The picture of gray-haired men stroking their distinguished beards has long dominated the image of the Jewish scholar. The legal and cultural basis for this image remains a matter of historical intrigue.The Torah prohibits cutting certain spots of male facial hair: “You shall not destroy the side-growth of your beard” (Leviticus 19:27). While the Talmud limited this prohibition to five points on one’s face, medieval commentators offered at least six varying definitions of these areas. While all agree that the center of one’s chin must remain unshorn, they dispute the area of the other points, which might include the area around the lower earlobe, the ends and sides of the upper jaw bone and the ends of the mustache (Ritva Makot 21a). Given this dispute, the practice became not to improperly destroy any facial hair (YD 181:11), with decisors debating whether this extends to the neck area (Shach 181:7). The prohibition applies to barbers and clients alike (181:4), although many allow Jewish barbers uninhibitedly to shave non-Jewish clients.Medieval commentators offered various explanations for this prohibition. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra asserted that this prohibition stemmed from the general prohibition of mourning rituals of self-infliction (Leviticus 21:5) or, alternatively, reflected an inappropriate imitation of certain gentile practices that denigrated facial hair (19:17). Maimonides connected this commandment to the general prohibition of imitating idolatrous practices performed by priestly castes (Avoda Zara 12:7). Some decisors understood this rationale as offering room for dispensations in cases when copying gentile mannerisms may be permitted, such as with “court Jews” empowered to represent the community to the local government (Taz YD 181:1).