Payot (also peyot, payos, peyes, פאות) is a Hebrew word, which literally translates into English as corners, sides or edges; in the context of Judaism, it is particularly used in relation to the head and face, denoting sidelocks, and sometimes also sideburns. Haredi, Yemenite, and Hasidic Jews often sport distinctive long curled payot, while those of Modern Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism wear more varyingly sized sideburns; the Yemenite Jews refer to their sidelocks as simanim, literally meaning signs, because the sidelocks were historically the main feature which differentiated them from Yemenite Muslims. The practice of wearing payot is one of the consequences of Jewish law regarding shaving.


The Holiness Code of the Torah appears to completely forbid the shaving of the corners of the head; as with many other parts of the Holiness Code, the Book of Ezekiel describes similar regulations, stating that the priests should not shave their heads, or let their locks grow long. However, there were clearly exceptions, with the Book of Ezekiel itself adding that priests should keep their hair trimmed, and the Priestly Code of the Torah arguing that, in certain cases of tzaraath, the hair should be completely shaved away. The Priestly Code additionally requires that Nazarites shave their heads, 7 days after any contact with corpses, and the Deuteronomic Code compels captive women to shave their head after the conclusion of mourning for their parents


According to biblical scholars, the shaving of hair was originally a mourning custom, which, according to the Book of Jeremiah, was also practiced by Arabic tribes (although some ancient manuscripts of the text read live in remote places rather than clip the corners of their hair). 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; Nazarites 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.

Textual scholars date the Priestly Source, and the Holiness and Priestly Codes within it, to the late 7th century or later; it appears that before this time, the shaving of the head during mourning was permitted, and even encouraged. The Book of Amos, which is dated by textual scholars to the mid 7th century, as well as the Books of Isaiah and of Micah, which textual scholars date to a slightly later period, portray Jehovah as instructing the Israelites to shave their head as an act of mourning:

Rabbinical literature

The forbidding of shaving the corners of the head was interpreted by the Mishnah as prohibiting the hair at the temples being cut so that the hairline was a straight line from behind the ears to the forehead; the corners - payot - were defined as the hair from around and above the ears, to the same level as the nose. The Mishnah interpreted the regulation to only apply to males; in response to the Mishnaic definition and the biblical proscription, many Jewish men allowed their hair to grow, and hang down in curls or ringlets.

However, because the biblical prohibition against shaving uses the Hebrew word gelech (גלח), which refers to shaving with a blade against the skin, Talmudic rabbis interpreted it to only refer to single-bladed razors, and only to situations that involve the hair being cut close to the roots, in a smooth manner; thus Maimonides argued that scissors could be used to cut off the sidelocks. Nevertheless, conservative views, such as those of the Shulchan Aruch, argued that cutting the sidelocks was a heathen practice, and therefore they shouldn't be cut by any mechanism.


The Zohar, one of the primary sources of Kabbalah (a form of Jewish mysticism), strongly discouraged the removal of sidelocks. Kabbalistic teachings gradually spread into Slavonic lands, and payot were worn there for many centuries, more so than elsewhere, but Tzar Nicholas I forbade the practice from Russia in 1845; the Tzar's prohibition was physically enforced, but payot remained popular. In the Crimea, Crimean Karaites did not wear payot, and the Crimean Tatars consequently referred to them as zulufsız çufutlar, meaning Jews without payot, to distinguish them from the Krymchaks, referred to as zuluflı çufutlar, meaning Jews with payot.

The Hasidic and Yemenite Jews let their sidelocks grow particularly long. In the wider Haredi community, quite a few men grow sidelocks, but sometimes shorten them or tuck them behind the ears. Among those who grow them long, they are often curled.


  • Yemenite - The Yemenites 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. Since the Yemenite Jews are one of the most historically isolated Jewish communities, and one of the oldest, a number of claims have been raised that their style of payot must have been the style which was used in Judah, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple.
  • Chabad-Lubavitch - The Chabad-Lubavitch movement generally have Peyos that start from the top of the temple, hanging down until the bottom of the ear. Usually, the peyos are not very noticeable once a man has grown a beard, as they look as if they are the beginning of the beard.
  • Breslov - The Breslov dynasty of Hasidic Jews sport long and thin locks, differing from the Yemenite style in that the upper section, where the hair actually grows, is much more thick and frizzy before descending into the actual locks.
  • Belz - The Belz dynasty wrap their sidelocks around their ears, for a number of times.
  • Gur - The Ger dynasty raise their sidelocks from the temples and tuck them under a yarmulke. The Ger dynasty was almost annihilated by the holocaust, and most of the survivors moved to Jerusalem; their sidelock style originated in their native Poland as a mechanism to avoid antagonism from non-Jews, and consequently it hasn't usually been followed since the relocation to Jerusalem.
  • 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.

See also


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