Emor, May 11, 2017

“Today is the 30th day of the Omer.  There are 20 days to Sinai.”  These are the words we recite for the synagogue ritual on this day of the counting of the Omer.  We are anticipating the coming of the holiday of Shavuot on May 30-31, the holiday on which we relive the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai, so we are counting down the days until we arrive “at Sinai.”  The Omer ritual is described in this week’s Torah portion, Emor. (Lev  23:15-16).  What is not described is a special celebration on the 33rd day of the Omer, which falls this Sunday:  Lag B’Omer.  Although its origins are rather unclear, according to Jewish legend, during the time of Rabbi Akiva (2nd century CE—much later than the text of Leviticus was written), a terrible plague afflicted thousands of Akiva’s students because they were not treating each other with respect.  On the 33rd day of the Omer, this plaque ended, and it became a day of celebration.  According to halacha (Jewish law) no weddings or celebrations of any sort are to occur during any of the other 48 days of the Omer.  This prohibition is not observed in Reform Judaism.