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The Upsherin - What are the Origins?

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  1. squeak
    Makes smalltalk with the two most sandy ectoplasmic beings on Earth (not to mention the Man on the Moon).

    Instead of continuing in the Beards thread, I figured this topic is worthy of its own thread.

    Here is some information that I copied from the Avodah section of Aish Das:

    The upsheren custom of Hassidim, which at first glance seems like some
    venerable and ancient custom no good Jew would oppose, is actually
    a controversial new custom which they picked up from certain middle
    eastern Jews called 'mustarbim', which was and is rejected by certain
    great gedolim and communities.

    Although proponents attempt to attach it to the mitzvoh of orlah (fruit
    from newly planted trees prohibited for first three years, etc.) (Vayikra
    19:23-25), early mekoros (Rabbinic sources) (e.g. Rokeach 296, Daas
    Zikeinim Mibaalei Tosfos on Vayikra 19:23), as well as later ones
    (e.g. Eliyohu Rabbah 17:3, Ohr Hachaim on Vayikra 19:23), omit any mention
    of such an custom, even, while at the same time, they mention approvingly
    an old minhag to start a young boy in Torah learning at that time. There
    is also no mention of it in very detailed, lengthy and comprehensive
    works, such as the Shulchan Oruch and siddur of Rav Yaakov Emden.

    The attempt to place the posthumous imprimatur of the Ar'i on it via
    a tale told of him allegedly having given his son a haircut on lag
    ba'omer is not as simple as it may appear initially as well. It comes
    from an account by Rav Chaim Vital, but the language in the account is
    not clear and it's not certain if it refers to the Ar"i or someone else
    who was with him. Also, it it happened before the Ar"i reached his great
    stature in Kabbalah, which occurred later in his life, and therefore
    he may have not held of it then, as per his shita, based on kabbalah,
    not to cut hair for the whole sefira period, including lag ba'omer.

    In Ashkenazic communities of Lita, Germany, Hungary (Oberland), etc.,
    the upsheren custom was not accepted, and the young boys were given
    haircuts at a young age (sometimes when just a few months or even weeks
    old), without any special event/celebration around it. Similarly, it was
    not recognized in Sepharadic communities in Amsterdam, Hamburg, London
    at all, as it was not done in Spain. In certain Moroccan communities,
    the hair was cut at the age of nine months. In the famed 'sheva kehillos'
    of Hungary, they cut the hair at one year of age. In Yemen too, the hair
    was cut with no special celebration.

    The renowned Brisker Rav, Rav Velvel Soloveitchik (HaGRY"Z), when he
    came to Eretz Yisroel and was brought a child for such hair cutting,
    declined, saying 'ich bin nisht kein sherer' (I am not a barber). His
    position was explained with the following logic. Even if someone has long
    hair, he is not oveir (doesn't transgress) the prohibition of 'lo sakifu
    peas roshchem' (not to cut off sideburns / peiyos). So when you give
    a child his first haircut, even his hair is lengthy, you are not doing
    a mitzvoh - so it is just a regular haircut - so if you need a barber,
    go find a barber - I am a Rav, not a barber.

    The Steipler Gaon, Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky z"l, also refused to
    go along with it. It is told (in sefer 'orchos Rabbeinu', by his talmid
    Rav Avrohom Horowitz, volume one, p.233) that he would drive away ( ! )
    people who came to him with three year old boys asking him to cut their
    hair and was very angry about it ( ! ).

    A very significant consideration is also the question if there is a
    problem of 'chukos hagoyim' with the custom. While we don't generally
    see it now (in western countries at least), the fact is that in certain
    eastern cultures (e.g. arab and hindu / Indian) a great deal was/is
    made of a son's first haircut and it was accompanied by a significant
    celebration. It seems that those Jews who started the custom Jews
    lived among such gentiles. So there is a concern that it may well have
    originated in gentile practice. The discussion now underway [squeak's note: this reference to the Indian sheitel crisis (heh heh) dates the content of this post but in no way detracts from its value] re a serious
    concern of avoda zara (idolatry) with human hair wigs from India made
    from hair Indian women there cut off at Hindu temples as part of giving
    thanks to their deities shows how real this concern is - even in our
    modern era - and certainly in past years.

    We also have clear traditions and sources from the gemara on down
    that talk of cutting a young boy's hair before he is three years old -
    in some cases much before - with no mention of such contradicting any
    'upsheren'/'chalakah' type custom. The gemara (Moed Kotton 14a) says
    that a youngster born with long hair can be given a haircut right
    away. The Shita Mikubetzes (Nedorim 30a) says that the hair of young
    boys was regularly and often cut. In Eastern Europe, non-Hassidic Jews
    customarily cut a son's hair when he started to speak without waiting
    until three years of age. In the family of the 'Steipler Gaon', hair
    of his grandchildren was cut at two years of age, without any special
    event being made of it / surrounding it.

    Even among Hassidim, not all do the same thing. IIRC, Chassidei Gur
    and Skvira, cut the hair at two years of age - not three - which seems
    difficult to understand if it is based on orloh.

    Among others (e.g. Sephardic Jews in Yerusholayim), the haircutting came
    even later - at five years of age.

    The above is from various sources, but mostly from an excellent survey
    of the matter in 'Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz', volume III, by Rav Binyomin
    Shlomo Hamburger, Mochon Moreshes Ashkenaz, Bnei Brak, 5762.

    Mordechai

    And this was annotated by Micha Berger as follows:

    This is actually VERY related to the issues of sheitlach.

    Hindus celebrate a child's first haircut in a ceremony called Mundan. Here's
    one description:

    This is a ceremony in which a male child gets his first haircut done. It
    usually takes place when he is three, five or seven years of age. It is
    customary to conduct this ceremony at the shrine of the family god or
    in the temple of lord shiva. Clipped hair are placed along with some
    cow dung, milk and two coins wrapped in a piece of cloth and later on
    offered at the temple or the shrine of kulja (family god/goddess) or
    a holy river. The ceremony is performed to receive blessings for the
    child. The cutting ceremony is first of all started by the maternal
    uncle of the child and is carried on by a barber. The maternal uncle
    bears all the expenses of the ceremony.

    Now, let's discuss this topic without denegrating either the minhag to upsherin or not to upsherin. Pertinent facts aside, the minhag of upsherin is now a minhag yisroel and therefore should be discussed with appropriate resepect for the minhag.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  2. oomis
    Best Bubby EVER

    Thank you for that really extensive research, Squeak. I found it really fascinating. My grandson's upsherin b"Eh will take place the Sunday afte Tish B'Av (he was born on 6 Av), and what was written here will be very interesting to relate.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  3. squeak
    Makes smalltalk with the two most sandy ectoplasmic beings on Earth (not to mention the Man on the Moon).

    You did not misunderstand. This minhag is of dubious origins (I say this not from myself but from those who have dedicated a lot of time to researching these things), but it is nevertheless widely practiced and therefore should not be questioned by those who have the minhag. However, those who do not have the minhag should probably not accept it upon themselves. If it is your husband's minhag, you should definitely follow it.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  4. anonymisss
    Member

    My nephew's upsherin was in my house a few months ago. The hair was left on the floor for a little while after the haircut. My very "religious" Mexican cleaning lady wanted to know if she's allowed to step on the hair. LOL!!!

    ~a~

    Posted 4 years ago #
  5. openminded
    Member

    if one has this minhag, is there an inyan that it should be on the childs birthdy or can it be at any time??

    Posted 4 years ago #
  6. an open book
    Member

    openminded: hey welcome back. i came to the cr & got you mixed up with me for a second there ;)

    Posted 4 years ago #
  7. SJSinNYC
    always pleasant

    My husband and I are just at the junction of debating. It was his family minhag, but his parents didnt do it and our Rabbi said we arent obligated.

    I don't know if I'm ready to cut his hair yet (he's 15 months), but its time to decide. I hate when boys look like girls, but his bangs are getting so long...so its either cut or clip.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  8. tb
    Member

    Ames - someone once came to R' Breuer to discuss chasunah plans and wanted to incorporate some minhag (I think it was the kallah going around the chosson by the chupah) on the basis that - "but it is such a beautiful minhag. R' Breuer replied (excuse my german - I can't speak it at all) "Is a sherner minhag uber is nisht unsera minhag" Translation - it's a beautiful minhag BUT it is not our minhag.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  9. chaverim
    Member

    I wouldn't put too much credence in berger's "research". Who do these bloggers think they are kidding? If you want to know the source of a minhug you ask a talmid chochom who knows or practices it. You don't look thru the history books and viola declare you figured it out.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  10. squeak
    Makes smalltalk with the two most sandy ectoplasmic beings on Earth (not to mention the Man on the Moon).

    Errr, I'm not sure I know who you are, chaverim, but I do know who R' Micha Berger is. Do you?

    Posted 4 years ago #
  11. chaverim
    Member

    Errr, Yes. A YU grad computer programmer blogger who fancies himself a rabbi and thinks himself qualified to research all areas outside his expertise.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  12. chaverim
    Member

    Berger's a YU grad programmer and blogger who refers to himself as rabbi and ventures into all sorts of subjects he apparently considers himself expert at. I would seek a true expert if you want the actual facts.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  13. oomis
    Best Bubby EVER

    When my sons' hair got to be too long, in both cases I put the hair in a ponytail then put it up and placed a yarmulke over it, clipping it on all sides. It kept the hair under the kippah, it kept the kippah on the head, and my sons got used to having their heads covered at all times from about the age of 18 months. They never tried to remove the yarmulkes. I put it on them the first few times while they were napping in the stroller, and they got used to it immediately, till it was second nature to have it on. You have to be careful and very watchful with the clips, as they can be a choking hazard. They had not yet invented the KIPPON velcro strips when my boys were little, so maybe those are the best thing to use to keep them in place nowadays.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  14. chaverim
    Member

    ames: I'd prefer not to answer issues outside my knowledge base based on "historical research" of religious matters. Others apparently feel that kind of research of theirs is how they look at minhugim, rather than asking a knowledgeable talmid chochom.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  15. squeak
    Makes smalltalk with the two most sandy ectoplasmic beings on Earth (not to mention the Man on the Moon).

    ames
    Member
    Actually, we don't like when anyone gets personally attacked here in the CR. We're all friends here.

    Now THAT shows how much the coffee room has evolved over the past few months. I like it much better this way - and I think that a lot of credit goes to the mods as well as to the posters of this site for their efforts in this. We had a problem here and have come a long way towards fixing it.

    As far as the upsherin goes, I do not claim to be an expert on it either. But then again, neither does anyone I have spoken to. I've been asking what the source of this minhag is for years and all I ever got was fumfitting. That does not mean that no valid source exists, only that I have never heard of it. And not for lack of trying.

    chaverim, please don't take any of this personally. I apologize if you have. I encourage you to counter my argument with facts of your own. No matter how valid the source is, upsherin will still never be my minhag, and no matter how absent a source is, it will still be the minhag of many many families of Am Yisrael. So our discussion about this should be purely high level and academic.

    P.S. While you may not hold of R' Micha's research, I doubt you would feel the same way about Rav B. Hamburger, whom he was citing. So why don't you pick up a Shoroshei Minhagei Ashkenaz for yourself and go through the inyan. I copy/pasted the Areivim discussion because it was on hand and easier to post here than transcribing the text of SM"A.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  16. ames- stop defending squeak out of habit;) That said- yes, squeak is usually correct. But chaverim, you can achieve such a level of high regard too ;) Live and learn from the best ;)

    Posted 4 years ago #
  17. Jothar
    F.M.C.R.S. and occasional creator of chaos.

    My Rosh Hayeshiva ZT"L didn't believe in upsherins, but allowed anyone who wanted to give their children one to do it. My Rav does believe in upsherins- not as a chiyuv but as a minhag, and said there are pre-chassidic sources for it. My son didn't have one, as I didn't have one. Then I find out from my aunt that my father had one! Nevertheless, he doesn't remember it, and I didn't have one. Furthermore, while he had an upsherin, there was no "party" with catered foods and liquor. We did make my son a tzitzis party, as there was a mitzvah involved when he got old enough to put on tzitzis and keep them clean. The cynical side of me thinks upsherins became popular as an excuse to throw a party and waste money, like the "Sheva Brachos party every night" deal. I believe my rav quoted the Mahari"l but I will try to clarify for sure.
    It's not a chiyuv, it's not avodah zarah, and don't waste money you don't have for it.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  18. David S.
    Member

    Jothar I can try to look up the Maharil on this if you like.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  19. Jothar
    F.M.C.R.S. and occasional creator of chaos.

    I went back to my rav, and he said it's from a Ridvaz.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  20. For an Upsherin, who do you give the gift to? The parents or the boy? Also, what kind of gift is appropriate?

    Posted 4 years ago #
  21. isher
    Member

    2muchtimeonmyhands - I usually get an inexpensive gift for the boy. It ranges between $5 - $10. A nice Jewish childrens story book, childrens tape, the good metal buses - that have a school or mosed's name on it, or other interesting metal cars, trucks, and buses.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  22. oomis
    Best Bubby EVER

    I am not re-reading this whole thread right now, so if I am repeeating anything, I apologize.
    Man is compared to the aitz hasadeh, the field tree, so the minhag arises from the comparison of the man to the tree, and just as the tree is not plucked of its orla until after three years, so, too does the child's hair get cut after three years. In some cases, people have the minag on the third lag b'omer, but the ikkar is it is all minhag. There is no law to do it.
    However,if you plan to follow this minhag, please undertstand in the case of someone wanting to "trim" the baby's bangs because they are in his eyes, if someone has cut the bangs, then they have already cut the hair, so there is no point in growing the hair for three years, for the sake of an upsherin. it's too late for that.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  23. Joseph
    the first

    Minhug k'halacha.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  24. HaLeiVi
    Member

    Please don't confuse the celebration with the cutting. If you cut the hair on the third birthday and you make a celebration on that same day, it is not necessarily for the haircut. The Machzor Vitri has a long piece about the day of bringing the child to Torah. He mentions many Minhagim there. So, in essence it is a sub Bar Mitzva celebration.
    Also, the Taz says not to teach Torah (or Alef Bais, if I'm not mistaken) to a child under three. He aludes to the Pasuk about Orlah saying, Three years it shall be Orlah.

    Posted 4 years ago #

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