Volume 29 Number 80
                 Produced: Fri Sep 10  6:22:23 US/Eastern 1999

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Cutting Boys' Hair from the Age of 3
         [Carl M. Sherer]
Disabled children
         [Rise Goldstein]
Pshat vs. Teitch (translation) (2)
         [Eli Clark, Joseph Geretz]


From: Carl M. Sherer <csherer@...>
Date: Thu, 2 Sep 1999 11:30:34 +0300
Subject: Cutting Boys' Hair from the Age of 3

Neil Saffer writes:

> In South Africa, and other parts of the world, it is customary to allow
> a boy's hair to grow, uncut, until the age of 3. At this time, it is cut
> in a small and happy ceremony, where the boy is presented with his first
> pair of tzitzis and kippah. While I have heard some lovely explanations
> for this and view it as a chinuch landmark in the child's life, I have
> never seen a source for this minhag. Does anyone know where it
> originated and have a source for its continued practise? Any other
> insights into this minhag would be greatly appreciated (we are cutting
> my son's hair, B"H, in a week and I would love to have something half
> decent to say :-) )

Mazal Tov! 

I am pasting a post I did on this topic in December 1995 (v.22 #33). 
I think others may have responded at that time as well. 

According to the book "Yalkut Hatisporet" (the Haircut Briefcase?)  by
R. Yosef Yitzchak Serebriansky(?) "[I]t is not clear when exactly they
started giving children their first haircut at the age of three.  The
first testimony regarding this custom is from what the Ari za"l did with
his son's haircut, and in the words of the book Shaar HaKavanos (the
Gate of Intentions) (Matter of Pesach, Drush 12) of... Rav Chaim Vitale
[his] student. The matter of this custom which Israel has to go on Lag
BaOmer to the graves of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Elazar
who are buried in Meron as is known, and they eat and drink and are
happy there, I saw my Rebbe z"l go there once on Lag BaOmer with all his
family and sit there for the first three days of that week and this was
one time when he came from Egypt, but I do not know if he was then
expert in this remarkable wisdom which he later received and Rabbi
Yonasan Shagish told me that the year before I went to learn with my
Rebbe z"l, that he took his small son there with all of his family and
there they cut his hair in accordance with the known custom and they
made a party there... and I wrote all this to show that there is a
source for this custom which is mentioned.'"

He also goes on to quote the Taamei HaMinhagim (who refers to it as a
custom dating from the times of the Rishonim, a response of the Radvaz
(Section 2 Number 608 - which is significant in part because it talks
about making the haircut at grave of Shmuel HaNavi (Samuel the Prophet)
and not at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai), and the reason given
by another poster relating to Orla in trees which is based on a
comparison between the laws of Orla and the laws of shaving the head in
the Yerushalmi in Peah 1,4 (see also the Ritva in the first chapter of
Shvuos who makes the same comparison)."

Carl M. Sherer
Please daven and learn for a Refuah Shleima for my son, 
Baruch Yosef ben Adina Batya among the sick of Israel. 
Thank you very much.


From: Rise Goldstein <Rbg29861@...>
Date: Mon, 6 Sep 1999 11:58:07 EDT
Subject: Re:  Disabled children

Freda B. Birnbaum wrote:  

>  "Traditional beliefs about disability are not always negative.  For
>  example, studies from northern Mexico and Botswana report that the birth
>  of a disabled child is viewed as evidence of God's trust in specific
>  parents' ability to care well for a delicate child."
While I'm no student of Catholic theology or sociology, I've heard similar 
sentiments expressed by devout Catholics.

>  I have a feeling that I've seen similar sentiments expressed
>  occasionally in frum circles, but have no sources for this.  Does anyone
>  have any idea where this could be pursued? 

I don't but would also be interested if anybody else does.

>  Sadly, I've also seen in frum circles a hesitation to deal with this
>  situation openly, I suspect partly because of the anxiety about how
>  the disabled person will affect siblings' "shidduch prospects".  I'd 
>  welcome any information anyone has on this.

I've seen it as well, both personally and in my professional capacity as
a psychiatric epidemiologist and mental health services researcher.  I
make no claim to have conducted a scientifically sound epidemiologic
study of this issue.  Nevertheless, I have noted an irony in my small
and nonrepresentative sample.  Specifically, the families in which
shidduch-related stigma associated with a disabled child seems to be the
most powerful also tend to be among the ones who, from a purely
statistical point of view, are most likely to "contribute to the
problem."  That is, they tend to be largest, as well as to have several
children born at the extreme end of the mother's reproductive years
(45+).  I say this not, per se, to judge the reproductive behavior of
the observant world.  However, at that stage of the game, the combined
effects of grand multiparity and late maternal (and possibly paternal)
age substantially increase the risk of disability in the offspring.

Rise Goldstein (<Rbg29861@...>)
Silver Spring, MD


From: Eli Clark <clarke@...>
Date: Wed, 1 Sep 1999 14:05:00 -0400
Subject: Pshat vs. Teitch (translation)

Joseph Geretz <jgeretz@...> has done a laudable job of clarifying
his position.  However, I still disagree with him.  Strongly.  And his
lengthy clarification entails a correspondingly lengthy reply.  For this
I apologize.

He writes:
> I'd also like to emphasize that disregarding of
>literal translation in certain cases should not be understood as
>disregarding the literal words in the original Lashon Kodesh.

I think we part company here.  The literal words of the Torah have a
meaning that is rendered by a literal translation.  I am not convinced
by your attempt to drive a wedge between literal meaing and literal
translation.  Words can have a figurative meaning, of course, and many
idiomatic phrases fall into that category.  But unless you follow the
approach of Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass ("Words mean what
I say they mean"), a literal translation of Hebrew (or any other
language) indeed provides one with the literal meaning.

>However *sometimes* there is no value to the translation, since it runs
>contrary to meaning.

This is a statement of opinion, not fact.  And it is not an opinion I
share.  I think that literal translation always has value, although it
may not capture the full meaning of the original.  Moreover, even where
the literal translation does not convey the full sense of the original,
I think that rarely, if ever, does it "run contrary" to meaning.

>Remember, the Torah was written in Lashon Kodesh which is
>not just another language.

I am going to disagree here as well, qualifiedly. The special status of
the words of the Torah do not derive from the fact that they are Hebrew,
but that they are devar Hashem.  Many Rishonim wrote secular poetry in
Hebrew; this poetry does not have any special status because it is
written in lashon ha-kodesh.

> Translation is for the convenience of those who do not understand the
>Lashon Kodesh and inevitably much, if not most, meaning is lost when
>Lashon Kodesh is translated into another language (I'll provide an
>example below).

No need for examples.  Much meaning is lost whenever one translates from
one language to another.  This is not unique to Hebrew.

>However, there are some cases where the translation runs contrary to
>the meaning of the Pasuk. *In these cases*, I do not find value to the

I have already taken issue with your suggestion that the literal
translation sometimes contradicts the "meaning."  In my view, the
literal translation is always one level of the meaning and therefore
always has value.

>If you read my initial response you will see quite clearly that two
>possible scenarios are presented. 1) The literal translation alone *is
>sufficient* to give us a proper understanding. 2) The literal
>translation alone *is not sufficient* to give us a proper
>understanding. <snip> The main thrust of my response was that,
>unless one is well versed in the complete Oral Torah as transmitted from
>Sinai, it would behoove one to check with the commentaries in all cases
>to ensure that one does not fall into an error which is possible in
>scenario #2.

The value of consulting the commentaries is in order to broaden one's
perspective and appreciate how the traditional commentators interpreted
the Torah.  This benefit applies to every pasuk (verse).  However, as a
general rule, the purpose of studying the commentaries is not to protect
one from "error" in interpretation or translation.

>As I mentioned earlier, Lashon Kodesh is far superior to other
>languages.  Lashon Kodesh is filled with meaning and G-d's intent.

This is a mystical view that is by no means universally held.

>Translation to other languages inevitable loses these meanings and
>*most* of the meaning of the Lashon Kodesh is lost. All sorts of
>Gematriot (meaning in numerical values), S'muchot (meanings derived
>from juxtaposition) and all sorts of other Drashot which can be applied
>against and derived from the original Lashon Kodesh are lost when

You are confusing different things.  Gematriot need not be restricted to
Hebrew.  One can assign numerical values to English letters and create
codes or play word games.  Derashot and semuhot are methods of
interpretation that are applied strictly to Torah (and, sometimes, other
kitvei kodesh [scriptures]).  This methods of interpretation were
themselves received at Sinai and are not applicable to everything
written in the Hebrew language.

>Let's return to the phrase Ayin Tachas Ayin. The word Tachas can also
>mean under or beneath. Imagine the Aleph Bet arranged vertically, rather
>than horizontally. Bet is under Aleph, Gimmel is under Bet, etc. Examine
>the letters of the word Ayin - Ayin, Yod, and Nun and select from the
>vertical Aleph Bet, each letter which is under (Tachas) each letter from
>the word Ayin. You will select the letters Phey, Chaf and
>Samach. Rearrange these letters to spell Kesef - money! Ayin Tachas Ayin
>= Kesef - These are the words of Elokim Chaim. This meaning vanishes

I am sorry.  The above is wordplay, not meaning.

>when translated as "an eye for an eye" and all you are left with is a
>brutal paganistic approach which runs completely contrary to Jewish
>philosophy and Halacha.

But not contrary to the literal meaning.

> In my opinion, there is no value to this simplistic *translation*.

An opinion I simply do not share.

>Take a look at Shir HaShirim. (If you remember, that's what started
>this whole topic.) Take a look at Artscroll's translation of Shir
>HaShirim.  The literal translation of the words is so far afield of
>Shlomo HaMelech's meaning that Artscroll doesn't even present a word by
>word translation, rather they translate each Pasuk according to Rashi's

Interestingly, what you perceive as a model for your perspective, I have
always seen as one of the less judicious decisons made by Artscroll.
Hazal teach us that Shir ha-Shirim is an allegory about the love between
God and the Jewish people.  The fact that our relationship with Hashem
can be aptly described in the emotional, ever-fluctuating rhythms of
romance between a young man and woman is a powerful lesson.  But this
lesson is obscured by Artscroll's insertion of midrashic interpretation
into the English "translation."  Note too that Artscroll's commentary
does include the literal English translation in parentheses.

>How about if your 6th grader came home before Pesach, with Shir HaShirim
>translated as a lewd love song (Chas V'Shalom)?

What you describe is a failure to understand what the book is about, not
a failure to understand what the words mean.  To take an example from,
le-havdil, secular literature: many works of fiction may be interpreted
on a symbolic or metaphorical level, say, Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
If I fail to appreciate the symbolism of the author, I may have
misunderstood the point of the work.  But I have not erred in
understanding the meaning of the author's words.

>In the past, certain groups have accepted simple *translation* in
>preference to *meaning* as defined by the transmitters of our Oral
>Mesorah. The Tzedukkim, Baisosim

the word is Baytusim (from the Greek Boethus)

>and Karaites knocked each others' eyes out, sat in the dark on Shabbos
>and wore Tephillin over the bridges of their noses according to literal

This has almost nothing to do with our topic.  No one here is suggesting
that we disregard the halakhah, only that we not disregard the literal
translation of the words of the Torah.  When Rashbam interprets the
pesukim in Mishpatim (Ex. 22), he does not follow the midrash halakhah
upon which are based the laws of arba'ah shomerim (four kinds of
bailees).  Do you think he never learned Perek ha-Mafkid or the seventh
perek of Shevu'ot (Talmudic chapters relating to bailees)?  Halilah!
Neverthless, he evidently saw value in a literal translation of the
verses different from that of the midrash halakahah.  So too one can
comfortably translate "bein enekha" literally as between your eyes,
while placing one's tefillin shel rosh squarely above the hairline.

Ketivah va-hatimah tovah,

Eli Clark

From: Joseph Geretz <jgeretz@...>
Date: Mon, 6 Sep 1999 12:33:36 -0400
Subject: Pshat vs. Teitch (translation)

Ellen Krischer wrote:
> I don't mind schools teaching Bichsav (what is written) and B'Al Peh
> (what is oral) but I think it is crucial for the children to be taught
> that there is a DIFFERENCE between the two.

Granted, there is a difference between the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.
Obviously, G-d in his infinite wisdom decided that certain elements of our
holy tradition be written in TaNaCh, while a larger amount should be left
unwritten, and transmitted orally from generation to generation. (The
subsequent decision of later generations to codify the Oral Torah in the
form of the Mishna and then the Talmud was based on necessity and not

To my mind though, the greater emphasis should be placed on the SYNTHESIS
of Torah SheBiChsav (the Written Torah) with Torah SheB'Al Peh (the Oral

And just a quick reply to your remark regarding mature love, although
perhaps this should spin off as a separate topic.

Ellen Krischer wrote:
> (And since when is mature love always "lewd"?)

Mature love is never lewd. However the *publicization* of (so-called mature)
love (e.g. movies, love songs, etc.) is always lewd. Actually, it is the
publicization which removes the maturity, resulting in simple lewdness.
Mature love is by definition private.

Kol Tuv
Kesiva V'Chasima Tova,

Yossi Geretz


End of Volume 29 Issue 80