Rite has roots in tradition

Home News Tribune 9/07/04

Boy's first-ever haircut marks spiritual growth


MONROE: Looking a bit bewildered, 3-year-old Mendel Zaklikovsky sat in a chair and received his first haircut from 200 family members, friends and complete strangers.

In the Jewish tradition, when a boy turns 3 he is given his first haircut, or upsherenish, and then begins his Jewish education. During the ceremony, everyone in attendance is invited to snip a lock of the child's hair.

Rabbi Eliezer and Chanie Zaklikovsky recently celebrated their son Mendel's third birthday with the community at their home, which serves as a Chabad house — an outreach center for Jews of any affiliation.

The Zaklikovskys are orthodox Chasidic Jews. Zaklikovsky said this means they follow the traditions of the Torah, the five books God is said to have delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai.

A child's hair is not cut until age 3 because the Torah compares man to a tree. Moshe Zaklikovsky, Eliezer's father, said fruit is not fit for eating until the tree has aged three years.

The first fruits cut after three years are to be brought to God as thanks for the success of the crops, the rabbi explained.

"The way we cut the child's hair at age 3 is in recognition of God's blessings as the child is about to go out and endeavor his Jewish education," the rabbi said.

"At 3, a child takes a deeper understanding of the world," he said.

When the hair is cut, extreme care is given to not cutting the side locks of hair, called the payot.

After the upsherenish, the boy begins to wear a kippa regularly, as well as the tzitzit. The kippa is a skull cap worn by Jewish men and boys as a sign of respect for God. The tzitzit are the fringes worn at the waist, or corners of the clothing. The fringes are made of threads and knots that combine to represent the 613 commandments in the Torah, the rabbi said.

"They remind you of your obligations (commandments)," said Yossi Zaklikovsky, the rabbi's brother.

Bricha Altein, Chanie Zaklikovsky's mother, said her grandson was growing up and learning to do mitzvah — a good deed and part of the commandments.

During the service, a copy of the Aleph Bet, the letters of the Hebrew language that the Torah is written in, was covered in honey.

Mendel then licked the honey to "teach him that the words of the Torah are sweet like honey," said his father.

They chose to share their son's birthday and took the "opportunity to turn something personal into something that can benefit many," the rabbi said.

After the service, Zaklikovsky's neighbor, Kevin McConnell, said he came to the ceremony because he had never been to an upsherenish before. "The tradition is awesome, it gives him (Mendel), a strong sense of family from the beginning."

Joel Greenberg, a member of the congregation, came because "It's a special occasion and it's an honor to be here."

"We decided to share in their joy," said Greenberg's wife, Paula.

Victoria Hurley-Schubert: (732) 565-7220; [email protected]


Mendel Zaklikovsky seemed a little stunned as guests took turns cutting his hair to mark the boy's third birthday.


Mendel enjoyed another part of the ceremony as his father, Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky, performed a ritual involving a honey-covered copy of the Aleph Bet, the letters of the Hebrew language that the Torah is written in, to "teach him that the words of the Torah are sweet like honey."


Three-year-old Mendel Zaklikovsky of Monroe was surrounded by family and friends who gathered yesterday for an upsherenish ceremony in which they took turns snipping the boy's hair to mark his spiritual growth in the Orthodox Chasidic Jewish tradition.