What Is Upshirin? A Coming of Age Ritual for Jewish Toddlers and their Families

Day 33 of the Omer is a traditional time to hold a hair-cutting party ritual for the giving of a first haircut to a Jewish child, which is generally not done until about three years of age. The upsherin ritual itself is simple, and as in every mitzvah, it is yours to elaborate as desired, keeping in mind age appropriate length and activities.

· Gather friends and family for a bonfire or barbecue. Keep in mind the dictum that it is wise to invite no more young people to a party than the child’s current age. It’s also helpful for the child to have seen others enjoying getting haircuts and to have practiced with family on a doll in advance.

· Age three is when a child traditionally can begin to wear a tallit kattan (light-weight undergarment with tzitzit, fringes that are reminders to live a mitzvah-centered life) and also a kippah. This is usually presented privately to the child so that they can be donned without stress and with excitement at wearing what big kids wear.

· It is traditional to give a first lesson in the Hebrew letters on this day, so you might begin by having those gather sing the Hebrew alphabet, or the traditional verse from Deuteronomy 33:4 for upsherin: “The Torah was commanded to us through Moses, an inheritance for all the Jewish people.” This verse in Hebrew begins: Torah Ttziva Lanu Moshe and is an acronym for tzelem, “image,” This special day is meant to leave a positive image with the child of a first connection with the study of Torah in a sweet and fun way. See the Resource Section for locations of helpful lyrics and sound files on the web.

· A little speech describing changes and how you feel about them might be given here. This is a time when the child is more mobile, needing less hugging and holding and requiring parents to tolerate to set and maintain boundaries firmly, so a big emotional and behavioral state change is also being marked for the parent(s).

· The first snip is taken in the area of the bangs, at the place where the head tefillin box is meant to sit, on what is called the Third Eye in eastern religions, and is a place of wisdom and vision in Jewish tradition. In some communities if a sage is present she might be asked to speak briefly and cut the first lock of hair.

· Traditional and some liberal-creative families may follow the practice of leaving peyote, side locks as the longest remaining hair. These are a reminder to live a mitzvah-centered life as in the story of Ruth, where the poor glean from what is intentionally left on the side of the fields for them.
Others only do a token snipping at the upsherin and take the child to a formal hair salon later in the day for a professional cut. This is a matter of personal inclination.

· If it feels right for the personality and mood of a given child, those present can each take a turn snipping off a lock of hair.

· Or, have a professional present to complete the haircut so that the tresses can be properly harvested and donated to an organization that makes wigs for children with cancer such as Locks for Love.

· Now, the youngster might give a solo rendition of Torah Tziva Lanu or another Hebrew song.

· Now a sweet is brought, sometimes honey on the edge of a slip of paper with a verse of Torah on it, to be licked off as a memory of the sweetness of growing old enough to start pre-school and begin learning. Others give a laminated Hebrew letter card from an alphabet deck with something sweet on it, or perhaps with a lollipop on top.

· Guests then bless the child with spontaneous hopes for a future close to Torah and the sweetness of Jewish practice and sing some more.

· Our young tree has been pruned in a beautiful rite of passage. Now it’s time for some real fruit and food - everybody eat!