The Upsherin – What are the Origins?

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  • #589781

    squeak
    Participant

    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.

    #1207934

    oomis
    Participant

    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.

    #1207935

    squeak
    Participant

    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.

    #1207936

    anonymisss
    Participant

    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~

    #1207937

    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??

    #1207938

    an open book
    Participant

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

    #1207939

    SJSinNYC
    Member

    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.

    #1207940

    tb
    Participant

    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.

    #1207941

    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.

    #1207942

    squeak
    Participant

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

    #1207944

    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.

    #1207947

    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.

    #1207948

    oomis
    Participant

    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.

    #1207949

    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.

    #1207950

    squeak
    Participant

    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.

    #1207951

    areivimzehlazeh
    Participant

    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 😉

    #1207952

    Jothar
    Member

    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.

    #1207953

    David S.
    Member

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

    #1207954

    Jothar
    Member

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

    #1207955

    2muchtimeonmyhands
    Participant

    For an Upsherin, who do you give the gift to? The parents or the boy? Also, what kind of gift is appropriate?

    #1207956

    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.

    #1207957

    oomis
    Participant

    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.

    #1207958

    Joseph
    Participant

    Minhug k’halacha.

    #1207961

    HaLeiVi
    Participant

    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.

    #1207962

    Lilmod Ulelamaid
    Participant

    Bump – in honor of “Hashem is reading”

    #1207963

    Lightbrite
    Participant

    7yr thread

    Who didn’t give their son an upsherin?

    Is there pressure from nursery schools, daycares, and/or play date parents to do or not do an upsherin?

    Just to be sure… all sources and sages agree that circumcision is a must?

    And circumcision at 8 days, unless the baby is sick and a rav tells the family to wait, and/or exceptional circumstances apply?

    #1207964

    Lilmod Ulelamaid
    Participant

    LB -yes, everyone agrees that circumcision is a must for all Jewish boys. It must be on the eighth day unless the baby is sick.

    Upsherin is a minhag and it does not have to be done. I think it was actually a Chassidish minhag that has become very popular in most or many Frum circles today.

    In Israel, it is almost unheard of not to do one. I have a friend who didn’t do it because her husband is Yekkish and it’s not a Yekkish minhag. She had her son start wearing a yarmulka as soon as he got his first haircut even though he was under 3 becuase she was afraid that people would think he’s not Frum if he has a haircut but no yarmulka (since in E”Y, everyone waits to do the haircut till age 3 which is also the age that boys generally start wearing a yarmulka. So it is unheard of for a Frum boy to have his hair cut but no yarmulka).

    On the other hand, I once worked with an autistic 7 year old (approximately – I don’t remember his exact age) whose parents deliberately kept his hair long because they wanted people to think that he was 2 so they wouldn’t realize that there was anything wrong with him. Personally, I just thought that he wasn’t Frum until someone explained to me. He didn’t look like he was 2 – he just looked like he wasn’t Frum.

    #1207965

    Lightbrite
    Participant

    Awww that must have been so hard for them to cope and go public. Sending them blessings.

    Interesting because aren’t there Jews in EY who aren’t frum/DL/etc but wear kippot too?

    Or is it that they’re just more casual?

    I feel like in the US, I associate kippah with frum. Here in EY it seems like there are more variations. From kippot to tefillin, one mitzvah or indicator doesn’t necessarily mean mskpid on the others.

    #1207966

    golfer
    Participant

    Lightb, like Lilmod U said, circumcision is a Mitzvah and must be observed by anyone blessed with a new baby boy, with all details according to Halacha.

    Cutting a little boy’s hair at three years, and then having him start to wear a yarmulka (and tzitzis in most cases) is minhag.

    For those whose families have that Minhag it’s important to do it at the right time.

    I haven’t noticed any pressure from nursery schools or play date parents to do this. Morahs, school administrators, and most observant friends you’re likely to come across know that it’s a Minhag, and will understand if your Minhag is different. It’s important to follow the Minhag if it is in your family so if there’s a doubt, a Rav or Poseik can help out the same way he can if it’s a din in Shulchan Aruch.

    As for your saying that “one mitzvah or indicator doesn’t necessarily mean makpid on the others”- that’s a great observation, and something good to keep in mind, in E”Y, and across the globe!

    #1207967

    In Telz it

    appears the “Custom” was ignored entirely

    #1207968

    Lightbrite
    Participant

    golfer: Thanks for correcting my typo 🙂

    #1207969

    huju
    Participant

    So, Squeak, what do you do for fun?

    #1207970

    squeak
    Participant

    Usually, practice banjo

    #1207971

    Joseph
    Participant

    WB squeak.

    #1207972

    Lightbrite
    Participant

    The banjo on his knee

    #1207973

    squeak
    Participant

    Save the wb for my 10th anniv party. I forgot the date and showed up a few days early, but I dont see any prep

    #1207974

    Lilmod Ulelamaid
    Participant

    Wow! Are you here the longest? I hadn’t realized anyone was here more than 8 years.

    #1207975

    Joseph
    Participant

    Hrmph, where was the band and red carpet for my tin anniversary over three months ago.

    #1207976

    Lightbrite
    Participant

    Omgosh squeak!!!

    Me neither LU! I thought Joseph was the oldest. I thought the CR was only 7.

    Aww. Yay your birthday party is coming up!

    What do you want for your bday?

    #1207977

    Lightbrite
    Participant

    What was the CR’s very first poster post?

    #1207978

    Joseph
    Participant

    squeak is the CR supercentenarian.

    #1207979

    Lilmod Ulelamaid
    Participant

    Joseph, What’s a tin anniversary, and how could it have been over 3 months ago if your profile says that you joined Dec 10?

    Also, why are there no posts in your profile?

    #1207980

    Joseph
    Participant

    I’m more of a lurker than poster.

    #1207981

    Lightbrite
    Participant

    Why does it say that you’ve only posted once in your Recent Replies history?

    Are you a part-time hacker on your non-lurking hours?

    #1207982

    Lilmod Ulelamaid
    Participant

    I thought you’re the most voluble poster (or were until LB and I came on the scene with our combined 18 kavim…)

    #1207983

    Lightbrite
    Participant

    Joseph has around a decade on us LU. At least, at least I think in secret. We all know that he posts from other usernames as well.

    Imho, what we think we know about him is just the tip of the iceberg. The carrot top of the gezair.

    And I don’t even know if I want to be the most voluble.

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