Contact Us

Why So Many Customs of When to Mourn During the Omer?

Why So Many Customs of When to Mourn During the Omer?

 Email

Some people don’t make weddings or listen to music between Passover and Lag BaOmer, while others don’t do so between Rosh Chodesh Iyar and Shavuot. Some get haircuts on Lag BaOmer, and others do not. Why so many customs? How did it all develop?

Reply

Let’s begin with the original quote from the Talmud that is the source of this mourning period:

It was said that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples from Gabbatha to Antipatris; all of them died at the same time because they did not treat each other with respect . . . All of them died between Passover and Shavuot . . .1

The Talmud only mentions the the general timeframe “between Passover and Shavuot.”

So where do all the other customs enter the picture?

Until the 34th Day of the Omer

There is an alternative version of the text2 which states that the students passed away from Passover until peros haAtzeret, which roughly translates as "until part of Shavuot." From elsewhere in the Talmud, we understand the term peros to denote a period of 15 days before a holiday.3 Thus, the Talmud is telling us that the students stopped dying 15 days short of Shavuot.4

This would mean that the last day of death—and therefore the last day of mourning—would be on the 34th day of the Omer (49-15=34).

There is a concept regarding Jewish mourning that “a part of the day is like the whole day.” (This is the reason why a shivah mourning period ends the morning of the seventh day).5 Thus, while one would still practice the mourning customs for part of the day (e.g., the eve of the 34th of the Omer), he could get a haircut during the daytime of the 34th.6

This is the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Caro and is the prevailing practice amongst Sephardic communities.

Until the 33rd Day of the Omer

Many cite a Midrash that Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped dying on the 33rd day of the Omer (Lag BaOmer), and therefore they stop mourning on this day.7 (They understand peros haAtzeret to begin one day earlier.8)

That seems simple enough, but others explain that the 33 days of death were not consecutive.9 Based on this, there are different ways of calculating the 33 days of mourning.

The Tachanun Factor

Rabbi Yaakov ben Moshe Moelin, the Maharil, cites a tradition10 that the students did not die on joyous days on which Tachanun (penitential prayer) is omitted from the daily prayer service. Thus, we exclude the seven days of Passover, the six11 remaining Shabbat days of the seven-week period, the two days of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, and the one day of Rosh Chodesh Sivan, which makes a total of 16 days. Thus, the plague raged for only 33 days (49-16=33), but lasted throughout the entire period between Passover and Shavuot.12 13

In practice, while many mourn for 33 days, there are different customs as to which 33 days to mourn.

According to Rabbi Moses Isserlis (the Rama), since the custom is not to recite Tachanun the entire month of Nissan, the 33-day mourning period begins on the 2nd of Iyar and continues until Shavuot.14

Alternatively, some include the days of Rosh Chodesh (i.e., two days Rosh Chodesh Iyar and one day of Rosh Chodesh Sivan) in the mourning period, and stop at the three preparatory days before the holiday of Shavuot.15

Based on these customs, Lag BaOmer would be included in the 33-day count (even though Tachanun is not recited that day), so one would not get a haircut on the eve of Lag BaOmer, following the dictum “a partial day is like a whole day.” However, festivities are still allowed on Lag B’Omer to mark the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.16

The Whole Omer

There are those who mourn the whole Omer period, beginning on the day after Passover, up until (but not including) the day before Shavuot. This follows the simple reading of the Talmud, which states that the students passed away between Passover and Shavuot.17

It’s interesting to note, however, that most who have the custom to mourn the whole Omer do not do so based on this explanation. Rather, they follow the opinion that the students passed away over 33 days, but since it’s not clear when those 33 days are, they accommodate all opinions by mourning from after Passover until close to Shavuot.18 This is the Chabad practice.

Note that although the chart shows the days of Passover included in the days of mourning to follow the opinion of the Beit Yosef, in practice, in honor of the holiday, many have the custom not to start the actual mourning until after Passover.19

Haircuts

Depending on one’s custom of when to mourn, one would refrain from getting haircuts on those days. However, based on Kabbalistic teachings of the Arizal, many refrain from getting haircuts throughout the entire Omer period, up until the day before Shavuot.20 Thus, for example, while the Chabad practice is to hold weddings on the three days prior to Shavuot, we refrain however from getting haircuts until the day prior to Shavuot.21

Why the varying customs?

Interestingly, some explain that the reason why different communities emphasized different customs is based on the many subsequent tragedies that took place during the Omer period (starting with the Crusades and the Chmielnicki massacres, and continuing all the way to the Holocaust). Thus, for example, communities that experienced tragedies in the latter half of the Omer emphasized and followed the custom to mourn during that time.22

Reversal

May it be G‑d’s will that these days soon regain their original status, marking only our anticipation for the G‑dly revelation at Sinai. Amen.

Footnotes
1.
Talmud, Yevamot 62b.
2.
Others cite it as a Midrash. See Beit Yosef on Tur, Orach Chaim 493.
3.
Talmud, Bechorot 48a.
4.
Sefer Hamanhig, Hilchot Erusin V’Nesuin 105; Abudraham, p. 245; R’ Yehoshua ibn Shuaib, exegesis for first day of Passover; Beit Yosef and Bach on Tur, Orach Chaim 493.
5.
See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 395:1.
6.
Beit Yosef and Bach on Tur, Orach Chaim 493; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 493:2.
7.
See Tosfot Rabeinu Preretz and the Meiri (quoting the Geonim) on Talmud, Yevamot 62b.
8.
See Sefer Hamanhig, Hilchot Erusin V’Nesuin 105; Abudraham, p. 245.
9.
See Magen Avraham, Taz and Gra on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 493:3; see also Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 493:5.
10.
Sometimes cited as a Midrash; see Bach on Tur, Orach Chaim 493.
11.
There is always at least one Shabbat during Passover, so we only subtract six. See Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim 493.
12.
See Maharil, minhagim, laws between Passover and Shavuot 7; Beit Yosef and Bach on Tur, Orach Chaim 493; Ibn Shuaib, exegesis for first day of Passover.
13.
Additionally some seem to include Lag BaOmer in the days that Tachnun isn’t recited and the students didn’t die.This seems to be the simple reading of the Maharil. This may also answer the question asked by many (see Bach on Orach Chaim 493) on the Maharil’s calculation in which he seems to subtract an extra Shabbat as he counts seven (see fn. 11). See also Derisha on Tur, Orach Chaim 493:1.
14.
See Rama in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 473:3 and Magen Avraham ad loc. See also Bach on Tur, Orach Chaim 493.
15.
See Darkei Moshe 3 on Tur, Orach Chaim 473; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 473:3 and Magen Avraham ad loc. See also Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 473:6.
16.
See Netei Gavriel, Pesach, vol. 3, 53:2.
17.
Rabbi Natrunai Gaon, Halachot Pesukot Min HaGeonim 97; Rabbi Hai Gaon in Otzar HaGeonim 328.
18.
See, for example, Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 493: 5-7, where it only mentions the option of being stringent to follow both the earlier and later timeframes but makes no mention of the opinion that the mourning period actually spans the entire Omer.
19.
See Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 467:65, and Piskei Teshuvot 493:6.
20.
Iggeret Haramaz 2, cited in Shaarei Teshuvah on Orach Chaim 493; Kaf Hachaim, Orach Chaim 493:13.
21.
Following the Arizal, Chabad custom in general is to refrain from getting a haircut on Lag BaOmer as well (unless it’s an upsherenish). However, there were times that the Lubavitcher Rebbe did get a haircut on Lag BaOmer; see Otzar Minhagei Chabad, Nissan, p. 283.
22.
See Otzar Kol Minhagei Yeshurun, p. 31; Aruch Hashulchan 493:1; see also Taz on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 493:3.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Start a Discussion
1000 characters remaining