We have written about this in the past (see here and here), but it bears repeating yet again. One should learn relevant halachos and mesoros in general, to be ready when a special day on the calendar approaches, but certainly in a case where there is a bombardment of advertising and hype not in accordance with our מסורה, it is especially important to review our holy traditions. In that spirit, I will share with you some things that have come to my attention while studying the sugya of ל”ג בעומר ע”פ מנהג אשכנז.
Firstly, let me say that it seems clear that a significant amount of the hype seems to be emanating from commercial interests. For example, travel companies that sell trips to Eretz Yisroel and Meron, charities that are selling tefillos and segulos, as well as those that advertise and market such things,
If you went by the impression given by them, you might think that the Meron Lag Baomer pilgrimage, as well as bonfires everywhere, among other things, are basic, universally accepted among כלל ישראל, and undisputed. However, that is actually quite wrong.
In posts on Lag Baomer in previous years, we mentioned very prominent authorities, great תלמידי חכמים, gedolei Yisroel, who rejected these practices. Some rejected all, some just some of them, or certain parts and aspects. But you won’t learn that from reading the hype ads and marketing material. One needs to dig a bit deeper at times to find out this info, which is sometimes overshadowed and drowned out by the glitzy marketing blitz from the others. It also helps if one is good at reading between the lines.
Tidbits From A Recent Work On Lag Baomer
Anyway, in preparation for the approaching day, I was looking through a great compendium of information on ל”ג בעומר which came out a few years ago, a small soft covered work of over four hundred pages, called פניני מנהג – ל”ג בעומר by a R. Yitzchok Tessler from New York. Although the author is Chasidic, and much of the material in it is in accordance with the well known customs of some Chasidim, as practiced in Meron and elsewhere, there is still a wealth of information on other minhogim and variant customs there as well, which makes it a valuable source of information.
I will share some nuggets from there with you.
1) P.37 – Once a Chasid wanted to travel to Meron, but the Belzer Rebbe, R. Aharon Rokeach, did not permit him to do so, saying ‘the kedushah of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai is everywhere’.
This is similar to Rav Elyashiv zt”l, who never went to Meron, in over a century of life, despite living so long in ארץ ישראל, who said that he feels closer to Rav Shimon bar Yochai learning a blatt gemara, as well as to the Gerrer Rebbe, the Beis Yisroel (see #5).
2) P. 42-3 – Minhag Chalab (Aleppo – a prominent and important Syrian Jewish community, with an important diaspora as well) was not to make bonfires on Lag Baomer, as well as not to make chalakas (upsherin) in general, all year. This information is quite interesting, as it is not an Ashkenazic kehillah.
3) P. 58 – The Lelover Rebbe, R. Moshe Mordechai Biderman, did not go to Meron for Lag Baomer. Rather he went for Shabbos בהעלותך usually.
4) P.60 – R. Avrohom Yitzchok Kahan of תולדות אהרן (a Chasidic group in ירושלים) told his Chasidim that in their beis medrash they have all the segulos, as in all the holy places (=not necessary to go to Meron).
5) P.66 – The Gerrer Rebbe, R. Yisroel Alter (the בית ישראל) said to a bochur that wanted to ascend to Meron, הרי יש לך את רבי שמעון בגמרא…(you have Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai in the gemara that you study…).
6) P.67 – The Vizhnitzer Rebbe did not go to Meron on Lag Baomer, and did not allow Yeshiva bochurim to do so. He only went after the day and only allowed older bochurim same.
7) P.126 – In Bavel (Iraq) no זכר to custom some have of lighting bonfires.
8) P. 126 -It seems that it was not commonly done in Yemen either.
9) P.127 – At the court of the Pshevorsker Rebbe, R. Yaakov Leizer (a famous European Chasidic Rebbe), the custom was not to make a bonfire, aka הדלקה.
10) P.133-4 – Perushim (פרושים) (i.e. devout, non-Hasidic, old time Jerusalemites, descendants of students/followers of the Gaon of Vilna and others) in Yerusholayim (ירושלים עיה”ק) did not celebrate Lag Baomer in the past in a major way. Even when a bonfire was lit nearby by Chasidim, and a Chasid came into the Beis Medrash and screamed at them why they didn’t come out to it, they didn’t pay heed to him at all, and not one went out. Note: This (the Perushim) is the community from which Moreinu Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv z”l emerged – so when he didn’t go to Meron his whole life (over a century, including approximately ninety years in Eretz Yisroel), he was reflecting these values of that tzibbur. Even the Chasidic celebrations there (in ירושלים) were limited in the old days.
11) P.190-2- The Satmar Rebbe, (the דברי יואל) went to Meron and was mispallel for children at kever Rashbi. He even promised, with his Rebbetzin, that if they had a son, they would name him Shimon (after Rashbi). But they didn’t have a son (all the stories about people having children after davening there, and then naming them Shimon, evidently didn’t pan out in his case. On the other hand, I guess he didn’t donate to Kupat Hair, maybe that was the problem. Even though it wasn’t around then yet…;-).
12) P.348 – At the Maharil (מהרי”ל) they would sometimes have a siyum for the tractates of gemara that they learned during the winter Yeshiva zman, on Lag Baomer.
13) Chapter 22, especially P.352-4 – Some who were far from Meron, even outside Eretz Yisroel, had a custom to visit other kevorim, קברי ישראל, קברי צדיקים, on that day.
14) P.367-8 – Some had a minhag to then learn Torah from the רמ”א, whose yahrzeit is on ל”ג בעומר.
15) P.419 – In סקווירא they are noheig hilchos uminhogei sefira even on Lag Baomer (that seems to imply even with regard to music. With regard to haircutting, there are others who do so, more or less, as well, such as Belz, Lubavitch, and others. ע”פ האר”י ז”ל).
More About Bonfires Specifically
I would like to make some other comments re bonfires. Namely, that it seems that it was not the practice even among some other very prominent Chasidic groups, in addition to those mentioned previously, above and in previous posts, in the past and/or present as well.
For example, with regard to Lubavitch, it is brought down on P.122 of the above cited work, that the Rebbe Rashab gave orders to purchase the first hadlokoh in Chevron one year. But I don’t recall seeing any mention of him having one in Lubavitch itself. I don’t recall seeing that the last Lubavitcher Rebbe had one at his court either (although I wasn’t there :).
On p.126 it is brought that in recent years there a large bonfire near the large Belzer Beis Medrash (in ירושלים עיה”ק). The implication is that it was not done previously. Also, interestingly, it states that the Rebbe gazes at it from his porch. Which indicates a distance and perhaps distancing of himself from it somewhat as well. Interesting.
Bobov doesn’t have a bonfire hadlokoh at the Rebbe’s court either (info from Bobover Chasidim). Interestingly, also re Bobov, it seems that they do not have or did not have musical instrumental accompaniment on Lag Baomer as well (brought in above mentioned work and heard from a Bobover).
Now those are major Chasidic groups, not just a few people. So the point is that the bonfire custom, especially outside the Holy Land, ארץ ישראל, is by no means a universal, long time practice.
בתפלה להשי”ת that we have a good and safe Lag Baomer, ברוחניות ובגשמיות…