By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
There is a fascinating Rama (in Orach Chaim 493:2), quoted in the previous Matzav.com story, that tells us that when Lag Ba’omer falls on Friday, the custom is to allow getting a haircut on account of kavod Shabbos. The Rama seems to cite the Maharil as the source for this ruling. In fact, the parenthesis indicating the source was not penned by the Rama but by a later editor.
Indeed, if one looks at the Maharil, one sees no such indication in his writings that this is correct. What, then, is the source? It comes from the Mahariv.
Poskim and gedolei roshei yeshiva have given two explanations for the ruling found in the Rama. One explanation is that since one is shaving and getting a haircut on Sunday, and Shabbos is right beforehand, it seems to be a “slap in the face” to Shabbos that one did not get a haircut for the holiest day of the week too. In other words, it is the comparison that would be drawn from the Sunday holiday to the gift that Hashem gave us, Shabbos.
Another explanation is that Lag Ba’omer is actually a holiday, and the holiness of that holiday begins at Mincha on the previous day. One does not recite Tachanun, for example, during Minchah that immediately precedes Lag Ba’omer. Since this is the case, one would technically be permitted to shave and get a haircut on Shabbos. The only problem, of course, is that it is a violation of Shabbos.
Herein lies our heter. Since it is forbidden to do so on Shabbos, the minhag is to permit it the day before, that it could be done for Shabbos. This is the explanation of the Mahariv‘s position.
Although the Rama cites sources that it is the minhag to permit these haircuts, the question is whether it is ideal.
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv is quoted by one of his talmidim, Rabbi Avrohom Hillel Weinberger, author of Hagaos Vehosafos (as cited in Ashrei Ha’ish p. 430) that although it is permitted, it is “not mehudar” and it is preferable, rather, to get the haircut on Sunday.
This position comes as a shock to most people. How so? Well, firstly, the Mishnah Berurah does not mention at all the notion that it is “not mehudar.” Secondly, it has been the minhag of all bnei yeshiva to follow this ruling of the Rama, ostensibly not only because it was permitted, but because it involved issues of kavod Shabbos.
It is this author’s suggestion that the issue is actually a matter of debate between the poskim of yesteryear and Rav Elyashiv. Rav Elyashiv might hold of the second explanation of the Mahariv, that we just do it on Friday because we cannot do it on Shabbos. The Mishnah Berurah and the gedolei haroshei yeshiva who permitted it fully in the past would hold of the first explanation of the Mahariv that it is a bit of a bizayon to Shabbos to get a haircut the next day, but not for Shabbos itself.
Regardless, all authorities agree that it is permitted to do so. Some say that one should do so precisely because of the issue of kavod Shabbos, while Rav Elyashiv holds that ideally one shouldn’t. This author would like to suggest that the Mishnah Berurah‘s silence here, and his ruling elsewhere regarding Rosh Chodesh on Sunday, indicates that the Chofetz Chaim was not in agreement with the view of Rav Elyashiv here.
The author may be reached at email@example.com and welcomes discussion on this issue.