LAG BA-OMER (Heb. לַ״ג בָּעֹמֶר), the 33rd (Heb. לַ״ג) day of the counting of the *Omer, which is reckoned from the second day of *Passover until *Shavuot. It occurs on the 18th day of *Iyyar and has been celebrated as a semiholiday since the time of the *geonim (B.M. Lewin, Oẓar ha-Ge'onim, 7 (1936), 140–1). On Lag ba-Omer the traditional mourning customs of abstention kept during the Omer period are lifted: haircutting and shaving are permitted, marriages are celebrated, and other sorts of entertainment, e.g., music, enjoyed (Isserles to Sh. Ar., oḤ 493:2). The Sephardi ritual permits haircuts and shaving only on the day following Lag ba-Omer, i.e., the 34th of Omer (Sh. Ar., ibid.).
According to talmudic and midrashic sources, 24,000 disciples of R. *Akiva died of a plague during the period between Passover and Shavuot because they did not sufficiently honor one another (Yev. 62b; Gen. R. 61:3; Eccles. R. 11:6). Some emended texts read that the students died ad peros ha-Aẓeret ("until close to Shavuot"). The plague ceased on the day of Lag ba-Omer which, consequently, became a holiday, especially for rabbinical students in the Middle Ages (the "Scholar's festival"). It was customary to rejoice on that day through various kinds of merrymaking.
According to the homiletic exegesis of Exodus 16, the manna began to fall on Lag ba-Omer (Moses Sofer, Ḥatam Sofer, yd (1841), no. 233), giving another reason for the holiday. The liturgy for this day is the regular prayer service for weekdays, except that the *Taḥanun prayer is omitted. The kabbalists attach particular significance to Lag ba-Omer. They hold this date to be the anniversary of the death of *Simeon b. Yoḥai, regarded by them as the author of the *Zohar. Called Hillula de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai, it is celebrated in Israel in the village of Meron (near Safed) where Simeon b. Yoḥai is traditionally buried. The celebrations are carried out with songs and dances by the thousands who gather there. A special hymn, Bar Yoḥai … Ashrekha, consisting of ten stanzas corresponding to the ten *Sefirot in the Kabbalah, is sung on this occasion. Three-year-old boys are given their first haircut (ḥalakah) while their parents distribute wine and sweets. The same rites are observed at the grave of *Simeon the Just, in Jerusalem.
The custom of children playing with a bow (Heb. keshet) and arrows on Lag ba-Omer is traced, by certain scholars, to the legend that the rainbow (Heb. keshet), a symbol of peace (Gen. 9:11–17), did not appear during the lifetime of Simeon b. Yoḥai, because he was such a saintly man. Others associate this custom with the above-mentioned story about the students of R. Akiva who, it is suggested, actually fell fighting against the Romans in the revolt led by *Bar Kokhba. Lag ba-Omer in modern Israel is a school holiday. Youngsters light bonfires in open spaces in towns and villages and Students' Day is celebrated on the campuses of the different universities. The scores of weddings held on Lag ba-Omer add to the festive character of this semiholiday.
I. Margolis and S.L. Markowitz, Jewish Holidays and Festivals (1962), 104–11; H. Schauss, Guide to Jewish Holy Days (paperback 1968), index; J.T. Lewinski, Sefer ha-Mo'adim, 6 (1955), 72–101; Benayahu, in: Sefunot, 6 (1962), 9–40; A. Yaari, in: Tarbiz, 31 (1962), 72–101; Pearl, Guide to the Minor Festivals and Fasts (1963), 34–47; Maḥanayim, 56 (1961); J. Morgenstern, in: huca, 39 (1968), 81–90.
Name of a Jewish holiday that is celebrated each May at Meron, near Safed in Galilee, where the tomb of the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, is located. "Lag" is not actually a word, but it stands for the number 33 in Hebrew. Lag B'Omer takes place on the thirty-third day within a seven-week countdown from the second night of Passover to the day before Shavuot. Every night during this period, Jews recite a blessing and state the count of the omer (a unit of measure used in the early days of the temple) in both weeks and days. The countdown itself is a reminder of the connection between Passover, which commemorates the exodus from Egypt, and Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah, and that redemption from slavery was not complete until Jews received the Torah. During this time of partial mourning, weddings and parties with dancing are forbidden, as are haircuts.
The thirty-third day of the Omer—called the eighteenth of Omer—is celebrated as Lag B'Omer, a holiday to celebrate a break among the deaths of the Torah scholar Rabbi Akiva's 24,000 students by plague. All mourning practices are lifted on this day. In Israel and throughout the diaspora, family and communal picnics, ballgames, and mock bow-and-arrow fights mark the holiday. Also common is the lighting of bonfires, around which signing and dancing take place. Tens of thousands of Jews gather at Meron, the burial place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son, Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon. Many parents hold off on cutting their sons' hair until the age of three, and then they do so on Lag B'Omer at the burial place in Meron.