Sinai marriage covenant between YHWH and Israel. The terms of the covenant were pronounced and the people had to voice their agreement.

          Also in the new covenant with Messiah Yeshua. The betrothal act of marriage is sealed when a woman voluntarily drinks of wine from the same cup as her husband (hence the last supper).

    • you’re seriously bloody kidding me…right? that is islam..not judaism! they dont have to marry the men if they dont want to…but the survivors stil lhave to e taken care of. jews are far more merciful than islam….especially for women.

      there is nothing in the bible about rape being good. it is against rape & the rapists are stoned (if caught of course). contrary to popular belief the woman does NOT marry her rapist. yet a lot of people think that certain verses in dueteronomy says that she has to.

      im not even jewish yet i know this…sigh..

      • I just read in 2 Samuel 13 about how Amnon raped his half-sister, the full sister of Absalom….He was NOT stoned and King David did nothing about it. Two years passed and Absalom finally took matters in his own hands and had Amnon killed and then was banished for for doing it…and it took quite some doing to get to come back home, and even then his father didn’t want to see him…..so what’s with that?

        • This is an act of man not Yehovah Aveenoo. The scriptures show clearly that He is good and man, even King David can be wrong in their actions and their intent. Look to Yehovah Elyon He is our example to follow.

        • David had essentially committed the same sin with Bathsheba, so how could he judge when he had been forgiven after repenting?

          Also the whole family drama that occurred was a prophesied as a result of his sin by Nathan the prophet.

          That said, Amnon did not repent and did not take responsibility for his actions.

          It definitely is easy to see the seeming justice in Absalom rising up, also the man who advised him was formerly in David’s army. He was the grandfather of Bathsheba. A lot of bitterness there. Absalom ended up raping 10 of David’s concubines which is very unlawful. David cared for them for the rest of their lives.

          I believe that everything happens for a reason and prophetically. So that is always worth considering.

          I believe that if a woman is not betrothed and she is raped the man is not to be stoned (unless he kills her). While the Torah does say that raping a betrothed woman is like murder, I think the story of Tamar shows one of two things:

          1. Tamar was very merciful in offering marriage instead of the lawful death.

          or

          2. The consequence for raping a non betrothed woman was the same as for seducing such a woman.

          So what is the consequence in this case? Pay a bride price of the equivalent in silver of $40,000 today and marry her and care for her (lovingly, this is Torah) for the rest of your life with no option of every divorcing her – this being subject to whether or not the father allows it (and according to Torah he is to love his daughter as himself) AND if the father says no, he STILL has to pay it.

          Torah says “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” and I believe Yeshua reiterated this in another way, saying not to resist someone who wants to exact something from you for something you have done or accuses you (saying “if someone strikes you on one cheek turn the other cheek”) So be more generous than necessary.

          So if a person is harmed (such as through rape) these laws would apply. Compensation is necessary in many forms and the lawful thing in repenting is to repay in the most generous way.

          When David raped Bathsheba, she was probably under a temporary writ of divorce as that was common practice while men were at war, so David *technically* didn’t commit adultery, same with his letter which led to the killing of her husband. But YHWH is not mocked. It isn’t superficial obedience He requires but true love.

          His first child died, he sighed and repented to Bathsheba (when it says he comforted her, this is what the Hebrew means). He took responsibility for her and placed her in a position of honour and also promised that her son (Solomon) would inherit the whole kingdom even though he was not the firstborn (I believe Absalom was firstborn). He came through on his promise even relinquishing his crown while he still lived to ensure it happened as promised.

          So… There is always more than meets the eye 🙂

          • I should clarify a few things that sounded coarse.

            I don’t believe rape happens for a good reason if it came across that way! I mean that all the stories included in the bible are there for a deeper reason as foreshadowings and such – there are no idle words in scripture.

            Just because it is in there doesn’t mean that it is automatically something about what is approved of.

            Also with regards to the difference in law for betrothed and not betrothed. Why?

            Living in an ancient culture, if a woman was raped she would have no hope of a future. The woman is never forced to marry a rapist.

            Obviously marriage is a covenant and covenants require both parties to ratify it. So both the woman, the man and the father were to voluntarily consent or they could say no, but the man still had to pay a very high price in money, as well as anything in damages due to “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

            The no divorce clause is not to trap the woman but rather to protect her from a man marrying and then divorcing her only to tick the boxes of the law rather than in true repentance.

            There are two stories of such rape in the bible, that of Dinah – whose rapist fell in love with her and repented and showed fruits of it.

            Then there is this story of Tamar who begged Amnon to ask David to take her as wife after his evil deed, but he despised her after he had used and abused her. She said “this latter evil is worse than what you did first.” (my paraphrase)

            Marriage could offer hope if the woman would likely otherwise go childless, have no children to nurse and love and to provide for her when she was old.

            As a believer in Messiah Yeshua, I see this as alluding to the heavenly marriage too.

            Don’t mess with the betrothed of Messiah or you will pay with your life!

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