Tuesday, May 09, 2017

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The Strange Case of Moving/Not Moving Lag b'Omer

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths


Lag b'Omer, the 33rd day after Passover and the 33rd day of the mitzvah of counter the Omer that follows Passover, is the hilula, the day of moving from this world to the next, of the famous Rashbi - Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai - of the Gemora and Zohar.  It's particularly noted because he said not to be sad at his passing, but to celebrate as he went to the world to come.  The traditional celebration is the lighting of bonfires.

When this celebration was a small event at the site of the rabbi's tomb in the little village of Meron, Israel, whether it fell the evening after Shabbos was irrelevant - as none of the participants would violate the Holy Sabbath.

But the custom has spread across Israel and to Jews world wide...and with literally hundreds of thousands flocking to Meron in celebration, the logistics of transportation and security mean thousands involved - many of which may not be Shabbos observant.

Now here's where it gets weird.  We, as observant Jews, do not blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana if Rosh Hashana falls on Shabbos...because (the Gemora explains) we might carry the Shofar to synagogue...violating Shabbos.  And we do not wave the Lulav and Esrog on Succot if it falls on Shabbos...as carrying them around could violate Shabbos.  So biblical holidays are modified to prevent the desecration of Shabbos.

If a fast day falls on a Friday or a Sunday, they are (for the most part) moved to not interfere with Shabbos.  And Purim, and particularly Shushan Purim for those in Jerusalem, may move as well (as described in the Mishna).  

Clearly the generalization is, if it could cause the desecration of Shabbos, we advance it or move it back to avoid Shabbos, or avoid doing it to prevent the desecration of Shabbos...even if such a possibility is minor.

In Israel with Lag b'Omer, all of these have run into a culture conflict...and so far lost (though that's changing).  The rule in Israel for national holidays is if they fall on Friday they move back to Thursday, and if they fall on Sunday they move forward to Monday...and agreement between the early state rabbi's and the national government to...prevent the desecration of Shabbos.  

The orthodox-but-not-ultra-orthdox rabbis have ruled that Lag b'Omer should be celebrated on Sunday night-Monday, to prevent the desecration of Shabbos.  Both so those not so observant don't start their bonfires early, and so that in Meron the thousands of security forces and bus drivers don't start their activities on Shabbos to prepare.  In line with this ruling, the Ministry of Education has moved the traditional Lag b'Omer school day off to Monday.

Yet the charedi-ultra-orthodox rabbis refuse to move the observance day.  Now there are a few valid reasons for this, and two ridiculous ones.  The valid reasons are... according to the mystical tradition, the day of a yartezheit (day of death) is a special day where one can connect to the soul of the departed.  In the case of a tzaddik, a righteous saintly person, it's a special day to connect with that person and in their merit raise one's prayers to higher levels and impact in heaven (particularly that the burial site).  And while this is a point, the same points apply to blowing shofar on Shabbos Rosh Hashana and waving lulav on Succot - and the Gemora clearly instructs us to protect Shabbos over gaining the mystical value of the mitzvah. 

The ridiculous reasons are...since moving holidays has become a practice of the State of Israel, and the Haredim don't want to be seen as following practices of the STATE of Israel, therefore when the State makes a move (to protect Shabbos) the Haredim must NOT follow the move, even though it's to protect Shabbos.  And because those who would care about the mystical value are Shabbos observers, they're not worried about their people violating Shabbos (but they are worried about stores in Tel Aviv opening on Shabbos).

Interestingly, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem just announced he won't be lighting his bonfire in Meron until 7:00 AM Sunday morning - and the chief rabbi of Meron has announced he will be keeping the gates of the village locked until 1:00 AM.  So we see the Haredim leaning in the "move Lag b'Omer" direction.  But as a group they are not there yet.

Which is just strange...because all observant Jews agree Shabbos comes first.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

These chareidim need to wake up and not act like children because this is a 'very correct' move by the State (for a change) because Shabbos trumps all. They are cutting off their noses (so to speak)just to spite the chilonim - makes no sense. But, hopefully, little by little they will come around (as we read above) and most importantly, the chilonim will do teshuvah; then we can all have the real Torah Judaism and all do what is right in the eyes of H'.

joshinariel said...

1) please stop using the word ultra-orthodox. this is a pejorative and it has taken a massive effort on wikipedia to keep at bay.

2) to prevent hillul Shabbat for Lag B'omer in Meron, the festivities would have to be moved permanently to Wed nite, Thursday. the reason is that the police are setting up the temporary traffic deviations and manning multiple posts to supervise - a whole week beforehand.

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