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ל"ג לעמר

(L"g la-Omër; 33rd [day] to the barley-sheaf)

All Jews other than the Teimanim call this ל"ג בעמר.

ל"ג לעמר is a comparatively recent innovation, not celebrated prior to the 6th century C.E. and not explicitly mentioned prior to the 13th century C.E. (Omer, EJ, 12.1387). Of a number of explanations which have been posited, "there is, in the last resort, no unassailable determination of what actually took place on ל"ג לעמר" (Omer, EJ, 12.1388)

The most popular suggestion, lamely supposed to have derived from a no-longer-extant midrash, is that ל"ג לעמר commemorates the (nowhere mentioned) miraculous termination of a plague that killed many of Ribi Aqiva's talmidim. Jewish homilists understand this as a cryptic reference in the Talmud to the defeat of "Ribi Aqiva's soldiers" in the war with Rome (135 C.E. Omer, EJ, 12.1388) This, they claim, would account for the theme of mourning (abstention from cutting one's hair, wearing new clothes, from parties, celebrations, weddings and the like). However, this spectacularly fails to account for the central and primary theme of bonfires.

Inferred from this unfounded and lame premise, 13th century C.E. and subsequent Qabâlists conceived the popular attribution of ל"ג לעמר as the anniversary of the death of ריבי שמעון בר-יוחאי.

The celebrations of ל"ג לעמר undoubtedly obtained greater popularity as Jews adopted, in contravention of the advice of Ramb"m and however inadvertently, the Qabalist commemoration of שמעון בר-יוחאי, to whom the Qabalists—wrongly—attributed authorship of their Zohar. Gershom Sholem and other scholars have demonstrated that Qabalist claims that שמעון בר-יוחאי authored the Zohar are patently false and that most of the Zohar was composed in 13th century C.E. France by Moses de Leon (Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, p. 89 inter alia).

However, the association of ל"ג לעמר as the הלולא commemorating the death of שמעון בר-יוחאי, quite apart from any association with Qabalah or the Zohar, is also supported in נוסח בלדי, the earliest and most pristine tradition of the Teimânim—most of whom concur with Ramb"m in rejecting Qabalah. For example, during this time of year the Teimânim recite בר יוחאי נמשחת אשריך. Entirely unfounded by any documentation, homilists searching for non-pagan justification for the season's traditions have suggested that it was on ל"ג לעמר that שמעון בר-יוחאי, one of the leading fighters of the Bar-Kokhva Rebellion, emerged from hiding in Har Meiron (Omer, 12.1388). Upon his death, he was buried in his previous hiding place on Har Meiron. Notice that [a] the only "documentation" ever cited is "traditionally"; in other words, "legend has it that…" and [b] it's nearly impossible to find genuine university and scholarly articles that cite pre-medieval sources instead of "Kabbalist" and "traditional" believers.

The death of famous rabbis became celebrated as a הלולא because death, especially their death, was viewed (inferred from Hosheia 2.21-22) as a "mystical marriage" of his nëphësh with ha-Sheim.

Moreover, it wasn't until the 13th century—in Europe—that Moses de Leon wrote the Zohar, derived from the independent and earlier Teimâni work of Yitzkhâq Abuhav: the Mәnorat ha-Mâor.

The Qabalists'—Europeans'—association of שמעון בר-יוחאי with their Zohar likely derives from an earlier tradition that שמעון בר-יוחאי authored the traditions from which Abuhav derived the Menorat ha-Maor and from which, in turn, Qabalists developed their Zohar. Hence, שמעון בר-יוחאי's underlying contributions to the Menorat ha-Maor is the only suggestion which is compatible with all of the documented historical facts while corroborating the commemoration, in Nosakh Teimani, of the הלולא of שמעון בר-יוחאי on ל"ג לעמר.

In any case, beginning in the 16th — 17th centuries C.E., ל"ג לעמר as the hilula de-Ribi Shimon Bar-Yokhai have tended to center on Har Meiron, where שמעון בר-יוחאי is traditionally buried. In Renaissance times, celebrants on Har Meiron threw costly garments and money into burning oil. Since the 16th century C.E., young boys are traditionally given their first haircut on ל"ג לעמר and their locks are thrown into the bonfire. (Hi·lul·â′  de-Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, EJ, 8.495)

Origin of Mourning, 32 Days & May Bonfires Tradition

The origin of "kindling" bonfires, later associated with the Qabalist perceptions of הלולא, lacks any documented Judaic origin and seems most likely to have derived, alongside the gentiles' May Day, from the ancient Roman spring festival of Lemuria (larva), the 32 days from the last night of April until the end of May. This was the mournful commemoration "of the unhappy dead," during which the ancient Romans performed rites to exorcise the malevolent and fearful ghosts (lemures / larvae) of the dead from their homes. (The Romans believed that the spirits of the dead became demons; Lares if they were good, Lemures (Larvae) if they were bad, and Manes if it was uncertain.) It was then, the ancient Romans believed, that lemures (ghosts of the unburied dead) returned to haunt the living. To appease these spirits and to exorcise them from their homes, the Romans held Lemuria, or funeral rites, for the dead. The conclusion of this period, the 33rd day, was celebrated as a festival. On May 9, 11 & 13, the Vestals would prepare sacred mola salsa (salt cake) from the first ears of wheat of the season. Here is the connection: the Vestal Virgins were the virgin holy female priests of the Roman g*oddess Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. Their primary task was to tend the sacred fire of Vesta.

Origin of Tradition of No Weddings In May

Because of this annual exorcism of the noxious spirits of the dead, the whole month of May was rendered unlucky for marriages, whence the proverb Mense Maio malae nubent ("They wed ill who wed in May"), and thus the rush of June weddings—"because the weather is so nice"—in our own day.

Tradition of Child's First Haircut in May—Hellenist Apatouria

The third day of the Roman Lemuria was named Kureotis (young male). It was on this day that new members were received into the phratria (clan). The reason for the name may be either because it was kouroi (young males) who were introduced, or because of their custom of snipping the child's hair before the ritual.

But Apatouria was in late October. How does that relate to May? In its Christian transition and transferral from November 1 to May "All Saints Day" (later replicated back again to "Hallowed Saints Day"—and the preceding evening: Hallow-evening, shortened to Hallowe'en). The origin of the festival of All Saints–November 1– as celebrated in the West dates to 13 May 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs; the feast… has been celebrated at Rome ever since. The chosen day, 13 May, was a pagan observation of great antiquity, the culmination of three days of the Feast of the Lemures, in which the malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were propitiated.

The Christian adoption of the Roman Lemuria, May 13 of 609 (or 610) C.E., documents that the Roman Lemuria, with its Christian hybridized Lemuria-Apatouria traditions (paralleling Halloween), roughly coincided with ל"ג לעמר.

Today's Traditions

On ל"ג לעמר the traditional mourning customs of abstention (from cutting one's hair, wearing new clothes, from parties, celebrations, weddings and the like) kept during the עמר period (i.e. between Pesakh and Shavuot) are lifted only on the day following ל"ג לעמר (or on ל"ג לעמר, depending upon the tradition): haircutting is permitted and marriages are celebrated. Further restrictions are observed primarily among ultra-Orthodox.

Authentic Torâh Traditions

Folktales—typically based in pagan flirtations—aside, the scholarly view of L"g lâ-Omër begins with wa-Yiq 23.9-14:

"…When you enter hâ-Ârëtz, which I give you, and harvest its harvest; then you shall bring the Omër, the first of the harvest, to the Kohein. He shall brandish the Omër before ha-Sheim for your favor; from the morrow after the [special] Shabât the Kohein shall brandish it. You shall make, on the day you brandish the Omër, an innocent lamb yearling, for an ascension [sacrifice] to ha-Sheim. And its Minkhâh [shall be] two-tenths [of an איפה] of fine-sifted [barley] flour mixed with [olive] oil, a fire [sacrifice] for ha-Sheim; a fragrant aroma; and its beverage shall be wine, a quarter הין. Neither bread nor roasted kernels nor plump kernels [of grain] shall you eat until this self-same day, until you bring the qârbân of your Ëlohim; a khoq olâm to your generations, in all of your settlements."

Based on this, the counting is then ordained in the next two pәsuqim (15-16):

"Then you shall count for yourselves, from the morrow following the [special] Shabât, from the day you brought the Omër of the brandishing; shall be seven complete [special] Shabâtot. until the morrow following the seventh [special] Shabât, you shall count 50 days; then you shall make a new approach-sacrifice Minkhâh to ha-Sheim."

The careful student notices, however, that no significance has been associated with the particular number 33. As noted in the entry for Secondmonth 18 in the table found in The Nәtzârim Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityâhu (NHM) note 28.1.2, "the only Biblical reference to [the number] 33 describes the period of the 'blood purifying' that a woman (symbolizing Yisraeil as the Bride of ha-Sheim) remains unclean after the circumcision of her male child (viz., the Mashiakh)." Further elaboration of this explanation is found not only in NHM note 28.1.2 but also in endnote 11 to note 28.1.2.

A related concept explains the significance of 33, the relationship of 33 / ל"ג לעמר to 33 in Tan"kh, haircuts on ל"ג לעמר, the bonfires, throwing the locks into the fire and the messianic significance of Har Meiron: On the night of his last Pesakh Seider (after nightfall, ergo the 15th of Firstmonth — the "zero-th" day from which the עמר is counted), Ribi Yehoshua made a nazir vow which had a duration of 30 days (since it was not otherwise specified). Neither the day of his death, in which his vow wasn't observed the full day, nor the 3 days he was in the new tomb and considered dead, would have counted toward the 30 days to complete his vow. After leaving his new (uncontaminated) tomb, however, he resumed his nazir vow. The 15th of Secondmonth ("zero-th" day) + the 33 days of the עמר to ל"ג לעמר totals 34 days… less the 4 excluded days demonstrates that his 30 day vow concluded on ל"ג לעמר. The nazir, in conclusion of his vow, cut his hair and threw it in the fire of the mizbeiakh.

Moreover, as demonstrated in NHM (note 17.1.2), the metamorphosis of Ribi Yehoshua most certainly took place on Har Meiron, upon which the "Throne of the Mashiakh" is located—which was then already revered as a holy mountain; not on Mt. Tabor as NT commentators have maintained.

See also pâ·râsh·at′  Ë·mor′  (1995.05) on wa-Yiq 23.11.

5762 (2002.04)

As pointed out in previous years (see below), there seems to be a clear parallel between the (7+33=) 40-day purification for women after childbirth and (7+33=) 40-day purification after the birth of Yisra·eil at the Yәtziah. In previous years, the composition of the 50-day Omer has focused on explaining the numerical significance of the number 33 in ancient gimatriyah as a portion of the Biblical 40-day period of purification.

However, the resulting significance of the remaining 10 days, summing to 50, has only now been raised. Since the Biblical parallels seem to point to a purification period of 40 days, why, then, wasn't Shavuot on the 40th day instead of the 50th? What is the significance of the extra 10 days — which then parallels the Shәmitah and Yoveil (meaning "clarion," corrupted to "Jubilee")?

The significance ot the number 10 in Biblical Yisra·eil is multi-fold, each usage suggesting an amount that satisfies requirements — expressed, for examples, in the Aseret ha-Dibrot (the "10 Speakings'; corrupted to the "10 Commandments"), the minyan (quorum of 10 Jews) and ma·asrot (tithes).

Thus, the significance of the extra 10 days, in addition to 40 days of purification, is satisfaction — completion — of י--ה's requirements: Torah.

5754 (1994.04)

ל"ג לעמר (L"g la-Omer — the Teimani designation) marks a festive break in the semi-mournful period of the sәphirah (counting, of the Omer).

The popular explanation of this period of mourning, set forth, for example, in the Ency. Jud. ("Lag Ba-Omer," EJ, 10.1356-8; that it commemorates the cessation of the plague on Ribi Aqiva's men), is without factual basis. "From an unknown date during the talmudic period, the days of the Omer began to take on a character of semi-mourning; the solemnization of marriages was prohibited, then haircutting, and, later still, the use of musical instruments was banned. The mourning is normally associated with a plague said to have decimated the disciples of Ribi Aqiva, who died 'because they did not treat each other with respect' (Yev. 62b; cf. Sh. Ar., OH 493:1). But this reason for the mourning is among the many uncertainties connected with the Omer period and with ל"ג לעמר, the minor festival celebrated on its 33rd day. The Talmud alludes to the plague, but makes no mention of any commemorative mourning. This is first recorded in the eighth century. Maimonides' Mishneh Torah and the Ashkәnazi Makhzor Vitry appear unaware of its very existence.

"The origin of [ל"ג לעמר] is likewise shrouded in mystery .It is not explicitly mentioned any earlier than the 13th century. ..." (Omer, EJ, 12:1382-89).

The most popular explanation depends upon citations from documents that are "no longer extant."

No current explanation fully accounts for all of the major customs associated with ל"ג לעמר: mourning (including no marriages), no cutting or shaving of hair, the lighting of bonfires, celebrations on Har Meiron, and הלולא (alternately spelled הלולה, hilula; wedding feast, especially the marriage between heaven and earth).

Since the custom long antedates Ribi Shimon Bar-Yokhai, commemorating his death can be no more than an afterthought. "Although the Zohar does speak of Shimon's death as a הלולא, there is no recorded reference to its date earlier than that in Pәri Eitz Khayim by Khayim Bar-Yoseiph Vital (16/17th century). ..." ("Omer," EJ, 12:1388).

The sparsely celebrated custom of "children going forth with bows and arrows" may originate separately in "the English and German custom of shooting arrows at demons on May day, i.e., the day after Walpurgis Night." (Omer, EJ, 12:1389)

"There is, in the last resort, no unassailable determination of what actually took place on ל"ג לעמר; the only definite tradition is that the day is a holiday." (ibid., 1388).

If this were a Nәtzarim-originated custom, we would expect the customs of the celebration either to be given a non-Christian re-explanation (after its corruption by Christianity) or the explanation expunged leaving no explanation at all. Retrojection of a new, non-Christian explanation, would have difficulty tying together all of the customs of the celebration. This is precisely what we find, suggesting one of these two cases.

Can we reconstruct a potential Nәtzarim explanation that explains all these customs better than existing speculations?

The associated theme of mourning is Shәloshim (30), the 30-day period following a death. However, that isn't the only 30-day period in Torah. The period of a nazir vow was also normally 30-days.

Shәloshim for Ribi Yәhoshua ended five days before ל"ג לעמר (cf. NHM 28.1.2). Why the 33rd day instead of the 29th (the day following the end of Shәloshim)? Because 33 symbolizes two elements: 1) the 3 days and nights in the earth and 2) the 30-day period of the nazir vow that Ribi Yәhoshua undertook at the Pesakh Seider but could not begin until after the 3 days and nights in the earth. Thus, the 33 should be seen as 3 (days and nights in the earth) + 30 days as a nazir.

Herein is combined the themes of mourning and nazir, affecting haircutting and marriages. The widespread practice of being married on ל"ג לעמר commemorates both periods.

Why is Har Meiron central to ל"ג לעמר? Because this was the site where Ribi Yәhoshua was metamorphosed, presaging his resurrection (NHM 17:1-13).

Finally, why bonfires? The reason is twofold. "The fire of the altar came down from heaven (cf. Yoma 21b), and remained burning from the time of [Mosheh Rabeinu] until it was transferred to the [Beit ha-Miqdash ha-Rishon of Shlomoh] (Zev. 61b) and it continued to burn until the reign of [Mәnasheh] (Yalkut, Kings 187)" ("Fire," EJ, 6:1302-5).

Fire was the manifestation of the Shәkhinah, the "neighboring" of י--ה. As His agent and emissary, the Mashiakh, too, though non-divine, is a manifestation of י--ה. Fire = a symbol of the Mashiakh = a manifestation of י--ה. (Just as the candles of Shabat are only a symbol, and not to be confused with the fire in the Mәnorah of the Beit ha-Miqdash, so, too, ל"ג לעמר bonfires are only symbols, and must not be confused with the genuine holy fire of the Mizbeiakh.)

Yet, there is an even more compelling Nәtzarim explanation based in the only Biblical reference to 33 (wa-Yiqra 12.1-4). This refers to a 7-day period, followed by circumcision, and then by a 33-day period of the "blood of her purifying."

Pesakh (and the arrest) marks a spiritual birth, the Mashiakh Ben-Dawid, corresponding to the birth in wa-Yiqra 12.1-4. The initial 7 days in wa-Yiqra 12.1-4 clearly correspond to the the Seven Days of Khag ha-Matzot. This is followed by being cut off (the execution of the Mashiakh Ben-Yoseiph) — paralleling circumcision in wa-Yiqra 12.1-4. Finally, the 33-day "blood of purifying" in wa-Yiqra 12.1-4 corresponds to the 33-day period described above.

הלולא, the other remaining custom of ל"ג לעמר, culminated in the arrival of the Ruakh ha-Qodesh on Shavuot. This, too, dovetails with the theme of the sәphirah (counting) as a "spiritual preparation for Shavuot, the anniversary of the revelation on [Har Sinai]" ("Omer," EJ, 12:1387). הלולא marked the Mashiakh having wedded the realms of heaven and earth on Shavuot, or, as Ribi Yәhoshua had earlier described it, "the Realm of Elohim has come" (NHM 12.28-29).

This was the revolutionary message that changed both Judaism and the world forever. Previously, Judaism understood solely that the Creator was infinitely distant from man, an unbridgeable chasm spanned only by tәphilah. Ribi Yәhoshua's revolutionary message, that changed even mainstream Judaism 180° to what it is today (as is demonstrated by the chronology of the documentation of this revolutionary reorientation), was that the Creator wasn't infinitely distant from the Torah-observant Jew (and geirim) as had always been taught to that time in Judaism but, rather, the Creator is within the heart of every Torah-observant Jew (and geirim)!!!

All of these are symbolized by ל"ג לעמר (taken from NHM 28.1.2), the only comprehensive explanation of this ancient holy day.

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