Eilenberg's Beard

Vanity Versus Piety When It Comes to Facial Hair

Lisa Anchin

By Judy Brown (Eishes Chayil)

Published November 12, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
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Eilenberg showed him the scissors. He told his father-in-law that Shulchan Aruch quotes the Talmud in saying that because the cutting action of a pair of scissors happens between two blades and not the blade and the skin, it does not violate the prohibition against marring the five extremities of the beard. It is permitted.

His father-in-law did not agree. He called it a forbidden kind of permitted, a sinless sin, a deception of God and the soul. And you cannot fool God or the soul.

“You are a bum,” Eilenberg’s father-in-law declared. “A disappointment. Do you know that Ha’Ari Hakodosh did not touch his beard for fear that a hair would fall out? Did you know that Jews in the Holocaust died because of their beards, which made them look like Jews? You are a fool! An idiot! A Hasid does not play with prohibitions.”

He then ordered his son-in-law to get back to life. He ordered him to stop the mourning, the misery, the ghost-walking through the streets; to be husband to his wife, and to grow that beard. He would see him and the grandchildren on Shabbos.

With that, he strode back out of the house. And when Eilenberg and wife and children came on Shabbos, he did not utter another word.

So goes the story of Eilenberg’s beard. The one he did not grow again. Not after Gitty, accustomed to the trim, warned him that if he didn’t keep it neat, she’d cut it herself as he slept. With a rotary blade.

A good two years have passed since then. Many others followed Eilenberg; many have not. Yet despite the Zohar, and his father-in-law’s angry silence, Eilenberg’s moral core remained uncompromised. He is, to this day, a good man, faithful to his past and his ancestor’s traditions, a pious if short-bearded Jew walking proudly past the glass windows of the bakery, where sometimes he can still see, among the reflections, the saint of all shnorrers, laughing.

Judy Brown wrote the novel “Hush” under the pseudonym Eishes Chayil. “Inside Out” is her essay series about life in the ultra-Orthodox world. It is based on true events, but her characters’ names and identities have been changed. Some are composites, comprising several real-life people. “Eilenberg’s Beard” was inspired by a real-life story that happened to Brown’s good friend.


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