I send my 2-year-old daughter to day care at the local JCC. One of the boys there has never had a haircut. I am very curious about this, but I don’t have the nerve to ask the boy’s mother.
I am pregnant myself. If it's a boy, is there anything I should know? Is this a religious thing? Why didn't she cut her boy's hair?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Traditional Jews often wait until a boy's third birthday before giving his first haircut. This is called "Upsherin" – a Yiddish word that means "cutting off."
The third birthday is a significant stage in the life of a Jewish boy. He officially begins his Torah education, and starts to wear a kippah and tzitzit.
The celebration of "Upsherin" includes learning the Aleph-Bet with the child. A beautiful way to do this is to place a bit of honey on each letter and have the child lick the honey while saying each letter. This is so the Torah should be "sweet on his tongue!" We also teach him a verse from Deuteronomy 33:4: "The Torah was commanded to us through Moses, an inheritance for all the Jewish people." These are the first words a Jewish child should be taught to say, since this communicates how each Jew has a unique, personal relationship with the Torah.
For the haircut itself, it is customary for friends and family to take a snip. The first cut is done at the front of the head, at the spot where the boy will later place his Tefillin upon becoming Bar Mitzvah. After snipping, people give the boy a blessing for success in Torah. If possible, it is also a good idea to take the boy to receive blessings from great rabbis. I have also heard a custom to weigh the boy's hair, and then give an equivalent value in gold or silver to charity – in the merit that the boy should have success in Torah.
The first haircut is often styled to give the boy "Peyos" – the sidelocks. This is a glorification of the commandment not to closely crop the hair on the sides of the head (see Leviticus 19:27). "Peyos" can be as long or as short as you'd like, providing that they are not fully removed. Adults fulfill this mitzvah by wearing sideburns down to the middle ear.
On a developmental level, three years old is a key transition time. Until now, the boy was a baby – blanket, bottle, diapers. Now he is ready to move into the world of friends, school, etc. Cutting his hair at this time makes a strong emotional impression on the child. He knows that he is advancing to a new stage of maturity, and this helps him live up to the new role.
Why three years? For the answer, go to: http://www.aish.com/jl/l/b/48964501.html
By the way, if you ever get to visit Israel during Lag B'Omer, check out the scene at the tomb of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai in the northern town of Meiron. Thousands of boys receive their first haircut there all in one day!