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?
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.
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,” 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