Lag BaOmer
A Lag BaOmer bonfire celebration in Israel, symbol of the holiday
Official nameלַ״ג בָּעוֹמֶר
TypeJewish
Significance33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, which begins the 2nd day of Pesach
Begins18th day of Iyar
Date18 Iyar
2023 dateSunset, 8 May –
nightfall, 9 May
2024 dateSunset, 25 May –
nightfall, 26 May
2025 dateSunset, 15 May –
nightfall, 16 May
2026 dateSunset, 4 May –
nightfall, 5 May
Related toPesach, Shavuot, Counting of the Omer

Lag BaOmer (Hebrew: לַ״ג בָּעוֹמֶר, LaG Bāʿōmer), also Lag B'Omer or Lag LaOmer, is a Jewish religious holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, which occurs on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar.[1]

According to some of the Rishonim, it is the day on which the plague that killed Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 disciples came to an end, and for this reason the mourning period of the Counting of the Omer concludes on Lag BaOmer in many communities.[2]

According to modern kabbalah, this day is the Hillula of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and/or the anniversary of his death. According to a late medieval tradition, Simeon ben Yochai is buried in Meron, and this association has spawned several well-known customs and practices on Lag BaOmer, including the lighting of bonfires and pilgrimages to Meron.[3]

Additionally, in modern-day Israel, the holiday also serves to commemorate the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans.[4]

Etymology

Children watch Lag BaOmer bonfire in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Main article: Counting of the Omer

Lag BaOmer is Hebrew for "33rd [day] in the Omer". The Hebrew letter ל (lamed) or "L" has the numerical value of 30 and ג (gimmel) or "G" has the numerical value of 3 (see Hebrew numerals). A vowel sound is conventionally added for pronunciation purposes.

Some Jews call this holiday Lag LaOmer, which means "33rd [day] of the Omer", as opposed to Lag BaOmer, "33rd [day] in the Omer". Lag BaOmer is the traditional method of counting by some Ashkenazi and Hasidic Jews; Lag LaOmer is the count used by Sephardi Jews. Lag LaOmer is also the name used by Yosef Karo, who was a Sepharadi, in his Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 493:2, and cf. 489:1 where BaOmer is inserted by Moses Isserles).[5] (The form Lag B'Omer ["33rd day of an Omer"] is also sometimes used, though it is not grammatically correct in this setting.)

Origins

Entrance to the tomb of Shimon bar Yochai and his son, Eleazar

The origins of Lag BaOmer as a minor festival are unclear. The earliest clear reference to the observance of Lag BaOmer is a gloss to Mahzor Vitry in BL Add MS 27,201 (f. 227r), if it is the work of Isaac ben Dorbolo. The gloss points out that Purim and Lag BaOmer always fall on the same day of the week, but says nothing about the origin of the holiday.[a] Abraham ben Nathan,[6] David ben Levi of Narbonne,[7] MS ex-Montefiore 134,[8] Levi ben Abraham ben Hayyim,[9] Joshua ibn Shuaib (citing a "midrash")[10] Menachem Meiri (citing "a tradition of the geonim"), and Judah Halawa (citing a "yerushalmi")[11] are the first to name Lag BaOmer as the day on which the plague afflicting Rabbi Akiva's students ended, although this is said to explain a previously-existing custom to allow marriages between Lag baOmer and Shavuot.[12] According to MS ex-Montefiore 134, it was traditional to let blood on Lag BaOmer in celebration.[13]

Lag Baomer is commonly said to be the day on which Shimon ben Yochai died. Neither the Chazal nor the Rishonim mention that the date of his death was Lag Baomer.[14] The source for this idea appears to be a passage by Hayyim ben Joseph Vital, which read שמחת רשב"י "the celebration of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai" but was mistakenly printed as שמת רשב"י "when Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai died" - a difference of one letter.[14] The actual origin of kabbalistic traditions of visiting Meron on any of several dates in the month of Iyar date to the Middle Ages; but it is not clear when, by whom, or in what way Lag baOmer was first connected to Shimon ben Yochai.[14]

Nachman Krochmal, a 19th-century Jewish scholar, among others, suggests that the deaths of Rabbi Akiva's students was a veiled reference to the defeat of "Akiva's soldiers" by the Romans, and that Lag BaOmer was the day on which Bar Kokhba enjoyed a brief victory.[12]

In pre-war Europe, Lag BaOmer became a special holiday for students and was called "Scholar's Day". Students were freed to engage in outdoor sports.[15]

According to another suggestion, Lag Baomer was the date on which the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem began under the Emperor Julian. With the failure of this project and the death of Julian, Lag Baomer initially became a fast day. After the Muslim conquest and the end of Christian oppression of Jews in Israel, mourning practices ceased to be observed. The choice to begin the reconstruction on the 33rd day of the omer may have been an anti-Christian polemic, as Jesus was said to have been killed at age 33.[16]

Another theory posits that the connection between Lag Baomer and Shimon Bar Yochai arose from a general pilgrimage to Mount Meron on Pesach Sheini (15th of Iyar), specifically to Hillel's cave wherein water filled up the cave's cisterns and sometimes overflowed; the natural phenomenon poorly understood then was considered miraculous and attracted Jews and Muslims alike. As Hillel's cave is close to Mount Meron it was customary for the pilgrims to stop by the graves of other holy saints on Mount Meron, among them Shimon's tomb. During the 16th century, when the Ashkenazic community came to Safed, the pilgrimage naturally moved up to Lag Baomer (3 days later), already a joyous day according to Ashekaniz custom (Rema OC 493:2), as it was believed to be the day the plague of Rabbi Akiva's students ended. As one of the latter's prominent students, Shimon's tomb ultimately became the focus of the pilgrimage.[17]

Kabbalistic significance

Lag BaOmer has another significance based on the Kabbalistic custom of assigning a Sefirah to each day and week of the Omer count. The first week corresponds to Chesed, the second week to Gevurah, etc., and similarly, the first day of each week corresponds to Chesed, the second day to Gevurah, etc. Thus, the 33rd day, which is the fifth day of the fifth week, corresponds to Hod she-be-Hod (Splendor within [the week of] Splendor). As such, Lag BaOmer represents the level of spiritual manifestation or Hod that would precede the more physical manifestation of the 49th day (Malkhut she-be-Malkhut, Kingship within [the week of] Kingship), which immediately precedes the holiday of Shavuot.[citation needed]

Customs and practices

The tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron on Lag BaOmer

While the Counting of the Omer is a semi-mourning period, all restrictions of mourning are lifted for Ashkenazim on the 33rd day of the Omer. The Sephardic custom is to cease mourning the following day, celebrations being allowed on the 34th day of the Omer, Lad BaOmer (ל״ד בעומר).[18][19] As a result, weddings, parties, listening to music, and haircuts are commonly scheduled to coincide with Lag BaOmer among Ashkenazi Jews, while Sephardi Jews hold weddings the next day.[20] It is customary mainly among Hassidim that three-year-old boys be given their first haircuts (upsherin). While haircuts may be taken anywhere, if possible, the occasion is traditionally held at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron, Israel, or at the Jerusalem grave of Shimon Hatzaddik for those who cannot travel to Meron.[21]

Families go on picnics and outings. Children go out to the fields with their teachers with bows and rubber-tipped arrows. Tachanun, the prayer for special Divine mercy on one's behalf, is not said on days with a festive character, including Lag BaOmer;[22] when God is showing one a "smiling face", so to speak, as He does especially on the holidays, there is no need to ask for special mercy.[citation needed]

Bonfires

Religious

Israeli boys collect wood for a Lag BaOmer bonfire.
A wood pile awaiting Lag BaOmer celebration

The most well-known custom of Lag BaOmer is the lighting of bonfires. The custom may originate in symbolizing the "spiritual light" brought in to the world by Simeon ben Yochai.[23] Some have speculated a connection between the bonfires of Lag BaOmer and the festivals of May Day and Beltane which are celebrated by some European cultures around halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice on 1 May, and are also celebrated through large bonfires. In Germany it is also not uncommon to see rural men go out in the woods to shoot arrows at demons on May Day, similar to how the bow and arrow is used on Lag BaOmer.[24]

Throughout the world celebrants gather on the night and during the day of Lag BaOmer to light fires. A large celebration is held at the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Eleazar in Meron, where hundreds of thousands usually celebrate with bonfires, torches, song, dancing and feasting. In 1983, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz of Boston reinstated a century-old tradition among his Hasidim to light a bonfire at the grave of Rabbi Akiva in Tiberias on Lag BaOmer night. The tradition had been abandoned due to attacks on participants. After the bonfire, the Rebbe delivered a dvar Torah, gave blessings, and distributed shirayim. Later that same night, the Rebbe cut the hair of three-year-old boys for their Upsherin.[25]

For many years, New York based Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum of Satmar discouraged bonfires, saying it was not the custom to light them outside of the Land of Israel.[26] However, when his father Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum instructed him to organize a large bonfire in the Satmar enclave of Kiryas Joel tens of thousands turned up.[27]

Zionist

For Zionists (see section below), the bonfires are said to represent the signal fires that the Bar Kokhba rebels lit on the mountaintops to relay messages,[28] or are in remembrance of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Romans, who had forbidden the kindling of fires that signalled the start of Jewish holidays.[29]

Bows and arrows

Religious

Historically, children across Israel used to go out and play with bows and arrows, reflecting the Midrashic statement that the rainbow (the sign of God's promise to never again destroy the earth with a flood; Genesis 9:11–13) was not seen during Bar Yochai's lifetime, as his merit protected the world.[23][30]

In Israel

In Israel, Lag BaOmer is a holiday for children and the various youth movements. It is also marked in the Israel Defense Forces as a week of the Gadna program (youth brigades) which were established on Lag BaOmer in 1941[dubiousdiscuss] and which bear the emblem of a bow and arrow.[28]

Parades

A Lag BaOmer parade in front of Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York, in 1987

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, encouraged Lag BaOmer parades to be held in Jewish communities around the world as a demonstration of Jewish unity and pride.[31] Chabad sponsors parades as well as rallies, bonfires and barbecues for thousands of participants around the world each year.[32]

Songs

Several traditional songs are associated with the holiday; these are sung around bonfires, at weddings, and at tishen held by Hasidic Rebbes on Lag BaOmer. The popular song "Bar Yochai" was composed by Rabbi Shimon Lavi, a 16th-century kabbalist in Tripoli, Libya, in honor of Shimon Bar Yochai.[33][34] Other songs include "Ve'Amartem Koh LeChai", a poem arranged as an alphabetical acrostic, and "Amar Rabbi Akiva".[35]

Tish meal

Most Hasidic Rebbes conduct a tish on Lag BaOmer, in addition to or instead of a bonfire. A full meal is usually served, and candles are lit. It is traditional to sing "Bar Yochai", "Ve'Amartem Koh Lechai", and "Amar Rabbi Akiva". Among the Satmar Hasidim, "Tzama Lecha Nafshi" is sung at the tish in addition to the other songs. Teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, both from the Talmud and the Zohar, are generally expounded upon by Rebbes at their tishen. In some Hasidic courts, the Rebbe may shoot a toy bow and arrow during the tish, and three-year-old boys may be brought to have a lock of hair cut by the Rebbe as part of their first haircut.[citation needed]

Rabbinic controversy

Some rabbis, namely Moses Sofer[36] and Joseph Saul Nathansohn,[37] have opposed the celebration of or the practice of certain customs observed on Lag BaOmer. These halachic scholars pointed out that the way Lag BaOmer is observed differs from the traditional manner in which anniversaries of deaths are observed, as Lag BaOmer is observed in a festive way, whereas usually a yahrtzeit is marked by observances that "bring out the solemn and serious nature of the day".[38] Other issues raised include the practice of throwing clothes into bonfires, which is perceived as wasteful, the fact that the holiday has not been celebrated by earlier sages, and the prohibition of establishing holidays. Nevertheless, these authorities did not ban the holiday.[39]

Other rabbis responded to the aforesaid opposition by explaining that it has been observed by many great rabbis and that expensive clothes are never burned. They relate what happened on the day of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's death as evidence that the day is very holy and should be celebrated.[40] This has remained the opinion of most contemporary and recent rabbis.[citation needed]

Zionism

A first-grade classroom in Tel Aviv in 1973 with holiday displays; the Lag BaOmer display showing Bar Kokhba is on the left.

In modern Israel, early Zionists redefined Lag BaOmer from a rabbinic-oriented celebration to a commemoration of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire (132–136 CE). According to work published by Yael Zerubavel of Rutgers University, a number of Lag BaOmer traditions were reinterpreted by Zionist ideologues to focus on the victory of the Bar Kokhba rebels rather than their ultimate defeat at Betar three years later. The plague that decimated Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 disciples was explained as a veiled reference to the revolt; the 33rd day when the plague ended was explained as the day of Bar Kokhba's victory. By the late 1940s, Israeli textbooks for schoolchildren painted Bar Kokhba as the hero while Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Akiva stood on the sidelines, cheering him on. This interpretation lent itself to singing and dancing around bonfires by night to celebrate Bar Kokhba's victory, and playing with bows and arrows by day to remember the actions of Bar Kokhba's rebel forces.[15]

This interpretation of the holiday reinforced the Zionist reading of Jewish history and underscored their efforts to establish an independent Jewish state. As Benjamin Lau writes in Haaretz:

This is how Lag Ba'omer became a part of the Israeli-Zionist psyche during the first years of Zionism and Israel. A clear distinction became evident between Jews and Israelis in the way the day was celebrated: The religious Jews lit torches in Rashbi's [Shimon bar Yochai's] honor and sang songs about him, while young Israelis, sitting around an alternative bonfire, sang about a hero "whom the entire nation loved" and focused on the image of a powerful hero who galloped on a lion in his charges against the Romans.[41]

In modern Israel, Lag BaOmer is "a symbol for the fighting Jewish spirit". The Palmach division of the Haganah was established on Lag BaOmer 1941,[dubiousdiscuss] and the government order creating the Israel Defense Forces was issued on Lag BaOmer 1948.[42] Beginning in 2004, the Israeli government designated Lag BaOmer as the day for saluting the IDF reserves.[43]

See also

References

  1. ^ Paralleled in MS Berlin 352, f. 11r. These texts differ only in the mnemonic; Add MS 27,201 gives שם האחד פל"ג and MS Berlin פל"ג אלהים מלא מים. Similarly, a marginal note to MS BL Or. 9153, f. 165r reads פל"ג אלהים מלא מים נוטריקון ש[ל] פל"ג הפ' פורים הל"ג ר"ל ל"ג לעו[מר] כשיבא גשם בשניהם הוא סימן [של] שובע וגם שלעולם יהיה ל"ג ל[עומר] כיום פורים. The other mnemonics listed in these sources are thematic, but only MS Or. 9153 attempts to explain פל"ג in such terms. Cf. the Manhig שמעתי בשם ר' זרחיה הלוי ז"ל מגירונדה שמצא כתוב בספר ישן הבא מספרד שמתו מפסח ועד פרוס העצרת ומאי פורסא פלגא.
  1. ^ "Lag Ba-omer - Jewish Tradition". yahadut.org. Retrieved May 15, 2024.
  2. ^ Walter (2018), p. 192.
  3. ^ Brodt, Eliezer (May 19, 2011). "A Printing Mistake and the Mysterious Origins of Rashbi's Yahrzeit". seforimblog.com. Archived from the original on May 13, 2020. Retrieved May 7, 2015.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  4. ^ Embassy of Israel to the United States, "About Israel: Holidays and Observances: Lag BaOmer," Accessed 05/06/2022.
  5. ^ "Count D'Omer". Ohr Somayach International. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  6. ^ Sefer HaManhig, Jerusalem, 1976-7 (5737), section 106, page 144, https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14615&st=&pgnum=144
  7. ^ Cited by Abraham Zacuto, Sefer Yuhasin ed. Herschell Filipowski, p. 37. According to Zacuto, Ben Levi gave a mnemonic בן י"ח לחופה for the day on which marriage could resume (cf. the medieval additions to m. Avot 5:20), corresponding to 18 Iyyar. Zacuto's contemporary, Samuel ibn Danan, "writes that he heard from his father Saadya that Samuel ibn Sunbal, a certain great rabbi of that time in Fez who had long ago died, appeared to him in a dream and spoke of Lag BaOmer, giving the mnemonic בן י"ח לחופה, and [Saadya] asked [Samuel] what he meant, and [Samuel] said to him that he was referring to the fact that 18 Iyyar is Lag BaOmer, the day on which marriage becomes permitted." (Malkhei Rabanan p. 125b)
  8. ^ #382
  9. ^ Liveyat Chen ed. Howard Kreisel, p. 404-405.
  10. ^ דרשה לפסח יום ראשון
  11. ^ Imrei Shafer (MS Paris 264) ed. Chaim Hershler, p. 224-225.
  12. ^ a b Feldman, David M. (2008). "Omer". Jewish Virtual Library. Archived from the original on December 27, 2010. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  13. ^ Mitchell First, The Mysterious Origin of Lag Ba-Omer, Hakirah 20 (2015), pp. 205-218 (available at hakirah.org)
  14. ^ a b c Brodt, Eliezer (May 19, 2011). "A Printing Mistake and the Mysterious Origins of Rashbi's Yahrzeit". seforimblog.com. Archived from the original on May 13, 2020. Retrieved May 7, 2015.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  15. ^ a b Zerubavel, Yael. "Bar Kokhba's Image in Modern Israeli Culture", in The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered: New perspectives on the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome, Peter Schäfer, ed. Mohr Siebeck, 2003, pp. 282–286. ISBN 3-16-148076-7.
  16. ^ The Byzantine Prehistory of Lag ba-Omer
  17. ^ https://forum.otzar.org/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=64355 Ariel Ephraim Aharonob, "Lag Baomer in Meron: an Historical Overview", Bnei Brak, 2024.
  18. ^ Orach Chayim 493:2.
  19. ^ Travis, Rabbi Daniel Yaakov (April 29, 2010). "Mourning's End – Understanding Sefira and Lag B'Omer". Beyond BT. Archived from the original on May 1, 2013. Retrieved May 2, 2010. Also here
  20. ^ "Lag B'Omer: A day for weddings". Jewish Wedding Network. 2009. Archived from the original on January 26, 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2005.
  21. ^ Rossoff, Dovid. "Meron on Lag B'Omer". The Jewish Magazine. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  22. ^ "Jewish Prayers: Tahanun". Jewish Virtual Library. jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  23. ^ a b Silberberg, Naftali (2008). "6 Lag BaOmer Customs and Traditions You Should Know". chabad.org. Retrieved December 5, 2011.
  24. ^ "Lag ba-Omer".
  25. ^ Horowitz, Y. F. and Morgenstern, Ashira (November 24, 2010). "Seasons: The Bostoner Rebbetzin remembers and reflects on the occasion of the first yahrtzeit of Grand Rabbi Levi Yitzchak HaLevi Horowitz, ztz"l, 18 Kislev 5771". Mishpacha, Family First supplement, p. 52.
  26. ^ "Satmar Kiryas Joel Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum Speech Against Lag BaOmer". YouTube. 1995. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  27. ^ Amdurski, Noam (May 9, 2012). "50,000 Expected at Lag Ba'omer Celebration Tonight in Kiryas Yoel". matzav.com. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
  28. ^ a b "Lag BaOmer". The Knesset. 2010. Retrieved April 3, 2014.
  29. ^ "Lag Ba'Omer". Jerusalem Municipality. May 27, 2005. Archived from the original on June 1, 2012. Retrieved December 5, 2011.
  30. ^ Prero, Rabbi Yehudah (2007). "Lag B'Omer". torah.org. Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  31. ^ "Parades in Central Israel Draw 1,000 Children". chabad.org. May 12, 2009. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  32. ^ Grodnitzky, Reuvena Leah (April 28, 2010). "From South Africa to Finland, Excitement Builds for Unity Parades". chabad.org. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
  33. ^ Goldwurm, Hersh (1989). The early acharonim: biographical sketches of the prominent early rabbinic sages and leaders from the fifteenth-seventeenth centuries. Mesorah Publications, Ltd. p. 93. ISBN 0899064884.
  34. ^ Vining, Peggy A. (2008). Galatians and First-Century Ethical Theory. p. 137. ISBN 978-0549956112.
  35. ^ Barzilai, Shmuel (2009). Chassidic ecstasy in music. Peter Lang. p. 104. ISBN 978-3631584521.
  36. ^ Responsa Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 233. Cited by Walter 2018.
  37. ^ Responsa Shoel Umeishiv, volume 5, chapter 39. Cited by Walter 2018.
  38. ^ Walter 2018, p. 195.
  39. ^ Walter 2018, p. 196.
  40. ^ Walter 2018, p. 197.
  41. ^ Lau, Benjamin (May 3, 2007). "Portion of the Week / The fires of Lag Ba'omer". Haaretz. Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  42. ^ "Lag B'Omer". Ynetnews. May 13, 2008. Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  43. ^ "Cabinet Communique". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. May 6, 2007. Retrieved December 5, 2011.

Sources