Why Do We Mourn During the Weeks of the Omer Count?

In remembrance of the tragic death of the 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva who died in a plague in the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, several mourning practices are observed during this period.

When Are the Mourning Practices Observed?

The mourning practices of the Omer period are observed beginning on the day after Passover, up until (but not including) the day before Shavuot. There is one day, however, within this period on which mourning is suspended—Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the Omer count. This is the custom according to the Ari (master Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria), and the one followed by the Chabad-Lubavitch community.

In this matter there are also differing customs among Jewish communities, which follow the traditions established by their ancestors. They are as follows:

  1. From the first day of the Omer count until the 33rd day of the Omer.
  2. From the first day of the Omer until the morning of the 34th day of the Omer (this is the prevailing Sephardic practice).
  3. From the 30th of Nissan (the first day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar) until the morning of the 3rd of Sivan.
  4. From the second day of Iyar until the day before Shavuot. 

In all these customs—except (b)—the mourning is lifted on the 33rd of the Omer.

(Consult our calendar for the corresponding secular dates for this year.)

What Are the Mourning Practices?

The following activities are curtailed during the mourning period:

  1. Marriages and wedding celebrations. It is permitted, however, to become engaged to marry during this time.
  2. Cutting of one’s hair. (Haircutting is sometimes permitted under extenuating circumstances related to lifecycle celebrations or professional reasons that make it necessary to do so. In any of these cases, one should ask an authority versed in the custom of your community. You can also avail yourself of the Ask the Rabbi service on Chabad.org.)
  3. Listening to instrumental music (unless this is one’s livelihood).
  4. Purchasing and wearing new garments that bring joy due to their quality (e.g., a new dress suit or dress shoes). If one requires such garments for business purposes, or because one is meeting a new person with an eye to finding a marriage partner and needs to make a good impression, it is permissible. (This is independent of the question as to whether one should measure people by what they wear . . . )