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H2. Modeling God's Holy Order in Our Appearance & Conduct [Make a Comment]
We are to model and not detract from God's Holy Order in either our appearance or conduct.
This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):
(Maimonides RN163, 164; Chinuch C149, 150)
Then Moshe told Aharon and his sons El'azar and Itamar, "Don't unbind your hair or tear your clothes in mourning, so that you won't die and so that ADONAI won't be angry with the entire community. Rather, let your kinsmen - the whole house of Isra'el - mourn, because of the destruction ADONAI brought about with his fire."
(Maimonides RN348-RN350; Meir MN116-MN118; Chinuch
You are not to go to bed with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination. You are not to have sexual relations with any kind of animal and thus become unclean with it; nor is any woman to present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; it is perversion.
(Maimonides RN215, RN217; Meir MN107, MN142; Chinuch
Observe my regulations. 'Don't let your livestock mate with those of another kind, don't sow your field with two different kinds of grain, and don't wear a garment of cloth made with two different kinds of thread.
(Maimonides RN43-44; Meir MN176-177; Chinuch C251-252)
Don't round your hair at the temples or mar the edges of your beard.
(Maimonides RN41, MN45; Meir MN163; Chinuch C253, C467)
Don't cut gashes in your flesh when someone dies or tattoo yourselves; I am ADONAI.
(Maimonides RN355; Chinuch C570)
Do not debase your daughter by making her a prostitute, so that the land will not fall into prostitution and become full of shame.
(Maimonides RN171; Chinuch C468)
Cohanim are not to make bald spots on their heads, mar the edges of their beards or cut gashes in their flesh. Rather, they are to be holy for their God and not profane the name of their God.
(Maimonides RN361; Meir MN143; Chinuch C291)
An animal with bruised, crushed, torn or cut genitals you are not to offer to ADONAI. You are not to do these things in your land ...
(Maimonides RN45, RN171; Meir MN28, MN164; Chinuch C467,
You are the people of ADONAI your God. You are not to gash yourselves or shave the hair above your foreheads in mourning for the dead, because you are a people set apart as holy for ADONAI your God.
(Maimonides RN39, RN40; Meir MN178, MN179; Chinuch C542,
A woman is not to wear men's clothing, and a man is not to put on women's clothing, for whoever does these things is detestable to ADONAI your God.
(Maimonides RN42; Meir MN181; Chinuch C551)
You are not to wear clothing woven with two kinds of thread, wool and linen together.
(Maimonides RN350, RN355; Meir MN133; Chinuch C209,
No woman of Isra'el is to engage in ritual prostitution, and no man of Isra'el is to engage in ritual homosexual prostitution.
This is why God has given them up to degrading passions; so that their women exchange natural sexual relations for unnatural; and likewise the men, giving up natural relations with the opposite sex, burn with passion for one another, men committing shameful acts with other men and receiving in their own persons the penalty appropriate to their perversion. In other words, since they have not considered God worth knowing, God has given them up to worthless ways of thinking; so that they do improper things.
The common feature of the Scriptures supporting this mitzvah is that they all speak against conduct that detracts from some aspect of God's holy order. By "holy order" I mean the natural order that follows from the creation, before the "Fall", and that reflects God's will and character. Romans 1:26-28 is the most general of the Scriptures, and is key to understanding the others, each of which is an example of something men do that is out of order and displeasing to God.
One would hope that the Scriptures that teach against homosexual practices, bestiality, and cross-dressing are self-evident but, sadly, many perversions are rampant in today's society, and there are ungodly forces afoot always agitating to make them acceptable1. The Scriptures that teach against wearing two species of thread (animal wool and vegetable linen) or sowing two species of seeds are symbolic, and analogous to mating two species of animals. I accept the symbolism of the two threads but, as a practical matter, modern clothing does not combine wool and linen.
The prohibitions against marking one's skin, cutting one's flesh, and trimming one's hair and beard in certain styles deserve special mention because tattooing, body piercing, and bizarre hair styles have become increasingly popular. The commandments prohibiting them were given at a time when each of them was a recognized heathen practice, and anyone who exhibited one of them was, essentially, declaring himself to be an idolater and an opponent of God.
To some extent that is still the case today regarding permanent markings, disfigurements, and extreme hair styles. Perhaps idol worship in its classical sense is no longer the issue, but rebellion against godly norms is, as is illustrated by "Punk" and "Goth" appearances that emphasize darkness over light. In addition, tattooing, cutting, and gross piercing permanently disfigures the body that God gave us and, for that reason alone, should be understood to not be God's will despite any biblical theme that the tattoos or jewelry attached to the piercings may have. A believer who receives one of these knowing that Scripture prohibits them commits sin; one who receives a tattoo innocently - perhaps to him or her it is not sin, but it is not something to make obvious because of what it implies. Once a tattoo has been received though, it is permanent, and any sin that may have been committed is over and done with. In my opinion, there is no continuing responsibility to attempt to remove a tattoo surgically.
Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch treat the Scriptures similarly and literally, and connect them to the practices of idol worshippers. Gashing and balding the head (tearing out hair) over the dead are illustrative of those practices. Regarding the perverted sexual practices, Hachinuch refers to God's evaluation of the creation: "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). To attempt to alter what God made is therefore very bad, and is sin.
1. There is no universal standard of what constitutes a male or female garment. It is defined by the culture in which the garment is worn, and tends to change over time. For example, women wear slacks today, whereas in years gone by they did not, because slacks were then thought to be for men only.
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