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What are the origins of the Upsherin custom?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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It isn't clear exactly when the custom of Upsherin started. The first mention of the custom is in Shar Hakavanot1 which was written by R' Chaim Vital (1443-1520), the Arizal's preeminent disciple. He describes how the Arizal went to the village of Miron on Lag B'Omer and participated in the “known Minhag” of upsherin. The Ridvaz (1462-1552) also writes2 that “it is already a custom in all the surrounding areas to consider [upsherin] as a full-fledged neder [mandatory vow]!”

There are those who say that the practice of upsherin is alluded to in the Jerusalem Talmud and Midrash.3

Footnotes

  • 1. Inyan Pesach, Drush 12.
  • 2. Shalot Utshuvot Ridvaz, vol. 2, ch. 608.
  • 3. Tractate Pe'ah 1:4 and Midrash Tanchuma, Kedoshim 14.

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Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Minhag
(pl. Minhagim). Jewish custom.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Arizal
Rabbi Isaac Luria, the 15th Century founder of Modern Kabbalah.
Upsherin
(Yiddish) Haircut. Usually a reference to a boy's first haircut, traditionally done on his third birthday.