Did the Gedolim of America Ever Permit the Use of Electric Shavers?

Hadras Ponim Zokon

Did the Gedolim of America Ever Permit the Use of Electric Shavers?
-- A Halachic Responsum by HaGaon R' Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l* --
(in honor of his 30th yahrzeit)

In honor of the 30th Yahrzeit of HaGaon R'Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l (29 Adar I) -

I am pleased to share with those who revere his memory, the follow halachic responsum by HaGaon R'Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l, Rosh Yeshivas Torah Vodaath (written to his grandson, Rav Mordechai ben R'Binyomin Kamenetzky shlita), addressing the status of electric shavers and whether the Gedolim of America ever permitted their use.

To view the original Hebrew (originally published in HaGaon R'Yaakov Kamenetsky's sefer Emes L'Yaakov al Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 181) in poster format, please click here.

"...Regarding [the prohibition of using] machines for shaving [the beard], this is not just a Chumra [Halachic strictness] but a substantive [Halachic] issue.

"In fact, I do not know whether the great Torah authorities (Gedolim) of America [ever] explicitly permitted them; it is possible that they kept silent because no one asked them [their opinion], and they avoided the issue, knowing that their words would not be heeded.

"As for [any leniency] that has become accepted in past generations, it is a fact that over time there have been many improvements in the machines, and it is possible that, as a result of these improvements, shaving with them has become prohibited [even according to the reasoning offered for that leniency].

"Accordingly, in this case, it is difficult to rely on [any] tradition [to be lenient].

"Indeed, this is how [Rabbonim] should rule, that it is not just Halachic strictness, and if a young man wishes to be scrupulous not to use any shaving machine, his parents should not object to this and say that [their son] is just trying to find [superfluous] Halachic stringencies."

Emes L'Yaakov al Shulchan Aruch (Cleveland, 5760), Yoreh Deah 181

Rabbi Moshe Wiener

*HaGaon R'Yaakov Kamenetsky was appointed rabbi of Tzitavyan in 1926 and moved to North America in 1937, where he initially took rabbinical positions in Seattle and then Toronto. From 1948 to 1968 he headed Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn, New York. Along with HaGaon R'Moshe Feinstein zt'l, he led American Jewry in issues of halachic and spiritual guidance until 1986, when both of these Gedolim passed away.


For a comprehensive treatment of this subject, see:
Sefer Hadras Ponim Zokon / by Rabbi Moshe Wiener / The Cutting and Growth of the Beard in Halachic Perspective / Featuring the endorsements of the leading Halachic authorities of our times / 1,024 pages (in enlarged third edition).

Sefer Hadras Ponim Zokon may be purchased at your local sefarim store and on-line at:
To order sefer Hadras Ponim Zokon (Hebrew) on-line: Kehot
To order The Beard in Jewish Law (English) on-line: Kehot | Amazon | Judaica World | AbeBooks