Friday, June 26, 2015

Judaism on Turning Three

There is a little known celebration in Judaism for when a child turns three.  No, let me correct that, for when a boy turns three. (yes, there is more to that, yes I'll get to it.) 

There is a statement in the Talmud that compares men to trees, and according to the Torah (commandment 'orlah') you aren't supposed to take fruit or cut a tree until it's third season.  So, since boys are like trees, we don't cut a boys hair until he turns three.

Seems simple, at least when you look up the term Upershin, it seems like a simple little haircut. 

But the reality is so much more...

I went to my first Upershin this past week.  It was absolutely stunning.  The decor, the atmosphere, the celebration.  I love the people who's son we were celebrating.  I have nothing but goodwill and heart-felt congratulations for them.  But I have a lot of problems with an upershin.  And no, none of them have to do with the hair.

The thing they don't really convey with all of their definitions of haircutting is the underlying premise of the whole exercise.  A child's change from being an observer of mitzvot to beginning to learn mitzvot and be responsible for creating good in the world.

Go back and read that again.  Yup.  That's the ticket.  This is what we're really celebrating at an upershin.  It goes way beyond a boy wearing a kippah and tzitzit.  This boy is going to start his formal education in Judaism and start to learn what he needs to know to be a Jewish adult.  Because remember, we only have until he's 13 to teach him everything he needs to know on that score.  We are taking him education in hand today, and starting to impress upon him the gloriousness that is Judaism and Torah.

So let's get back to the real issue.  Why is this only for boys?

It just so happens that an Upershin would be perfect for EG.  My darling daughter hasn't had her hair cut since she's been born.  We have been telling her since she's started asking that she gets her hair cut at three.  Why three you ask- Working Dad just picked that number  at random.  Coincidence?

There is another theory out there about why we wait until three to cut a boys hair.  Again starting at commandment 'orlah' but branching out in a totally different direction.  The Torah is the Tree of Life, and since we are commanded not to partake of the fruits of a tree for the first three years of growth, so it would go that in the first three years of our lives the lessons of the Torah, or the 'fruits of the Tree of Life', is off limits to us.  Torah isn't always easy.  It's not like reading Spot.  At age three, the theory is, our understanding has developed enough to begin learning Torah.  We finally get a taste of the fruit from the 'Tree of Life.'

At the upershin it's customary to have the child start his Torah study right there- usually with a Hebrew alphabet covered in honey.  It's a celebration of the start of an obligation.  That's right, a celebration of an obligation.  On Sunday he didn't need to wear tzitzit, but on Monday he does.  And by celebrating it in this way it makes it something joyous to do, not a negative association.

Now I would be amiss if I didn't point out that there's a tradition that a girl starts lighting candles when she turns three, but somehow the impact of lighting candles and what happens at an upsherin are vastly different.  It's also cloaked in halachic confusion, and also intensely clear that even if you support her lighting the candle her candle cannot count for the obligation to perform the mitzvot.

It all comes down to how we teach our girls what it means to be Jewish at our earliest opportunities.   Singing songs about Ama lighting candles and Abba going to shul; Challah-making for girls, Torah study for boys.

I don't want EG or Ocho to think that Torah isn't sweet.  I want them to have the fruits of the Torah as well.  I want both of my girls to delight in baking challah, learning Talmud, questioning tradition and talking to G-d.  I want all the opportunities of a Jewish life to come easily to them both.  

I could only find one other account of a Jewish girls Upsherin.  While we won't be having her haircut be part of this ritual, I'm determined to celebrate my daughter's transition from babyhood to childhood.  I'm determined to find the spirit in the Upershin and bring it out in EG. 

Here's to a haircut!

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