By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
Question: A woman has a son with adorable blond curly hair. She is finding it enormously difficult to cut her son’s hair at age three. Can she push off the upsherin for this reason?
It is this author’s view that this question has been presented to Rabbis for hundreds of years – not to take anything away from the cuteness of the child’s hair. But first, let’s first get some background. The minhag of delaying the first haircut is one of Chassidim, sefardim, and also anshei maaseh. The purpose of it is to train children in the minhag of being careful not to violate the prohibition of cutting off the payos.
Rav Chaim Vital attests that his Rebbe, the Arizal performed his son’s haircut at Meron following the known custom.
The custom seems to be entrenched in the very words of the Mechaber, Rav Yoseph Karo himself [ Shulchan Aruch OC 531:6]. The Minhag is further discussed in the Be’er Heitev 531:7. The Gan HaMelech cited there writes that one may push off an upsherin [that falls earlier] until Chol HaMoed. This is, apparently, in order to enhance the Yom Tov. The Gan haMelech writes that one should not, however, do it earlier. It should also be done through a Jewish barber.
Rav Boruch Sperber zt”l (1875-1962) in his responsa Afrekasta D’anya (Vol. I #161) writes that it may only be done for a great need such as enhancing the Yom Tov or to celebrate it on LagBaOmer to perform it at Meron on the yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
The Ramah in Yoreh Deah 245:8 citing Don Yitzchak Abarbanel (1437-1508) writes that immediately upon the child turning three years of age – one begins to teach him the letters of the Torah.
Rabbi Dovid HaLevi (1586-1667), author of the TaZ, writes that there is an allusion to this from the verse (Vayikra 19:23) three years they shall be areilim. “When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree, you shall surely block its fruit – ve’araltem; it shall be blocked from you for three years, not to be eaten.”
Furthermore, since it is done for the purpose of chinuch in the Mitzvah of not cutting the peyos – this is a Mitzvah in the Torah and is considered chinuch for the lo saasehs in the Torah too. Since the cutting of hair, and beginning of teaching Torah go hand in hand – the indication is that it should not be delayed at all. The Vilna Gaon cites the Midrash Tanchuma that the verse is also referring to young boys – who do not yet know Torah – and the fourth year – the father sanctifies him to Torah.
The Gemorah in Psachim (68b) states, “Beloved is a Mitzvah in its time.” Rav Yeshayah Slomovitz in his Avnei Shoham (#99) further writes that it is improper to keep a child in a state of “Arelus” longer than necessary.
What happens if the child turns three on, say, Erev Sukkos? The Chuster Rav, Rabbi Moshe Grunwald zt”l (1853-1910), in his Arugas HaBosem responsum [OC 210] writes that one does not do so before its time, citing a number of proofs from the halachic concept of Orlah. The Klausenberger Rebbe in his responsum Divrei Yatziv (#91 in Hashmatos) also writes that one does not cut the hair earlier and he should wait until Chol HaMoed. Rav Vosner zt”l in his Shaivet haLevi (Volume VIII #206) however, seems to indicate that this may not necessarily be the case. He questions that Arugas HaBosem’s proof from Orlah and points out that there are cases of Orlah where it is shorter than three years! He also cites the ruling of the Satmar Rebbe cited in Tiferes Naftali page 86 that when the third birthday falls on a Shabbos, there may be an inyan of Kavod Shabbos to perform the haircut on Erev Shabbos – Friday.
It seems that this issue of doing it a day or two before the third birthday or afterward is one of the halachic debates which exist between Klausenberger Chassidim and Satmar Chassidim.
It would seem from all of this that, no matter how cute the child is, one should not delay the haircut unless there is halachic reason in which to do. As an aitza tova, you could video the event and take a number of pictures before the actual haircut and save some of the hair.
The author can be reached at [email protected]