252. Bearded: The prohibition against destroying the corners of one’s beard

…and do not destroy the corners of your beard (Leviticus 19:27)

The Torah says not to destroy the corners of one’s beard, of which there are five: the upper and lower cheek on either side, plus the spot where the two sides meet on one’s chin. These are each separately prohibited. The prohibition is against completely eradicating the hair, which can only be done with a razor. To trim the hair with a pair of scissors is permitted. (Electric shavers are permitted in concept but some may be problematic in practice. Depending on the style of shaver, some may potentially violate this prohibition; an authority should be consulted in a case of doubt.)

The reason underlying this mitzvah is similar to the one for not shaving off the hair that grows on the “payes” – that Jews should have a distinctive manner that keeps them separate and unique. Historically, it is the reason why Jewish men have traditionally worn beards.

This mitzvah applies to men only, in all times and places. Women are exempt, even if they should happen to grow facial hair. This mitzvah is discussed in the Talmud in tractate Makkos (20b-21a) and is codified in the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah 181. It is #44 of the 365 negative mitzvos in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos and #177 of the 194 negative mitzvos that can be fulfilled today as listed in the Sefer HaMitzvos HaKatzar of the Chofetz Chaim.