A Kosher Haircut

Question

When I see a photo of North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un and his haircut that starts way above his ears, I wonder why Judaism teaches that we should not cut off our sideburns. Thanks for any info.

3 months

Answers

  1. The Torah teaches: “Do not cut off the hair on the sides of your head…” (Leviticus 19:27).

    This teaches that a Jewish male is to leave sideburns down to the joints of the jaw that are opposite the ear, approximately a third of the way down the ear.

    The verse actually says, in a literal sense, not to “round the corners of the head”. The Rambam, Maimonides, explains that it was the custom of the pagans, idol worshippers, and heretics to put a bowl on their head and cut the hair around the bowl as part of their idolatrous behavior. The Jewish nation, therefore, is taught to distance ourselves from this idolatrous practice and not cut off the sideburns. (It’s interesting to note how prevalent idolatrous practices are still observed in the Far East today!)

    The word in the verse referring to “corners of the head” is peyot. Therefore, our sidelocks are commonly referred to as “peyot”.

    There is a custom of many Hassidic Jews to wear longish peyot, and this custom is mentioned in the early texts of the Torah Sages called Tosefot, compiled in Touques, France, in approx. 1300 CE:

    “One has to be exceedingly careful not to remove his peyot even with a scissors because they are like a razor; therefore the accepted custom has been to leave long peyot on children when they have their first haircut.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nazir 41b)

    Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his commentary on the Torah suggests that peyot form a symbolic separation between the front part of the brain and the rear part. The front part is the intellectual; the rear part is the more physical, the more sensual. The wearer of peyot is thus making a statement that he is aware of both the intellectual and physical facets of his mind, and intends to keep all his faculties focused on their appointed tasks.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team