Hairstyle of the Jewish Khazar
By Norman J. Finkelshteyn
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As part of
my overview of Jewish Warrior cultures I provide several illustrations of what the discussed people were likely to have looked like, based on the available evidence.
Detail of drinking horn from Chernaya Mogila.
Photo provided by K.A. Brook (see Khazar Research article for details).
my illustration of the Jewish Khazar has been questioned. Whatever the motives of the challenge, the answer is worthwhile and long overdue.
The below text was written as an e-mail in answer to the same question asked privately. As a private e-mail, certain knowledge is assumed -- as I have time, I will add those notes necessary to the general reader.
The subject of the letter, as well as of the present challenge, is the style in which the Jewish Khazar wore his head hair.
It will be noted that in certain details my conclusion differs from the illustration -- and I must apologise that I have not found the time to redraw the illustration to account for the details.
I should also note that I have found substantial new information on the precise style of the Khazar Sabre, which also differs in detail from the illustration (I can now state that the illustrated version is a later period model -- more accurate to the 15th century or later).
The article refered to by the letter is one provided to me by Mr. Kevin Brook, which discusses the "Chernaya Mogila" drinking horn (see photo at inset above and discussion and drawing at the Khazar Research article).
I first note that the city of Itil had two judges who judged Jews according to Jewish law. I also note that, at least for the last 100 years the Khazars were rabinic -- which means they followed the Talmud and thus the source below was most likely used as the legal rule.
I also note that, while I have nothing from the Karaites on this issue, in those instances I am aware of, where the rabinics and the Karaites differed, I have found the Karaites to be more strict rather than more lenient (ex: light and fire on Shabat, prohibited marital partners). There is no reason to think this case was different -- at a guess, the Karaites took the more stringent position.
"You shall not destroy* the corners of your hair nor shave* the corners of your beard..." (Leviticus 19/27)
*Translation from Hebrew my wife's -- choice of "destroy" and "shave" is based on the two different words used for essentially "cut" in the Hebrew text.
Some English translations have "You shall not round off the corners of your hair..." -- this is an interprative translation based on the Talmud (referenced below).
Talmud (Mishna with Gemara) -- Makkos (chapter 3), 20
The law is that a man who transgresses is punished with 2 instances of whippings for the head or 5 for the beard.
This must be the least controversial topic in Jewish law -- no disputes or stories appear as to the meaning of the above command. The only minor dispute on the punishment is the exact meaning (is it one whipping for each side of the head or is it one whipping for allowing the cutting and one for the cutting itself).
The "corners of the head" is identified as that hair which joins the beard hair and the head hair. More specifically, if you draw an imaginary line from the back of the ear to the hair-line, the hair below that is "the corners" (ie: the hair at the temples).
The hair of the beard may be eliminated if a razor is not used (scissors are acceptible, most modern electric razors have been found to be acceptible).
Later commentary (basically, the medieval stuff I found as footnotes in the Gemara):
The vast majority of interpreters believe that head hair may not be eliminated in any way (cf. the difference in language between beard and head in the Bible, referenced above).
Rambam (in the 12th century), picking up on a slight possible ambiguity in the grammar of the Gemara, is the lone dissentor saying that a man should not be punished if he has used scissors or equivalent for the head hair (like the beard) --- This ruling is completely dismissed by all as having no basis (it may be that the ruling was due to his very intense sensitivity to victims of forced conversion to Islam -- Muslims shaved their heads).
The other interpretation is regarding what level of cutting or shaving the head hair triggers the punishment. The strictest opinion is that if a man has eliminated two hairs from the region, he is to be punished.
Rambam is again the most mild -- saying that as long as 40 hairs remain, the man is not to be punished (one, probably corrupt, manuscript has that as 4 rather than 40).
Thus, at the very least, the Jewish Khazars had some hair on both temples.
Further, as the writer of the article you sent states, cutting hair short was a symbol of defeat among the Khazars and their neighbors (he mentions that the Khazars forced the Bulgars to wear their hair short as a sign of submission).
It is therefore incredibly unlikely that the Biblicaly prescribed corners ("peyot" from here on) would have been trimmed -- that would raise both question with respect to submission and Jewish legal questions with respect to the definition of cutting (it would be against both Jewish and Turkic ideas of hair aesthetics).
The most likely situation is that the hair at the temples was, in fact worn long.
Now, based on the article you had sent, there are three possibilities for the general look of Khazar hair -- I will examine each in turn.
Loose long hair tied with a headband
-- as mentioned above, the writer interprets the short, loose hair of the warrior on the left of the horn as indicative of defeat. However, the other artwork he looks at has the loose hair uncut and he determines that the loose hair is indicative of both age and status (he reads the loose haired people as symbolic of the Old King in the "Golden Bough" King killing myth). He mentions briefly that in the Khazar context it is indicative of the Kagan.
Presumably, when the hair is worn this way, the peyot will simply merge with the rest.
Long hair tied into braids
-- In his interpretations of the art this is seen as the hair of young warriors (mythically -- the young king slayer who becomes king -- in that sense you must have misread his description of the horn, if read as the struggle between Russ and Khazar, it is the braided man that is the newly victorious Russ).
It is hard to read the Khazar platter, but I believe the image showed a side braid as well as back braids. In my opinion, if the Khazars had the custom of wearing multiple braids as illustrated on the platter and as other Turkic tribes did, it would only make sense that they would wear the peyot as separate side braids (both due to natural affinity -- most people wearing multiple braids will tend to gather the hair at the temples as a braid separate from the back hair, and because they would likely set off the religiously mandated hair as special).
Shaved head with a lock of hair left --
In examining the art, the author of the article relegates it not to the present time of the artist, but to a "golden age" time of heroes.
If this is the case, we are left in doubt about whether the image represented is indicative of reality (compare for example the costume and hair style of Jesus and saints in European religious paintings).
We do, however, have the statement that the author quotes from a primary source that Svyatoslav took on the hairstyle of the Khazars -- consisting of shaving his hair and leaving a lock at the side.
However, if we take this as our basis (or the claim that the person on the horn has his braid on the back of his head -- though I'm still not sure whether that is the case) how do we square it with the Jewish laws.
My suggestion is that this is quite simple --
Considering their judicial system and later the high esteem that the Khazar refugees in Spain were held in -- It is impossible that the Jewish Khazars shaved their peyot.
It may well be that either the primary source writer did not notice or neglected to clarify that Svyatoslav had two locks of hair -- one on each side;
or Svyatoslav took the general idea of the Khazar look but retained only the one side (maybe even purposefully, as a mark of independance or superiority, etc);
or different tribes or factions had different specific styles of wearing the remaining lock of hair (as for example, the American Indians -- were different tribes can often be recognised by the specific way that the "warrior lock" is placed) -- it may well be that Christian Khazars wore only one lock of hair and Svyatoslav modeled his style on theirs.
Bottom line is that it seems most likely that the Jewish Khazars shaved their heads leaving the two peyot as long locks of hair.
The question remains whether that hair was braided or loose (I do not believe that the twisted hair of the modern hasidim is plausible -- as I have no idea what technology, prior to modern hair-irons can be used to do the twisting). The writer in your article used the word for Braid when talking of the braids in the illustrations, however when talking about Svyatoslav he uses the word for Lock (with implications that there was no braiding) so this remains uncertain.
Nevertheless, considering the convenience demands for a warrior, I think it is safe to say that the peyot would, at the very least, have to be tied, and braiding is plausible.
Thus, my considered opinion at this point in time, is that the Jewish Khazar warrior will have been shaven headed with long peyot which were tied or braided, with large moustaches and a trimmed beard.