- Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz
- Duration: 49 min
I. Introduction. One of the clearly distinguishable physical characteristics of the torah observant Jewish male is the “side locks” that grow on either side of his head. The Torah (Vayikra 19:27) explicitly prohibits one from “rounding off the corners” of the head. The prohibition clearly refers to certain types of haircuts that are considered off limits for Jewish males (we will discuss how this mitzvah relates to women later in this essay). The exact details of the prohibition to “round off the head” are somewhat complicated and the basic requirements are often confused for stringencies and vice versa. In this essay we will attempt to outline the requirement of growing “peyos” and examine the sources for the variance of opinion and practice of Jews from different communities.
II. Reasons for the Mitzvah.
A. Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 181) explains that the reason for the prohibition of shaving off the peyos is to keep us away from avodah zarah. Since the idol worshipers used to cut off the hair on the sides of their heads while leaving the hair on top to grow, we are required to maintain a physical appearance that distinguishes us from idol worshipers. In fact, the Tur (Yoreh Deah 181) cites the Rambam as having explained the mitzvah in a similar manner. The Tur, however, criticizes the need to provide any reason at all for the mitzvah, considering that all mitzvos, whether we understand them or not, are an expression of the will of God.
1. The leading Acharonim have debated both the basis for and content of the Tur’s critique of the Rambam. After all, the idea of explaining mitzvos rationally is not unique to the Rambam and is widely accepted as a proper way to motivate increased adherence to mitzvos, even as we know that we will never fully and thoroughly understand any mitzvah or its reasons. In fact, the Beis Yosef (ad. loc.) points out that the Rambam himself stresses the need to perform mitzvos regardless of our understanding of them. It is difficult to understand how the Tur can accuse the Rambam of espousing a philosophy of religion that limits itself to human rational faculties. Additionally, Beis Yosef points out, the explanation offered by the Rambam for this particular mitzvah is hardly the Rambam’s own innovation. The juxtaposition of the prohibition of cutting the peyos with other prohibitions relating to idolatry (tattoos, cutting the skin, divining) strongly suggest that peyos are also related to protection from idolatrous practices. In light of the difficulties with the Tur’s critique of the Rambam, a variety of explanations of the precise point of dispute between the Tur and the Rambam have been suggested:
a. The Darchei Moshe (ad. loc.) suggests that the Tur never meant to accuse the Rambam of rejecting irrational elements of our religion. He merely emphasized that even when the Rambam’s reason for growing peyos does not apply (e.g. if one can creatively cut his hair in a way that does not include peyos but also does not resemble idolaters) the prohibition would still apply.
b. The Taz (Yoreh Deah 181:1) suggests that if the reason for the prohibition relates to idolatrous practices, one may be permitted to compromise on the halacha in situations that involve maintaining peace with the government (see Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 172:2). The Tur’s primary contention is that there should be no dispensation for shalom malchus as there is for the conventional prohibition of idolatrous practices.
c. Rabbi Reuvein Marogliyos, in his notes to Sheilos U’teshuvots Min Ha’shamayim, questions the reason offered by the Sefer Hachinuch and the Rambam. If the purpose of the mitzvah were to keep us away from idolatrous practices, one would imagine that the prohibition would be strongest when serving God in the Beis Hamikdash. Yet, we find the exact opposite to be true. We allow the Leviyim at the commencement of their service, and the nazir at the conclusion of his nezirus to shave off all of their hair (including the peyos). Rabbi Margoliyos explains that both the case of the Levi and Nazir include inherent reminders that the intention is purely for the sake of Heaven and is not sullied by any idolatrous intentions. The leviyim are only supposed to shave their heads as they commence their avodah where it is self evident that they are going to be serving God. Once they have begun their avodah, they are no longer permitted to shave their heads. As for the nazir, the fact that he burns his hair as part of a sacrifice to Hashem clearly demonstrates that there are no idolatrous intentions. Also, neither the Levi nor the Nazir would leave any hair on the tops of their heads, thus distinguishing their haircut from that of an idolater.
B. Sefer Hachinuch. An additional reason for the prohibition to remove the peyos may be suggested based on the Sefer Hachinuch’s explanation of the mitzvah of bris milah. The Chinuch explains that it is important to have a unique physical attribute that clearly identifies a person as a Jew. Unlike the previous explanation, here the focus is not on what we are NOT (idolaters), but rather on what we ARE (Jews). Indeed, the Ben Ish Chai (in his Derashos Ben Ish Chayil) refers to the peyos as the “two trustworthy witnesses that adorn us with the crown of Judaism”.
III. Who is Included in the Prohibition?
A. Talmudic Source. The Gemara (Makos 20b) states that there are two separate prohibitions of shaving off peyos. Both the one who does the shaving as well as the one who gets shaved violate independent biblical prohibitions. [Indeed, one who shaves his own head is held liable for violation of two prohibitions – see Rabbi Yosef Engels Asvon D’oraysa for an analysis of the phenomenon of bearing double culpability for playing both roles in a prohibited act.] The one who merely sits in the barber chair can even receive lashes for his role because he actively aids the barber by adjusting the positioning of his head when necessary to aid in the haircut. Ritva points out that although a role as a helper is not usually halachically significant (see Beitza 22a), in our case the man in the barber chair is providing very significant help.
B. What if You Don’t Help? Tosafos (Bava Metzia 10b s”v Akfi) and Ritva (Makkos 21b) both rule that while one would need to move his head in order to receive lashes for his role as a “nikaf” (one whose peyos are being cut), merely sitting in the barber chair is biblically prohibited. One would not receive lashes if he didn’t actively move his head because some action is necessary to inflict punishment on the perpetrator, but the prohibition can be violated even absent any action on the part of the perpetrator. Both the accuracy and the extent of this inactive prohibition are the subject of dispute amongst the acharonim:
1. Maharam Shick (Sefer Hamitzvos 252) writes that in the view of the Rambam there is no prohibition at all if the person receiving the haircut does not move his head to accommodate the barber. The Maharam Shick proves this assertion based on a passage in Maseches Nazir (57b) where Rav Huna permitted his wife to cut off their children’s peyos (see Beis Yosef Yoreh Deah 181 who cites Rambam and Ra’avad as having ruled against Rav Huna and prohibiting a woman from shaving a child’s head). While neither the woman nor the child are included in the prohibition of shaving off the peyos, there is a general prohibition of providing a child with a biblical prohibition. Maharam Shick explains that in the view of the Rambam the child isn’t doing anything that can be labeled as a prohibition provided that he does not move his head, thereby circumventing the problem of aiding a child in a prohibited act. Even if the child were to move his head, as long as the woman does not prompt him to do so she is not violating any prohibition.
2. The Darkei Teshiva (181:8) while acknowledging the prohibition of inactively receiving a haircut, raises some doubt as to how serious the prohibition is. It may be considered a violation of the full negative commandment, just absent the punishment, or it may only be part of the broader prohibition of following the ways of the non-Jews. If it were the latter, it would seem that if one were to have their entire head shaved without moving his head at all, he would not be in violation of any prohibition. However, Darkei Teshuva (ibid 6) assumes that the former approach is the more correct one, and even suggests that one may not allow a non-Jew to shave his head, even in situations where doing so would save him from significant humiliation.
C. Female Barber. While the Shulchan Aruch prohibits a woman from cutting off a man’s or even a child’s peyos, R’ Akiva Eiger suggests that the entire prohibition relates to “lifnei iver” (aiding another person in violating the torah). When the client is able to shave his own peyos but prefers to enlist the services of a barber, the barber is not in violation of the biblical prohibition of lifnei iver, but is in violation of a rabbinic prohibition to aid a sinner. R’ Akiva Eiger argues, however, that when a woman shaves a man’s peyos she cannot be in violation of aiding a sinner because had he done the shaving himself he would have violated two prohibitions (shaving and being shaved), but with the woman’s help is only in violation of a single prohibition.
D. Non-Jew Cutting a Child’s Hair. The Rama (181:5) rules that a non-Jew may shave a child’s peyos off. In this case neither the child nor the barber is obligated in the mitzvah. Pischei Teshuva (ad loc 5) raises a problem with this permissive ruling of the Rama. If the case under discussion is one where the child goes to the barber on his own it is self evident that no prohibition is violated. After all, even if a child eats non-kosher food, adults (other than his parents) have no obligation to stop him. The child receiving a normally prohibited haircut would seem no different. If an adult asked the non-Jewish barber to cut the child’s hair in this way it would seem no different than every other case of a prohibition that a Jew asks a non-Jew to do on his behalf (amira l’akum), which is generally prohibited.
IV. Location on the Head. One of the more complicated issues pertaining to peyos ha’rosh is determining the exact location on the head of the peyos. Halachos of this nature are normally more effectively transmitted through practice than through the written word, as the exact location is often difficult to describe without visual aid. We will outline the basic opinions as recorded in the poskim leaving room for the possibility of oral traditions to the contrary.
A. Entire Head. The gemara (Nazir 58a) states that shaving the entire head is considered to be a violation of shaving the peyos. While the idolatrous practice involved leaving hair on the top of the head, the prohibition of shaving peyos includes even shaving the entire head. This is the accepted opinion of all major Rishonim, and is codified in Shulchan Aruch. Perhaps the reason is that when one cuts off the peyos, the fact that he may also shave off the rest of his hair cannot prevent his current violation.
B. Highest Point. The location of the highest point on the head that the peyos extend is described in Shulchan Aruch (181:9) as “across from the hair on is forehead”. There are two basic opinions as to the precise location the Shulchan Aruch refers to:
1. Rabbi Yisroel Belsky (Shulchan Halevi page 122) writes that he had heard directly from Rav Yakov Kaminetzky zt”l that the upper limit of the peyos ha’rosh begins “at the highest point of the hairline as it arches over the ear and extends in a slightly curved line across to where the hairline of the forehead turns sharply downwards towards the sideburns. All the hair from the imaginary line that connect these two points and below comprises the peyos ha’rosh”.
2. Rabbi Belsky also quotes “some rabbonim have a mesora, a tradition from their Rabbis, that the peyos do not extend above the upper cartilage of the ear (tenuch ha’ozen) at all. According to their mesorah, the imaginary line extends horizontally from the point in the hairline above the foremost part of ear almost until where the downward slope of the frontal hairline angles back towards the ear.
E. Lowest Point. The lowest point of the peyos ha’rosh, while worded more clearly in the Shulchan Aruch, is subject to much debate, and clearly indicates a variance between the mimetic and written traditions. Whereas the conventional wisdom is that peyos only need to extend as low as “the bone”, the written tradition seems to suggest otherwise. (It should be noted that the discussion to follow has nothing to do with how long the hairs need to be. Rather, the issue relates to the location of the roots of hair that comprise the location of the peyos):
1. The Shulchan Aruch (ibid.) very clearly writes that the peyos go down until the bottom of the ear. It would therefore seem that the sideburns must not be shaved off at any point across from the ear.
2. Rabbi Binyamin Zilber (Responsa As Nidberu III:45:7) suggests that the definition of the “ear” in this regard does not include the earlobe and the peyos therefore do not have to extend to the area across from the earlobe. Rav Mayer Arik (Imrei Yosher) proves this assertion from a passage in the Gemara (Kiddushin 21b) that relates to the piercing of the ear of a Jewish slave who chooses to stay with his master beyond the allotted time. The gemara says that the piercing must be in the cartilage part of the ear, thus indicating that the earlobe which does not have any cartilage is not halachically considered part of the ear. When the Shulchan Aruch rules that the peyos should extend to the “bottom of the ear”, it refers to the halachic definition of the ear, which excludes the earlobe.
3. Rabbi Aryeh Tzvi Frimmer (Responsa Eretz Tzvi #3) writes that the endpoint of the peyos harosh is where the hair on the head ends and the beard begins. The most logical place to assume that this happens is about halfway down the ear. This can best be demonstrated by looking at somebody who has different color hair on his head and in his beard. The location on his head where the color changes is the end of the peyos ha’rosh. Rabbi Belsky points out that the consistency of the hair on the head is different than the consistency of the hair in the beard. Where the consistency changes is the end of the peyos ha’rosh. Rabbi Frimmer notes that these measurements do not take into account the length of each individual hair, but refer to roots located in this area.
1. The Smag (mitzvas lo sa’ase 57 – see Bach and Darchei Moshe) rules that one may not thin out the area of the peyos. One must maintain the entire width of the area with hair. In fact R’ Akiva Eiger (Gilyon Hashas Shevuos 2b) rules that one may not even comb his peyos lest he pull out some hairs. Removal of any hairs in that area would violate the prohibition of shaving the peyos. Pischei Teshuva (ibid:3) cites the Chasam Sofer who disagrees with R’ Akiva Eiger and permits combing the peyos because unintentional removal of loose strands cannot be equated with intentional removal of hair from the peyos area. Indeed the Chasam Sofer writes that he had never seen the older generation of rabbis refrain from combing their peyos. (For further discussion of the point of contention between R’ Akiva Eiger and the Chasam Sofer see Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch’s Teshuvos v’Hanhagos I:460).
2. The Rambam (Hilchos Avoda Zara 12:6) rules that one only has to leave forty hairs across the width of the peyos area, clearly indicating that it is permissible to thin out sideburns.
3. As a matter of halacha the Shulchan Aruch (181:9) writes that one may not “touch” the area where the peyos grow, strongly indicating that the ruling of the Smag is halachically normative. It should be noted, however, that even in the view of the Smag stray hairs that may grow across from the area of the peyos are not included in the prohibition. Rashi (Makos 20a) seems to define peyos as the hair that connects the facial hair to the hair on one’s head. Stray hairs clearly do not serve that purpose. Furthermore, if one were to include stray hairs in the prohibition of removing peyos, one would also have to conclude that hairs all across the front of one’s face, including eyebrow hairs, are included in the prohibition, which would obviously be an absurd conclusion.
V. Length of Hairs. The Gemara and Shulchan Aruch do not provide a precise definition of what is considered a hair and what is considered a shaved area. It seems that all would agree that one my trim the peyos, but exactly how close to the root each hair may be cut remains a point of dispute.
A. Without a Razor. 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 that the Sefer Hachinuch understands that while the Rambam exempts one who removes his peyos with scissors from a punishment, it is still prohibited to do so. However, a cursory glance at the Sefer Hachinuch seems to indicate that the Sefer Hachinuch only applied this stringency to shaving the beard, and not to shaving the peyos of the head. As such, the Rambam’s view seems very clear that one is permitted to remove his peyos using a scissor or a machine that cuts using scissor action. 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. (see Beis Yosef Yoreh Deah 181 for an explanation of the dispute)
B. Halacha. While the Shulchan Aruch (181:3) rules in accordance with the Rambam, he then cites those who rule stringently in accordance with the Rosh and suggests concerning ourselves with the more stringent view. (See Darchei Teshuva 181:2 who rules that one who unwittingly followed the ruling of the Rambam need not repent for his sin, as the Shulchan Aruch rules that the strict halacha is in accordance with this view.) It therefore seems that one should not remove his peyos, even if he plans on doing so with a scissor type of instrument (most hair trimmers would probably have the halachic status of a scissor). However, the exact length that the peyos hairs may be cut to still remains unclear. The 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).
VI. Extra Stringencies. We have already demonstrated that the halacha only demands a very minimal amount of hair to fulfill the requirement of maintaining peyos harosh (certainly a number two haircut would suffice). Yet, anecdotal evidence points to a large percentage of the Orthodox Jewish community accepting extra stringencies in this area, whether in the form of allowing the peyos hairs to grow long and putting them behind the ears or allowing the long peyos hairs to hang alongside the face in accordance with Chassidic practice. In the view of the Rambam (Responsa #244) such stringencies are entirely unnecessary. The Rambam maintains that there is no requirement to grow peyos, there is only a prohibition to shave them off (with a razor). Other authorities, however have encouraged growing long peyos. The Yam Shel Shlomo (Yevamos 12:18) writes that since the exact length of the peyos hairs is not stated in the gemara or rishonim it is best to be strict and never to cut them at all, even with a scissor. Sefer Moadim L’simcha (VI:253) records a Chassidic tradition that long peyos are a segulah for living a long life. The story is told of the Maharsham being brought to a great Chassidic Rebbe as a youngster. The rebbe told the young Maharsham that the boy’s grandfather did not cut his peyos at all during his lifetime, and that the young boy should accept this stringency as well. Many poskim also suggest that growing peyos longer than the required amount constitutes a hiddur mitzvah (see Responsa Torah L’Shmah #389 and Responsa Be’er moshe I:61:5).
A. Is There Such a Thing as Too Long? Rabbi Moshe Stern (Responsa Be’er Moshe I:61:5) was asked by the father of a young man who had grown exceedingly long peyos (past his shoulder) whether the father can insist that the boy cut his peyos. The father was completely torah observant and was not interested in meddling in the boy’s religious stringencies, but had found it impossible to find the boy a proper shidduch due to his unusual physical appearance. Any girl who would date the boy would reject him at first sight out of a legitimate concern that somebody with such wild peyos would never be able to earn a living in the modern world. The boy refused to do anything about his peyos, including wrapping them around his ears or putting them under his yarmulke. Rabbi Stern points out that the Arizal is cited as having said that any hair extending beneath the lower jaw is halachically not considered peyos and should be cut. In fact, the father has an obligation to find a wife for his child, but the child’s behavior is making that impossible, and is causing his parents undue stress. As a result, the halachic violations of growing such long peyos outweigh the perceived benefit of having them.
1. Interestingly Rabbi Stern also cites a comment of the Mileches Shlomo (Peah 1:1) that would seem to indicate that a person cannot remove all hair aside from the peyos. The Mishnah (Peah 1:1) lists items that do not have a set shiur to fulfill the mitzvah, and lists peah (the corner of the field left for the poor) as one of the mitzvos that have no set amount. The Mileches Shlomo comments that the mishnah omits Peyos Harosh from the list because, much like terumah, there is a maximum amount of hair that can be made into peyos harosh. Just as one cannot make all of his produce into terumah, one may not make all of his hair into peyos. Whether the Mileches Shlomo means to limit the length of peyos hairs or prohibit shaving the rest of the hair from one’s head is not entirely clear from his comment.
B. Curly. In many Chassidic cirles it is common practice for men to maintain long curly peyos. The poskim have raised a number of red flags relating to curly peyos and have addressed each of the potential pitfalls:
1. Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasa (14:53) writes that one may not curl peyos, especially with curlers, on shabbos. The gemara (Shabbos 94b) associates shaping of hair with the prohibition of building on shabbos. As such, curling peyos to give them a permanent shape is also a prohibition of building. In the footnote to Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasa (ad loc) a justification for those who curl their peyos on Shabbos is suggested. The peyos of a man who is accustomed to curling his peyos will likely have a shape of a curl even if the man does nothing to curl them on shabbos. As such, when the man adds to the curl, he is merely adding to an existing structure (which is permissible) and not creating a brand new shape (which would be prohibited). This is similar to extending an already existing awning which would be permissible, and not like putting up a new awning which would be prohibited. Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch rejects this justification on the grounds that we never find the rabbis applying the concept of a “temporary awning” to hair and the violation of building specifically associated with hair.
2. Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch (Responsa Teshuvos V’Hanhagos I:229) points out that in addition to the problems of building associated with curling peyos, one is likely to also violate the prohibitions of removing hairs (through combing the peyos even by hand) and sechita when squeezing water out of the peyos (particularly after ascending from the mikvah). These are especially problematic since many people with long curly peyos will habitually stroke and twist their peyos and have a hard time controlling their impulse to do so. As a result shabbos violations of pulling out hair are exceedingly difficult to avoid. Rabbi Shternbuch therefore recommends that people with long curly peyos be extremely vigilant about these issues. Rabbi Binyamin Zilber (Responsa As Nidberu II:34) is not concerned with the possibility of pulling out hairs while stroking long peyos because he considered that eventuality to be nothing more than a davar she’eino miskavein (and not a pesik reisha because the result is far from certain) and therefore permissible. Additionally, Orchos Rabeinu (Volume III page 137) reports that a Yemenite boy with very long peyos once approached the Steipler and confessed to having habitually playing with his peyos and thereby removing hairs on shabbos. The boy wanted to know if it would be best for him to cut his peyos, but the Steipler suggested that the boy put his peyos under his yarmulke rather than cutting them shorter.
3. Rabbi Zilber raises another issue relating to peyos that is hashkafic rather than halachic. Rabbi Zilber argues that the very act of curling hair has a negative connotation in rabbinic literature (as with Yosef Hatzadik being considered “childish” for curling his hair). Consequently, unless one does so completely for the sake of heaven, all hair curling should be avoided.
C. Behind the Ears. Another very common practice amongst Jews who accept extra stringencies relating to peyos harosh is to grow the hairs of the peyos very long and wrap them behind (or around) the ears. It seems that this was the practice in Jewish communities in the diaspora, while the Israeli Jewish community typically did not follow the custom of putting peyos behind the ears. This practice, too, was met with a mix of criticism and approval:
1. Arguments Against: Rabbi Menashe Klein (Responsa Mishneh Halachos VII:121) argues that putting peyos behind the ears indicates a certain sense of shame in having long peyos. Rabbi Klein argues that considering the suggested reason for the mitzvah of peyos (clearly distinguishing ourselves from idolaters) it is counterproductive to “hide” the peyos. Traditionally tzadikim take great pride in their uniquely Jewish appearance. In fact, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky (Orchos Yosher chapter 5) reports that when people would visit his uncle, the Chazon Ish, with peyos hidden behind their ears, the Chazon Ish would get very upset because it seemed to him that they were embarrassed about the mitzvos. [This criticism is reminiscent of the Mishnah Berurah’s critique (8:26) of those who tuck their tzitzis into their pants, though in the case of tzitzis the torah explicitly states that one should “see them”.]
2. Arguments For: Rabbi Binyamin Zilber (Responsa Az Nidberu XII page 37) recalls how upon his arrival to Israel in the year 5693 (corresponding to the secular year 1933) he came across a book called “Chatzvah Amudeha Shiva” which strongly criticized the practice of wearing peyos behind the ears. Rabbi Zilber writes that this criticism is totally unfounded. Unlike tzizis, there is no requirement that peyos be seen. Also unlike tzitzis being tucked into pants, putting peyos behind ears is not at all degrading to the mitzvah. Most of all, peyos that are kept behind the ears are typically visible to other people. The reason people had the practice of putting the peyos there had less to do with embarrassment than with the practical benefit of not having the peyos in the way. Rabbi Zilber concludes by reminding us that the entire discussion revolves around something that is purely a middas chasidus, as minimally kosher peyos need not be long at all. As such, it is entirely unnecessary to criticize any of the divergent practices.
3. During Davening. Sefer Moadim L’Simcha cites a practice for those who normally keep their peyos behind their ears to pull them out from behind the ears for davening. Rabbi Zilber (ibid.) points out that while ostensibly this practice is based on a passage in the Zohar which warns about peyos being on the ears during davening, a careful look at the Zohar reveals that the opposite is true. The Zohar seems to disapprove of the peyos blocking the ear canal during davening, which is exactly what happens when one removes peyos from behind his ears!
VII. Conclusion. Whatever the reason may be, Jews throughout the ages have been extra vigilant in the mitzvah of peyos harosh. In this essay we have endeavored to outline the halachic requirements, customs, and in some cases leniencies to guide people in varying social settings and circumstances. Regardless of the specific style, the idea of the peyos distinguishing the Jew from society at large is a message well worth internalizing as we engage in the constant struggle of balancing our unique world view with the necessity of being productive members of the society within which we live.