The Upsherin Ritual and The New Year for Trees

Most people are familiar with the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, but less commonly known is the festival of Tu B’Shevat – the new year for trees, which takes place on the 15th day of the Hebrew lunar month of Shevat which in 2023 falls at sunset of 5th February till the evening of Monday 6th.

Reflected Tree on the eve of Tu B’Shevat, Kentish Town 2023

I recently discovered that in Judaism there is a correspondence between the concepts of planting and growing healthy trees and child development, specifically in relation to a male child. I’d been invited to an Upsherin, a Yiddish term for a haircutting ceremony, by the Camden Town Chabad Rabbi, to celebrate the 3rd birthday of his son Mendel.

In certain orthodox communities a boy’s hair is left to grow untouched by scissors until this point. Tender love, care and nurturing in order to flourish is likened to the concept of growing fruitful trees: “Drawing a parallel between human beings and their environment, a correlation between trees and humans arises. According to Torah law, (Lev. 19:23) we may not indulge in the fruit of trees that were planted for the first three years … It is the fruit of the first three years that are off limits for human consumption; similarly, the child’s hair should be left alone for the first years of life, and only afterward can it be cut.” Quoting from Chabad, “For the first three years of life, the child was a baby—a receiver, not yet ready to give. At the age of three, his development takes a leap. He is now ready to actively participate in the process of his education”.

Image from celebratory film made by Rivky Baitz, Mendel’s mother

Here are some more photographs I took at Mendel’s Upsherin:

Mendel before his haircut

Father and Son

Rabbi Baitz introducing the Upsherin Ceremony

Mendel receiving his first haircut

At the age of three, boys are deemed ready to start studying and take on education, observing religious commandments. They also wear the traditional head covering, a kippa, for the first time as well as the knotted ritual tassels known as Tzitsit or tzitzis. Mendel’s kippa is decorated with the Hebrew alphabet. The image above and below document how family and friends were invited to take turns in cutting a lock of Mendel’s hair:

Mendel’s grandmother snips a lock of his hair

Locks of hair and a charity coin collection box

Dancing boys

I still remember the words to a Hebrew song I learned as a child that celebrates the Tu B’Shevat festival of trees. The lyrics begin with a description of a blossoming almond tree in the sun. In London I haven’t come across any almond trees in bloom but here are a couple of photos I took at a sunny Kew Gardens the other day:

Trees and their shadow in the sunlight at Kew Gardens

Budding Camelia

Links

More info on Upsherin

Upsherin and parallel to trees

Chabad Camden Town


Also published on Medium.

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