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I have often heard that 1/4th of an inch is the minimum length of the hairs in the peyos area. For example, that is mentioned in an answer to a previous question:

How to advise your barber

My question is, "Are there authorities who hold that shorter peyos (that is, hairs in the peyos area shorter than 1/4th of an inch) are still acceptable? What is the absolute shortest length according to the most lenient Orthodox opinion?"

The only more lenient opinion I know of is that of R' Shlomo Aviner, who holds that 5 millimeters is the minimum. That's barely shorter than 1/4th of an inch (which is just over 6 millimeters.) But I think I've seen several Orthodox Jews with peyos shorter than 1/4th, potentially as short as a #1 guard or even no guard at all, so I'm hoping there are more lenient opinions out there to justify this practice. Thanks in advance!

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2 Answers 2

In terms of using a #1 guard:

The Rambam (Hilchos Parah Adumah 1:4) rules that a completely red cow that has two white or black hairs would not have the status of a Parah Adumah. If however, the hairs are so short that one would not be able to grab them with tweezers the hair is considered to not be there at all. Apparently the Rambam has another definition of a significant amount of hair, namely that which can be grabbed with tweezers. If this were applied to the halacha of peyos it would constitute a considerable leniency and would even allow a person to get a “number 1” haircut on his peyos. Indeed, Rabbi Herschel Schachter cites the opinion of Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik that as long as the hair is long enough to “scratch with a fingernail” it is not considered to have been destroyed (Nefesh HaRav page 234).

See also the surrounding paragraphs there, which mentions, e.g. the position of Biur Halacha.

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While the Rosh (Makkot 3:2) rules that the prohibition of cutting the peyot applies even to cutting them short with a scissors, the Rambam (Avoda Zara 12:6) rules that the prohibition is equivalent to that of the shaving the beard which is only prohibited with a razor.

The Shulchan Aruch (YD 181:3) rules:

אינו חייב אלא בתער. ויש אוסרים במספרים כעין תער, ויש לחוש לדבריהם.‏
One only violates [destroying the peyot] with a razor. Some say even with close cut scissors, and one should be careful for that opinion.

So if you are looking for justification, the Shulchan Aruch does rule me'ikar hadin like the Rambam, though it seems to not be the ideal practice.

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