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Upsherin: Wikis


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Upsherin or Upsherinish (Yiddish: אפשערן, lit. "shear off" German etymology, ab ["off"], scheren ["to shear"]) is a Jewish haircutting ceremony, kabbalistic in origin, held when a Jewish boy is three years old. It is also known as "chalaka".



Rabbi Chaim Vital wrote in Sha'ar Ha-Kavvanot that "Isaac Luria, cut his son's hair on Lag BaOmer, according to the well known custom." This is one of the earliest mentions of the custom. We know from travellers that by the 18th and 19th centuries the "hilula" at Meron on Lag BaOmer with bonfires and the cutting of children's hair had, by then, become an affair of the masses. A well-known Talmud scholar from Europe, Rav Avrohom Rozanes, writes that in his visit to Israel in 1867 he saw an Ashkenazi Jew giving his son a haircut at the "hilula." R. Rozanes says that he could not restrain himself, and went to that Jew and tried to dissuade him but was unsuccessful; he also complained that most of the Ashkenazi and Sefardi Jews of Israel were participating in this "insanity," with "drinking and dancing and fires."

A Chasidish rebbe, R. Yehudah Leibush Horenstein, who emigrated to Israel in the middle of the 19th century writes that "this haircut, called halaqe, is done by the Sefaradim in Yerushalayim at the qever of RaShB'Y during the summer, but during the winter they take the boy to the synagogue or Bet Medrash and perform the haircut with great celebration and parties, something that is unknown to the Jews in Europe."

Indeed, the custom was not adopted in Europe until much later, and knowing no Arabic and having no Hebrew or Yiddish name for the custom of the haircut, called it by a normal Yiddish word for cutting off the hair: Upsheren.


Some Haredi rabbis, among them Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky (the Steipler) and Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik opposed the practice on various grounds, but it is popular among Hasidic Jews and has spread in recent years to other Jewish groups.[1]

In the Hasidic community, the upsherin marks a male child's entry into the formal educational system and the commencement of Torah study. A yarmulke and tzitzis will now be worn, and the child will be taught to pray and read the Hebrew alphabet. So that Torah should be "sweet on the tongue," the Hebrew letters are covered with honey, and the children lick them as they read.[2]

Sometimes the hair that is cut off in the upsherin ceremony is weighed, and charity is given in that amount. If the hair is long enough, it may be donated to a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients. Other customs include having each of those attending the ceremony snip off a lock of hair, and encouraging the child to put a penny in a tzedakah box for each lock, as it is cut. Sometimes the child sings a Hebrew song based on the biblical verse: "Torah tzivah lanu Moshe" ("Moses prescribed the Torah to us, an eternal heritage for the congregation of Jacob" (Deut 33:4).

Among the Skverer Hasidim, the upsherin is held at age two. This is because they want to get the boys used to wearing a yarmulke, so that when they get their tzitzis at age three, they are already used to wearing a yarmulke.

Hasidic interpretation toward Biblical allusion

In the Bible, human life is sometimes compared to the growth of trees.[3] According to Leviticus 19:23, one is not permitted to eat the fruit that grows on a tree for the first three years. Some Jews apply this principle to cutting a child's hair. Thus little boys are not given their first haircut until the age of three. To continue the analogy, it is hoped that the child, like a tree that grows tall and eventually produces fruit, will grow in knowledge and good deeds, and someday have a family of his own. Hasidic Rabbis have made this comparison, and in some communities a boy before his first haircut is referred to as "orlah", like a tree in its first years.

Historical development

The upsherin tradition is (for Judaism) relatively modern and has only been traced back as far as the 17th century.

See also

External links




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