The Spreading Fires Of Lag Baomer: Tempting Quick & Easy ‘Spirituality’ vs. Enduring Ruchnius

In the past we have discussed at length (5771, 5772, 5773A, 5773B, and 5773C) how Lag Baomer is marked in minhag Ashkenaz, and contrasted it with other, more recent customs, that have become popular among other groups. Postings on that topic have been among the most visited of any in the history of this site, indicating that there is a great thirst and need for authentic information on the inyan. Readers are directed to those previous posts if they wish to review them. However, there is still a need for additional accurate information and Torah perspective on the inyan, especially when people are being bombarded with information not in accordance with our mesorah, which can seem tantalizing and tempting. So it is time to revisit the inyan again, as it is about to become ענינא דיומא once more.

The Prescience of the Chasam Sofer

A main exhibit of the stance of Minhag Ashkenaz on Lag Baomer, is, of course, the words of the Chasam Sofer about it, as we have discussed and linked to in the past.

Some may wonder, about the Chasam Sofer’s position. After all, we see some groups who claim to venerate and follow him, which do not follow what he wrote on this topic.

However, observant and honest people can see the prescience, the greatness of the Chasam Sofer, how he was רואה את הנולד, how he anticipated with his greatness, חכם עדיף מנביא ( a wise man is greater than a prophet), the problems that the later observances added on to the day, such as the mass Lag Baomer Meron pilgrimage, could lead to.

One of the things the Chasam Sofer expressed concern about with regard to Lag Baomer, was the exaltation of Meron over ירושלים עיר הקודש. There is only one Yerusholayim, which has such a special status in our faith, and that special status needs to be guarded.

However, in some writings today promoting the Lag Baomer Meron pilgrimage, we see language that might have made the Chasam Sofer shudder. For example, in a contemporary sefer called טיב מירון, which came out just a few years ago,  from a prominent Chasidic Kabbalist in Eretz Yisroel, ר’ גמליאל הכהן רבינוביץ, it is stated (p.180-181) that going up to Meron is like עליה לרגל to the בית המקדש! Astounding!

How great was the foresight of מרן החתם סופר זצ”ל!

Be wary of spreading fires

Another aspect of the evolving Lag Baomer situation in recent years is the spreading of the bonfire custom.

A number of Chasidic groups, as well as some others, who didn’t do it in the past (does anyone have any evidence of such large bonfires in prewar Europe for example?), have recently adopted it (though others remain faithful to their previous customs and refrain from it). For example, Satmar Chasidim  in Kiryas Joel, in just the last few years, has started a new practice to make a giant bonfire on Lag Baomer eve (Satmar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, however, does not, maintaining that they do not deviate from the practice of the previous Rebbe, R. Yoel Teitelbaum, who did not do so). Belzer Chasidim as well, have adopted it, in recent years, both in Eretz Yisroel and in the diaspora. Gerrer Chasidim, although the Rebbe does not do it, are allowing it elsewhere (beyond the Rebbe’s court). Similar for Bobover Chasidim. A prominent Chasidic leader once told me that there is no makom for such fires outside the land of Israel. He laughed at the importation of the custom to the diaspora. However, the fact that other, smaller Chasidic groups were doing it, which attracted some of their followers, evidently has recently influenced some of the larger Chasidic groups to adopt the practice, to one degree or another, in order not to seem to lag behind the others. Lubavitch as well, with their emissaries in various places, in addition to promoting the Lag Baomer parade custom initiated by their previous Rebbe, are adopting the bonfire custom, even though it was not traditionally Lubavitcher practice (this is made easier by the fact that since the last Rebbe passed away, there is a dimunition of central authority in that group).

Bonfires are quick, easy, and colorful, but they can be dangerous as well. Our ancestors didn’t build things like this, and we shouldn’t either.

Mixing customs from opposing traditions is inconsistent, and breeding grounds for confusion

Another interesting development is the development of new practices by some. For example, I recall reading about a Yeshiva, maybe it was in the Lakewood area, which had a bonfire, but, adding a Litvish-Yeshivish twist to their adoption of this Chasidic practice, auctioned off the lighting of the fire to bochurim who bid for it with pledges to learn various amounts of gemara. They took a practice used by some Yeshivas on Simchas Torah and attempted to combine it with a new custom they brought in from outside. And there are some Ashkenaz Shuls and Yeshivas who are trying to jump on a Chasidic bandwagon and have bonfires as well, even without such modifying touches. They think they can have it both ways, be poseach al shtei haseipim evidently. But one cannot do so. To mix customs from differing  traditions is problematic, fraught with danger, and introduces confusion into the minds of their followers. Let them not be surprised if some of their followers in the future, decide to jump ship. After all, if, as the saying goes, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and their leaders are imitating outside customs, why should they not get the underlying message and join the groups being imitated entirely? Such mixed messages are confusing and dangerous.

Stay the course, the way of our holy ancestors, אבותינו הקדושים

The lesson that must be taught is that we stay faithful to our mesorah and do not sell it, neither for a pot of red lentils, nor for a blazing red bonfire. That we eschew the hype and sales pitches for questionable, quick, alleged yeshuos, and newfangled foreign practices, and stay the course. That we realize that quick and easy, and genuine growth in רוחניות don’t usually go together. That instead of looking for a quick ‘spiritual’ thrill, we keep a distance from faux spirituality, and go instead for genuine, slow, solid work and aliyah in avodas Hashem.

In the zechus of our staying the course, and resisting the temptations for quick, flashy, easy, excitement, in favor of our perhaps less glamorous, but time-tested minhogim, of אבותינו הקדושים, a great path to follow in general, year round, may we be zoche to קבלת התורה בשלימות באמת, and solid, genuine aliyah בעבודת השי”ת תמיד.

א גוטען שבת

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17 Responses to “The Spreading Fires Of Lag Baomer: Tempting Quick & Easy ‘Spirituality’ vs. Enduring Ruchnius”

  1. Reb Chaim HaQoton Says:

    Someone told me recently that while he doesn’t “hold” of the whole bonefire thing on Lag L’Omer, he takes his kids there just so they can have the experience. I responded by likening this to מעביר מבנו למולך.

  2. Joseph Says:

    You lost this fight. Even the “misnagdim” (or more accurately their Litvish heirs – as there are precious few real misnagim left), for the most part, partake in the Lag B’Omer festivities.

  3. Sal Says:

    Even if it wasn’t ones custom, there is no harm done and there is no violation of any halacha by having a bonfire on Lag Bomer.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Its funny how some people use the Chasam Sofer when it suits them, saying חדש אסור מן התורה, and then turn around and claim that there’s no problem here. A glaring lack of consistency.

  4. Yehoshua Deitel Says:

    In an old post you wrote “3) No Upsherin – That has been well covered by others, see שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק ג and elsewhere.”

    What does it say there exactly?

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Bekitzur, that it is not minhag Ashkenaz, it is a relatively recent custom, that there are חששות that it comes from foreign sources, the Brisker Rov and Steipler זצ”ל spoke against it, the gemara talks about giving a haircut to a young child, just born, without a problem, that in Ashkenaz they gave haircuts to young boys at a few months old and didn’t let them grow long hair like girls.

      עיין שם באריכות יותר, בספר שרשי מנהג אשכנז, חלק ג

  5. Arie Folger Says:

    You wrote: “The major Litvish Yeshivas do not have bonfires.” FWIW, when I was in Gateshead over 20 years ago, they did do a bonfire. But it was then already clear that the main motivation for the bonfire is to have some fun. Minhag, יומא דהלולא דרשב”י. etc. were simply a pretext.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      That surprises me.

      Was it officially sponsored, officially sanctioned, or just officially tolerated? :)

      Was it at night or during the day? Doing it at night is doubly problematic, as you surely know.

      When I wrote those words, I was thinking of places like Ponevezh, Mir, Lakewood, and so on.

      • Arie Folger Says:

        At night. Not official, but sufficiently sanctioned that the fire brigade was notified and plenty of weird fuel would be collected, like old mattresses, etc.

      • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

        Thanks.

        The not officially sanctioned info is important. From your earlier comment, you had me wondering if they had gone over to the other side….. :)

  6. chaimbachi62 Says:

    Having grown up among the yekkes in Washington Heights, I am familiar with your work to spread the yekkishe mesorah. I just think you are sometimes overzealous in your goals and opinions. For example, I once saw in a copy of you sefer in Washington Heights how you denigrate the minhag of upsherin at the age of 3. Even if it is not your minhag, it doesn’t mean you have to bash other people who have the minhag. In the case of sefiras haomer, while some people may take the idea of hadlaka too far, not everyone says it is an aveira to go to Meron on Lag Beomer. I went one lag beomer, and while I understand why you think some people go overboard over ther, there is an inyan to go to a tzaddik on his yahrzeit and I don’t regret having that zechus. Maybe you should live and let live a little more. There are sometimes two mesorahs which contradict each other, and that is perfectly okay.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      1) The things you are talking about, upsherin and re Lag Baomer, are not just minhogim of Yekkes. They are the standard minhog of Ashkenazishe Yidden. Yekkes, Oberlander, Litvish, and others, some Poylishe and Galicianer Yidden, even of some Sepharadim.

      2) I have not written any seforim.

      3) Re the sefer I believe you refer to re upsherin – it explains – unabashedly :) – why minhag Ashkenaz, Lita, and Oberland is not to do upsherin. Those who do otherwise are not bashed. This site and that sefer are directed to those who want to know what the real Ashkenaz minhog and mesorah is.

      If someone like yourself does not want to follow the minhog of the gedolei olam of Ashkenaz, and wants to look elsewhere for something new, that is their choice.

      Why are you bothered if someone wants to stick to the ancient, holy, and beautiful mesorah of yahadus and gedolei Ashkenaz? Ashkenazim have a right to their own mesorah and minhogim. No one is forcing you to visit this website or to learn a sefer on minhogei Ashkenaz. If you don’t like what you see, you can always close the page. :)

      Stay cool, don’t get overheated, it is hot out there. :)

      • chaimbachi62 Says:

        First of all I apologize if I misinterpreted some of the material that you wrote. I will however, proceed now to go through what you said point-by-point and provide a rebuttal for those points which I disagree with or need clarification. 1) If I understand correctly, the majority or at least a tremendous minority of Klal Yisrael has adopted the minhag of upsherin within the last number of years. If it is assur to go and adopt a minhag than why does minhag Ashkenaz, Lita, and Oberland include Lecho Dodi and the rest of Kabalas Shabbos in their liturgy. It happens to be that even Minhag Frankfurt which has an outstanding mesorah adopted Lecho Dodi in the 1600’s if I recall correctly. There are many other examples of various Ashkenazic groups adopting minhagim which didn’t originate with themselves. As far as Lag Beomer is concerned, if somebody wants to adopt a minhag which has roots dating back at least a few hundred years kol hakavod, if for some reason they feel it contradicts their mesorah, or they fell they are distracted by the outside temptations, let them not go. 2) If you didn’t write or compile seforim such as “Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz”, who did? I quote from http://www.moreshesashkenaz.org/en/shorshei/7-shorshei. It states “Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz (Hebrew) by Rav Binyomin Shlomo Hamburger Bnei Brak 4 vols”. 3) The way that the section of the sefer is written implies that it is wrong to do an upsherin if your a member of Moreshes Ashkenaz. My zeide was a proud Oberlander and a respected authority on Minhagei Chasam Sofer and proudly did my upsherin, even if it may have not been his minhag. He respected my families chasidishe minhagim, even if many of his Minhagim were different than those of my family. A couple of more points. 4) I am not opposed to people trying to keeping the authentic Minhag Ashkenaz if they have a yekkishe background, although if they have an authentic litvish tradition for example, there is no reason for them to adopt other ancient Ashkenaz minhagim. I happen to have a healthy respect for the yekkishe tradition. 5) Why doesn’t a choshuve mentsch’s opinion like that of Rabbi Gamliel Rabinovitz account, and what difference does it make whether he is litvish or chasidish. BTW writing that he is a “Chassic Kabbalist” implies a bias against chassidim. 6) The principal of Chodosh Assur Min Hatorah has its limits, which is why the Chasam Sofer allowed the use of German for sermons in Hungary. It is not a blanket principal. BTW, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to use a priniciple that was promulgated by one of the Ashkenazische Rishonim than an Acharon, albeit a Yekkishe one from Frankfurt which has many Italian minhagim and a partially Italian Mesorah. The Klonymous family of Frankfurt who originated in Italy were after all contemporaries of the true Ashkenazi Rishonim and therefore part of an equally venerated mesorah.

      • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts, which I know are not your’s alone, and therefore giving the opportunity to clarify some points, בעזרת השי”ת, לפי עניות דעתי.

        1) Re the custom of upsherin, it is true that it has spread in recent years to some people who’s ancestors did not follow it. However, I think you will find in almost all, if not all, cases that such people are/were not aware of problematic apects of the custom, and adopted it under false pretenses. For example, there are some that claim that the source for it is from a medrash on the posuk of שלש שנים יהיה לכם ערלים וכו, by the mitzvoh of ערלה. However, there is no such midrash that mentions upsherin. It just mentions starting a young boy’s learning at three years old, with no mention of haircutting then.

        2) Rav Hamburger shlit”a, mechaber of שרשי מנהג אשכנז, discusses your questions about new minhogim in his writings. I believe that what he says basically is that if the new practice does not contradict the mesorah it can be considered (of course, we look to gedolei Yisroel for הדרכה). However, that is not the same as accepting any new thing that comes along.

        3) As you say, Rav Hamburger shlit”a has written the great series of seforim called שרשי מנהג אשכנז, among other חיבורים חשובים. But I am not he. He writes seforim, not websites like this. :) I am one Yid among many that has been influenced by his seforim, among other things.

        4) All Ashkenazic Jews have a connection to the mesorah and minhag of Ashkenaz. You might consider yourself a Hungarian Jew, an Ungarische Yid, but your ancestors were not likely living in Hungary seven or eight hundred years ago. I think there is a good chance that they were in Germany (Ashkenaz) then. That is why they spoke Yiddish, which is Judisch-Deutsch, Judeo-German, and that is why they call themselves Ashkenazim. Ashkenazic Jews share a common background and heritage.

        Oberlanders are referred to by some as ‘Hungarian Yekkes’.

        5) Gedolei Yisroel are respected, no matter what their background is. If you learn Rav Hamburger’s seforim you will see that he regularly cites a gedolim from a very wide range of backgrounds. Sepharadim, Ashkenazim, Litvish, Yekkish, Hungarian, Edot Hamizrach, Polish, Chasidish. However, for an Ashkenazic Yid, the mesorah of Ashkenaz is his bedrock, his foundation, and where he should look for guidance foremost.

        6) R. Gamliel Rabinowitz is described as a Chasidic Kabbalist because that is what he is. Some people are not aware of his background, so I thought it would be a good idea to mention it.

        7) The Chasam Sofer gives various reasons for not going along with the Meron Lag Baomer customs. He doesn’t just say ‘חדש אסור מן התורה’ and not write any further. Take a look at his writings re Lag Baomer that are linked to in the relevant posts.

        8) Italy and Ashkenaz had close historical ties. It is related by the ר’ אלעזר מגרמייזא, the Rokeach, that Yidden came to Ashkenaz, Germany, from Italy. That is related to Ashkenaz בכלל, in general, not just one city therein.

      • chaimbachi62 Says:

        I’m well aware of the facts that you stated, having a degree in History with an unofficial concentration in Jewish History. I have to take a look at the Lomdus of the Chasam Sofer about Lag Beomer, although Bmichalas Kvodo, I still will probably go again if I have the opportunity and even encourage others if they have opportunity. Also, I tend to think that even if the Minhag of Upsherin was adopted under false pretenses, it may not be the end of the world for those people to continue cutting their kids at the age of 3. So I have to agree to possibly disagree on those points. My family originated in Austria hundreds of years ago, so a good amount of my minhagim may not be that different than yours. I apologize for confusing your identity and do agree that there is a need to research Ashkenazi minhagim especially those of the Rishonim in Germany. BTW I shook Rabbi Hamburger’s hand in the Yekkishe shul in Ramot about five years ago when I was learning in Lakewood East.

      • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

        Okay, thanks.

        ברוך ה I see here that as we speak the tone is becoming progressively more friendly, as חז”ל tell us (קידושין ל, ב) on את והב בסופה, about תלמידי חכמים that argue intensively about Torah and then become friends.

        There are misconceptions among some about רב המבורגר שליט”א, מכון מורשת אשכנז, וכו, that bother them, but when they find out the truth (assuming they are seeking it, of course :), the אמת, they see that things are not necessarily how they thought, and that they are on a firm, logical, strong Torah basis, with seichel and great wisdom, and much, if not all, of their reservations die down.

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