Imagine the following — my wife, my son, and I were enjoying the Peter Pan ride, one of the featured rides at Walt Disney World which gets extremely lengthy lines and was considered worthy of getting the Fastpass feature. As our carriage came around to the end, the Walt Disney World cast member spotted us, smiles on our faces. He looked at my son and made eye contact and then asked, “How’d you like the ride, Princess?” I quickly chimed in, “Actually, he’s a prince.” He quickly apologized, but my speed in response came because he wasn’t the first person to mistake my son for a girl, nor would he be the last — although I thought we had done a good job of “boying” him up by putting him in blue jeans, R2D2 sneakers, and an R2D2 hooded sweatshirt.

When my wife was pregnant with Chaim Yosef, we did not know what gender he was going to be nor did we try to find out — I used to regularly quote one of my favorite Gilmore Girls episodes and say that if it was good enough for Ricky Ricardo (to not find out the gender of the baby) then it was good enough for me! We therefore had many discussions about what to do depending on the gender. One of the conversations centered around the very reason we have not yet cut Chaim Yosef’s hair, which is the custom known as the Upsherin.

The idea of having an Upsherin for a Jewish boy is that you wait until their third birthday to cut their hair. There are many reasons that people follow this custom, and I would like to hi-light a couple that particularly interested me.

At the age of three, a Jewish boy first starts regularly wearing a yarmulke, which is the head covering traditionally worn by Jewish boys and men, as well as tzitzis — a four cornered garment with fringes that remind us of G-d and the obligations we have to follow the laws set forth in the Torah. Up until three, boys do not have any obligation to wear a yarmulke.

Waiting to cut their hair, in a way, intrigues them — they see other boys that have shorter hair and are naturally curious. When they ask about it, we can tell them about looking forward to wearing a yarmulke and tzitzis. Mind you, our Chaim Yosef loves to snatch mine off of my head and put it on his own already. I always ask him to bring me a different one I can wear since he is wearing mine, and he dashes off and comes back with a tiny yarmulke adorned with Thomas the Tank Engine.

There is a Jewish law that when one plants a fruit bearing tree in Israel to not reap fruit from it for three years. There are many places in our scripture in which people are compared to trees, and so just like we do not reap fruit from the trees, we hold off on cutting the hair for three years. This is a little more esoteric to me but I still like the imagery.

You may recall from an article I wrote eleven years ago that I am relatively new to religious observance and I come from a family that had somewhat limited Jewish practice. There was therefore no tradition of performing the Upsherin in my family, and as my wife is a Jew by choice her family also has no such custom. The choice to want to do the Upsherin was entirely ours, though Elizabeth will say that it was more mine than hers and she struggles more every evening fighting Chaim’s long locks after we get him out of the shower.

When the time comes and we cut his hair at the age of three at the Upsherin — more specifically, Elizabeth’s mother will do the cutting as she is a former salon worker — we will be graduating him, so to speak, into a new level of observance of his religion. Until then, I have to keep hoping that Mrs. Meyers will change their mind about ceasing production of their baby shampoo — it really made Chaim Yosef’s hair incredibly easy to brush!

10 Comments

  1. Thanks for the fascinating learning experience, Gordon!

    It’s too bad people assume gender in children — a dangerous thing today — perhaps an, “Yes, I’m a Boy!” t-shirt would have helped? Ha!

    Do you save the hair once it is cut on the third birthday?

    Do Jewish girls have any similar hair traditions until a certain age?

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    1. You’re quite welcome, David. You partially inspired the article because one day I was looking at Chaim Yosef and I thought, “I wonder if David would ask why his hair is so long if he were to see him.”

      I love the shirt idea.

      Elizabeth and I have not yet discussed what to do with the hair. I wonder if anyone would take it as a donation for making a wig for chemotherapy patients.

      There are no similar hair traditions for Jewish girls as far as I know — they have no obligation to cover their hair until they are married.

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      1. I have seen some photos of your son and I enjoyed the long hair. I thought it was just a Gordon hippie-lifestyle thing. SMILE!

        I asked about saving the hair because I wasn’t certain if it was considered sacred or not.

        I know the Sikh’s save any and all hair — they pluck it from the brush if necessary, and collect it, along with their clipped fingernails and toenails — for saving in a tin and proper ceremony and burial later. Hair and nails are considered considered holy gifts and you do not disparage your own goodness by tossing pieces of yourself in the trash.

        When do Jewish girls need to start covering their hair?

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  2. Whenever I read your articles, the old adage of “learn something new every day” springs to mind. Thanks for the insight into your religion. After all this buildup I imagine it will be a very dramatic day when Chaim finally gets his hair cut!

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  3. So, you’re still on the ‘hunt’ for the shampoo. I think of you every time I go into the shampoo section of a store, or if I find Mrs Meyers stuff, I give it a GOOD look over, just in case they missed one. 🙂
    When is Chaim’s haircut due? Seems it ought to be pretty soon..

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