Re: Upsherin (cutting hair of 3 yr old)

Kenneth G Miller (
Wed, 30 Jul 1997 03:30:24 EDT

Micha Berger (in TF 3:49) and Peretz Mett (in TF 3:52) have been offering
assorted explanations for various aspects of the "Upsherin" custom. Certain
aspects of these explanations just don't make sense to me, and I hope
someone might be able to explain it.

For example, if the Torah places the mitzvah of Orlah (according to which
the fruit of a tree may not be cut and used until the tree is three years
old) close to the mitzva of peyos (according to which males have certain
restrictions on the cutting of sideburns), then I can see where one might
want to draw inferences and parallels from one mitzvah to the other. For
example, the proximity of these two mitzvos MIGHT teach us that just as the
fruit of the tree may be used after the tree has turned three, so too may a
boy cut his peyos after he has turned three.

But that is NOT what we learn from the positioning of these mitzvos. The law
is that the peyos may *never* be cut. Somehow, those who follow this custom
are not drawing a parallel from the orlah fruit to the peyos, but rather
from the orlah fruit to the *other* hair on the child's head! The *other*
hair, which the mitzvah of peyos does not speak of, *that* is the hair which
is left uncut - like the orlah fruit - until the third birthday! The peyos
remain uncut both before and after the ceremony! What's wrong with this picture?

I have heard an explanation, that it is difficult to demonstrate a negative
mitzvah because by its nature, negative mitzvos are not done actively, but
only passively, and that by cutting all the hair *except* the peyos, an
active demonstration of this mitzva will have been done. But doesn't this
occur at *every* haircut a boy or man ever gets? So why delay it until he is
three? It seems similar to actively demonstrating the prohibitions of
Shabbos (Sabbath at the Havdala ceremony. Should a boy not hear havdalah
until he is three?

It seems from what Micha wrote, that the boy begins to learn the Hebrew
alphabet on the day of the upsherin, and that this is the beginning of his
Jewish education. Huh? He has not been learning anything for the last 3
years? When his parents light Shabbos candles and sing Kiddush and say the
Shma at bedtime, is this not an education? Everyone learns Torah on their
own level. How many three-year olds do not yet know that the shul keeps a
big thing in the closet at the front, and when they carry it out on Shabbos
morning we all love it and kiss it? And even if you want to distinguish
between formal and informal education by sending the boys to nursery school
when they turn three, what does that have to do with orlah or with peyos?

Akiva Miller