Can someone explain to me why having a beard classifies as peyot? I am confused on the issue. If peyot are designed by HaSh-m as one of the distinct markers which sets us apart, then why is a beard considered acceptable as peyot, when millions upon millions of goyim have beards, and that is not setting us aside at all? Proper actual peyot, it appears to me, are the only things which set our haircuts apart from the rest of the world. I am not judging anyone, so please do not answer out of offense, I am simply wishing for a clarification. What is written precisely on the subject and where, please? Todah Rabah
One place to start is the Biblical verse:
Vayikra 19:27 states:
(see here: http://mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0319.htm)
כז לֹא תַקִּפוּ, פְּאַת רֹאשְׁכֶם; וְלֹא תַשְׁחִית, אֵת פְּאַת זְקָנֶךָ. 27
Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
So the peah of the head and the peah of the beard are two separate, though related instructions. The Mishna and then Talmud elaborate upon the nature of these prohibitions, and how they do, or do not apply.
It is a wonderful endeavor trying to figure out the reasons for the commandments, and indeed, Rambam tries to offer explanations. And learning that is Talmud Torah, study of Torah, and one gets merit for it. However, in the Talmud, there is a dispute whether "darshinan taamah dikra" or not. That is, of course one should try to discover the reasons for the commandments. But once one posits the (correct or incorrect reason), do we say that where the reason is inapplicable, the commandment is not applicable? The conclusion is that we do not say this, and thus the commandment is applicable across the board.
Perhaps the reason is to set us apart (and indeed, there *is* an idea of not wearing the same haircuts that the gentiles wear), and that is a lovely homiletic explanation. The reason might also be (as I recall Rambam suggests this) that the idolatrous priests made such haircuts for themselves. But regardless, the question has no impact.
This is not to say that it is not a great question. It is indeed an excellent question.
The answer would seem to be that there are separate Biblical requirements, one for a beard (though as you might see in another active thread here on GlobalYeshiva, there are disputes over whether one may shave with an electric razor) and one for the corners of one's head. And a Jewish male should fulfill both requirements, even if suddenly the gentiles began wearing both beards and peyot.
As an aside, there is a question how far on the face actual peyot are (in terms of various bones on the ear), such that the curly peyot one sees might not be the Biblical requirement.
I hope this answer helps. Perhaps later I, or someone else, will be able to give you proper Talmudic references, or better yet, a well-written article on the subject. The development of the idea on a halachic plane might be too technical, so finding a good article which is readable yet accurate and not fluff might be a challenge, but perhaps someone can either locate one or write one.
Also, please do not take anything I say here as halachic advice. For practical questions, consult your local Orthodox rabbi.
Thankyou for this reply. It does suggest to me that there are other consifderations besides the act of being set apart from goym. I should have guessed that it would be the case. Thank you for enlightening or at least broadening my perspective. i am typically a narrow-minded person which is a constant issue for me. Shalom, Hadassah
"However, in the Talmud, there is a dispute whether "darshinan taamah dikra" or not. That is, of course one should try to discover the reasons for the commandments. But once one posits the (correct or incorrect reason), do we say that where the reason is inapplicable, the commandment is not applicable? The conclusion is that we do not say this, and thus the commandment is applicable across the board."
I have been thinking about this, and see that it is absolutely correct. For otherwise, one could make the argument that because many of the tenets of halacha did have a reactionary feel to them (due to that particular zeitgeist) that we could therefor ignore them because the issues of the day have changed. But the fact is that HaSh-m's word is forever relevent for His own reasons, and for our benefit. Understanding HIs motivations ad reasons for various things is a privilege, but not a necessity for living a kosher (acceptable to HaSh-m) life.