March 28, 2020 ~ Sh VAYIQRA. M RAST

Sefirat Ha'Omer - ספירת העומר

Yom HaShoah

Section Pizmon Page Song CommentaryRecordings Application
Bayat 387 311 יה אל הבט למענה Ezekiel Dweck Written during the time of the Holocaust. Shrem Manuscript I. Cabasso- Qaddish
M. Nadaf
M. Nadaf 2
I Cabasso- SA
Hoseni 429 352 שומרה מצר Ezekiel Dweck Written during Holocaust. Shrem Manuscript Leaflet Arabic

Yom Hag HaAsmaut

Section Pizmon Page Song CommentaryRecordings Application
Nahwand 299 236 כל עוד בלבב פנימה Naftali Imber Israel National Anthem. G. Shrem
G Shrem- HaTiqvah
G. Shrem
G. Shrem

Lag La'Omer

Section Pizmon Page Song CommentaryRecordings Application
Baqashot 53 61 בר יוחאי נמשחת Shimon Labi Maqam Sigah Sigah or Saba. A Z Idelsohn notes, 1923 Aharon Rahamim Hares Baqashot Manuscript, 1917 G. Shrem
G. Shrem
Ohabe Zion 1960
Beirut Version
Bayat 363 280 שובי העדי Moses Ashear Written May 26, 1940. Song in memory of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, for Lag LaOmer. Leaflet G. Shrem
I. Cabasso
G. Shrem
G. Shrem
Hoseni 424 345 אוחיל יום יום אני דוד בר אהרן בר חסין חזק Maqam Kourd Original older version of the song; written by R' David Hassin chiefly about Tiberias and the new resettlement efforts in Israel. Talks about the holiness of the Land of Israel and its Rabbis. Attiah Manuscript Abraham Sitehon Manuscript Yabess Manuscript G. Shrem
I. Dayan (Alternate version)
G. Shrem
Saba 504 418 איש אלהים קדוש הוא Ben Ish Hai Lag LaOmer. For R' Shimon Bar Yochai. Written by the "Ben Ish Hai" of Babel in the 19th century. Song is an acrostic (Aleph Bet) and has many allusions to the life of R' Shimon. Abraham Sitehon Manuscript Fule Yanani
G. Shrem

The maqamat for the Shabbats of the Omer period according to Sassoon Manuscript #647, Aleppo, circa 1850. This tradition is not currently in practice.

By Joseph Mosseri

While studying the laws of Sefirat Ha'Omer and the customs associated with it I noticed something that I could not figure out.

It seems as if the mourning customs associated with this period are fairly recent in nature even though everyone nowadays attributes the sadness of these days to the death of the students of Ribbi Aqiba.

While following up on this fact I discovered a discrepancy in the number of students who died, how they died and when they died.

Talmoud Babli, Masekhet Yebamot 62b says that 12 thousand pairs (24,000) of students were to Ribbi Aqiba and they all died during one period because they did not treat each other with the proper respect.

Talmoud Babli, Masekhet Nedarim 54a says there were 24 thousand pairs of students (48,000).

Talmoud Babli, Masekhet Ketoubot 63a says that there were 12 thousand students (12,000).

Midrash Tanhouma (at the end of Haye Sarah) reduces the number greatly and only mentions that there were 300 students.

Midrash Rabah Qohelet chapter 11 verse 6, Ribbi Aqiba said I had 12,000 students and they all died during the period between Pesah & 'Asseret

(Shabou'ot) and when all was over 7 students remained.

Bereshit Rabah chapter 61 says Ribbi Aqiba had 12,000 students and they all died during one period because they treated each other with contempt.

Rab Sherira Gaon at the beginning of his famous letter also mentions 12,000 students.

We are left with varying opinions as to who, what, when, where, how, and why.

I haven't found any Rishonim or Aharonim who even attempt to explain or reconcile this.

As for laws and customs pertaining to mourning during the Omer period for this or any other tragedy our 3 pillars of law, namely HaRaMBaM, HaRoSH, and HaRIF are completely silent. Not a word at all on this subject.

Shoulhan Aroukh, Orah Haim, siman 493 lists certain customs that pertain to this Omer period. He does not mention that any of them are law, rather they are only customs. He does not mention who established them or where they were in vogue. The interesting thing is that almost every word he wrote in this siman is taken verbatim from the Tour.

The Tour was written by Rabbi Yaaqob Ben Asher (1268-1340) he was the son of the Rosh (Rabbi Asher Ben Yehiel) (1250-1327). Rabbi Yaaqob followed his father the Rosh from
Worms to Toledo where he was an important scholar. The Arba'ah Tourim were first printed in Piove di Sacco in 1475.

Rabbi David AbouDirham (1286-1354) who was a student of the Tour and Rabbi in
Seville. He wrote his famous work bearing his name (Sefer AbouDirham) in Seville in 1340 and it was first printed in Lisbon, 1490.

There he mentions that the custom in some places is not to get married between Pesah and Shabou'ot because during that time 12,000 pairs of Ribbi Aqiba's students died of diphtheria because they didn't treat each other with the proper respect.

At this point I'm stuck. How did this custom suddenly occur?

Was it a custom instituted by the Tour during his stint in
Spain? A custom that he may have brought over from Germany/France ? Could it be that the Jews who lived in Christian countries always had difficulty with blood libels just prior to pesah and that the troubles involved carried through Pesah and beyond with decrees and massacres throughout the 'Omer period?

As for Lag La'Omer , how that day was chosen and how it has been celebrated.... I'd love to hear from you before I continue but one thing I will say is that in the last few hundred years the night of Lag La'Omer has been celebrated with readings from the Zohar, music and singing and candle lighting ceremonies. This custom also seems to be fading out in the last couple of decades. Would anyone like to take a shot as to what is happening?

RaDBaZ, Rabbi David ben Shelomo ibn Abi Zimra (1479-1573).

Born in
Spain and moved to Israel at the time of the expulsion from Spain.

Later called to Egypt to be the Chief Rabbi there. In 1553 he moved to Jerusalem then to Safed.

In his teshoubot volume 2 item 687 he says:

That the entire month of Nissan and Rosh Hodesh Iyar are happy days when one is forbidden to eulogize or fast. He says that during those days he has his haircut and such is the custom of most of the world!

He continues to say that a minhag can not over rule a law and that the prohibition of being sad on these days specifically Rosh Hodesh Iyar is a DIN a law and therefore can not be over turned by the custom that forbids it.

He also says that the laws, the dinim, are not there for us to suffer. He compares this issue to the laws of soukot where if one is distressed by eating in the soukah he is exempt and eats inside, he continues and says that all the more so in such a case of minhag, custom, where it is difficult for people to nut cut hair for 33 days which is true suffering , as well as that custom not being universally recognized, that one can cut hair on Rosh Hodesh Iyar as well as every Friday in honor of Shabbat.

Based upon this responsa from HaRaDBaZ it's pretty clear that the custom prohibiting the cutting of hair was not as adhered to as it is in our days.

The custom regarding marriages on the other hand is first mentioned by the Geonim and seems to have been in full force even though as we stated in a previous email that Rabbi David AbouDirham also from
Spain said that it was only in effect in some places.

Most Sefaradi aharonim though wrote that for a person who as yet did not fulfill the missvah of piryah veribyah (being fruitful and multiplying) he could get married even during these days of the Omer.

As for Haircutting, it's interesting to note that we have a direct oral testimony from Hakham Yom Tob Yedid HaLevi (the last chief rabbi of Aleppo, Syria) that on Yom Isrou Hag Pesah (23 Nissan) he would go annually with his teacher (the chief rabbi of Aleppo prior to him) Hakham Mosheh Tawil HaKohen to get a haircut!

That's right they both got their haircut during these first days of the 'Omer.

When Rabbi Yedid arrived in NY he could not believe or understand the custom he saw here of no haircuts.

By the way he shaves daily during the 'Omer till this very day.

I guess that the words of the Tannaitic Megilat Taanit which refers to the entire period from Pesah until Shabou'ot as a happy season need to be restudied and re-examined. Even prior to that we know from our earliest sources that the time of Qessirat Ha'Omer and the days attached to it were always ones of joy and happiness for our nation.

I hope we see that happiness again soon.

The Tragic History of the "Omer" Season It is now the almost universal practice among traditional Jews to observe the season of counting the "Omer" as a time of sadness, by refraining from activities that are associated with gaiety and celebration. The mourning period lasts from Passover until the thirty-third day, known as La"g ba'omer.

The melancholy mood of the Omer season is usually linked to the well-known Talmudic tradition about how thousands of Rabbi Akiva's students perished between Passover and Shavu'ot. The Babylonian Talmud states that they died of a plague, though many historians discern a reference to death in battle, in the ill-fated Bar Kokhba revolt (in 135) of which Rabbi Akiva was an active supporter.

The earliest records we possess about mourning during the Omer are contained in the Responsa of the Babylonian Ge'onim, who observed the restrictions during the entire forty-nine-day period, with no respite on the thirty-third day. The only prohibitions that are enumerated in these early texts are the holding of weddings and doing work after nightfall. Not until the thirteenth century was the list augmented to include shaving and cutting the hair.

The cessation of mourning practices on La"g ba'omer is not mentioned before the twelfth century in
Spain and southern France, and the original significance of this date remains shrouded in obscurity. The shortening of the period was justified by means of an ingenious new interpretation of the Talmudic passage about the deaths of Rabbi Akiva's disciples, according to which the plague had come to a halt half a month before Shavu'ot, just after the thirty-third day of the Omer.

The new practice and its historical rationale were accepted by most of the Sephardic halakhic authorities, including the Shulh\an Arukh. It is now followed by Jewish communities throughout the world.

Examination of early texts reveals that the older practice among Ashkenazic Jews was somewhat different from its current form. Instead of excluding the last third of the Omer period from the mourning observances, the Jews of medieval Germany used to commence the mourning customs two weeks into the Omer--at the beginning of the month of Iyyar--and continued them all the way through to Shavu'ot.

The reasons for the special character of the Omer season among Ashkenazic Jews becomes evident when we survey some of their synagogue rituals. From the beginning of Iyyar they would include special liturgical poems (piyyut) in commemoration of local massacres, and a memorial prayer for the souls of martyrs was recited on the Shabbat preceding Shavu'ot. This last-mentioned prayer was the familiar "Av Harah\amin" text that we still read on most Saturdays, and it is for this reason that we recite it during the Omer season even on festive Sabbaths (such as when Rosh Hodesh is announced), although it would have been omitted on equivalent occasions at other times of the year.

In the Ashkenazic custom, the intensity of the mourning was also increased by forbidding additional activities, such as wearing new clothing, bathing for pleasure and trimming fingernails.

It is possible to identify with precision the tragic events that were being commemorated by these practices. In the year 1096, bloodthirsty bands of Crusaders marched through the
Rhine basin, mercilessly slaughtering Jewish men, women and children. The worst bloodshed occurred between the first of Iyyar and Shavu'ot. The Jewish populace of Speyer was attacked on the eighth of Iyyar, and the illustrious communities of Mainz and Köln fell to the marauders during the week preceding Shavu'ot.

It is hardly surprising that subsequent generations of Ashkenazic Jews came to focus their grief on the massacres that had occurred during that time of the year.

As always, our Jewish religious calendar maintains a living link between ourselves and the Jews of earlier eras. The rhythms of the Omer period, originating in the joys of the harvest and the associations with Passover and Shavu'ot, were transformed into monuments to national tragedy during the Bar Kokhba revolt and the Crusades. In recent times we have forged our own links to this living historical chain, by setting aside days to commemorate the momentous events of out times, the Holocaust and the sacrifices of Israel's soldiers, as well as the elation of renewed Jewish statehood and the return to Jerusalem.

(adapted from Minhagei Yisrael by Daniel Shperber)

The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 493:2) states that there is a practice to not take a haircut during the period of the Omer until Lag Ba'Omer, since that was when the students as Rabi Akiva stopped dying (as per the gemara in Yevamot 62b). He further notes that there are some people who do shave or take a hair cut on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, but that such a practice is mistaken. Ramo comments that there are some places in the Ashkenazic world where there are those who shave up until Rosh Chodesh Iyar, and only begin counting thirty-three days of mourning from that point.

The reason for these various customs stems from the deaths of the students of Rabi Akiva, who died during the period between Pesach and Shavuot. As such, it would seem that the entire seven weeks would be subject to these restrictions, and such was the practice during the time of the Geonim (see Ritz Giat and Rav Natronai Gaon), who forbade weddings during this span of time. However, Ra'avan HaYarchi (Sefer HaManhig) had a tradition that the students only died until Lag Ba'Omer, and this idea was picked up by both Abudraham and Tashbetz, ultimately being codified by the Shulchan Aruch.

The custom of not shaving during this time period is first found along with a slightly different view on how long the mourning period is supposed to be.

Rabi Yehoshua Ibn Sho'iv claims that one should not take a haircut until the thirty-fourth day of the Omer (utilizing a different interpretation of the original custom). However, invoking a well-known principle of the laws of mourning, he rules that once mourning comes on the thirty-fourth day one can shave and take a haircut, since a small fraction of the day is counted as if the entire day has passed ("miktzat ha-yom k'kulo"). Additionally, this practice of not cutting one's hair is brought down by both the Orchot Chaim and the Shibbolei HaLeket, both times in the context of the tradition that Rabi Akiva's students died for only the first thirty-three days of the Omer.

Thus, the Sephardic view codified by the Shulchan Aruch is well understood and has ample support. However, what is the source for the Ashkenazic custom put forth by Ramo? Neither the Geonim nor the Sephardic Rishonim ever considered a mourning custom that begins only at Rosh Chodesh Iyar!

It seems that the key to the practice may be found in some of the liturgy of the Ashkenazic communities of this time. As brought down by Maharam MiRutenberg, there was a practice of reciting "zulatot," lamentation poems, every Shabbat between Pesach and Shavuot, as well as saying Av HaRachamim.

The reason for this practice was as a memory for the many people killed throughout Ashkenazic lands during the Crusades (specifically the first Crusade in 1096).

With this in mind we can understand the practice from the world of Ashkenaz.

The Sefer Minhag Tov notes that people had the custom to not even cut their nails or wear new clothing during the period between Pesach and Shavuot (with Lag Ba'Omer being an exception), in memory of those who martyred themselves. These customs, along with the recitation of the aforementioned lamentations, reveal a very strong sense of mourning prevalent during these days in Ashkenaz. Indeed, the custom in these lands was to recite Av HaRachamim only during these days, and not year round as is now the prevailing custom.

The final piece of our puzzle comes from the many historical documents that we have about the Crusades and the Jewish communities who suffered at the hands of the Crusaders. From these documents we learn the exact dates when several of the most important communities in the
Rhine Valley fell - Speyers on the 8th of Iyar, Worms on the 23rd of Iyar, Magence on the 3rd of Sivan, Colon on the 6th of Sivan. As such, some of the worst disasters came only after Rosh Chodesh Iyar. Since the mourning practices connected to the students of Rabi Akiva came to be connected to the mourning for the martyrs of the Crusades, the practice developed to begin the thirty-three days of mourning at Rosh Chodesh Iyar, in order to highlight the more recent tragedy as well.