Lag B’Omer in Israel

Filed in Judaism by on 17/04/2013 0 Comments
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Lag B’Omer

No sooner is Passover (Pesach) ended in Israel then, all over the country, the children of Israel begin hunting for old wood, fallen trees and other thrown out wooden items. Everywhere you go you will see bands of children hauling off old wood; a yearly ritual to store wood in preparation for making bonfires for the holiday of Lag B’Omer. This holiday falls on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer which, this year, is Sunday, April 28, 2013.

Bonfire, Lag B'Omer

Bonfire (Photo: Yonah baby, CC BY-SA 3.0)

There is a Torah commandment that Jews must count the Omer for 49 days until the festival of Shavuot (weeks or Pentecost) when the Law was given, Matan Torah. The Omer was a sheath of barley which ripened at Passover and was offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. Barley called seura in Hebrew is one of the seven native species of the land of Israel mentioned in the Tanach (Bible). Hiking around Israel one can easily recognize the wild barley with its long hairs.

Counting the Omer

The first 33 days of the counting of the Omer are a time of semi-mourning. No weddings are performed, no dance music is played and religious Jews do not shave or cut their hair in remembrance of a terrible plague that took the lives of thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva. This famous rabbi lived in the Talmudic period over 2000 years ago and was the main rabbi behind the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans 132-135 CE. Miraculously, on the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, the plague stopped killing his students, and so this day was then called Lag B’Omer. To signal that the plague had ended bonfires were lit on the tops of mountains, so that the people knew that they were no longer in danger. A bonfire was lit. People on the adjoining mountains who saw the fire would in turn lit bonfires that were seen by men on adjoining mountains and this continued until the entire land knew that the plague had ended. The word Lag is made up of the Hebrew letters Lamed and Gimmel which represents the number 33.

Wild Barley, Lag B'Omer in Israel

Today in Israel the majority of Israelis celebrate Lag B’Omer by making bonfires, roasting potatoes and marshmallows, singing and celebrating. Some stay up all night around the fires. Many communities and neighborhoods have one single large bonfire with live performances in an attempt to keep air pollution down and to discourage the hazardous lighting of countless small bonfires.

Lag B’Omer is also believed to have been the day of the burial of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a student of Rabbi Akiva who hid in a cave with his son for 13 years from the persecuting Romans and is believed to be the author of the Zohar. Many Jews go up to Meron near Tzfat (Safed) where he and his son are buried for a celebration called a hallula on Lag B’Omer. People camp out there overnight and participate in a lot of festive singing, dancing, lighting torches and roasting meat over open fires. On Lag B’Omer there are also parades mainly organized by Chabad.

Did You Know?

  • Historically, in modern Israel, the Palmach was established on Lag B’Omer in 1941.
  • The order from the government to establish the Israel Defense  Forces (IDF) was issued on Lag B’Omer in 1948.
  • Also, Lag B’Omer is the day that the government salutes the IDF reserves.



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