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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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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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    This position doesn't make sense. For Para Aduma too big is a chumra. For shaving it's a kula. There's no reason to use the same length when the gemara already tells us we're machmir both ways judaism.stackexchange.com/a/13533/759 – Double AA Jul 10 '20 at 12:53
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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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Taken from an article by Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz:

The Rambam (Avoda Zara 12:6) rules that one is only prohibited from removing peyos with a razor. Cutting peyos off with a scissor that provides a cut as short as a razor is completely acceptable. (The Darchei Teshuva (181:2) writes, based on the Sefer Hachinuch, that one is merely exempt from punishment, but even the Rambam understands using a razor to be prohibited. However, this doesn't seem to be the simple reading of either the Rambam or Sefer Hachinuch).

Tosafos (Nazir 41b s.v. Hashta) and the Rosh (Makos 3:2-3) disagree with the Rambam and maintain that the prohibition to remove the peyos ha’rosh would apply equally to removal with a razor and removal with any other cutting instrument. The Shulchan Aruch (Y. D. 181:3) rules like the Rambam but suggests being strict like Tosfos.

However, this only indirectly relates to the question of length, because these poskim might still not require a minimum length. Thus, later poskim have looked for clues throughout rabbinic literature for the definition of a significant piece of hair:

  1. The Rambam (Nezirus 5:11) writes that a nazir is only held accountable for cutting hair in a way that he removes it entirely. If he trims his hair and leaves the length that would allow the top of the hair to be bent back toward it’s root he is said to have left hair and is therefore not punished for shaving his hair. Dayan Yitzchak Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak IV:113:5) applies this same criteria to the length of hairs in the peyos. Rav Yisroel Belsky suggests that when one uses a number two extension on a trimmer he has left a substantial enough length of hair.

  2. 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).

  3. The Biur Halacha (251 s.v. Afilu) writes that one cannot cut his peyos to the point that they are “literally close to the skin” but can leave “very very little”. While the Biur Halacha does not quantify what is considered “very very little” one may suggest that the intention is for even the shortest hairs so long as their presence is easily felt. (See Perisha 181 who also implies that very short hairs are acceptable).

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All information got from: https://shulchanaruchharav.com/halacha/haircuts-peiyos/

Cutting the peiyos with a razor is forbidden (Tur in name of Rambam Avodas Kochavim 12:6; Ritva Shavuos 3a). Even though cutting with scissors is permitted, it should not look razer like. Now, the question is, how we define razor like? The rule is that each hair should be long enough to touch its root. This is (approximately) 5 millimetre (american number 2).

Note: Keep in mind that while this is the halacha is it good that one leave his peyot long and beautiful.

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I like the question, and note that it says "the minimum length of the hairs in the peyos area." (A different and important question would be what is included in "the peyos area".)

In terms of a minimum length, Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Avodah Zarah 12:6) writes:

וּמֻתָּר לְלַקֵּט הַפֵּאוֹת בְּמִסְפָּרַיִם לֹא נֶאֱסַר אֶלָּא הַשְׁחָתָה בְּתַעַר:

It is permitted to clip the corners with a pair of scissors, for the prohibitive commandment applies only against destroying it with a razor.

I understand from this that one can cut it as short as desired, as long as he does not use a razor that completely "destroys" the presence of the hair on the side of the head.

However, Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 181:3) writes:

אינו חייב אלא בתער ויש אוסרים במספרי' כעין תער ויש לחוש לדבריה':

He is not liable unless he uses a razor (like Rambam). But there are those (e.g. Rosh) who forbid scissors that shave like a razor; and their words should be regarded.

This is just for pe'ot, whereas for shaving the beard, he says (Yoreh De'ah 181:10):

אינו חייב על השחתת פאת הזקן אלא בתער אבל במספרים מותר אפילו כעין תער:

One is only liable for destroying the corner of the beard by means of a razor, however by scissors it is permitted, even if it is like a razor.

So, from what I understand, a normal electric shaver that goes down to the skin can be used on the beard, but Shulchan Aruch says not to use it on the pe'ot. There is no minimum length for the beard or for Rambam - it can be "like a razor" in that it leaves no hair! So Rambam allows a #0 cut as long as you don't use a razor. And Shulchan Aruch says the "scissors" should not be "like a razor" i.e. they have to leave some length of hair at the side of the head. Shulchan Aruch gives no measurement, so although later authorities have tried to establish what "like a razor" means by comparison with other sugyot, it is not clear that the Shulchan Aruch would have bothered so much about it, as long as you have not cut down to the skin.

Those are my thoughts from reading the sources. I am happy to be corrected on any mistakes and would not follow this piece as practice ab initio. Hope that helps.

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