Holiday

Lag BaOmer

33rd of Omer
  • Minor Holidays
Lag BaOmer

Lag BaOmer

ל”ג בעומר

Lahg Ba-oh-mehr

“The 33rd day of the Omer count”

What is Lag BaOmer

Lag BaOmer, occurring on the 33rd day of the Omer count (the 49 days between the beginning of Passover and Shavuot), always falls on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar. It is special for two reasons: 

Lag BaOmer is the day when the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (2nd century CE) passed away. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon revealed the secrets of the Torah, known as the Kabbalah, with his students. Rabbi Shimon instructed his students to commemorate the day of his passing as “the day of my joy.” 

Lag BaOmer is also celebrated as a holiday for a second reason. Rabbi Akiva (50-135), the greatest Jewish sage of his generation, had thousands of students. One year, during the weeks immediately following Passover, thousands of his students died of a plague because they did not treat each other with the proper respect. These weeks are observed as a time of mourning by the Jewish people. However, on Lag B’Omer, the plague ended and the deaths ceased.

When is Lag BaOmer

Iyar 18

Month

Iyar

Source and Origin of Lag BaOmer

The earliest explicit mention of the Lag BaOmer observance appears in a concise statement by Rabbi Isaac ben Dorbolo, dating back to the 12th century in northern France (annotations to Machzor Vitry). The Talmudic scholar Rabbi Menachem Meiri references a Talmudic passage that recounts a divine plague claiming the lives of 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva during the Omer count. The Talmud attributes this calamity to their failure to show proper respect to one another. Meiri designates Lag B’Omer as the day when, as per a tradition from the geonim, the plague concluded (commentary on Yevamot 62b).

Lag BaOmer marks the day of Shimon bar Yochai’s death, as cited by the great kabbalist Rabbi Hayyim ben Joseph Vital.

Customs of Lag BaOmer

  • A Time for Weddings – Despite the semi-mourning period associated with the Counting of the Omer, all mourning restrictions are lifted on the 33rd day. Consequently, Lag BaOmer becomes a time for weddings, parties, music, and haircuts, all coinciding with the newfound freedom from mourning rules.
  • Special Haircuts – A customary practice, particularly among Hassidic Jews, involves giving three-year-old boys their first haircuts, known as an upsherin. While these haircuts can occur anywhere, the tradition is often observed at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron, Israel.
  • Picnics and Outings – Families embrace the festive spirit with picnics and outings, during which children, accompanied by their teachers, explore fields equipped with bows and rubber-tipped arrows.
  • Bonfires – The most renowned Lag BaOmer custom is the lighting of bonfires, thought to symbolize the “spiritual light” brought into the world by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Worldwide, celebrants gather on the night and day of Lag BaOmer for fire-lighting ceremonies.
  • Pilgrimage to Meron – Notably, a grand celebration takes place at the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Rabbi Eleazar in Meron, a small town in northern Israel, attracting hundreds of thousands who partake in festivities involving bonfires, torches, song, dance, and feasting.

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