Sep 8, 1997 - 15:50 -
I have a question:
Thanks for your question, Jonathan.
The upshirin is a boy's first haircut, at age three. It coincides with the beginning of Torah study, the end of infancy. It is a life-cycle event often celebrated in the synagogue. It is most prevelant among Sephardim and Chassidim. Not cutting the hair before then is a custom rather than a law.
Friends and family all take a snip of hair to participate (then a real barber cleans up the result later). The little Samson suddenly stops looking like a baby and starts looking like a boy. The child is introduced to the letter aleph, touches it and then dips that finger in honey and tastes. The Torah is sweet. Then there's a big seudah (festive meal).
Some wait until Lag B'Omer of the fourth year to go to Meron to cut and burn the hair at the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. (Lag B'Omer is the day when the prohibition of haircutting during the sefirah is lifted. It's also the yahrzeit of Shimon Bar Yochai.) )
The significance of the event stems from mystical considerations, based on parallels to Leviticus 19:24.
This information has been taken, with adaptation, from an excellent book: "The Biblical and Historical Background of Jewish Customs and Ceremonies" by Abraham Bloch.