Wednesday, March 19, 2008

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by Akiva at Mystical Paths

A reader asked via email...

I have been reading the Mystical Significance of Hair at KabbalaOnline and there the article by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria states:

2. According to some, a man does not allow his peyot, i.e. the hair of his temples and upper sideburns between forehead to back of ears (i.e. sides of the head) to be trimmed (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 181:11) except when the peyot extend past the length of the beard and then are trimmed with a scissors. (Writings of the Ari, Ta'amei Hamitzvot, parashat Kedoshim)

My questions are:

1. Is this in practice today?

2. If so what would be the measurements, fingers/inches on top of the ear and behind it that are not cut?

3. Where do you place all this extra hair as it seems to me that it would hang over ones ear.

First, I should note the article isn't by Rabbi Yitzchok Luria, zt"l, as that is the name of the Ari HaKodesh, who hasn't been writing articles in this world for some hundreds of years. Rather, his writings (or rather his teachings captured by his student Rabbi Chaim Vital, zt"l) is the source of some of the quotes used in the article.

The customs and understandings of the halachot of peyot (the term for sidelocks) are as diverse as each sect within Orthodox Judaism. From the most practical halachic standpoint, if one places two fingers (the index and pointer) vertical along the side of one's face aligned with the edge of one's hair to the face, with the middle finger joint aligned approximately with the top of the ear, the space covered by the fingers is the space of the peyos. The hair covered by those fingers should never be shaved off or cut extremely short.

According to the Arizal, as given over by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the name of the "Shulchan Aruch of the Ari, al pi kabbalah", hair growing from that area should never be cut shorter than the cheek bone. Meaning, the hair from the top would be expected to grow about 3 inches long before being cut. (Of course, this assumes one has long straight hair.)

And that is the custom among most Lubavitch chassidim.

Among many Litvish groups, one sees the rabbanim holding the custom is the same area (of hair), but to let the hair grow to either the bottom of the ear, or to the bottom of the jaw. In either case, the resulting hair is placed behind the ear. It would seem that is specifically to prevent the peyos hair from mixing with the beard hair, to separate the mitzvot.

Many other chassidic groups expand the area of hair (add a third finger to the width measurement above). The resulting hair is then rolled into a sidecurl, which results in the common chassidic sidelocks appearance.

While customary practice is to keep the peyot at a specific length, some Breslev chassidim as well as Sephardi mekubalim don't cut their peyot. As you can imagine, this can result in foot long or two foot long peyos.

ALL of this discussion, however, is in the range of enhancing the mitzvah. Simply not shaving the hair in that area and maintaining a small sideburn clearly fulfills the halacha.

(Photo credit, Mentalblog - Jerusalem Hats & Heads)

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