Medical Halacha – Are Hair Transplants Permissible?

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Rabbi Yehuda Finchas 

Sammy and Ikey both asked me the same question. “Rabbi, my hair is thinning and I was thinking about having a hair transplant.  Are there any halachic issues with doing so?” Even though they asked the same question, each received a different answer.  

Hair transplantation is a surgical procedure carried out under local anesthesia, during which hair is transferred from high-density areas of the scalp to low-density areas. In the July issue, we outlined three potential halachic issues with plastic surgery: whether it constitutes self-harm, whether it is permitted to endanger oneself, and whether plastic surgery is covered by the halachic mandate of healing (Hacham Ovadia, Yabia Omer, C.M., 8:12). The potential complications associated with hair transplantation, by contrast, are minimal. On the other hand, hair transplantation entails further halachic issues specific to the procedure. The first two pertain to the mitzva of wearing tefillin, while the third pertains to the prohibition of shaving the pe’ot harosh – the sideburns. 

In order to fulfil the mitzva of tefillin, there may not be a hatzitza – a barrier or obstruction – between the tefillin and one’s body (S.A., O.C., 27:4). However, Hacham David Yosef (Halacha Berurah, Vol. 2, 27:18) rules that newly implanted hair is not a hatzitza. He differentiates between a toupee, which can be removed, and implanted hair, which cannot be removed and moreover lives and grows in its new area.  Consequently, a toupee is considered a hatzitza while implanted hair is not.  

An additional concern related to tefillin is the possible requirement not to wear tefillin for a few days after the procedure to avoid damaging the transplanted hair and disturbing the healing process. May you knowingly put yourself into a situation in which you will be unable to wear tefillin for a few days? May one have a hair transplantation at the expense of missing a few days of tefillin? Obviously, if someone required life-saving brain surgery this would not be an issue. But are the benefits of hair transplantation sufficient cause to justify missing out on this mitzva? 

A further potential halachic issue arises when the transplant patient is required to shave his head prior to the procedure. It is prohibited to completely remove the hair of the pe’ot harosh (Shulchan Aruch, Y.D., 181:3). One may not shave the pe’ot and one must retain hair with a minimal length of a few millimetres. Of course, it is permitted to shave the head before performing critical brain surgery since this is piku’ach nefesh, although even then Hacham Bakshi Doron stipulates that it should be shaved with an electric shaver and not with a razor (Shu”t Binyan Av, 3:46). However, since hair transplantation is not piku’ach nefesh, there is a real issue with removing the pe’ot harosh. 

Given these halachic concerns, my answers to Sammy and Ikey had to consider the contextual factors and the specific requirements of the proposed procedures. On the one hand, Sammy is 45 years old, and happily married with six children. While he is unhappy about the effects of his thinning hair on his appearance, he realizes that forgoing a hair transplant is unlikely to affect his future. Therefore, coupled with the potential halachic issues, he decided not to have the transplant 

Ikey, on the other hand, is a single 19-year-old who is seriously concerned that his premature balding could impact his shidduch prospects, and moreover, his balding causes him acute social discomfort.  Hacham Ovadia (ibid.) rules that cosmetic surgery is permitted to promote “shalom bayit” or to boost one’s marriage prospects. He cites Ketubot 74b where the removal of blemishes is described as healing. He also refers to another source (Tosafot, Shabbat 50b, Bishvil)  that cites that it is permitted to remove a scab to alleviate pain, even psychological or emotional pain, such as experiencing embarrassment in the company of others; “There is no greater pain than this.” This was certainly the case with Ikey. 

Upon consultation with the doctors, Ikey was informed that he would not be required to completely shave off the peot harosh He scheduled the procedure for the morning of erev Pesah since he would not be wearing tefillin during the subsequent week of Pesah anyway! 

Rabbi Yehuda Finchas is a worldwide expert, lecturer, and author on Medical Halacha. He heads the Torat Habayit Medical Halacha Institute. His latest book is “Brain Death in Halacha and the Tower of Babel Syndrome.” To contact Rabbi Finchas, email rabbi@torathabayit.com.