Jewish Trivia: Lag B’Omer

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MARK D. ZIMMERMAN, Special For The Jewish Light

Lag B’Omer will be celebrated this Thursday. The name of the holiday means “the 33rd day of the Omer,” a period that begins on the second day of Passover. Counting the Omer historically references the harvesting of the new barley crop to be brought to the Temple, and the counting is a 49-day period ending on the holiday of Shavuot. The days of the Omer are also considered a mourning period, commemorating the massacre of Rabbi Akiva and his disciples during the Crusades, along with other tragic events in Jewish history. But Lag B’Omer is the exception, the one day during the Omer period which is considered a joyful day.

What is one unintended negative consequence of the celebrations that take place in Israel on Lag B’Omer?

A. One of the ways that Lag B’Omer is celebrated is with picnics and bonfires throughout Israel. However, as a result, the level of air pollution on this holiday has increased more than tenfold as a consequence of the bonfire smoke.

B. A Lag B’Omer tradition is for children to play with bows and arrows on that date. One of the explanations for this custom is that under Roman rule after the destruction of the Temple, students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai would go into the woods and shoot bows and arrows. But this was just a cover for their time secretly studying Torah, which the Romans forbade. Sadly, in Israel, there is a significant increase of eye injuries on this holiday resulting from the toy bows and arrows which so many children are shooting at each other.

C. Every year on Lag B’Omer, the number 033 is selected by tens of thousands of Israelis in one of the games sponsored by Mifal HaPais, Israel’s national lottery. The number is chosen because “Lag” is an acronym of the letters Lamed and Gimel, the Hebrew equivalent of the number 33. In 2020, 033 was the winning number, leading Mifal HaPais to pay out record sums of shekels to the many winners, leading to the first year in lottery history that the games actually lost money.

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D. One Lag B’Omer tradition is that many Orthodox boys receive their first haircut on the Lag B’Omer holiday following their third birthday. One unfortunate result is a significant increase in plumbing problems in Orthodox neighborhoods as so much hair is flushed down drains by families performing this ritual.

E. Lag B’Omer is the one day during the 49-day Omer period in which marriages can be performed. As a result, there are typically thousands of weddings scheduled in Israel, placing great stress on businesses in the wedding industry. One example is the kosher caterers, whose purchases have led to shortages of kosher meat for weeks following the holiday. This has led to the tradition of serving dairy food on Shavuot at the end of the Omer period since there is no meat available.

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