Maggid ben Yoseif / Jerusalem Torah Voice in Exile

9 Kislev 5760 / November 18, 1999


Why the N'zir

Wears Sidelocks

Is it all just about hair?


The hippie scowls at his girlfriend's father:

Why are you so nasty to me when your old man, (the girl's grandfather) always gives me the big, "Hello!."

"My old man," the father retorts, "thinks you are studying in the yeshiva!"


-- From The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten



So why does the N'zir ... ( the man outlined by the unannexed territories and therefore "separate from his brothers") ... why does he wear payess?  Why the curls hanging down from the side of his head?


Often, I'm asked the same question.


We can be sure about one thing.  The N'zir so depicted is definitely Orthodox. There is no greater outward sign unto Hashem that separates the Orthodox from the ultra-Orthodox.  There is even a street in Brooklyn often called tongue in cheek, Rue de la Payess because of this haven for ultra-Orthodox Hasidim.


Two conflicting standards have been employed by church and secular powers regarding Jews who wear payess.  On the one-hand, Jews of the Middle Ages were forbidden to trim their beards in any way to be certain they would stand out.  On the other hand, in many Gentile areas, payess were savagely resented and were even forbidden for a while, in Tzarist Russia.


Whether to wear payess became an important question among Jews who left the ghettos and migrated from Eastern Europe from the 1880s and on.  To cut the payess was an open and defiant sign of departure from Orthodoxy and families were SPLIT asunder over PAYESS.


So, I am not sure I can explain this to anyone's satisfaction unless they come to respect the customs of Orthodoxy and the halachah (interpretation of Torah Law) which I believe was held in common by the ancient Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  And since the only existent record of this halachah  is in the Jewish instrument called the Talmud, this is problematic for many, although for the life of me, I cannot understand why.


If you are truly a Josephite, (and I suspect most anyone drawn to this site has a seed of Joseph somewhere within), Hashem has either already given you or is in the process of giving you your father, Joseph's heart for his brother Judah.  The enmity, vexation, suspicion and JUDGMENT of Judah's children does not exist in your heart. If anything, Hashem has made you MORE tolerant of Judah's ways of setting themselves apart to Hashem … and this ESPECIALLY includes the practice of  wearing payess (the sidelocks) as I will explain.


But before I get into all of that, let me relate EXPERIENTIALLY why I personally have worn payess. I don't understand all of this fully so I can't expect anyone else to, but during the week of Passover in 1994 shortly before Hashem opened a door for us to move to Ohio to teach Torah to a Josephite congregation in the Akron/Canton area, I was in meditation and heard, "JOSEPH WILL BE REVEALED TO HIS BROTHERS BY HIS PAYESS."  I've tried to reason this out in the story of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers in Egypt after BENJAMIN was brought before him.  It is as though BENJAMIN is the key to JOSEPH's connection with the rest of the family, especially, JUDAH.  And all the blessings that will accrue to the land of Israel through JOSEPH hinge upon BENJAMIN's identity.


I've reasoned it this way. Perhaps it is the PAYESS worn by BENJAMIN, which will identity him and the ASSOCIATION of the House of Joseph to these children of Benjamin will garner their acceptance by the House of Judah.  In other words, Benjamin would somehow be the go-between  between the heart of Judah and Joseph ... or perhaps the HEAD of Joseph and the HEART of Judah.  So maybe the question to ask is, "Where is Benjamin?"


Locate Benjamin and you may have the key to reuniting Joseph and Judah.  I have thought for some time that the customs adopted by the Amish community and especially their love of "peace" might somehow relate to the Hasidim who share some of these customs and ideals.  (There is an interesting popular movie in which an Orthodox rabbi speaking Yiddish is mistaken as Amish by Amish "brethren" speaking High German because of their similarity in dress.  In another popular movie, the same happens when a young Amish boy mistakes an Orthodox rabbi as Amish).  The major difference today is that the Amish wear their hair longer and shave the region of the upper lip between the nose and mouth. But it is only since the Civil War that the American Amish have not worn moustaches and this only because the collarless uniform of Union Army officers resembled the Amish outerwear.  To avoid being mistaken as Union Army officers (who prided themselves on the length of their moustaches), they began shaving this region as a pacifist declaration.  At least this is the explanation I was given by an Amish preacher in Ohio.


But how this identity with Benjamin relates to PAYESS remains a mystery to me, except that there are a number of Hasidic Jews who have been faithful to maintain the halachah of wearing PAYESS and there are an increasing number of non-Jews, I am finding, who have the same conviction of Hashem.  Since Benjamin was divided among both kingdoms, is it possible that this IDENTITY is somehow related to the observance of this peculiar halachah?


We should clarify that growing payess is a separate Halachah than that of fulfillling a Nazirite vow or anything of that nature.  The Nazirite vow requires the one making this vow to not cut the hair on any part of his body for the duration of the vow. The Torah which pertains to the Nazirite vow is found in Numbers 6:5:


All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no razor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.


There is also an admonition prohibiting long hair on the head of a man, which the Orthodox Jewish community observes and respects … unless one is in the midst of a Nazirite vow or in a period of mourning. This is reflected in 1 Corinithinans 1:14-15:


Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.


So, where you may quite rightly ask is the Torah basis for wearing payess and how does this differ from the prohibition against a man wearing long hair?


Leviticus 19:27 states


LO TAKBEFU PE'AT -- (Ye shall not round the PE'AT) of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the PE'AT of thy beard.


Earlier in Leviticus 19:9, the Torah states:


And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the PE'AT SADECHAH -- corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest.


From these two references to the PE'AT or corners, the Orthtodox halachah is derived:

1)                  The hair on the PE'AT or corner of the head is not rounded.  It must grow untrimmed.

2)                  The hair of the PE'AT (corner) of the beard also must grow untrimmed.

3)                  Cryptically, the PE'AT relates to the corners of a field which are NOT harvested but which are left to the poor, orphan and widows as in Leviticus 23:22:

And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am Hashem your God.

PE'AH  (pay-aw') is Strongs 6285, the feminine of 6311; properly, mouth in a figurative sense, i.e. direction, region, extremity of the mouth. Other definitions include the corner, end, quarter, edge, side or extremity.


As it states in Leviticus 19:

9. And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest.

27. Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard

And in Leviticus 21:5:

They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.   (KJV)

According to Encyclopedia Judaica, Leviticus 19:27 and 21:5 refer to the hair between the head and the cheeks (the sidelocks) It is forbidden to destroy these "corners" of the beard. It is difficult to determine the reason for the ban, but it is possible that it was promulgated in order to differentiate Israelites from other peoples. Another possible explanation is that shaving specific areas of the face was associated with pagan cults or symbolized those who ministered to their gods and just as the Bible opposes imitation of pagan practices so it opposes this form of ritual shaving. In the Bible shaving of the head and beard is considered a sign of mourning (e.g., Job 1:20) and degradation. Shaving was identified with the spontaneous plucking of the beard, an expression of great sorrow (Ezek.  5:1ff.). To humiliate a man, it was the practice to forcibly shave half of the beard as in II Samuel 10:4, where the elders, because of this humiliation, were commanded to hide in Jericho until their beards grew again. Shaving is also part of rituals of purification (Lev. 14:8; Num. 6:9; 8:7). Priests were forbidden to shave the "edges" of their beards (Lev. 21:5), and "the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok" (Ezek. 44:15) were allowed neither to shave their heads nor let their locks grow long, but only to trim their hair (ibid. 44:20).

The Talmud regards the beard as "the adornment of a man's face" (BM 84a); a man without a beard was compared to a eunuch (Yev. 80b; Shab. 152a). Young priests whose beards had not yet grown were not permitted to bless the people (TJ, Suk. 3:14, 54a). Sennacherib was punished by God by having his beard shaved off (Sanh. 95b–96a). Rabbinic authorities permitted only those who had frequent dealings with the Roman authorities to clip their beard with forceps (kom; BK 83a). Objection to the removal of the beard was on the ground that God gave it to man to distinguish him from woman; to shave it, was therefore an offense against nature (see Abarbanel to Lev. 19:27).

In the Middle Ages, Encyclopedia Judaica states that Jews living in Islamic countries cultivated long beards whereas those in Christian Europe clipped them with scissors. This was permitted by halakhah (Sh. Ar., YD 181:10). Rabbinical courts punished adulterers by cutting off their beards (C. M. Horowitz, Toratan shel Rishonim, 1 (1881), 29; 2 (1881), 18). The post of hazzan was only bestowed upon a man with a beard (Bah, OH 53). Kabbalists ascribed mystical powers to the beard (and hair). Isaac Luria refrained from touching his, lest he  should cause any hairs to fall out (Ba'er Hetev, YD 181:5). With the spread of kabbalism to Eastern Europe, trimming the beard was gradually prohibited by leading rabbinic authorities (Noda bi-Yhudah, Mahadura Tinyana, YD 80) and with the rise of Hasidism, the removal of the beard became tantamount to a formal break with Jewish tradition. Nevertheless, from a strictly traditional point of view, shaving was permitted as long as it was done in a certain fashion.


Halakhah forbids only the shaving proper of the beard; this is defined as the act of removing the hair with an instrument with one cutting edge. Chemical means (depilatory powder), scissors, or an electric shaver with two cutting edges, are permitted. Although it is customary not to use a single-edge razor to shave any part of the beard, the strict letter of the law forbids its use only for five parts of the face. Considerable difference of opinion among the rabbis as to the exact location of these five places had led to the practice of not using a single edge at all. In Western Europe and especially among Sephardi Jews, rabbinic authorities (S. D. Luzzatto among others), consented both to the trimming of the beard and even of its entire removal by chemical agents. This became the accepted custom (from the second half of the 17th century).


The question of cutting and shaving the beard on hol ha-mo'ed, prohibited by the Talmud (MK 3:1), was a matter of much controversy at the turn of the 19th century. R. Isaac Samuel Reggio tried to prove that this talmudic injunction no longer applied because of changed circumstances (Ma'amar ha-Tiglahat, 1835) but the traditional opinion of the Shulhan Arukh (OH 531) prevails among strictly observant Jews, who also refrain from cutting their beard (and from shaving) during the Omer period (Sefirah) and the Three Weeks (see also Mourning Customs). To trim the beard (and have a haircut) in honor of the Sabbath and the festivals is regarded as a pious duty. Several rulers (e.g., Nicholas I of Russia) tried to force the Jewish population to cut off their beard and earlocks; others (e.g., Maria Theresa of Austria) ordered Jews to have beards so as to be easily singled out as a foreign element by their Christian neighbors.

Mishnah Kiddushin 1:7. The Mishnah reads: "

(a)     With regard to all positive commandments which have a time limit—men are obligated and women are exempt;

(b)     With regard to all positive commandments which have no time limit—men and women are equally obligated;

(c)     With regard to negative commandments, regardless of whether they have or do not have a time limit—men and women are equally obligated except for the prohibitions of shaving [with a razor, Lev. 19:27], of removing sidelocks [ibid.], and of kohanim defiling themselves by contact with a human corpse [Lev. 21:1]. These three exceptions apply to men, not to women."

The Talmud has interpreted Leviticus 19:27 to mean that it is forbidden to "level the growth of hair on the temple from the back of the ears to the forehead" (Mak. 20b). The hair in this area may not be completely removed even with depilatory powder, scissors, or an electric shaver which may be used in shaving the face. Although a negative precept, women are exempt from leaving pe'ot since the parallel prohibition against "marring the corners of the beard" (Lev. 19:27; Kid. 1:7; Kid. 35b) obviously does not extend to women. According to Maimonides a minimum of 40 hairs must be left for pe'ot (Yad, Avodat Kokhavim, 12:6). However, the Shulhan Arukh (YD 181:9) rules in accordance with Rashi (Mak. 20a) that hair must be allowed to grow in front of the ears until it reaches the upper cheekbones (zygomatic arch). However, the maximum length of pe'ot has been determined by the custom of a particular time and place rather than by halakhah. The kabbalistic writings of Isaac Luria attribute great significance to pe'ot because the numerical value (see Gematria) of pe'ah, 86, is the same as the numerical value of Elohim (i.e., God). It has become customary for Hasidim and Orthodox Yemenites to leave pe'ot, either short ones which are curled behind the ears or long ones hanging down at the sides of the head.


A law was also issued prohibiting Jews from growing pe'ot ("sidelocks") and wearing their traditional clothes.


Isaac of Warka's son, JACOB DAVID OF AMSHINOV (1814–1878), founded the Amshinov dynasty. Born at Zarek, he was a pupil of Menahem Mendel of Kotsk. After his marriage he lived at Gur (Gora Kalwaria), and later at Przysucha, becoming in 1849 the leader of a large group of Hasidim at Amshinov. Like his father he was active in Jewish affairs. Following enactment of the law prohibiting Jews from growing a beard and sidelocks he was put in prison with R. Isaac Meir of Gur on the charge of inciting the masses to revolt against the government. However, he succeeded in obtaining revocation of the decree, and received a personal certificate of protection from a minister in Warsaw, forbidding anybody to harm him. He died in Italy where he had gone for medical treatment. His son MENAHEM (1860–1918), continued to head the Amshinov dynasty for 40 years.


Finally, there is a mystical reason for wearing payis, based on the writings of Rebbe Nachman, a tzaddik who lived in the late 18th and early 19th Century, who said of anyone who visited his grave after his death, he would:


intercede for them and if necessary, PULL THEM OUT OF HELL BY THEIR PAYIS! 

Knowing my past life of sin and degradation, I feel that I need all the rope I can give Hashem's tzaddikim. 


That may be more than you ever wanted to know about payess but since they seem important to the N'zir, they should be important to Joes ... at least the Orthodox among us.


Maggid ben Yosef