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What is an Upsherin?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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It is an age-old Jewish custom to refrain from cutting a boy’s hair until he is three years old. On the boy’s third Jewish birthday it is customary for the parents to invite friends and relatives to participate in an “Upsherin” ceremony, where each of the assembled guests is given a scissor and is invited to participate in the haircut by cutting off a hair lock. The Upsherin marks the commencement of the child’s formal education. Care is taken to leave the child’s peyot intact, thus initiating him in the ways of G-d’s commandments. After the Upsherin, the child is taught to wear a Kipah and Tzitzit, and is slowly trained to recite blessings and the Shema.

After the Upsherin, the child is taught to wear a kipah and tzitzit, and is slowly trained to recite blessings and the Shema
The Torah says that “a person is [compared to] the tree of the field” (Deuteronomy 20:19). Just as it is forbidden to benefit from the produce of a tree for the first three years after it is planted, so too we do not cut a boy’s hair until he is three years old. [Click here to read about 'What is orlah?'] From the fourth year and onwards we begin to enjoy the fruit of the tree; and from this point onwards the world begins to benefit from the Torah and mitzvahs of a young child.

[There is a wonderful book titled “My Upsherin Book” that prepares children for their upsherin.]


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upsherin

Posted by: Harriet Silverman, Plainview, New York, United States on Nov 26, 2006

Why does this not apply to girls?

Editor's Comment

Three is the age when education begins. The Upsherin is an opportunity to educate the child in obligations he will be required to perform later on in life. The hair cut leaves Peyot (fringes) fulfilling the biblical commandment "you shall not destroy the corners of your beard". Women are not required to fulfill this obligation. For this reason, this custom does not apply to girls.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Tzitzit
Literally: the fringes which are attached to four cornered garments, as Biblically mandated. Normally this word refers to a t-shirt sized four cornered garment which contains such fringes, and is usually worn beneath the shirt.
Deuteronomy
The fifth of the Five Books of Moses. This book is a record of the monologue which Moses spoke to the Israelites in the five weeks prior to his passing.
Kipah
(pl. Kipot). The head-covering worn by Jewish males. Serves as a constant reminder of the existence of a Higher Being.
Shema
The most fundamental Jewish prayer, recited twice daily. This prayer, of Biblical origin, professes the belief in G-d's absolute unity.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
Upsherin
(Yiddish) Haircut. Usually a reference to a boy's first haircut, traditionally done on his third birthday.