On yesterday’s daf we learned that one way for a person to express that he wants to become a nazir is by use of yadot nezirut – intimations. Hareini mesalsel or hareini mekhalkel are examples of such expressions, and in both cases the amora Shmuel rules that they only have significance if the person pulls at his hair when he says them.
What do these expressions mean?
Although the term silsul appears in Tanakh (Mishlei 4:8, mentioned by the Gemara, is one example) and is not uncommon, its original definition remains unclear. Some suggest that it means “to be raised,” as appears to be the meaning in the passage in Sefer Mishlei. Another meaning suggested for the word is “to make pretty” or “to beautify.” The word is also used in the context of making something in the shape of a circle. All of these can be understood as relating to growing and styling one’s hair.
The word kilkul appears relatively often in the Mishna and refers specifically to the hair above the temples, although it can be used to refer to an overgrowth of hair on other parts of the body as well (like on Niddah 52b). While it is not clear that this is the source, we find a similar word – kakul – in Persian, and in Syriac another similar word is used to mean “a full head of hair.”
In illustrating the Mishnaic use of the word, the Gemara quotes a passage in Massekhet Shabbat (88b) which describes that the amount of sid (Calcium Hydroxide, also known as lime) that is considered significant with regard to the laws of carrying on Shabbat is kedei lasood kilkul – enough to use as depilatory cream on the hair above the temples. In virtually every generation, women have viewed body hair as aesthetically undesirable and have utilized various methods for removing it. During Talmudic times, one method – usually used by poor women – was the use of lime. This technique demanded great care, as the highly alkaline substance could lead to burning of the skin, and, on rare occasions, even death.