Last week two Sikh teenagers from Lodi, New Jersey told police they had been attacked by five bruisers, who pulled off their turbans and despoiled them of three to four feet of hair each. The attackers also stole $40 in cash. It’s a nasty little hate-crime story, touching on the quivering xenophobia of these times.
It’s also a cock-and-sacred-bull story, in that it’s completely false. Yesterday the pair told police they had made up the assault to cover for more routine haircuts, which are not allowed under their religious rules. I’m thinking – no, don’t tell me – a $19.95 cut-and-wash special at the mall? Times two?
Uncut hair is Kesh, one of the symbols of the Khalsa, which as I understand it (vaguely at best) is an order into which Sikh youth (of both sexes) are inducted in an initiation ceremony called amrit. Hair is regarded as a bounty from the godhead, and is not removed from any part of the body; thus the famous Sikh rolled beards. The tradition dates back to 1699.
Jersey in the Noughties is a long way from the rough edges of the Mughal Empire; so is Williamsburg far from the shtetl, and I am always caught up in mixed feelings when I see Chasidim in full regalia: payes, tallis, tefillin, the works. It must be terribly strange and hard to be the protruding tip of a mountain of tradition and family blood, stuck up into the modern air. And to be a modern man for the cost of a shave-and-a-haircut? Two bits.