Men must not shave the hair off the sides of their head

The Literal Commandment

You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. (Leviticus 19:27)

 

The LITV translates it this way:

You shall not round the edge of your head, nor mar the edge of your beard. (Leviticus 19:27 LITV)

 

The literal commandment is that we should not round off the side-growth of our heads.

 

Messiah Says

Messiah implicitly affirmed this commandment when He spoke about the Law:

"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

 

Pictures of Messiah

This commandment indicates that we should be visually distinct from the rest of the world in our appearance. Messiah was absolutely distinct from the world in His appearance but not in a gaudy, showy fashion.  Isaiah prophesied of Him:

He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. (Isaiah 53:2)

 

Messiah was a Jew in the midst of a Roman world.  He was in the world but not of the world... distinct in His appearance and behavior including obedience to the commandments.  It was His obedience to this commandment that contributed to His distinctness.

 

How Messiah Fulfilled

We know that Messiah was without sin (Hebrews 4:15) so we know Messiah fulfilled this commandment. How He specifically fulfilled it is not known from Scripture.

 

Traditional Observance

peyos

This commandment is observed in various ways by different Jewish sects. They allow the hair on their temples to grow developing what are called peyos (or peyot depending upon the dialect).

  • Yemenite - Some traditional Yemenite Jews still wear distinctive long and thin twisted locks, often reaching to the upper arm. The actual area where the hair grows and where the ringlet begins is neat and tidy.
  • Chabad-Lubavitch - The Chabad-Lubavitch movement's peyot are not evident but exist. So long as there is hair around the ear and behind it that can be plucked out, that is considered peyot (or peyos, as some call it).
  • Breslov - Peyot among Breslovers include long and thin twisted locks, large bushy peyot, Sefardic behind-the-ear peyot, and default peyot that are the same length as the rest of the hair. This is in line with the teaching of Rabbi Nachman that his followers should not have a uniform garb.
  • Belz - The Belz dynasty wrap their sidelocks around their ears a number of times.
  • Gur - Some Gerer chassidim raise their sidelocks from the temples and tuck them under a yarmulke. Others, especially in Israel, let them hang down. The Ger dynasty was almost annihilated by the holocaust. However, today they are the largest chassidic group in Israel.
  • Skver - The Skver dynasty twist their sidelocks into a tight coil, and leave them protruding in front of the ear.

The Lithuanian Jews were less influenced by Kabbalistic practises, but still retain sidelocks to a degree, in a small number of variant styles:

  • Lithuanian - The Lithuanian Jews often cut their sidelocks, but leave a few short strands uncut, and neatly place them behind the ear; this style is most commonly found among yeshiva students, who sometimes remove the uncut strands when they have grown sideburns.
  • Brisk – The Brisk movement, which is distinct from Hasidic Judaism, brush their hair straight down, usually so that it reaches to the ear lobe; sometimes, some of the sidelock is not cut, and is curled back behind the ear.1

 

Other Notes

We are able to fulfill this commandment today and should not shave the hair off the side-growth of our head.  What that means exactly is not clearly (or consistently) defined in Scripture.

 

Biblical scholars think that the regulations against shaving hair may be an attack on the practice of offering hair to the dead, which was performed in the belief that it would obtain protection in sheol; Nazirites shaved after contact with a corpse, captive women shaved after mourning the death of their parents, and the general prohibition in the Holiness Code is immediately followed by a rule against people cutting their own bodies for the benefit of the dead.2

 

A highly regarded source of Jewish understanding regarding the commandments, the Sefer HaChinnuch offers this insight:

...the meaning is that it is forbidden an Israelite (Jew) to shave and even off the hair of his head level with the area behind his ears and with his forehead, as idol-worshippers and their priests do even this day.  In this sense our Sages of blessed memory said in the Talmud tractate Makkoth (20b): What does "the corner of the head" mean?  It signifies a person who evens off his temples level with the area behind his ears and with his forehead.

At the root of the precept lies the purpose to remove far from us, take away from [the mind] between our eyes and from all our deeds and cast into oblivion, every matter of idol-worship and everything that is done for its sake.3

 

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Footnotes

1. Payot, Wikipedia, taken 9/19/2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Payot [back]
2. Shaving in Judaism, Wikipedia, taken 9/19/2011 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaving_in_Judaism [back]
3. Charles Wengrove, trans., Sefer HaChinuch (Jerusalem:Feldheim Publishers, 1984), vol 3, p127 [back]

Commandment Details

  • Mishneh Torah # 68
  • Mishneh Torah Book # 1
  • Mishneh Torah Book Knowledge
  • Mishneh Torah Category 4- Idolatry and Gentile Customs
  • Reference Leviticus 19:27
  • Scripture Book Leviticus
  • Chapter 19
  • Verse 27
  • English You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard.
  • Hebrew כז לֹא תַקִּפוּ, פְּאַת רֹאשְׁכֶם; וְלֹא תַשְׁחִית, אֵת פְּאַת זְקָנֶךָ.
  • Greek 27 οὐ ποιήσετε σισόην ἐκ τῆς κόμης τῆς κεφαλῆς ὑμῶν οὐδὲ φθερεῖτε τὴν ὄψιν τοῦ πώγωνος ὑμῶν.
  • Parashah 30- Kedoshim
  • Positive/Negative Negative
  • Sefer Hachinuch # 251
  • Sef. Hach. Command The prohibition against rounding off the temples of the head
  • Category Personal Appearance
  • We can fullfill today Yes

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