tanarill: (Jewish)
[personal profile] tanarill
I was just at the hair-cutting ceremony of the local rabbi's second-youngest son. (The youngest hasn't figured out walking yet, although he is pretty solid on crawling.) I had never been to one of these before, and it was, to my not-entirely-religious eye, bizarre. But I shall record the logic behind it for purposes of cross-cultural talking.


In Judaism, it is believed that there is no minimum nor maximum age for study of Torah. Given that, and that children are children, a number of meaningful but not commanded ceremonies developed to give children a sense of excitement and understanding. One of these is the hair-cutting ceremony, which can be more easily read as "boy's first haircut."

First, you wait until the young boy in question is three. This is both so that there is a reasonable amount of hair to cut, and because you want to make sure the kid is able to do things like walk and talk and ask questions and get excited about their first haircut. So you wait until they turn three, and then you cut their hair.

But! There is a commandment in the Torah: "Thou shalt not cut (shave) the hair at the corners of thy face." I cannot make this stuff up, guys. Some people would assume that meant the chin, but nope. The Rabbis, in their endless and sometimes drugged reason, decided that this meant the sideburns/hair in front of the ears, where the jaw attaches to the skull. Don't ask me why. This is why ultra-Orthodox Jews have what are called peyes or peyot.

When you are going about this business of allowing the boy's hair to grow out, so do the peyes. When you give them their first haircut, you carefully and explicitly do not cut the peyes. The child is old enough, hopefully, to understand that in not cutting that hair, he is observing a mitzvah, and even at three years old is learning how to be a Real Jew.

Before the main event, he licked some honey off of a piece of (laminated) paper with the Hebrew alphabet printed on it, to show that learning is sweet and he ready to get to Torah studying already. Then he recited the Sh'ma, which is basically the one statement of Jewish intent and unity, because he's old enough to do that now.

That part makes sense, in at least a metaphorical way. The weird part is that at the actual hair-cutting part, literally everyone is supposed to come up and snip off a bit of hair. So it was a birthday/get-the-weirdest-haircut-of-his-life party for this three year old. He was not fussing, because while he was sitting there and people cut his hair, he was being fed chocolate, most of which got on his face. But now he can stop looking ridiculous with this cloud of hair poofing out around him.
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