KEDOSHIM (19:1-20:27) — “Hanging Out on the Corner”

As the story goes, a secular Jew got on a subway in New York City.  This fellow, who had come to America from Poland, shuddered when he found himself face to face with two VERY Jewish looking fellows with long beards and big black hats.

Our “hero” had spent the last 40 years doing everything in his power to “fit in” among the gentiles and assimilated Jews in his neighborhood.  He wanted to distance himself as much as possible from anything that remotely resembled the “Shtetel.” This was America!  Europe belonged to the past!  And now he was confronted by two walking anachronisms known as Chassidim.

He was repulsed.  He could barely hold back the venom in his voice.  “What’s the matter with you Chassidim?” he demanded in his still-Yiddish-accented English.  “Why must you call attention to yourselves in front of the Goyim?  This is America, notPoland!  I’m embarrassed to be seen with you!”

The two “Chassidim” looked at each other and then at him with confusion.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said one of them.  “What’s a ‘Goyim?’  We’re not from Poland.  We’re from Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  We’re Amish.”

Our belligerent Jewish anti-Semite instantly became an advocate of diversity.  “Oh, I’m so-o-o-o sorry!” he gushed with a scarlet face.  “I have so much respect for you people.  I think it’s so wonderful that you continue to follow your traditions and don’t let modern society influence your lifestyle!”

The “Amish” fellow looked back at him with a smile, and asked him, in Yiddish, “So why was it so terrible when I was Chassidic?”

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One of the things about Chassidim (and others) that confound the uninitiated is the concept of Payos, literally “corners.”  Some let these “side curls” hang “freestyle” down the sides of their heads, resting on their shoulders and below.

Others wrap them several times around their ears, and others tuck them under their hats.  The more “moderate” style of sporting Payos, also popular among many non-Chassidim, is to keep them relatively short, guiding them over and behind the ear.

What are Payos?  Why do some people have them, while others don’t?  Why are there so many ways to wear them?  Which way is right?  What is their significance?

Actually, EVERYBODY is supposed to wear Payos!  So where, you may ask if you’ve seen my picture, are MY Payos?  It really depends upon how you define them!

Do not round the Payos — corners, of your heads, and do not destroy the Payos — corners of your beard.  (Leviticus, 19:29)

The prohibition of “rounding” is to cut one’s hair in such a way that there is one continuous circle of hair from the forehead to the temple to behind the ear, and all the way around.  (Envision a monk’s haircut.)  The prohibition of “destroying” the beard refers to using a razor blade to shave one’s beard. (As opposed to the use of depilatories and certain types of electric shavers, which use a different technique than a straight edge. — The rules pertaining to the nuances of beard shaving are beyond the scope of this week’s message.)

Among the various explanations given for the Torah’s rules of hair cutting is that these were done by other religions, and we are required to distance ourselves from these practices. (Sefer Hachinuch) Ibn Ezra explains that it is appropriate for there to be a distinctly  “Jewish appearance.”

The bottom line, when it comes to Payos, is to allow a minimal amount of hair growth to remain at the side of the head.  Almost everyone today, Jew and Gentile, fulfils this as a matter of course.  (Although some of the “mushroom” haircuts would seem to violate this Commandment.)

What many groups, most notably Yemenite and Chassidic Jews, have done, is to emphasize this Mitzvah.  Not only do they not cut the hair short, they allow it to grow long!  In my neighborhood, I will often see Chassidim riding by on bikes or motorcycles, with their Payos flying behind them in the wind!

Some Jews, like the apocryphal fellow sited above, are uncomfortable seeing fellow Jews who dress in a manner that is so conspicuous and different.  My feeling, although I don’t personally dress that way, is, what could be more Jewish!  The Talmud says that one of the reasons that the ancient Israelites merited to be taken out of Egypt is that they maintained a uniquely Jewish mode of dress.

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There is a story told about a conversation the leaders of two Chassidic groups.  One of these groups is very strict about growing long, untrimmed beards.  However, most members of this group do not grow longer Payos.  (They stick with the minimum, mentioned above.)  In the other group, some men trim or shave their beards, but they all have Payos, at least long enough to go over and behind the ear.

The leader of the “beard” group asked the other leader why his group places more emphasis on Payos than it does on beards.  His answer: “I’ve seen priests with beards.  I’ve never seen a priest with Payos!”

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

Some years the two Torah Portions of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths.  For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:

Links to Acharei Mos:

“Our Man in the Holy-of-Holies” (2011)

The High Priest had a daunting task.

Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the High Priest was required to enter the Holy-of-Holies…. According to Tradition, if his thoughts were not totally pure during his visit to the Holy of Holies, he would be struck down on the spot, and would have to be removed via a rope that was attached to his leg…It must have been a very lonely time for the High Priest…

One day, each one of us will have to take our leave from this world…

We will be ushered into the Holy-of-Holies.  We will, after a lifetime of hopefully doing the right thing, be called upon to meet our Maker.  On that final Day of Judgment, we will enter G-d’s Presence, and we will be very much alone…There will be no Kohain to bring incense and sin offerings on our behalf.  It will just be us, G-d, and our deeds…

When we go before G-d to stand in judgment, each one of us goes, all alone, as his own High Priest.  AND THERE IS NO ROPE!…

Read more.

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“From the Summit to the Gutter” (2003)

… Does the Torah really have to address such behavior on Yom Kippur? We are fasting. We are depriving ourselves of creature comforts and spending the day immersed in thoughts of holiness and devotion. We have confessed our transgressions of the past year and promised to avoid the pitfalls of sin in the coming year. We have witnessed the purity of the High Priest coming out of the Holy of Holies. We are on a spiritual high. Is this the time to talk about resisting X-rated temptations??!!…

Read more.

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“Cardiac Judaism” (2002)

… The Torah describes in great detail the very busy schedule of the Kohain Gadol, the High Priest, on Yom Kippur… By the end of the day, the High Priest succeeded in achieving forgiveness for the sins of his People.

What a system!  You can sin with impunity!  Do whatever your heart desires!  The Torah is telling us that once the Kohain performs the requisite ceremonies on Yom Kippur, all is forgiven!  … Is this what Judaism is all about?!  Do whatever you want, just make sure the High Priest gets you forgiven for it on Yom Kippur?! …

Read more.

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Links to Kedoshim:

“How to be Holy” (2011)

1) Be  Normal…   2) …But  Not  TOO Normal …

Read more.

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“Honor Thy Father’s General” (2010)

… Michael embraced the religious values of his mother.  However, the court had granted ample visitation with his Dad, who was antagonistic toward his ex-wife’s Judaism.  Leslie argued that Mark’s hostility toward religion was detrimental to Michael’s well being, but the court would not get involved.

Mark insisted that Michael come with him in the car on Saturday.  …Leslie was in a quandary.  Should she tell Michael to fight his father?  If Michael refuses to ride on Saturday, his father will drag him, kicking and screaming, into the car.  Should she tell him to ride in the car with his father?  If she would tell Michael to ride on Saturday in his father’s car, she would undermine the very Judaism that she was trying to teach him!  What should she do?

What she did was turn to Rabbi Shimon Schwab, of Blessed Memory… Rabbi Schwab came up with an insightful solution to this problem…

Read more.

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“A Torah Crash Course” (2006)

A Torah lifestyle is very complex.  We are required to fulfill 613 Biblical Commandments.  Then there are rabbinic injunctions, and countless customs that have developed over the centuries.  It is impossible for one person to fathom it all.

The Talmud (Shabbos, 31a) tells us about one person who tried.

“Shammai,” called out the Gentile to the famous rabbi, “I will convert to Judaism if you will teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot.”

Shammai, great scholar and righteous man that he was, was not a man who was known for tolerating mockery.  He threw the guy out.  The questioner decided to try to bring his challenge to Hillel instead…

Read more.

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“Exodus from Belarus” (2005)

In 1904, an 18-year old boy from Postavy, a Russian/Polish/Lithuanian town in what is now Belarus, got on a boat and went to America.  He married, settled in Connecticut, and went into the cattle and chicken farming business.  By the time the Second World War began, his family was well-settled in its pursuit of the American Dream.  His family never experienced the Holocaust.

That farmer raised a family of nine children.  One of his sons had four children.   I am one of those children.

That farmer’s name was Rachmiel Tzeplyevitch (Zeplowitz at Ellis Island; Seplowitz in Connecticut).  I, Yerachmiel Seplowitz, am his grandson…

Read more.

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“Hanging Out on the Corner” (2003)

As the story goes, a secular Jew got on a subway in New York City.  This fellow, who had come to America from Poland, shuddered when he found himself face to face with two VERY Jewish looking fellows with long beards and big black hats…

He was repulsed.  He could barely hold back the venom in his voice.  “What’s the matter with you Chassidim?” he demanded in his still-Yiddish-accented English.  “Why must you call attention to yourselves in front of the Goyim?  This is America, not Poland!  I’m embarrassed to be seen with you!”

The two “Chassidim” looked at each other and then at him with confusion.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said one of them.  “What’s a ‘Goyim?’  We’re not from Poland.  We’re from Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  We’re Amish.”…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on May 1, 2003 at 9:11 am  Leave a Comment  

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