Upsherin (cutting hair of 3 yr old)

Micha Berger (micha@aishdas.org)
Wed, 9 Jul 1997 08:00:03 -0400 (EDT)

FarkasP@aol.com wrote:
<<My son is approaching his third birthday. My wife and I have decided to
honor the custom of my Hungarian/Chassidic ancestors, and not cut his hair
until his third birthday, when we will have an upsherin
ceremony/celebration. I've been searching for information about this
custom, but have been unable to locate anything. Any source material you
can direct me to, or any explanation or understanding of this custom which
you can provide, would be most appreciated.>>

I too am about to make two upsherins (the third triplet is upset that she
isn't getting one) right after the three weeks. So, the request for
information reached home.

Ironically enough, one of the most beautiful treatments I've seen on the
concept is in 'The Collected Writings of Rav Samson Rephael Hirsch'. One
would think that Hirsch, of 19th cent Germany, would be one of the least
likely person to observe upsherin. However, a man from Hungary settled in
Frankfurt and invited R Hirsch to attend. The article is based on the ideas
he spoke about on the occasion.

The source of the custom is the Zohar, which bases it on the combination of
a couple of verses. In prohibiting the chopping down of fruit trees for
wood (which actually refers to unwarranted waste in general) the Torah
writes "For man is a tree of the field." Step two: the Torah prohibits
eating of the fruit of a tree for the first three years. Based upon the
connection implied by the first verse, there exist mystical reasons not to
cut a child's hair for three years. I don't know why it would apply to boys
and not girls, but that is the practice.

Tied to the notion of upsherin (from the same root as the English "to
shear") is the idea that this is the beginning of the child's education. He
is taken to learn aleph-beis on that day. This again implies a
boys-learn-Torah association, suggesting a reason why girls don't have an
upsherin, but the verses don't imply anything about this second custom.

Also, with the first haircut comes the first opportunity to keep the
mitzvah of not cutting peiyos(side-burns). Tzitzis are worn for the first
time as well.

Hirsch notes that the fruit of the first three years is called 'Orlah',
just as the skin removed during circumcision, as well as the
prophetic/poetic image of the orlas haleiv, the callus of insensitivity
that one must remove from one's heart. Here, we talk about "orlas harosh",
symbolically removing the impediment to understanding. Rav SR Hirsch ties
this in to the notion of peiyos, which provide a visible line, reminding
you of the separation between the animal and human parts of our psyche.

His article is very poetically written, I don't think any summary --
especially what I could squeeze into one paragraph -- can do it justice.
Hopefully, I tempted someone into looking it up.

Upsherin is not my custom, although I keep the form because that's what the
overwhelming majority of my neighbors are doing. It's rapidly becoming a
"minhag America"(custom of American Jewish community). However, because
it's not my custom, I can't see delaying Jewish education or wearing
tzitzis until the child is three. (Halevai the boys would be trained by then!)

Micha Berger 201 916-0287
micha@aishdas.org
http://aishdas.org -- Orthodox Judaism: Torah, Avodah, Chessed