Jewish law forbids a man from removing the hair around his head – pe’at roshkhem – and from shaving his beard – pe’at zekanekha (see Vayikra 19:27). Common practice today accepts that the only prohibition involved in shaving one’s beard is if it is done with a razor, but otherwise it is permissible, even if it mispara’im ke-en ta’ar – even if it is cut with a scissors so close to the skin as to appear to have been done with a razor.
In the context of discussing the requirement to shave one’s head in the cases of nazir and metzora (see yesterday’s daf) and the potential conflict that removing all of one’s hair presents, the Gemara discusses whether pe’at ha-rosh also is forbidden only with a razor, or if it will be forbidden even if it is mispara’im ke-en ta’ar.
From our Gemara’s conclusion, Tosafot understand that pe’at ha-rosh differs from pe’at ha-zakan, and although pe’at ha-zakan is forbidden only if it is done with a razor, shaving pe’at ha-rosh will be forbidden no matter what method is used. The Me’iri, who follows the Rambam’s approach to this question, suggests that the Gemara raises the possibility that pe’at ha-rosh will be forbidden in all circumstances as part of the discussion, but that is not the final conclusion of the halakha. According to his reasoning, even pe’at ha-rosh will be forbidden only if it is done with a razor.
In this case, we do not find a clear conclusion in the halakha, and both opinions are quoted in the Shulḥan Aruk (see Yoreh De’ah 181:2). The Rambam’s ruling appears in his Mishneh Torah (Sefer ha-Maddah, Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah, chapter 12). It is interesting to note that the traditional picture of the Rambam presents him with a beard, but with no hair on his pe’at ha-rosh, indicating, perhaps, that the Rambam cut off his pe’at ha-rosh using mispara’im ke-en ta’ar.
The images of shaving lines were taken from the Hebrew edition of the Steinsaltz Talmud, Tractate Makkot, page 94.
The portrait of Rambam was taken from a tremendously informative article written by Yitzchak Schwartz, MD, at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel. Dr Schwartz writes, “Maimonides’ traditional portrait and autograph…[is a] nineteenth-century imaginative depiction, courtesy of the Granger Collection, NY, is possibly by the American illustrator Arthur Burdett Frost.” The full article, which is quite worth reading, appears here in the Rambam Medical Journals.