Photo by U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv/Flickr

Ask a Jew: Why do some Jews wear curls on the sides of their heads?


What questions do you have about Judaism? Submit them online, or fill out the form below.

By Neal Schindler

Leviticus 19:27 states (in the NIV): “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” Rabbi Louis Jacobs’ article on the subject at My Jewish Learning provides much-needed context for understanding how this verse has been interpreted by Jewish scholars and legalists over the centuries.

According to Jacobs, Talmudic rabbis saw the verse as a prohibition specifically against removing facial hair with a razor. In their view, being clean-shaven was not verboten in and of itself. Jacobs adds that the great scholar Maimonides saw the Bible verse “as a protest against idolatry, conjecturing that the heathen priests shaved their beards.” Others, as Jacobs notes, have viewed the biblical razor ban as a way of heightening the visual distinction between men and women.

In any case, as Jacobs observes, “it has been the practice among many Jews to wear a beard and sidelocks (pe’ot). The Talmud describes the beard as an ‘adornment of the face’ and implies that a beardless man cannot be said to be handsome.” Jewish mysticism, aka kabbalah, holds beards in even higher esteem. Jacobs writes: “In kabbalistic circles the beard becomes a sacred object and some kabbalists would not even remove a single hair from their beard.”

As you have likely already surmised, most non-Orthodox Jews “do not consider the prohibition on shaving with a razor still to be binding.” Personally, I have found growing a beard to be an extremely itchy proposition. I have enough to worry about without scratching at my lower face every few seconds like a character in the 2006 psychological thriller “Bug.”

Check Also

memorial day

Memorial Day and the Families Left Behind

Memorial Day was first established after the Civil War to honor those Americans killed in service to their country. Since the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, about 7,000 American service members have been added to the rolls of dead. As I watched families laying flowers on graves, it occurred to me that every American family in some way has been touched by war.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x