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Lag B'Omer

Many Jewish communities around the world observe Lag B’Omer, also known as Lag BaOmer, on the 18th day of the month of Iyar in the Jewish calendar. The name of this observance refers to the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer.
Lag B´Omer jewish day

Many Jewish communities light bonfires on Lag B'Omer.

©iStockphoto.com/Greg Nicholas

What do people do?

The Counting of the Omer is a time for spiritual growth and some Jewish groups forbid haircuts, weddings, dancing and other forms of entertainment in this period. However, Lag B'Omer is a time of celebration and these restrictions are either lifted for one day or ended. Many people hold picnics or barbecues, sing, dance, and encourage their children to play outside with bows, arrows, bats and balls. In Meron, Israel, three-year-old boys are given their first haircuts on this holiday.

On the evening at the start of Lag B'Omer, children and young people light bonfires that they prepared in the days leading up to the holiday. People may also offer Chai Rotel by donating or offering 18 rotel (about 13 gallons or 54 liters) of liquid food or drink to pilgrims attending the celebrations at the Hilula of R'Shimon bar Yochai in Meron, Israel. Many people believe that anyone who does this will be granted a miracle. An example of this would be that a woman who cannot have children through pregnancy may miraculously become pregnant.

Public life

Lag B'Omer is not a public holiday in Israel, but schools close for the day. It is also not a public holiday in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, or the United States. However, Jewish organizations may be closed or offer a limited service to allow celebrations to be held.

Background

The Lag B'Omer holiday originates from the time of Rabbi Akiva, a scholar and teacher of Jewish law who lived approximately during the years 50 to 135. In a number of Jewish documents, there are passages, which report that 24,000 of his students died in a plague, because they had not respected each other. The plague ended on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, a period of 49 days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot.

Some scholars think that the "plague" refers to the Roman occupation of Jewish lands and that the students died resisting the Roman army, perhaps in the Bar Kokhba revolt in the years 132 to 135. Lag B’Omer is also known as Lag BaOmer or Lag LaOmer.

Symbols

In Israel, Lag B'Omer is a school holiday. In the days beforehand, children and young people gather waste wood, particularly old doors and boards, to pile into huge bonfires. On the evening of Lag B'Omer, these fires are lit. As some scholars think that the "plague" that caused the deaths of Rabbi Akiva's students was actually the Bar Kokhba revolt during the Roman occupation, the bonfires may symbolize fires lit to communicate and celebrate that a war or period of fighting has ended.

Note: Many Jewish holidays begin at sundown the day before the date specified for the holiday.

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