Redemption of the First Shorn

The Cutting Story Of The Opsherenish Ceremony

First Cut Is The Deepest: Among some Jews, it is traditional for a boy to have his first haircut on his third birthday.
Getty Images
First Cut Is The Deepest: Among some Jews, it is traditional for a boy to have his first haircut on his third birthday.

By Philologos

Published February 03, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

The religious significance of the opsherenish lies in the fact that when the little boy’s hair is cut, the side locks growing by the ear are left untouched in obedience to the biblical commandment “You shall not round the corners of your heads.” The result is striking, for these locks, which have by now become long and thick but have not been conspicuous amid all the other hair, suddenly stand out dramatically and mark (circumcision aside) the 3-year-old’s first observance of a specifically male ritual commandment.

If the bar mitzvah ceremony is the point in life at which, ritually speaking, a Jewish boy becomes a Jewish man, the opsherenish is the point at which a Jewish infant becomes a Jewish boy by shearing off his “girlish” tresses. As a reinforcement of this, it is also commonly treated as the occasion on which a male child is presented with his first talit katan, the ritual fringes that he will from now on wear beneath his shirt.

The ceremony of the opsherenish did not originate among Hasidim. Rather, it started in kabbalistic circles in 16th-century Palestine, in the town of Safed. According to tradition, it was first practiced by kabbalistic master Isaac Luria Ashkenazi (1534–1572), commonly known as “the Ari.”

Contemporary testimonies tell of Luria’s holding a family celebration on Mount Meron, by the tomb of the legendary rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, at which his 3-year-old son’s hair was cut. He may have been inspired to do this by the verse in Leviticus: “When you come into the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as forbidden…. And in the fourth year all their fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord.”

The shorn hair of the opsherenish thus becomes an “offering of praise,” like the fruit.

Known as the ḥ laka (from the Arabic ḥ alaka, to give a haircut), the opsherenish spread among Jews in Arabic-speaking lands, too. In Israel today, it is customary to observe it on Mount Meron on the holiday of Lag B’ Omer, when hundreds of little boys have their hair cut in what can truly resemble a human sheep shearing.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.