The Jewish “bonfire” holiday of L’ag b’Omer is this Saturday night. Or maybe not.
L’ag b’Omer commemorates the day some 2,000 years ago that a plague killing 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva ended. “L’ag” stands for lamed-gimel – in Hebrew the number 33. The Omer refers to a period of 49 days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. So L’ag b’Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer.
There’s a bunch more symbolism – check out this Wikipedia entry – but in modern times, the holiday has been celebrated by building bonfires, toasting marshmallows and barbequing steaks (what Israeli holiday doesn’t involve the ubiquitous mangal?)
This year, the 33rd day of the Omer falls on Saturday night. But since kids tend to get started early, hauling their cache of wood to an open space and getting the fire going before sunset, there is a not unlikely chance of “Sabbath desecration” where prohibited activities might take place before Shabbat has officially ended.
Which led last week to Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef along with Israel’s chief rabbis issuing a ruling that the holiday should be put off until Sunday night.
All well and good. It’s a religious holiday after all and the rabbis know best. But the general population might not have gotten the message.
You see, L’ag b’Omer is school holiday too. Sunday is an official day off. Sunday night, it’s back to the books as the matriculation exam season races towards an unholy conclusion. Are all those kids – especially the ones who don’t give much of a hoot what the chief rabbis say – going to push off the fun for a day? Will there be two L’ag b’Omer’s this year?
Another “burning” question lingers: what took them so long? The ruling about the delay of the holiday was only issued last week. Didn’t the rabbis know about this holiday, well, like a hundred years ago? The calendar is fixed these days – we no longer mark the start of the new month by burning torches on the tops of hilltops.
Delaying the holiday would be just fine for our family. We’ll be away this weekend at the Jacob’s Ladder music festival and won’t get back home until late Saturday night. But I have a feeling that we’ll be smelling a few roasted marshmallows on the way home.
This article appeared in the Israelity blog early this week.