Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sidelocks (Peyot) in Jewish tradition

Ye shall not round the corners of your heads. Leviticus 19:27

Peyot lit. sidelocks are the long extra hairs at either side of the head worn mostly by Charedi Ashkenazim and Yemenite Jews.

The custom is apparently ancient. It is interesting to note that in Yemen they were never called peyot but rather simanim literally signs, apparently it was some sort of hairstyle to make it easier to tell the Jews apart from their Arab neighbors.

Yemenite Rabbi Yosef Kapach claims that it was an ancient custom dating back to Temple days but then again he is not exactly an unbiased source on this.

Monroe Rosenthal in his book "Wars of the Jews" (a fascinating book by the way) mentions the Jewish (convert) king of Yemen, Yusuf Dhu Nuwas who wore his sidelocks long "as was the custom of the princes of the Davidic royal house". (looking for source)

The Otzar Yisrael encyclopedia by Yehuda David Eisenstein writes that to the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa this custom was unknown and foreign.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (Ben Ish Chai)however, was a strong proponent of it writing in one of his works " I do not propose wearing long sidelocks as our Ashkenazi brethren in Poland and Galicia do but.."

Some Chassidic and non-Chassidic groups have the custom of hiding the sidelocks behind the ears or under the skullcap. The origins of this curious phenomenon are not known for certain. I think it had something to do with anti-Jewish persecutions in some parts of Europe. I am also reminded of the Zoharic prohibition against the peyot harosh (sidelocks) coming in contact with the peyot hazaken (beard) due to mystical reasons.

Your input.


At Wednesday, November 15, 2006 1:25:00 PM, Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

It's interesting that the Rambam, the patron rav of Yemen, didn't approve of long peyot (unfortunately I can't recall the source or his exact words; I need to do a little research).

To me this indicates that it is probably a more recent Yemenite custom. There may even be some truth to the thought that they were forced to grow them by Muslims.

At Thursday, November 16, 2006 6:26:00 PM, Blogger Mottel said...

I find your blog very interesting . . . I have since added it to my blogroll.

At Thursday, November 16, 2006 7:55:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...

Miss, I guess the portrait of the Rambam is correct then. It shows him without any peyot..

Mottel, I appreciate your kind words.

At Saturday, November 18, 2006 6:52:00 PM, Blogger Menachem Butler said...

Judah David Eisenstein -- not Yisrael Eisenstein --- authored the Otzar Yisrael encyclopedia.

At Saturday, November 18, 2006 6:55:00 PM, Blogger Menachem Butler said...

Judah David Eisenstein -- not Yisrael Eisenstein --- authored the Otzar Yisrael encyclopedia.

At Saturday, November 18, 2006 8:28:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...

I stand corrected Menachem. Thank you.

שגיעות מי יבין I am writing alot of this from memory so I apologize in advance for any errors.

At Tuesday, November 21, 2006 2:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding Fred Macdowel's (aka S.) comment, this actually reminds me a documentary I see regarding hats. A question was brought up regarding the shtreimel and its origins. A few people in Mea Shearim I believe admitted it was due to the Jews being forced to wear fox tails as a sign of humiliation.

At Tuesday, November 21, 2006 6:41:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...

I was under the impression that the shtreimels, white socks and long coats had its origins in the style of dress of the Polish aristocracy of the 18th century.

At Tuesday, November 21, 2006 11:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe the rest were, but the Shtreimel seems to be of some other origin.

At Thursday, November 30, 2006 9:47:00 AM, Blogger Ben Plonie said...

I also heard that Jews were forced to wear tails and constructed something beautiful out of it. They were always forced to wear dunce caps or do other humiliating things. From
G. Some of the most depraved customs of the Saturnalia carnival were intentionally revived by the Catholic Church in 1466 when Pope Paul II, for the amusement of his Roman citizens, forced Jews to race naked through the streets of the city. An eyewitness account reports, “Before they were to run, the Jews were richly fed, so as to make the race more difficult for them and at the same time more amusing for spectators. They ran… amid Rome’s taunting shrieks and peals of laughter, while the Holy Father stood upon a richly ornamented balcony and laughed heartily.”[5]

H. As part of the Saturnalia carnival throughout the 18th and 19th centuries CE, rabbis of the ghetto in Rome were forced to wear clownish outfits and march through the city streets to the jeers of the crowd, pelted by a variety of missiles. When the Jewish community of Rome sent a petition in 1836 to Pope Gregory XVI begging him to stop the annual Saturnalia abuse of the Jewish community, he responded, “It is not opportune to make any innovation.”

!!!! 1836 !!!!

At Wednesday, December 27, 2006 3:34:00 PM, Blogger Joels W. said...


I first came across this gross anti-Jewish behavior in James Michener's "The Source" a fictional account of the history of the Jews. I guess he was basing it on solid historical fact after all.

Thanks for the comment.

At Tuesday, January 02, 2007 9:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding hiding the payot under the kippa, I had heard that that is where the expression "to let your hair down" came from. It meant to be in a place where it was safe to show your Jewishness, a place to be yourself.

PS: Great blog! :-)

At Thursday, January 04, 2007 1:30:00 AM, Blogger Joels W. said...

Interesting, Yocheved.

I am a bit skeptical about that though.

At any rate, thanks for the comment.

At Monday, January 22, 2007 3:41:00 PM, Blogger Dan Rabinowitz said...

Eric Zimmer has an article on the origins of peyos which appears in his book Olam k'Minhago noheg

At Thursday, January 25, 2007 12:55:00 AM, Blogger Joels W. said...

Thanks Dan.

Where can I find that book?

At Thursday, January 25, 2007 2:08:00 PM, Blogger Dan Rabinowitz said...

I assume at either a university library or the like or, if you are lucky, at a seforim store.

At Sunday, October 07, 2007 7:14:00 PM, Blogger fungerbils said...

the story regarding streimels is indeed the very story that Rabbi Dr. David Gottleib of Ohr Samayach Yerushalayim tells about streimels... the ploish ruler forbade Jews from wearing skins, they could only have the tips of the tails. so they found a way to wear the tails that wouldlook good.

At Sunday, February 12, 2012 3:59:00 PM, Blogger Janet said...

I find this all very fascinating. I am Christian, though I find some of your traditions helpful. For instance, when my son turned 13 years old, I asked the elders and other men of the church to write a note or letter acknowledging that my son is no longer a young child, but approaching manhood. Benjamin was very touched by all of the well-wishes. He has no father. Ben is also loathed for me to cut his side-burns. I don't know where that comes from. He doesn't usually like attention to himself, except for this.


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