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May 3, 2007

pushing off Lag B'Omer

While the debate on making aliya and American Jewry that does not, continues to rage in the comments (if you missed it, you might want to check it out) of that post, something struck me tonight, on a different topic.

No, it was not a rock that struck me :-).

I was in the car tonight on the way home from Kiryat Sefer/Modiin and on the radio there is a fight going on between a talk show host and Reb Goldknopf, head of the Committee for the Holiness of Shabbos - famous from the fight with El Al a few months ago.

What were they fighting about? The details are kind of sketchy, so I do not want to get bogged down by them. I turned the radio on in the middle of the fight, so I did not get the details clear. It is the general issue I want to discuss.

This year, in just a few days, Lag B'Omer will fall out on Saturday night. In America I remember that on Lag B'Omer the school would take us to the park. We would go with some homemade bows and arrows. We would have a game of baseball. We would maybe barbecue some hot dogs. That was pretty much the extent of how we celebrated Lag B'Omer when I was growing up in a religious day school.

If you happen to be in Israel for Lag B'Omer you will experience a culture shock, (if you are one of the subjects of the post linked to above). The whole country pretty much goes up in flames. There is a bonfire in every neighborhood and by every shul. If you live in a religious neighborhood, you might have a bonfire every two feet or so! I never understood why, but the kids do not seem to want to get together and build bonfires together. Rather, each builds his own bonfire. They spend the weeks prior to Lag B'Omer searching for anything flammable and specifically any piece of wood they can find. I find it amazing that all this wood suddenly appears every year just in time to get burned up!

So, the whole country goes up in flames. The largest of the bonfires, and celebrations, is in Meron. Meron is the location of the grave site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. It is his death on Lag B'Omer (supposedly) that we are "celebrating" with bonfires, along with the Torah that he revealed when he wrote the Zohar. Tens of thousands of people, and sometimes over a hundred thousand, go up to Meron every year to be by the celebrations at his grave site. I went for the first time 2 years ago. It was a real adventure!

Needless to say, it is a security nightmare.

The police have to prepare a lot to protect the crowd.

Back to the fight on the radio. This year Lag B'Omer falls out on Saturday night. That means the police will be making many of their preparations on Shabbos. Frum and traditional Jews, who care about the holiness of Shabbos, will be forcing the police to work on shabbos in order to protect them on their night-time adventure.

So the debate is going on how much time is needed to prepare for the event. If we say 4 hours (for example), that means whoever goes to Meron before 4 hours has passed from the time shabbos is over will have been part of the cause of chillul shabbos. The debate is going on how much time that is and at what time of Lag B'Omer will it be safe to go to Meron.

One respected Rabbi said people should not go at all to Meron this year, even on Sunday during the daytime hours. He said your presence in Meron at any time over Lag B'Omer will be causing the chillul shabbos. The debate on the radio between R' Goldknopf and the radio host was over a few hours. Goldknopf spoke to one police spokesperson who said they need x amount of time, and the radio guy spoke to someone else who said they need y amount of time (more than x was).

What I want to know is why not push off the Lag B'Omer celebrations, so as to avoid chillul shabbos. The Rabbinate pushed off Yom Ha'Atzmaut and Yom Ha'Zikaron to avoid chillul shabbos. When we have fast days falling out on shabbos or Friday we push them forward or back, so as not to fast on shabbos (other than Yom Kippur). When Purim falls out on shabbos we push part of it back to Thursday and part of it up to Sunday.

So why not push off Lag B'Omer celebrations to Monday?

Yes, I know Lag B'Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer, not the 34th. But so what? We would just be pushing off the celebrations. There is no mitzva d'oraisa to go to Meron and participate in a bonfire on the 33rd day of the Omer, so it should not be more important than Shabbos.

So what could possibly be wrong with pushing Lag B'Omer celebrations to Monday this year?

(and by the way, take this as a warning to plan ahead for next year. next year Lag B'Omer falls out on Friday, so the same issues will apply).


  1. all lag ba-omer means to me (here in america) is that i can go to the movies again.

    i'm not sure i understand the point of the debate. what is the difference between lag ba-omer festivities and everything else that causes hilonim to be mahalel shabbat for the sake of those who are shomere shabbat?

  2. if your question is about personal chillul shabbos - for example if I want to go to the mall on Saturday night and I benefit from the fact that stores were open on shabbos and security gaurds worked on shabbos, first of all maybe you should not go right after shabbos if that is the case, but I would say there is a difference in the case of the individual. Nothing was done for you and nothing extra was done because you would be going. They were doing that anyway.

    By the lag B'omer celebrations, the 900 police that have to go on shabbos to prepare (that is the number being used in the reports) are going almost 100% for the religious public. If religious Jews would not go, there would be no need for the police to m=be mechalel shabbos.
    So the chillull shabbos is a direct result of the religious publics desire to go to Meron.

    So that is why I think they should get the rabbonim to push off the celebrations to Sunday night/Monday.

  3. makes sense to me. rafi for chief rabbi of rbs!

    (byw, the israel day perade on 5th ave. this year is scheduled for lag baomer, but unfortunately i will be home cramming for finals.)


  4. Two things

    1. Ari where in the world is there a m'kor for not seeing movies during sefira.

    2. I heard a report that up to 75% of the people in meiron are chiloni. They don't particularly care about shabbos, and it could be claimed the extra work is being done for them.

  5. Ed - that is an interesting suggestion. But even if the number 75% is correct, I would not say it is chiloni. I was there. There were a lot of religious, much more than chiloni. The only other group that might be more than the religious might be the traditional (masorati). not the chiloni.

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  7. ED:

    what are you talking about? it is stated be-ferush in the taz on shulhan arukh y"d 159:8

    but seriously, you won't find a good makor for music either (as discussed on an earlier post here).

    from what i understand, the issur on music is understood as an issur on public celebrations or entertainment. thus growing up we never went to movies on sefirah.

    of course going to movies is assur altogether, so you probably won't find for a makor for movies on sefirah altogether.

  8. The real Ashkenazic minhag is not to go to Meron and not to 'celebrate' on lag baomer any year and not to make bonfires and upsherins then (upsherins not the rest of the year either).

    The Chasam Sofer writes in one of his teshuvos about it.

    So it should not be done at all.

    The problem of chillul Shabbos that you bring up shows the danger of what can happen when people invent new rituals - they can lead to violation of ikrei hadas.

    The fires can also be dangerous to individuals and property.

    Let's stick to the old Torah and mitzvos and not add on new things.

    Moreinu Rav Elyashiv shlita didn't go to Meron in his whole life, despite living in Eretz Yisroel for so long. He said that he feels closer to Rav Shimon ben Yochai when he learns a piece of gemara from him. Let us take a lesson from him.

  9. What about those who keep either all of sefira or R"H Iyar - Shavous? Pushing it off won't help them.

  10. Mike - that could be a problem... hmmm... Shabbos is still "worse" than sefira....I wonder how that weighs out... hmmm I guess it would be a problem... thenthe real solution would be like the anonymous commenter to just not go. But only bnei ashkenaz would follow that. Bnei sfard and chassidim who believe in it at a much deeper level would still go....

  11. "why not push off the Lag B'Omer celebrations" -- I'm pretty sure because its not real. Its just a big party, and it will be more difficult to push off a dance party in Meron than a traditional Independance Day celebration.
    That's just my opinion.


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