Peyot: The Sideburn Mitzvah


Dear Rabbi,

I was watching news about Israel and some young men with long, thick sideburns were being interviewed. Is this a fashion statement or is there an authentic Jewish reason for it?




  1. While such hard-to-not-notice sideburns might be quite fashionable in some circles, the basis for this practice is a mitzvah. The Torah states, “Do not round off the hair at the corners of your head.” Our Torah sages explain that the term “corners” refers to the hair growing between the ears and the temples. This means not cutting the sideburns completely off. A Jewish male has a mitzvah to leave sideburns down to the joints of the jaw that are opposite the ear, approximately a third of the way down the ear.

    Some have a custom to wear long peyot, which is mentioned a millennium ago by the Tosefists. They wrote, “One has to be exceedingly careful not to remove his sideburn hair even with a scissors, because they are like a razor; therefore, the accepted custom has been to leave long peyot on children until they have their first haircut.” Today, there is a widespread custom to wait until the age of three before first cutting a boy’s hair.

    Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on the Torah, suggests that peyot are 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 “making a statement” that he is aware of both facets of his mind and intends to keep them both focused on their appointed tasks.

    Best wishes from the Team