How My Beard Makes Me Look Stupid & Why That's The Point – Beards In The Bible

(This post is a revised version of another piece I wrote a year ago almost to the day.) 

ךנקז תאפ תא תיחשת אלו םכשאר תאפופקת אל
“You shall not shave around the sides of your heads, neither shall you disfigure the corners of your beard.” – Leviticus 19:27
This passage is one of the most misunderstood verses of the entire Hebrew Bible, but this is not a post trying to understand it. This post will not shed light on what the Creator was getting at by commanding the Hebrews to not cut their beards or shave the hair from the temples of their heads in His Torah. No, this post is embracing this verse for what it is, what the ancient Israelites would have understood it to be, and a possible interpretation you may or may not apply to it.
I consider myself to be a Karaite. A Karaite is, very simply, a Scripturalist Israelite (the term “Kara” in Hebrew being a word meaning “to read”). A Karaite looks at the text and tries their best to put it in context; thinking it through the way an ancient Middle Eastern shepherd or farmer might have. It is with this understanding (or lack thereof) that I tackle this verse.
Many have attempted to throw this verse out of application by trying to “antiquitize” (yes, I made that term up just now) its intent. There have been many, many excuses for not applying this verse in its literal sense of not shaving the hair completely from the corners of one’s head and bringing no harm to the hair of the beard. Some say these practices were done as a sign of mourning, but when not done as a ritual in grief, they are acceptable. Others say these were pagan practices; either as a right of fertility or as a means of showing tribal identification with shapes and designs shaved out of the hair of the temples in ornate designs. How they come to this conclusion is by interpreting this to coincide to either the verse before or the verse after verse 27:
” You shall not eat anything with the blood: neither shall you use divination, nor witchcraft.” –Leviticus 19:26
“You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo 
any marks upon you: I am YHVH.” – Leviticus 19:28
pagan tribal affiliation head shaved designs in hair
Designs shaved in the corners of one’s hair on their head – first used by pagan tribes for markings of affiliation.
When the entire chapter of Leviticus 19 is read, many of the prohibitions are given reasons for their observance, but many are given no explanation at all. There is a common theme that runs throughout the chapter: do not be like the rest of the world. The fact that the Almighty had to tell these people these things can be used to help one assume that these practices were taking place amongst those whom the Israelites were interacting. Archeological evidence also supports this thought process. It is understood that these practices were detestable to the God of Israel. However, another interpretation of this could be that even though this behavior did not yet at that time exist, the Holy One could foresee a time when this behavior would occur and He sought to snuff it out amongst His people before it had a chance to take root.
All of these theories are completely beside the point I wish to share; that being my declaration of ignorance! My ignorance is not an ignorance of the text itself, for that is right before our eyes, but an ignorance of the Almighty’s intent for these commands. When we go so far as to assume we know why the Creator of the Universe commanded us not to take part in certain behaviors and made other actions mandatory, we are putting words in His mouth. When we rationalize our act of omitting commands of the Most High, we are, in a sense, inserting a “condition of application” or “fine print” into the text that does not exist. It’s as though we have been including the conditions into the Holy Torah, “in the event that pagan traditions surrounding mourning, fertility, or methods of tribal identification no longer are the norm, disregard Leviticus 19:27 altogether.” To do this, even just in application and without scribbling these additions in the margins of the Torah, such a “condition” is in direction violation of the prohibition against adding or removing mitzvot from the Torah (Deuteronomy 4:2).
Old Samaritan man in a turban with a Torah scroll.

In this age, the ritual removal of facial hair is a very common practice. In fact, this behavior has gone from ritual to habitual just within the past 100 years or so. No United States President since 1889 has worn a full beard (Benjamin Harrison) and no president since Theodore Roosevelt allowed so much as a mustache on their faces. Also, now more than ever before in history are people being called back the Hebrew Scriptures and the observance of Torah. Secular Jews are clamoring back to the heritage of their forefathers. Even Gentiles are shaking off the lies they have been told in the past about their own scriptures and applying more of the Bible to their lives in a much more literal sense.
The mitzvah of not harming one’s beard takes no more faith than any other command, but the reason why so many are apprehensive about observing it is because not only is it on your face, but it’s also “in your face” as far as it being apparent to others. It’s because of this that so many want to find a way out of this commandment rather than be looked at with near-disgust by society. The world sees a full, untrimmed beard as being unhygenic and a symbol of not caring; but in actuality, keeping an “unharmed” and taken care of beard is one of the most natural and healthy things a man can do. I will agree that it is a symbol of not caring, but not caring about what is the question. A full, unharmed beard is a symbol of not caring about what people might say or think. That concept does scare many people, which is why I can say that a full, unharmed beard is not for everyone.
My beard is more than facial hair. It is the act of me announcing my ignorance of God’s intent for certain situations in my life. It is an act of letting go. It is a symbol of the pledge I made Him when I came into His covenant. I have trimmed it in the past in order to better conform to a certain situation in life, but I always regret doing so. It is for that reason that I have decided to never again harm my beard with a blade. Never again shall I cut the hairs of my beard. Is it because I know more than others about why God has told us not to cut our beards? If anything, it’s because I don’t know what else to do.
Now keeping a full beard does not mean being afraid of it, but rather taking care of what God has made grow. We should clean our beards regularly and brush them thoroughly remove any detached hairs from the rest of the beard for the health of the folicals. This also helps to remove the “dirty” stigma from non-trimmed beards. Also, not marring one’s beard does not mean always wearing it completely out in full view; able to get into anything you’re doing. Sometimes, tying the beard back is necessary. This can be done so by braiding the beard and then sticking the braid back through the braid-supporting hairs under the chin, or by holding back with some sort of bandana or cord to keep it free from machinery or other things
Never wear a beard to appear pious. If you ever feel you are growing your beard out with ulterior motives aside from obedience, I wouldn’t recommend wearing an unharmed beard. Also, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve gone without trimming if you speak badly about your neighbor or attempt to cheat people. The folicals of a beard do come from one’s face, but a beard really grows from the heart.
Remember, there actually no commandment anywhere in the Scripture to grow a beard. The command is simply to no cut hair that grows naturally on the corners of one’s face. If you cannot grow a beard, there is something to be said even more for those who cannot not grow a full and thick beard, yet still decide not to mar what grows.
All of this posts are of my opinion. I do not claim them as truth for all because I do not know everyone. All I know is what I see in the text and feeling that goes along with it. I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to share any feedback you have, but try and keep a positive mental attitude.
Many blessings, -Ken
Ken Lane and Joshua Jenkins eating gelato together in Tulsa.
Being silly with my good friend and fellow Hebrew, Joshua Jenkins.

You Are Your Own Spiritual Government

Every so often, I get questioned from the average person along these lines: 
You’re a religious person. Why aren’t you more up in arms about the gay marriage debate?” 
You’re a religious person. The Democratic National Convention refused to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Why are you not more upset about this?” 
You’re a religious person. A public school teacher got in trouble for leading a prayer in school. Why are you not willing to fight for them?” 
In the past couple years, I’ve come across so many people who are adamant about their religious beliefs intertwining with their political opinions that they have simply forgotten that there are other people in the world who don’t share their beliefs. And guess what? That’s not a bad thing. God created us all as unique beings with our own freewill, our own likes and dislikes, and our own paths. Here is my message for these people: learn to self-govern. 
1. I will be the first to say that I firmly do not believe in gay marriage. Why am I not flipping out over people who attempt to legalize gay marriage? Were you not listening? I said I don’t believe in gay marriage. 
You see, as a religious person, I believe marriage is a spiritual act and outlined in spiritual teachings. The first definitions of marriage started with people who came together and both swore to God that they would remain faithful to each other. Before that time, people cohabited; not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, as I’d rather not have people pretending to make a promise to a god they don’t believe in. Still, the very definition of “marriage” was of a spiritual unity before the God of a faith, whether that be Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, or whatever other religion. I believe that marriage is a sacred union between man and woman. Why am I not more up-in-arms over people trying to legalize gay marriage? Simply because my own beliefs speak louder than society’s attempt to alter the definition of marriage. If two men or two women claim to be married and the law of the land says they are, that still doesn’t change what I believe marriage to be. That marriage to me is the same as Christians saying the Sabbath is on Sunday. There are many “Sunday Blue Laws” in place in Oklahoma and other states that ban the sale of liquor on Sundays because it was historically the Sabbath for an entire community of Christians. Does this make this so with me? No. Would legalizing gay marriage change the definition of marriage for me personally? No. Either way, I believe in self-governance and staying out of other people’s business. I wouldn’t argue with someone who claimed to be the tooth fairy because they’re probably not interested in hearing why I think they’re not.
I never knew Homer was so progressive!
While I personally do not believe that gay marriage can exist because it is a religious institution by definition, I couldn’t care less about two people living together and whatever legal implications that incurs, so be it. Eventually, I’d like to see marriage completely phased out of regulation and anyone who desires to be legally bound to another individual should be allowed to be, regardless of sexual orientation, religious belief, gender, or otherwise. If you’re married, that is between you, your spouse, and God and Uncle Sam is only getting in the way.
2. The Land of Israel was promised to the Children of Israel. These days, man has made a mostly secular city that didn’t exist in the time of Ancient Israel its capital. Not only that, but more and more people are attempting to call this land Palestine. Why am I not more outraged? 
Regardless of what people call Eretz Yis’rael (the Land of Israel), it is Eretz Yis’rael. If I was living there and a government overthrew the Israeli Government, renaming it Boogerland, I would still know that it was Eretz Yis’rael. If they changed the capital from Tel Aviv to a newly found city called Jerksville, I would still know that the capital would be Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). What man does to Eretz Yis’rael does not make it any less Eretz Yis’rael to me and my God. 
Biblical Israel: Just think about how much they’re not fighting for.
3. They’ve stripped official prayer from schools! Oh, no! As a religious person, I should be outraged. Well, guess what? I’m not. In fact, I think it’s about time. 
“Now, just put your hands together like this or else God can’t hear you. This is your God antenna.”
You see, in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, it reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” 
A teacher in a public school has an enormous responsibility. Not only are they teaching the upcoming generations, but they are also government employees. During the period of time that they are fulfilling their duties as teachers, they are representing the United States government. Not only that, but they are teaching a wide variety of students. They could be teaching Christian kids, Jewish kids, Hindu kids, Sikh kids, Muslim kids, Atheist kids, Agnostic kids, Buddhist kids, and the like. If you officially pray to one universal god, you are discriminating against the Hindu kid. His parents taught him to pray to all the many Hindu gods. You’re also being disrespectful to the Atheist kid, who was taught to pray Richard Dawkins (only joking). If you pray to Jesus, you’re likely to disrespect the Jewish kid, and if you pray to Allah, you’ll be disrespecting the Sikh kid. 
Most all people who fight for official prayer in public schools are members of the majority religion. After all, if you were a Southern Baptist living in Iran, would you be upset when the school teacher taught your child to pray to Allah? Of course you would be.
In the end, restrictions aren’t preventing children from praying in schools or even from children leading other children in prayer. They are simply keeping children from being coerced into a prayer they may or may not agree with by a government employee. If you want your teachers leading your kids in prayer, you still can! Simply enroll them in a religious school of your choice. 
In conclusion, I am not saying that I believe gay marriage is ok by me. I’m not saying that Israel should just give up to the Palestinians and the secular people should decide what is its capital. I’m not saying that prayer should be banned from schools. I’m simply saying that if we all learned how to self-govern and not mettle in the affairs of others, our faith should be able to protect us from what some thing of as an impending doom. 
Nobody is forcing you to attend a gay marriage or even believe that such a thing exists.
Nobody is forcing you to deny that Eretz Yis’rael is the promised Land of God. 
Nobody is forcing anyone to abstain from praying in school. 

Be your own sovereign nation and do not engage in political interventions with other people’s sovereignty.

A Kosher Tattoo?

There was a post on Facebook today being spread around by some friends that sparked a little bit of conservation between a fellow Karaite brother and myself. First off, here is the picture: 

While I agree that getting a tattoo about the abominable nature of homosexual bedroom behavior is hilarious because tattoos themselves are forbidden by the same book of the Bible, the discussion that my dear Karaite brother brought up was of the issue of the complete prohibition of tattoos. Does the Torah ban all tattoos or markings on the flesh outright or are their certain scenarios when tattoos are permissible? Before I address this specific dilemma, let’s back up a bit and attempt to put things into context here a little bit. After all, context is everything; right?


The book of ויקרא (“va-yi-kraw”), or in English, Leviticus, is mainly known to be a book of specific instruction. Though the entire Torah can be called a book of instructions, some instructions from other books of the Torah are commands learned by studying the character traits of some of the main tzadikim (righteous ones) of the Torah. Leviticus, however, is very concise and to the point. There are a lot of “don’t do this”, “do do this” (yes, I wrote “do do”) and the like. Leviticus 19 pretty much reads like a grocery list. 

  • Obey your parents
  • Keep the Sabbath 
  • Don’t make idols
  • Offer sacrifices where they are accepted
  • You may eat sacrifices, but leftovers to the third day are to be burned
  • Leave the corners of your field for the poor
  • Don’t steal from each other
  • Don’t lie from each other
  • Pay your workers aptly 
  • Treat the disabled nicely….
I was paraphrasing, but you get the picture. 

Now, some of these commands can filed together while others are fairly random in their order (well, I’m sure they’re not random; it’s just that I certainly don’t know the method to the seeming-madness). Some of these commands, such as not mixing your herds, your seeds, or your clothing (verse 19) flow very nicely together and stay on track. Others, like the command to only offer a sacrifice where it is accepted, not leaving any of it for more than three days directly followed by leaving the corners of your field unharvested for the poor to come a glean from (verses 5-9) don’t seem to go together as much. 

There has become a method of lumping together the meaning for doing commands. Sometimes, this works. Other times, this method can get a little hairy. Here’s the verse we’re discussing in this post: 

ושרט לנפש לא תתנו בבשרכם וכתבת קעקע לא תתנו בכם אני יהוה
“You shall not put any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves; I am the LORD” 
-Leviticus 19:28

Let us attempt to gain some context by reading some of the verses before and after this to see if we can tell exactly why God is instructing Israel to not cut themselves for the dead or put tattoos on themselves. 

Here are the verses directly before and after this verse:
“You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.” – Leviticus 19:27
“Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity.”  – Leviticus 19:29

Even if one was to expand beyond this sphere, the verse before 27 is relating to agriculture in the Holy Land and the verse after 29 is about putting trust in fortune tellers.

The most popular interpretation makes marring one’s beard, shaving one’s temples, cutting one’s flesh, and getting tattoos permissible as long as it is not as a form of idolatrous worship or in mourning over the loss of the dead. In actuality, all of these practices that are not simply common sense (not mistreating the disabled, being charitable to the poor, etc.) were widely practiced in other cultures; especially by those who were inhabiting the Holy Land before Israel showed up on the scene. Men shaved th
eir beards and displayed tribal affiliation with tattooed markings and designs shaved into the sides of their heads. Prostitution, “the world’s oldest profession”, was widely practiced and many men sold their daughters into the business. It was the natural thing. What was God getting at by making these commands? 

Israel was to be different. Though a beard might not make anyone necessarily better, in a clean-shaven society, it definitely makes one different. All of these commands were so that Israel would be different. “Holy” does not “better”, but merely “set apart” and Israel was called to be a set-apart nation.  

As for tattooing; the term in the Torah does not specifically refer to the procedure of injecting ink under the skin, but is referring to any markings on the skin and is not directly tied to the act of mourning the way that making cuts in the skin is in verse 27. The ESV version does a decent job of expressing the Hebrew’s specifications on the making cuts in the flesh for the dead, as the literal Hebrew would read like this: 

Cuts the dead nor make your body marks, marks nor make. I am the LORD.” 

The two “marks” are two different words. One being “u’ketobet” more of the verb sense of making the mark the way “marking” would be in English. The other is “ka’aka” being more of the noun side of a “mark.” I would need to do more research on this, but it does seem close to “kara”, as in “Karaim” which means “readers of Hebrew Scriptures.” This is the Hebrew term for the Karaites; those who not believe in the divine nature of any extra-Biblical works.

Also, notice in the verse where it clarifies that it is cuts for the dead, as a mourning ritual, that are forbidden, but the prohibition against tattoos remains broad. I personally believe this is to allow for certain medical procedures or instances when the cutting of the flesh is actually beneficial; such as in surgical procedures or in draining harmful materials from the body. 

The beauty of Karaite Judaism is that disagreements are actually celebrated because we believe we are free to interpret the Scriptures for ourselves. While I don’t fully agree with my Karaite brother who says that tattoos are fine unless they are in mourning or are part of worshiping an idol, we embrace our ability to disagree. 

Conclusion: 
Don’t get me wrong; I think tattoos neat. Some of the most fantastic works of art I’ve seen are tattoos and when someone shows me their tattoo, I can appreciate the artistry and the hard work that went into its design and creation. Still, I am a Hebrew and getting tattoos is not a part of my spiritual culture. When God called Israel out to be a “holy nation”, that does not necessarily mean a “better nation.” Rather, this means that we are a “set-apart nation.” 
I could have written a post using anti-tattooing cliches like “tattoos are like graffiti on the temple” and the like, but really, I can honestly say the only reason I don’t have tattoos is because the Torah commands me not to. We can rationalize away the commands of Torah and say that “those commands against eating pigs was to protect against trichinosis, but modern-day pork is clean”, but the command still remains and Torah is forever no matter which way we attempt to worm our way out.   

Shalom. 
-Ken

I Don't Eat Kosher. I Eat Food.

While I was in college, I held many part-time jobs that allowed me to come in contact with many people I normally would not have come in contact with. While I was working at a printer cartridge re-manufacturing store, around the same time I was really shifting away from Christian thought and more into a Hebraic perspective of the Scriptures, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation one day with a certain customer who really shined new light on eating kosher. Interestingly enough, this man was a Christian. By Christian, I mean he probably believed that his salvation came from Jesus, but other than that, I bet this guy had been kicked out of a couple churches just by the way he spoke. 


At this point in my conversion, I did not consider myself B’nai Yisrael, but rather since I kept many of the tenants of the Torah, I considered myself a “weird Christian.” That was the best way I knew how to explain it to anyone who asked by I was wearing blue-accented fringes and didn’t cut my beard. 

I think the customer was waiting on some of his printer cartridges to be refilled and he asked me about my fringes and beard. I explained to him where I was, spiritually, and didn’t really know what to expect in reply. He gave me an approving “hmmp” with “will ya look at that?” happy frown and raised slightly surprised raised eyebrows. 

“Well, ya know, Jesus kept kosher. So did all the disciples; even after Jesus’ resurrection. No, I betcha money even Paul never touched a ham sandwich. The Bible plainly says eating certain things is forbidden and there’s no getting around it.”

His reply surprised me. All the other Christians I knew had quoted the classic “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?” line from Matthew 17; which goes on to say “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” as well as “…to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” What most Christians will claim is Jesus’ way of abolishing the laws of eating kosher in the Torah (which doesn’t make sense because the rest of the Bible says that if anyone comes claiming to be Messiah, but teaches against the Torah, cannot not possibly Messiah) is actually a teaching against speaking evil and also enforcing man-made laws as though they are in the Torah. Though washing one’s hands before eating might be a good idea, the command to wash one’s hands before eating bread isn’t found anywhere in the Torah. 

The customer didn’t quote that famous Matthew 17 verse, instead he started to speak about Torah by quoting verses from Leviticus 11. According to the Torah, Israel is forbidden to eat: 
  • Mammals that don’t both have a cloven hoof AND chew their cud 
  • Fish that don’t have both scales and fins 
  • Birds of prey
  • Winged insects that go on all four besides those that have jointed legs above the feet for hopping
  • Any reptiles or amphibians 
  • Pretty much any animals that eat other animals
This man did not bring the usual argument about these creatures being disgusting or cursed or anything. He made it even more simple than that:

“These animals were not designed to be food. Animals that die in the wilderness are eaten by scavengers; wild pigs, vultures, wolves, some tinier than you can see, and the like. When fish die, they fall to the lake bottom or ocean floor and are eaten by bottom-feeders like crabs, lobsters, and catfish. You wouldn’t try and eat the garbage truck, would you? I wouldn’t eat these creatures any sooner than I’d eat my own shoe. It’s not because I consider my shoe to be cursed, but simply because I need my shoe. God designed these creatures to take care of the earth by keeping it clean.” 

It was very bizarre that this Christian was bringing a very Jewish perspective to eating clean foods, but he was absolutely right. These animals are not necessarily non-kosher food, but they simply weren’t meant to be food anymore than my shoe is meant to be food. 

When I look at a big piece of ham, I don’t really think “Oh, disgusting! That’s sick!” After my chat with that guy one day at work, I see a big sizzling sneaker on a plate and that bacon hidden in the salad is more like little pieces of rubber. 

So, I’m not really against eating non-kosher, but more about eating what the Torah considers to be food.  

"Saying You're Sorry" ≠ Repentance

It is my theory that the reason why Christians see observant Jews as being so diametrically opposed to them because of their commitment to the Torah is, for the most part, dependent on the translation of one word linked to a theological concept. 


This word/concept is: תשובה  – pronounced like “teshuvah.” 

In English Bibles, this term is typically translated as “repentance.” While the word in its entirety shows up very rarely in the Hebrew Bible, its shortened form (“shuv”) shows up fairly frequently. 

“אם־תשוב עדש־די תבנה תרחיק עולה מאהלך”
“If you return to the Almighty you will be built up; if you remove injustice far from your tents.” 
-Job 22:23

In Hebrew, the term simply means “to turn” or “return”. To Jews, this term doesn’t merely mean saying you’re sorry, but literally turning away from your sin, not doing it again, and returning to the ways of the Torah where you were before you slipped up. While righting wrongs between your fellow man is implied, from a Hebraic mindset, teshuvah/repentance can only be done when the sin is not continued.  All spiritual repentance of sin is typically used to express returning to the ways of the Torah. When one begins to move in the opposite direction, only then is repentance actually accepted by God. 


Teshuvah is a continual process that each person works on every single day; all day long. The more teshuvah takes place, the easier it is until the commands of Torah become habitual and a part of everyday life. It can be extremely difficult at first, but grows easier with time and practice.


As an experiment, let’s see how reinserting this Hebrew concept back into some New Testament passages would force change in the lives of some Christians: 


“Return to the Torah; the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
 – Matthew 3:2 


“So they (the disciples) went out and proclaimed that people should return to the Torah.” 
– Mark 6:12


“No, I tell you; but unless you return to the Torah, you will all likewise perish.” 
– Luke 13:2

“Return to the Torah therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” 
– Acts 3:19 


“Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of returning to the Torah to all the people of Israel.” 
– Acts 13:24


And this isn’t changing the meaning of the passage since the original meaning of “repent” in the spiritual sense was a returning to the Torah. Interesting perspective, ain’t it? 


Shalom, 
– Ken