This has given rise to comments about the issur of Lo Sakifu, the issur of cutting the peyos harosh (Kedoshim, Vayikra 19:27.) In fact, one beis medrash doesn't allow people with shaved heads to daven for the amud.
The purpose of this post is to list some of the issues, pro and con. At this point, it's going to be extremely condensed.
There are three threshold questions.
1. The issur of cutting the peyos is called hakafa, from לא תקיפו פאת ראשכם (Vayikra 19:27.) The word "hakafa" can be translated "circling," implying that the issur might only apply when cutting the peyos leaves a circle or a ring of the hair remaining on the head, similar to the tonsure of Catholics, Buddhists, Moslems, and Hindus. Does the issur of hakafa apply when you're not leaving any hair on the head at all, when you're doing הקפת כל הראש?
2. Does the issur of cutting the peyos harosh have the same rules as the peyos hazakan, namely, that it's only assur with a razor?
3. Assuming the issur applies even when not done with a razor, how long do you have to leave the hair?
1. We pasken that הקפת כל הראש שמה הקפה, that the issur is the same even if you cut all the hair on your head. (YD 181:2)
(Live and learn. Reading the Wikipedia article on Tonsure, I found that Muhammad prohibited partial הקפה, but was mattir הקפת כל הראש. This is what it says there:
Partial tonsure is forbidden in Islam. The Prophet Muhammad forbade shaving one's hair on some parts of the head while letting it grow on other parts, as in tonsure. However, shaving the head entirely is allowed. )
2. The Mechaber's language is that the issur of peyos harosh is only with a razor (that's the Rambam and the Chinuch, but the Chinuch says that even the Rambam is only talking about Deoraysa, and would agree that even too close of a scissor cut is assur miderbanan.)
3. The Rosh says it's an issur deoraysa even with a scissor if it's as close as a razor, and one should be concerned about their opinion. This is what he says:
אינו חייב אלא בתער, ויש אוסרים במספריים כעין תער ויש לחוש לדבריהם
4. The Rambam says that the shiur of hair that has to be left after cutting is the same as the shiur of pegima on a chalef, (as the Chasam Sofer says in OC 154) that when you run your nail over it you can tell there's something there. Which means very, very tiny. (It has been reported that a groove of 1 pm, cut in a smooth surface, can be detected by moving the fingernail back and forth over it (Kesten,1956; Matthey, 1960)) This is also the shitta of Tosfos Nazir 40a. The Prisha in 181 says the same thing, and also the Chochmas Adam 89:16. Some people want to say that the Mishna Berura holds the same (Biur Halacha 151 D'H V'Afilu mesapeir Yisrael.) but it's a very very weak proof. The Mishna Berura there is just saying how terrible it is that they don't even leave a mashe'hu, he's not saying that he approves of leaving a mashehu. Rav Wosner brings these shittos in his Shevet HaLevi.
5. The Minchas Yitzchak 4:113:5 says you need to leave enough so that it could be bent into a loop.
Oddly, the Darkei Teshuva in 181 SK 15 brings from the Ksav Sofer that the Chasam Sofer said that the minhag was to leave enough to fold over. See the Chasam Sofer in his Teshuvos (OC 154).
6. Rav Elisahiv is quoted as saying that we are noheg to leave enough to fold over, and that this is 6 mm, or .23 inches, corresponding to #2 on most hair clippers. (Beard clippers use a different numbering system.)
7. Rav Dovid Feinstein, as in the poster available below, says .2 inches, 5 mm.
חת"ס (או"ח סי' קנד), מלמד להועיל (יו"ד סי' סד), צור יעקב (ח"א סי' ק) דמבואר מדבריהם שיש צורך להשאיר עובי כדי שיכוף ראש השערה לעיקרה, והוא ע"פ דברי הרמב"ם (פ"ח מטומאת צרעת ה"ו). וכ"פ בשו"ת תורה לשמה (סי' שפט). ועי' בספר אוצר הידיעות (שטרן, ח"א פרק נה עמ' רו) ובספר לשכנו תדרשו שכתב דהוא כחצי ס"מ, שכן פחות מכך הוי השחתה.
אמנם מדברי שאר הראשונים (עי' רא"ש מכות פ"ג סי' ב, וחי' רבינו ישעיה ור"י קרקושה ורבינו פרץ בשם ריב"א במכות כ:) מבו' שדי בכך שלא ישוה את השערות קרוב לבשר ממש, אך כל שמשאיר שער הנראה לעין כל אדם (מס' 1 במכונה), נראה מדבריהם דשרי. וכ"מ שנקט לדינא החכמת אדם (כלל פט אות טז). ואמנם החת"ס ודעימיה כתבו להוכיח מדברי הרמב"ם שם דבעי' כדי שיכוף ראש השערה לעיקרה, כבר כתב בחי' הגרי"ז (נזיר מ:) דדין פרטי הוא בנזיר. וע"ע בזה בשער החיים (שם אות ט) שהאריך בזה
From this skeletal outline, it appears that the people who shave their head can present adequate evidence that they are not being over an issur. Obviously, most of us are machmir to leave far more than the Chasam Sofer's shiur. But it's far from a public aveira, it's just a kula that you or I wouldn't approve of- unless they really shave it so close that it's not even a mashe'hu left, and even then it's just against the mechaber's יש לחוש.
As I said, this is much too brief. There are numerous other issues, including the Rambam's shitta (see Maharam Shick Sefer Hamitzvos 252 and Darkei Teshuva 181:8) about having a non-Jewish barber cut the peyos without your helping him by moving your head (which is probably impossible anyway,) and a possible connection between shaving your head and azus metzach and what that says about the kashrus of your yichus and your yiras shamayim, and many other things. The limud zechus would be that partial baldness is very embarrassing to them, or might be harmful for their job or for shidduchim if people look at them as too old or unattractive, in which case it might fall under the rubric of Tzaar Gadol or Hefsed Merubah, which might allow reliance on the Rambam. Another semi-limud zechus is that they might be totally unaware of the problem.
UPDATE: after a long time of cowardly confrontation avoidance, I mildly said to one young man "You learned in yeshivos, and I assume that you asked a shailah about the issue of Hakafas Harosh." He blushed a little, and said that he recently realized it might be a problem, and he has resolved to use a guard from now on.
Essential, and absolutely clear, from HaRav Binyomin Forst with the haskama of HaRav Dovid Feinstein.
with option for pdf for poster. It has photographs of Yerei'ei Shamayim with peyos that cut their hair too short around their peyos, and were over an issur de'oraysa.
Chicago Community Kollel
Rav Bakshi Doron
Rav Yishak Rasabi
Is there any limud zechus for the people who shave their heads? No. But there is a limud of not-chovah. What is the halacha if you tell a non Jew to shave your head? It might be an issur deoraysa, but it might be an issur derabanan (see Minchas Chinuch 251:3-4.) If it is an issur derabanan, one might claim to rely on the slim possibility that the issur is only when shaven like a razor.