It is a commonplace in anthropological literature that hair on the head and face is an effective symbolic medium for expressing identity and changes in identity, especially because it is immediately noticeable and easy to manipulate. Hair is a familiar means for
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marking out a person’s position in relation to his society, be that a manifestation of identification and commitment, or reservation and opposition.
Written By Prof. Gideon Aran
Long hair and a thick beard usually indicate emancipation from dominant norms or even protest against them (beatniks), while a neat haircut and a close shave point to loyalty and subordination to a severe regime (new recruits to the military). With the Haredim, and especially the Hassidim, we can find both of these tendencies: a bald head (like Tibetan monks) and a full beard (like Greek-Orthodox monks).
Nudity further emphasizes the beard and sidelocks, which have crucial role in creating the general impression of Haredism. More than the beard, sidelocks are considered the definitive indication of Jewishness. In an elaborate rite of passage the Haredi (male) child has his first haircut aged three (chalaka), before embarking on the road of Torah study, in the exclusive company of boys. This is when his sidelocks are formed, thus shaping him as a Jewish man. This act can be seen as a kind of second, corrective circumcision.
The obsessive attention to ear locks
Ever since, the Haredi (especially the Hasidic) young man pays obsessive attention to his ear locks as he incessantly twirls them to achieve a seemingly desirable length and shape. It is actually when naked that the two marks of the Jew’s covenant with God, the signatures of Judaism as impressed on his body, are disclosed and highlighted – the circumcised penis and sidelocks.
The Haredi body is exposed to us despite, or perhaps with the help of its clothing. Yet, stripping the Haredim bare may enhance observations. By examining a naked Haredi we may not only see his body better, but also learn how the Haredim see their own bodies.