Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Upsherin, Alef-Bet, and the Childhood Navigation of Jewish Gender Identity Symbol Sets

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Amy K. Milligan


In this essay, I introduce the theoretical framework of hairlore, discussing its challenges when applied to the hair of infants and very young children. I contextualize the ritual of upsherin, reviewing its history, describing contemporary applications, and discussing variations of the practice. Finally, I offer an analysis of upsherin, considering its role in the shifting relationship between mother and son, as well as in the maintenance of a gendered Orthodox symbol set, and discuss the possibility of egalitarian parallels for young girls. I ultimately argue that upsherin is ripe for adaptation by liberal Jewish communities in its celebration of Jewish core values.


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