Hasidic Jews wear sidecurls or “peyos” to differentiate themselves from others, as a stringency in Jewish law, and as a mystical/kabbalistic practice.
Unsure what I mean by sidecurls? Here is a picture of a Hasidic Jew with sidecurls:
Now, let’s dig a little deeper to truly understand the three primary reasons why Hasidic Jews wear sidecurls:
1. To Differentiate Themselves From Others
Hasidic Jews pride themselves on their insularity and believe it is necessary to separate themselves from society in order to maintain holiness within their communities. Differentiation is a big reason why Hasidic Jews have sidecurls, don’t shave their beards, and wear long coats and large hats.
Hasidic Jews often live in very populated places like New York City and London, but do so primarily to make a living. By differentiating themselves they are able to maintain their insularity and customs even within big cities. In some ways, Hasidic dress is a reminder to Hasidim that they are different than those around them and must keep Hasidic customs and strict Jewish law.
2. As a Stringency in Jewish Law
A verse in the Torah states, “You shall not round off the ‘peyos’ (פְּאַת) of your head” (Leviticus 19:27). Most Orthodox Jews interpret this to mean that men should not shave their sideburns above the cheekbone. However, Hasidic Jews interpret the verse in a stricter sense and hold that one should not cut one’s sidecurls altogether.
3. As a Mystical Practice
Hasidic Jews maintain that there is a mystical significance to having sidecurls and believe that it is a holy practice. To substantiate this claim, Hasidic texts draw from Kabalistic sources such as the Zohar and Arizal.
Note: Almost every Hasidic sect such as Skver, Toldos Aharon, Satmar, and Gur maintain that its followers must wear sidecurls. The only major Hasidic sect that does not require its followers to wear sidecurls is Chabad-Lubavitch.