Ask the Rabbi

Rabbi Schochet has a Masters Degree in Jewish Studies from University College London. He authors numerous articles for newspapers, magazines and journals, and lectures extensively across the country and abroad. He served as Diary Rabbi to the Guardian Newspaper and has featured in The London Times as well as Time Magazine International. Rabbi Schochet can often be seen on television including BBC as a regular panellist for The Big Questions as well as CNN.

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Dear Rabbi

I lost my wife 16 months ago. So many questions still swirl through my head, especially whenever I watch my 11-year-old, at school plays, soon graduation from primary school and so on and I wonder to myself why her mother couldn't be here to enjoy all that as well. Is God just to deprive a young girl of her mother like that?

Gerry
Dear Gerry

I don't think God was looking to deprive your daughter of her mother. I think perhaps He was short an angel or two in heaven and needed your wife to fill the slot. In the meanwhile your daughter must know that her mother - your wife - is watching over her from above. Tell her that even though she can't hear Mom, she should talk to her, because Mom hears her. Tell her, even though she can't feel her, her Mom is reaching out and holding her in her own ethereal embrace. You see the relationship between you and your wife - or your wife and your daughter - is mainly of a spiritual nature. You cannot describe such a relationship in practical physical terms - it runs so much deeper than that. As such, even as the physical might be removed from your midst, the spiritual bond remains intact for all eternity. A wife and mother continue to function in that capacity albeit on another plane. Keep talking about her and keep her alive in your conversations. Impress upon your daughter that Mom is there at those special moments, she is smiling from above and deriving nachas in her own special and unique way. I wish you and your daughter a long life spared from any further pain and sorrow, just many smiles as and when life presents its happier moments - especially knowing that is precisely what your wife will want more than anything else for the both of you.

Dear Rabbi

I've been reading your column now for nearly ten years. How come you think you have the answers to everything?

Jerome
Dear Jerome

Well obviously you think so too if you're still reading this column after all that time. Only, what took you so long to ask that question?
For what it's worth - it's not that I think I have the answers to everything. I do have the answers to everything. Deal with it!

Dear Rabbi

What is the significance of the hair-cutting ceremony done for three-year-old boys? Is it normal to let his hair grow long for all those early years and make him look like a girl? And why is the haircut always done between Pesach and Shavuot?

Jennifer
Dear Jennifer

You're just jealous because most of those little boys have the sort of hair that many women can only dream about. Do they all look like girls? I've got photographic evidence of my three with portraits on my wall at home. One looked like he just finished a spin cycle in a washing machine. Another was a Mick Jagger look-alike, albeit much cuter, while the third would have made Shirley Temple green with envy.

A child's third birthday signals a major transition in his or her education. For the first three years of life, a child absorbs the surrounding sights and sounds and the parents' loving care. At the age of three, children's education takes a leap - they are now ready to produce and make their own special difference to their immediate surrounds. For a Jewish boy, this transition is marked with a ceremony. It is an age-old custom to allow a boy's hair to grow untouched until he's three years old. On his third Jewish birthday, friends are invited to a haircutting ceremony called an upsherin in Yiddish, or chalakah by Sephardic Jews. The child's peyote (biblically mandated side-locks) is left intact - the initiation into his first mitzvah. From this point on, a child is taught to wear a kipah and tzitzit, and is slowly trained to recite blessings and the Shema.

As haircutting is forbidden most of the days between Pesach and Shavuot, those born during that period do the ceremony on Lag B'Omer (this year April 28). As that date marks the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (author of the Zohar) many will assemble in Israel at his gravesite in Miron where a mass haircutting ceremony takes place.

(NB: There's no female equivalent of the upsherin, because the main point of the haircutting is to leave the side-locks - which a girl does not wear. Girls have their own ritual which begins at age three, traditionally that is when they start lighting a candle before the beginning of Shabbat, just as our matriarch Rebecca did when she was aged three).

Note: Shavout falls 50 days after Pesach, not 15 as stated due to an editing error in last week's column.