Sunday, August 02, 2009



by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths

Here is an important new prayer to learn. You should say this prayer at least once a day, and most importantly, teach it to your children.

First, a little background as to why this particular prayer is so important. Here are a couple of examples, but really, there are a lot more.

More and more frequently, I see young, male, Jewish tourists coming to the Kotel with as many as three earrings. Some of the older young men also sport huge, ugly tattoos. After putting tefillin on them, I take their pictures and try to include a picture of them answering the following question:

“When you get married, who is going to wear the pants in the family?”

“Well, surely,” each teenage boy strongly asserts himself, “I am!”

“Then who is going to wear the earrings?” I ask. They freeze, smile sheepishly, look away from me, and try to laugh it off. That’s when I snap the picture. I want them to have a picture of what they looked like when they realized just how foolish they look with those earrings. “Nu? Which side of the fence are you going to be on?” I ask, using the mechitza (modesty fence that separates the men and women) as a metaphor for clear-cut gender roles. They usually giggle and try to come up with some kind of compromise answer.

“We both are!” they sometimes suggest.

“Then you both are going to wear the pants, too!” I tell them. “Either she is going to wear the pants and you are going to wear the jewelry, or you are going to wear the pants and she is going to wear the jewelry. Which is it going to be?” They always laugh, but the message gets through.

I then explain to them why earrings are so very bad for a Jewish man. Actually, the earring is not the problem. The problem is the hole in the ear.

The Torah teaches that if a Jewish man steals something, the beis din (Jewish law court) forces him to pay back what he stole. If he does not have the money, the court sells him as a slave. He must serve his new master for up to six years. Then he goes free. He goes free, that is, unless he says that he likes being a slave, and that he wants to continue on as a slave. If he says this, then his master bores a hole in his ear, and this is a sign that he will remain a slave forever.[i] This “forever” actually means until the Jubilee year.

While an earring with a hole might seem to be a daring fashion statement to a young boy, the Torah says that it is a sign of slavery. (This is true only for males, as females cannot be enslaved past the age of puberty.)

Why was the ear chosen to be the sign of slavery? Because, spiritually, we were all at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given, and the ear that heard at Mount Sinai that we are to be slaves of Hashem, instead chose to become the slave of a man.[ii]

How does this apply today, when we do not have this type of slavery? Even after the young man tires of this foolish fad, he can throw away the earring, but he cannot throw away the hole. It is permanent whether he likes it or not, slavery!

Tattooing is also like this. The Torah specifically forbids tattooing.[iii] Some say that tattoos are forbidden because tattooing was a custom of the idolaters, and we are not to be like them. But, like the hole in the ear, the practical problem is, even when you tire of the tattoo, it does not go away.

Now this prayer will make more sense to you. It goes like this: “Dear G-d, as I go through life, if I have to make mistakes, please let me make them in pencil.”

[i] Exodus 21:5, Deuteronomy 15:17,
[ii] Kiddushin 22b
[iii] Leviticus 19:28


  1. just to play devil's advocate, isn't the ear piercing of an eved nirtza in the cartilage, rather than the soft part of the ear?


  2. also, don't earing holes sometimes close up if you don't put an earing in them for a long time?

  3. Josh,
    Really, the devil doesn't need any help. He has been doing fine all these years without you.
    There is a difference of opinion where the hole in the ear for a slave was bored. But today's fads also include many boys putting holes in the cartilage, too. Also, some of the more "wild" boys bore huge holes to show just how daring they are. Wherever the hole was, the lesson is the same.
    As for the hole closing up; I used to learn with a 60-year-old who would take the boys' earrings and slip them into the hole in his ear that was left over from over forty years ago! The holes usually close up only if the ring is removed within a year.

  4. "Really, the devil doesn't need any help."
    true. :)
    interesting facts about earrings. this is a subject i am pretty unfamiliar with.

    while it is indeed a machlokes in kiddushin 21b, don't we pasken like the chachamim there?

    personally, i think the fad is silly, and makes them look silly. but is it assur? i don't know. even if this was the practice in Biblical times, how do we know that to do this is assur? or if not assur, frowned upon to a great degree?

    in terms of simlat isha and wearing the pants, there are cultural norms at play. just as rivkah wore a nose-ring but such is frowned upon in frum society today. or wearing a kilt in scotland would not make people think one is dressing like a woman. secular culture has adapted, and these are fads. so while you and i think that these earring make these boys look decidedly feminine, as well as silly, this might not really be an objection in terms of "who is wearing the pants" and on which side of the mechitza on chooses to be.


  5. btw, i know you made basically the same point (at least on the level of halacha) when you said that the earring was not the problem; i'm just making the point more explicit.

    kol tuv,

  6. Some people don't even need a earring, they can look pretty stupid just on their own.


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