Today’s section begins to deal with the few negative commandments that do not apply to women. This was dealt with in the mishnah, but since it’s been a while, I am reproducing it here:
And all negative commandments, whether time-bound or not time-bound, both men and women are obligated, except for the prohibition against rounding [the corners of the head], and the prohibition against marring [the corner of the beard], and the prohibition [for a priest] to become impure through contact with the dead.
The Torah refers to the sons of Aaron when transmitting the prohibition of defiling oneself to take care of the dead. Therefore, this mitzvah applies only to males, not to females.
The Talmud now turns to the prohibitions of marring and rounding—both of which refer to parts of the head. This source teaches that since they are not subject to the prohibition of marring, they are not subject to the prohibition of rounding. Below, we will address how we know they are not subject to the prohibition of marring.
There are two ways to exempt women from the prohibition of marring the corner of their beards. First, women do not normally have beards. Second, the verse uses the singular in reference to the beard. This changing of the person teaches that men are prohibited but not women.
The Talmud now cites a baraita that says that the beard that grows on a woman’s face or on a eunuch’s face counts as a beard in all matters. This seems to contradict the mishnah which says women are not obligated in matters related to the beard.
Abaye says that you cannot read the baraita as being in respect to marring one’s beard because the word “corner” appears here and in the mitzvoth given to priests (Leviticus 21:5). Since there it refers only to men, so too here in the commandment not to mar one’s beard issued to all Israelites it refers only to men.
The Talmud raises a difficulty. Leviticus 21 is directed at sons of Aaron, and therefore we would assume that the prohibition against marring one’s beard applies only to the males. And from here we could use kal vehomer argument to derive that the same is true for Israelites, because priests have more commandments in general than Israelites. So then why do we need the gezerah shavah comparing the word “corner” in both contexts?
The gezerah shavah is necessary to exempt women from the prohibition of marring one’s beard, for without it I would have thought that the opening words “sons of Aaron” applies only to the first few halakhot which deal with impurity, and not all of the mitzvoth in the chapter.
The Talmud now asks why not say that indeed “sons of Aaron” refers only to the first commandments in Leviticus 21 and that the comparison of the verses (the gezerah shavah) is there to teach what instruments are included in the prohibition to shave—only a razor and not scissors, pincers or some sort of remover.
This returns us to our original question—how do we know that women are exempt from this prohibition?
The Talmud concludes that the Torah uses the word “corner” when it does not really need to do so in order to teach two comparisons: 1) both prohibitions refer to the same shaving implements; 2) women are excluded from the prohibition.
The sugya continues to discuss women with beards.
If women are exempt from the prohibition of marring their beards, then what does the baraita mean when it says that their beards are like a man’s beard in all respects?
Mar Zutra answers that it refers to the impurity of scale disease. Scale disease on a woman or eunuch’s beard is treated differently than it would be if it was on another part of the skin.
The Torah explicitly refers to a man or a woman when discussing an affliction upon the head or beard. So why do I need this baraita to tell me something learned directly in the Torah?
The answer is that I might have thought that “beard” refers only to the man. The baraita comes to teach us that with regard to scale disease, women too can have beards.
Deuteronomy 14:1-2 contains a prohibition of gashing oneself or of making a bald spot on one’s head. In our sugya, a sage says that women are liable for this mitzvah too.
Issi interprets the word “sons” as excluding women from the prohibition of making a bald spot on their heads.
According to Issi, the prohibition against cutting refers to all of the holy people, men and women. The prohibition against making a bald spot refers only to men.
Why does the baraita include women in the prohibition of cutting but not baldness? The prohibition against cutting is broader—it applies both to places that have hair and that don’t. Therefore, it applies to both men and women.
Why not say that women are also exempt from cutting. We could then interpret “for you are a holy people” to refer to the gashing mentioned in Leviticus 21:5 (because it would be analogized to the prohibitions in Deuteronomy).
Issi holds that gashing and cutting are the same prohibition. Therefore the “you are a holy people” phrase must refer to cutting, for otherwise it would have no referent.