Sefirah and LagBaOmer Part III

To recap here is a general timeline of the development of the mourning customs during the days of Sefiras HaOmer: Some time during the first century CE Rabbi Akiva’s students all die during a period between Passover and Shavous Sixth Century The talmud records the story as an example of Rabbi Akiva’s teaching that if you taught students when you were young, you should teach…

Jewish Mourning Customs Between Passover and Shavous

Before dissecting it, let’s first lay out what the accepted modern-day understanding of the origins of Sefira and Lag BaOmer customs are according to the classical Jewish sources. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim siman 493) says: נוהגים שלא לישא אשה בין פסח לעצרת עד ל”ג בעומר מפני שבאותו זמן מתו תלמידי ר’ עקיבא אבל לארס ולקדש שפיר דמי ונשואין נמי מי שקפץ וכנס אין עונשין…

Haircuts, Bonfires and Weddings: Lag BaOmer and the customs of Sefira

It is customary for all Jews to observe some customs of mourning during the days of Sefiras HaOmer – between Pesach and Shavous – and to have a festive day on either the 33rd day of the Omer – or for Sephardim the 34th. These customs are binding for all observant Jews as codified in the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch etc. That said, it…

Superstitions & Divinations: Parshas Shoftim

Being Whole-hearted Due to the sometimes long quotes and nuanced subject matter, this can make for somewhat of a longer read. As such, I have supplied synopsis sections conspicuously labled TL;DR, so if you’d rather just rely on my summaries, or find your eyes glazing over – skip to there. As always, all the translations are my own (except for the ones with thou and…

Parshas Re’eh: Mourning and Self Flagellation

בנים אתם לה’ אלהיכם לא תתגדדו ולא תשימו קרחה בין עיניכם למת “You are children of the Lord, your God. You shall neither cut yourselves nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead” Deuteronomy 14:1 The concept of cutting oneself as an act of mourning is very foreign to the sensibilities of us modern-day westerners, but is surprisingly common among many unrelated pagan…

Hoshana Rabbah – Why We Thrash – Part II

For those unfamiliar with the general practice of Hoshana Rabbah we will not get overly involved in the minutiae of the Jewish ritualistic law that surrounds it. Here is what you need to know: On all days of Sukkos all Jews circle the “bima” (place where the Torah is read from) once with the four species. On the last day this is done in a prolonged…

Hoshana Rabbah: Why We Thrash Part I

The Prequel Almost a year ago Sukkos time, I contacted a friend of mine, by the name of Reuven Chaim Klien, the esteemed author of Loshon HaKodesh: History, Holiness & Hebrew, to ask him whether he had ever heard of a pagan origin of the Jewish custom to thrash willow branches on the ground at the end of the services on the last day of…