Lag Ba’Omer – a Jewish holiday
Lag Ba’Omer is Hebrew for “33rd day in the Omer (sheaves of wheat)”. Counting 33 days after the Pesach/Passover (Easter) holiday and 33 days before the Shavuot (Pentecost) holiday.
This day marks the celebration of the anniversary of death of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, a Mishnaic sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century CE/AD There are several well-known customs and practices on Lag Ba’Omer, including the lighting of bonfires, pilgrimage to the tomb of Bar Yochai in the northern Galilee town of Meron, and various customs at the tomb itself.
The origins of Lag Ba’Omer as a minor festival are unclear. The date is mentioned explicitly for the first time in the 13th century in a Talmudic passage that states that during the time of Rabbi Akiva, 24,000 of his students died from a divinely-sent plague during the counting of the Omer. The Talmud goes on to say that this was because they did not show proper respect to one another. After the death of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students, he was left with only five students, among them Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai. The latter went on to become the greatest teacher of Torah in his generation, and is purported to have authored the Zohar, a landmark text of Jewish mysticism. The Zohar calls the day of Bar-Yochai’s death a hillula (great celebration).
While the “Counting of the Omer” period is a semi-mourning period, all restrictions of mourning are lifted on this 33rd day of the Omer (Sefaradic custom the day after). As a result, weddings, parties, listening to music, and haircuts are commonly scheduled to coincide with this day. Families go on picnics and outings. Children go out to the fields with their teachers with bows and rubber-tipped arrows.The most well-known custom of Lag Ba’Omer is the lighting of bonfires throughout Israel and worldwide wherever Jews can be found.
In Meron, the burial place of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai 200-300 thousand Jews gather throughout the night and day to celebrate with bonfires, torches, song and feasting ( many come weeks or days earlier). This was a specific request by the Rabbi of his students.
It is customary at the Meron celebrations that three-year-old boys be given their first haircuts (called chalakah).
In modern Israel, early Zionists redefined Lag Ba’Omer from a rabbinic-oriented celebration to a commemoration of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire (132–136 CE). In modern Israel, Lag Ba’Omer is “a symbol for the fighting Jewish spirit”. The Palmach division of the Haganah was established on Lag Ba’Omer 1941, and the government order creating the Israel Defense Forces was issued on Lag BaOmer 1948 just a couple of days after the declaration of Independence was signed. Beginning in 2004, the Israeli government designated Lag Ba’Omer as the day for saluting the IDF reserves.
In the he coming years Lag Ba’Omer holidays will be celebrated on – May 25 2016, May 14 2017 and May 3 2018.
This years festival in Meron (aerial pictures by Amnon Ziv) – except for the large amount of push-and-shove, the traffic jams and all the smoke it was great fun.
Want to participate in the “hillulah” ? Join me in a tour of Israel with me as your Israel Private Tour Guide.