When Can We Get A Haircut?

The period between Pesach and Shavuot is called the Omer, a period in which tradition invites us to count the days, literally, until Shavuot. The Omer is considered a period of mourning in which some follow the mourning tradition of not cutting their hair. According to the Talmud, this is an act of mourning for Rabbi Akiva's students who died from plague at that time (Yevamot 62b). Others suggest it's a kind of folk magic - we let our hair grow so that the harvest will grow. Others still draw a connection between the Hebrew word for haircut - tisporet - and the word for counting - sefirat (haOmer).

Many of us stare in the mirror each day in lockdown, groan that we still can't visit the hairdressers for a haircut, and watch our hair - if we have it - get out of control. But not cutting our hair perhaps makes more sense this year even if it's not connected to the Omer. It could 'count' as a little ego-sacrifice, a reminder that we are not in control, that we are part of nature and subject to the realities of the natural world. In that sense it can even be an act of humility (cf. neohasid.org - Rabbi David Seidenberg).

But to reconnect with the mourning of the Omer makes just as much sense to me right now.  Not cutting our hair can be an act of mourning for lost stability, a lost sense of security about tomorrow and the next day, the loss of the possibility of touch and social warmth, the loss of friends and family, neighbours, the real people behind the numbers we see every day on TV. We have plenty of reasons to mourn - so it's OK not to cut your hair.

Brian Doyle
IJC Rabbinical Intern