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Can I Cut My Son’s Hair Before Age Three?

Can I Cut My Son’s Hair Before Age Three?

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Question:

Since our youngest son’s birth, 24 months ago, we have not cut his hair. We were planning to cut it, as is customary, on his third Jewish birthday.

Unfortunately, my father has cancer. We wanted him to be involved in the hair cutting; however, he may not make it to our son’s third birthday.

Can I arrange to cut my son’s hair earlier than his third birthday so that my father can be involved?

Answer:

I congratulate you on your desire to perform this beautiful custom. The hair-cutting ceremony (known as upsherin or chalaka) is an important step in the education of your son. While it is not required by Jewish law, the custom is to wait until the third birthday.1

One of the reasons we wait until age three to cut a boy’s hair is because that is the age when he is considered old enough to understand the education he is receiving from his parents.

At the upsherin, we draw attention to the fact that the child’s side-locks, “peyot,”2 are not cut off. In this way, the child is educated about the mitzvah of peyot at an age when he is aware of what is happening. It is also for the sake of education that the child begins wearing a skullcap, kippah, and the ritual fringes, tzitzit, at this same time.

Taking part in the hair-cutting would certainly be inspiring for your father; however, even more meaningful would be for him to see your son growing in his Jewish education. Make an effort to bring your son to see his grandfather regularly, and have him demonstrate what he has learned, showing his progress. That, no doubt, would give him the greatest joy.

With hope and prayers that, G‑d willing, your father's health be restored so that he will live to see your son grow to be a proud Jew.

Please see our site dedicated to The Upsherin.

All the best,

Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov
for Ask the Rabbi @ Chabad.org

FOOTNOTES
1.

There are those who have the custom to cut a boy’s hair at nine months or two years; however, this is not the prevalent custom.

2.

Leviticus 19:27: “You shall not round off the corner of your head, and you shall not destroy the edge of your beard“ i.e., your side-locks (Talmud, Makot 20a).

Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov is co-director, along with his wife Chanie, of Chabad of Northwest Indiana, and a member of Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi team.
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Discussion (2)
February 24, 2011
Upshirin
The Upshirin is a tradition that comes from Ashkenazi Jews in the Shtetls. It is not mentioned in any Jewish text, and isn't practiced by Sephardic Jews.

During the days of the Czars and pogroms, parents were afraid that the raiders would kill the boys. They would leave the boys' hair long, so that the murderers would think they were girls and (hopefully) let them live. They would do this until the boys were old enough to run.

Today, Jews that keep the boys' hair long until age three say "so that the Satan will think it's a girl."
Ben
NY, NY
February 21, 2011
Age
"One of the reasons we wait until age three to cut a boy’s hair is because that is the age when he is considered old enough to understand the education he is receiving from his parents."

I thought the wisdom of the Talmud said 5 for Torah. Prior to that age, I recall the Rebbe in a video saying to sing to your child.

I have a son that is almost 3, and unlike most kids his age, he has not complained when getting a haircut. Strangely, though he is typically a "wiggle worm," as my wife puts it. He has at least put up with getting his hair cut.

Also, I think that many kids have a fair understanding of Noachide laws before the age of 3. For example, at the mere age of 1 I was able to teach him not to take a bite out of me. At 2 he knows not to do it because, "That's bad," in his own words.

Could it be that ages with respect to the Torah and Talmud are only a "guesstimate?" For example, in the Chassidic Denomination many start study of Kabbalah before age 40 or mastery.
Craig Hamilton
Sandwich, MA
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