Upsherin and a Study in Bias
In anticipation of our son's upsherin, G-d willing in a few weeks, I have begun to put together a vort. There is actually not that much written about it in the more well know seforim. So, as much as I dislike using the web for such things, I Googled for some info. I found a letter to one of the RWMO-LWOU intellectual-type Torah discussion boards. Someone (a person that knows how to learn, judgingfrom his other letters) wrote in arguing that the minhag of upsherin may be rooted in Avodah Zara. Apparently, in some of the countries were Sefardim lived, the gentiles made a big deal out of a boys first haircut which was a religious avodah of some sort. So there is a concern that the Sefardim may have picked up the minhag from the gentiles. He cited from Orchos Rabbenu which is a compilation of the Steipler's hanhagos and shitos. The section cited states that when parents used to bring their children to him to take the first cut, the Steipler used to angrily chase them out. When asked why he did that since it is the minhag of chasidim, he answered that is a Sefardi minhag, not a chasidic minhag. Ahd cahn the essence of the letter.
Last night, I saw a sefer in the night kollel I attend which deals with the mitzvah of peyos in great detail. It is written by a chasidish kollel yungerman. He has a short chapter on the minhag of upsherin. Guess what? He cites the same Orchos Rabbenu simply to say that the Steipler's minhag was to cut at two years old and not three. And, the young author says, this is the minhag in Skvere. Ahd cahn the essence of the chasidish youngerman's citation of Orchos Rabbenu.
About 15 years ago, my parents (they should be bentched with good, long life) went into a sefarim store in Monsey. They explained that they had a son who was studying in yeshiva and they wanted to buy him a birthday present. Based on that short description, the store clerk told them that he had a new sefer that he thought would be appropriate. He handed them a copy of Orchos Rabbenu. I have looked in the sefer here and there over the years, but for the most part it has sat on my seforim shelf. Last night I took a look at the Orchos Rabbenu mentioned in both the message board letter and in the chasidishe sefer on peyos. Both writers completely misrepresent the Steipler's shita in opposite directions. Yes, it says that the Steipler was "m'garesh" parents that came to him to take the first cut. And yes, it says that the Steipler said that "it" was a Sefardi custom and not a chasidic one. But is also says that the minhag of the Steipler's family is to wait until the child is two. Furthermore, the Orchos Rabbenu quotes Rav Chaim Kanievsky who was asked about his father's shita. Rav Chaim answered that waiting until three was "minhag Yerushalayim".
On the other hand, the chasidishe sefer on peyos makes no mention of the Steipler's objections (which I will yet try to clarify, G-d willing), even though he mentions very approvingly the common custom of going to a Rebbe to take the first cut along with a celebration as they do in Miron.
My impression from the Orchos Rabbenu is that the Steipler objected to making a big deal out of the upsherin and using a Rav as a barber. (I saw somewhere else that the Brisker Rav would tell parents that he is "Nit ah shearer" when they would come to him.) But he was certainly not misnagid the custom in its entirety. In fact, Taamei Minhagim mentions that waiting to cut the hair is a Chasidic custom going back to the Baal Shem and the Baal Hatanya. After seeing the Orchos Rabbenu inside, I called a rebbi of mine (a pure Litvak who lived in Yerushalayim at the time) who was very close to the Steipler's family. He confirmed my understanding and told me that he made an upshearin for his sons at three and celebrated with a modest birthday party at his father's house (the boy's grandfather). He felt that what he did was acceptable according to the Steipler's shita. My Rebbe also said, "I think I know the person it happened to". Meaning he new the individual that the Steipler chased out. It apparently was not an every day phenomena. A few times, the Steipler pointedly told people that he does not approve of them bringing their children to him for haircuts.
Please check back for my vort on Upsherin!