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!
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • 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.