I am looking for source material about the Jewish tradition of the 'upfshearnin' or cutting a boy's hair at three years old. Where does the term 'upfshearnin' originate from, and is there a halacha in reference to same? Thank you
'Upfsherin' is a Yiddish word that means 'cutting off.' Cutting a boy's hair at age three is a wide-spread Jewish custom. Three is also when a boy usually starts wearing a yarmulke and tzitzit, if he doesn't already wear them.
By age three, a child usually understands enough to begin learning about the commandments. The first haircut is a way to train the child in the commandment of 'payot' - the prohibition against too closely cropping the hair on the sides of the head.
On a deeper level, this custom is rooted in the commandment of 'orlah': The Torah says if you plant a tree, all fruits which grow during the first three years are 'orlah' - off-limits.
The Torah is the Tree of Life. Just as a tree is off-limits in its first three years, so too, the Torah is 'off-limits' to a child until age three, due to the child's limited understanding. At three, when the child's understanding has developed, then his parents can start teaching him the Torah and he can start doing some of its commandments. He finally gets to taste the sweet fruits from the 'Tree of Life.'
Some people honor the first haircut with a festive celebration. They express thanks to Hashem for allowing them to teach Torah to their child. Many are accustomed to take their child to a great Torah scholar who cuts the first snip. Not everyone has this custom, however. I found this out when my son was about to turn three, and I approached a renowned Jerusalem rabbi, asking if he would like to take the first snip. "Ani lo sapar" he said - "I'm not a barber."
Some people weigh the cut hair and give that weight in gold or silver to charity, especially a charity which promotes Torah study.
After everyone gets a snip, the child is usually taken to a barber to finish the job.
A man and little boy walk into a barber shop together. "Billy," says the man, "I'll get my hair cut first, and then it will be your turn." The man sits down in the barber's chair and gets his hair cut.
Then the man stands up, picks up the little boy and sets him down in the barber's chair. "Make it nice and short," says the man to the barber. Then to the little boy he says, "Billy, you sit real still while the barber cuts your hair. I'm going next door to the pharmacy for a few minutes."
When the barber finishes cutting the boy's hair, he says, "Little boy, shouldn't your father be back by now?"
"That's not my father," says the little boy. "He's just some nice man who said, 'Come with me little boy, and we'll both get a free haircut'."
- Responsa Arugot Habosem
- Meam Loez on Devarim 11:19
- Sefer Hachinuch LeYisrael page 239
- Sha'arei Teshuvah, Orach Chaim 17:2