Edelstein’s beard creates hairy situation

Knesset Speaker says “When I met with a Spanish group, I told them that I usually look more decent.”

yuli edelstein with a beard 370 (photo credit: Facebook)
yuli edelstein with a beard 370
(photo credit: Facebook)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will come to the parliament clean-shaven on Wednesday for his press conference with State Comptroller Joseph Shapira after his facial hair raised eyebrows.
Edelstein surprised many when he decided to grow a beard for the traditional three weeks of mourning ahead of Tuesday’s observance of Tisha Be’av.
A resident of Neveh Daniel in Gush Etzion, Edelstein is a national-religious Orthodox Jew whose community traditionally refrains from shaving during the three-week mourning period. But many men in that community who have high-profile roles receive permission from rabbis to shave.
For instance, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who also lives in Gush Etzion, received a ruling from the moderate Orthodox rabbinical organization Tzohar permitting him to shave for all but the final three days of the mourning period.
Edelstein said he could have easily received such a ruling but decided against it.
“I gave it a lot of thought,” he said. “I may not be the most meticulous person on every last element of observance, but I keep the commandments, and I decided that this is something that is important to me.”
Edelstein explained that when he started learning about Judaism in the early 1980s in the Soviet Union, it was very difficult for him. There was no kosher food, no way to avoid working on Shabbat, and the closest synagogue was a 75- minute walk away.
“When I made aliya [in 1987], things were so much more comfortable,” he said.
“Everything is kosher at the supermarket and everything is closed on Yom Kippur. I looked for something uncomfortable that would cause an uneasy feeling and make people ask me questions.”
Over the past three weeks, Edelstein met at the Knesset with several foreign delegations.
He said he either had his staff inform the groups in advance about why he was not shaving or he told them himself and used it as an educational opportunity.
“When I met with a Spanish group, I told them that I usually look more decent,” he said.
In a survey of secular Knesset members, none of them objected to Edelstein’s decision.
Even former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik, who cracked down on wearing sandals and jeans at the parliament when she was in charge, said she did not believe Edelstein displayed disrespect.
The only criticism for Edelstein has come from religious men who work at the Knesset and had their own rulings permitting them to shave due to respect for the Knesset quashed by the speaker himself not shaving. Edelstein said that on the contrary, he has received praise for keeping to his convictions.
“When I saw the Knesset speaker at a ceremony I immediately noticed the beard and my heart filled with Jewish pride,” Irit Yichye, a mother from Haifa, wrote on Edelstein’s Facebook page.