Archive for the ‘Lag BaOmer’ Category

Chacham Ovadia Yosef זצ”ל Never Went To Meron On Lag Baomer, And Was Pained By The Mass Pilgrimage There – (מפי בנו, הרב דוד יוסף שליט”א)

May 19, 2014

It is not just staunch Ashkenazim, proud of their great heritage, that refrain from going to Meron on Lag Baomer, and oppose participation in the activities there. Rav Elyashiv, zt”l, who never went there in his life (at any time of the year), did not stand alone in never taking part in the event. Okay, you might think, I understand, Rav Elyashiv had talmidim…but others, from other chugim, different backgrounds, with the same practice?

Yes! And where you may not have thought.

Chacham Ovadia Yosef, the recently niftar Sepharadic Torah giant, also never went to Meron on Lag Baomer, not even once, in his ninety three plus year life!

That was one of the things recently revealed by his son, לבחל”ח, Rav David Yosef, in a strong address about problematic aspects of Lag Baomer festivities.

In the recording attached to the linked article (worth checking out), Rav Yosef states, in strong and colorful language, among other things, that 1) his father, Chacham Ovadia, even in his youth, when he studied at Yeshiva Porat Yosef, on an occasion when the Yeshiva was in dire straits and a trip to kivrei tzadikim in the north of Eretz Yisroel was arranged for the benefit of the Yeshiva, declined to participate in it, insisting instead on staying where he was and learning Torah, 2) Rav David Yosef himself refused entreaties to go to Meron on Lag Baomer, even via special, exclusive  helicopter transit, and, as his father, has never been there on that day, 3) he went through the chumash hundreds of times and has never seen the ‘מצות עשה’ to make ‘aliyah liregel’ to Meron then, 4) שומר נפשו, someone who guards his soul, should be careful about such things, 5) אין לך ביטול תורה גדול מזה.

We see here a great example of the common practice and outlook of paramount gedolim, at the pinnacle of Torah leadership in our time. Both Sepharadic and Ashkenazic recognized the problematic aspects of the Meron pilgrimage and stayed away.

ומהם ילמדו וכן יעשו, אכי”ר

Lag Baomer In The Eyes Of The Litvishe Tradition: R. Dov Halbertal’s Critique, Rendered Into English – ל”ג בעומר בעיני גדולי ומסורת ליטא

May 1, 2013

(Although I posted about R. Halbertal’s piece earlier this week, I noticed that many readers did not click on the link to his Hebrew article there, thereby missing out on the full flavor and power of the piece. Since I believe it reflects well, to a great degree, the viewpoint of the Ashkenazic tradition in general, as well as the Litvishe way, and is therefore worthy of wider dissemination, I decided to attempt an English rendering of it, which follows. It is not an authorized translation in consultation with R. Halbertal, so I cannot claim to have captured his every point and nuance, but I think it conveys his message, generally speaking.

Note: Some of the phenomena that R. Halbertal is reacting to may not be familiar to readers who have not been to Meron, as well as readers in the diaspora, so please keep that in mind before jumping to conclusions.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In recent years, there is developing and spreading a phenomenon that sees in the Lag Baomer celebrations a מצוה גדולה (great mitzvah), which is almost obligatory. The day is not far when people will be embarrassed if they did not take part in the pilgrimage to the tomb of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, and the celebrations surrounding it. All this with great support and backing, along with strong promotion, from the secular and religious media.

I do not come, חלילה, to damage the old traditions of ascending to the kever and kindling lights and praying there. However, in recent years, the phenomenon has gotten out of hand, exceeding its actual importance and proper boundaries.

Relating to such a phenomenon requires introspection regarding the position of גדולי ישראל, the great leaders of the Jewish people, with regard to it. In one of his talks, Rav Schach remarked that the Lag Baomer celebrations are not a ‘great mitzvah’ – that the Chazon Ish was very meticulous in his pursuit of mitzvos, and if it was such a great mitzvah he would have been pursued it, and ascended to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai himself. Rav Elyashiv as well, was asked a great many times about it,  especially in the later years, with the growth of the phenomenon. His response was given in various formulations, such as ‘I was never there’, ‘Rav Shimon (Bar Yochai) is in the Mishnah’, and so on.

And if the Chazon Ish, Rav Schach, Rav Elyashiv, Roshei Yeshivos, and many other gedolim, saw in Lag Baomer a day to be emphasized with a strengthening of Torah learning, can we know better than they? What is all the great streaming to Meron, and the multiplicity of ceremonies, that lack commonality with the world of these paramount leaders, who shaped the way of Torah and the world of Yeshivos in the land of Israel?

The coarseness that surrounds the day threatens the centrality of Torah learning 

One can say that the great drift and the developing trend surrounding the day, that sees the celebration of Lag Baomer at the tomb of Rashbi as an obligatory commandment, stems in great measure from the fact that the chiloni (non orthodox) public, which seeks Jewish identity without properly finding it, finds it proper to perform commandments according to the inclinations of their emotions, which do not stem from a sense of obligation.

Similarly, the ease of traveling there, and the many ‘tikkunim’ that are performed for many problems there, encourage and contribute to the phenomenon. The various media contribute to the development of the phenomenon, directly or indirectly, by way of extended and detailed descriptions of the celebrations of the day, and interviews with public personalities and Rabbis who proclaim great importance to the ascent to the tomb and related matters.

The vulgarity that surrounds the various circles of the religious public at these celebrations threatens the centrality of Torah learning, and the understanding that that is the true will of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai, rather than the transformation of the day to a full day of celebration and partying, that is not accepted by the recorders of oral traditions, and transmitters of our tradition.

I write all this because, it seems to me, that people have even ceased to talk about it.

Rav Elyashiv, Rav Shach, and the Chazon Ish, זצ”ל, On Going To Meron On Lag Baomer: Rav Elyashiv’s Talmid (Student) Speaks Out

April 30, 2013

I just came upon, not long ago, a critical analysis by a mekurav of Rav Elyashiv זצ”ל, R. Dov Halbertal, להבחל”ח , that expresses well the point of view of very important gedolei Yisroel about the problematic nature of the Meron pilgrimage nowadays. Although it focuses on the viewpoint of gedolei Lita, namely Rav Elyashiv, the Chazon Ish and Rav Schach, זצ”ל, commenters mention that, להבחל”ח, Rav Ovadya Yosef and Rav Shmuel Wosner שליט”א also have taken similar positions with regard to the Lag Baomer event. So you have quite a spectrum of top level gedolim there expressing similar concerns.  Highly recommended reading!

Additionally, those that follow the news know about the chaos and צער that many suffered from in and around Meron this year in particular. Which reminds me of a story (brought in פניני מנהג – ל”ג בעומר, דף לח) regarding Rav Akiva Sofer, the דעת סופר. After he left Pressburg and fled to Eretz Yisroel due to the persecutions around WWII, one year he set out to travel to Meron (I am assuming to observe the goings on there). On the way, his vehicle broke down, necessitating lengthy repairs Whereupon he decided not to continue on to Meron then, even though things had already been fixed. He waited until after Lag Baomer to resume his journey, remarking that מן השמים, from Heaven, they do not allow him to go (on Lag Baomer), due to the קפידא (objection to the practice of the pilgrimage then) of his forebear, the Chasam Sofer. This shows how a גדול בישראל reacts to such phenomena. He makes a חשבון הנפש, he practices introspection.

וממנו ילמדו וכן יעשו, אכי”ר

What Lag Baomer Hype Inc. Doesn’t Tell You – Lesser Known Facts and Aspects Of ח”י אייר

April 25, 2013

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…

אכי”ר

More Reasons To Reject The New Lag Baomer Practices – The Hidden Dangers Of New Customs

May 4, 2012

With less than a week to go, and the hype in the air, it is time to review the topic of Lag Baomer and build on last year’s post about it (http://treasuresofashkenaz.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/no-no-no-no-no-minhag-ashkenaz-on-lag-baomer/).

Earlier this week I saw a post from ארץ ישראל , which brought out, in a very clear way, very serious dangers, I mean סכנות, of the day in the way many people mark it at present (HT Rafi). These are very serious dangers, both in גשמיות and רוחניות, lurking then. Which have claimed victims, let us not delude ourselves. We know that חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא. That alone should cause people to reconsider what they do on that day, even if the post last year didn’t do the job. I think everyone should take a look at the post.

And there are even more dangers which that article didn’t get to, such as various dangers in the very crowded atmosphere in Meron, from pushing, to heat exhaustion, to פריצות, to issues for Kohanim, and further.

The Lag Baomer hypers are fond of repeating mantras like כדאי הוא רבי שמעון לסמוך עליו בשעת הדחק (R. Shimon is worthy of relying upon in time of duress) and (in Yiddish) רבי שמעון בלייבט נישט שולדיג ביי קיינעם (R. Shimon doesn’t remain owing anyone anything – meaning that he pays up). But however accurate they may or may not be, such sloganeering does not override basic Torah teachings such as אין סומכין על הנס and במקום דשכיח הזיקא שאני

 Update: More calls have come out echoing words above, e.g. from a leading Yemenite Rav in Eretz Yisroel, and others. Also, see this warning from authorities there.

Chassidim Who Stay Away From Meron on Lag Baomer

Another important point to note is that there are many frum groups that are not into going to Meron on ל”ג. In last year’s post we discussed the practice of Rav Elyashiv שליט”א, of never going to Meron. But some people might say what do you expect from a Litvak, after all? So for them I want to point out that certain very major Chassidishe Rebbes and their followers are conspicuous by their lack of participation in the event as well. For example, the largest Chassidic court in Eretz Yisroel is reportedly that of  חסידי גור, aka Gerrer Chassidim. Has anyone seen the Gerrer Rebbe and great masses of Gerrer Chassidim there in Meron on Lag Baomer? I guess there may be some, here and there, but proportionate to their numbers? I don’t think so. Correct me if I am wrong. And other very important Chassidic groups, such as Satmar, also have reservations about it, and are not seen there as they are at other events. So the point is that the matter is not simple at all, even for those who are not usually identified by the masses as being part of the מנהג אשכנז community, even for staunch Chassidim.

Update: It is being reported that the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Bnei Brak ordered his younger followers to stay away from Meron on Lag Baomer, without exception. Vizhnitz is one of the largest Chassidic groups in Eretz Yisroel. Sign can be seen here.

Chassidim Without Bonfires 

It seems that in the past, the lighting of bonfires was limited among Chassidim as well, especially in the diaspora (outside Eretz Yisroel). For example, it is reported that the old Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, did not have a ‘hadlokoh’ in the USA. The practice was only established by his successor, Rav Moshe Teitelbaum, the Beirach Moshe. The Stoliner Chassidim were reported to be pioneers in having a public bonfire at their center in Boro Park, in Brooklyn, which seems to be only in recent decades, if that far back. So it is seems that for many years, many Chassidim managed on Lag Baomer in the disapora without הדלקות

Update: I have been informed that at the court of the Gerrer Rebbe there is no הדלקה  (bonfire) at all. Despite the fact that it is located in Eretz Yisroel. That is quite significant, since Ger is reportedly the largest Chassidic group in ארצנו הקדושה, as well as being one of the largest and most influential in the world. Presumably the Rebbe is continuing in the footsteps of his predecessors in this regard.

Evolution and Spread of Various Lag Baomer Practices

From what I have seen, it seems that the bonfire lighting may have first been in Meron, the area of מערת רשב”י, over time spreading to other areas in Eretz Yisroel. And only later, gradually, and partially, to some places in the diaspora. I am thinking here of practices among groups who generally were inclined to adopt Sephardic practices, such as various Chassidic groups. Nevertheless, it seems that there was and is variation among them, and they did not all rush immediately to copy every Sephardic practice of the day. If a Chassidic group did not have a certain practice in its earlier days, under revered earlier Rebbes in the diaspora, it could be difficult for them to suddenly change, and make a giant bonfire lighting for example, when that was not their minhag previously, if they stress the principle of not deviating from old practices.

Not Wise to Leap On To A Mirage of a Moving Bandwagon That is Actually Not of Sturdy Construction

The above gives more than enough reason for any Ashkenazic Jew to rethink the practices under discussion, even if they have already engaged in them. But surely those that haven’t yet been swept up in the frenzy, including many in חוץ לארץ, should now feel more secure in standing firm against the innovations. If people in Eretz Yisroel are speaking out about the great problems associated with such practices, why would anyone of sound mind want to import them to chutz lo’aretz? Attempts to do so should be firmly rejected and resisted. Yeshivas should not innovate such new practices, as unfortunately some have done in recent years. It sends a wrong message about following our holy מסורה, which is in opposition to what a ישיבה should stand for. If talmidim need to have some recreation, they can go to a park, and engage in traditional innocuous pastimes there.

Broader Lessons Beyond This Specific Case 

And this lesson from Lag Baomer practices, about the dangers of new customs not in the path of the observances of אבותינו הקדושים, our holy ancestors, is a general lesson to keep in mind, not just for this particular case. לא ללמד על עצמו יצא, אלא ללמד על הכלל כלו יצא.

Those who want to mark the day in a special way can emulate מרן רב אלישיב שליט”א and have special סדרים in לימוד תורתנו הקדושה.

In the zechus of proper observance of ל”ג בעומר, may we be zoche to בשורות טובות ישועות ונחמות, במהרה בימינו, אמן!

No – No – No – No – No – Minhag Ashkenaz & Recent Lag Ba’omer Innovations – חגיגת ל”ג בעומר ע”פ מנהג אשכנז, ללא מירון, חאלאקא, מדורה, ח”י רוטל

May 20, 2011

Yes, it is that time of the year again. Lag ba’omer is almost here. And with it, all the hype and solicitations for trips to Meron, Chai Rotel Mashkeh donations, upsherin, bonfires, and the like.

So it is time to review what our holy Ashkenazic mesorah is about relatively recent Lag Ba’omer innovations, to avert confusion be”H, and help save people from getting swept away by all the hype generated by those with stakes in promoting such a holiday.

To simplify things, בקיצור? No-No-No-No-No. (Yes, some of us enjoy saying no. :) No, we are not always negative on everything. ;-)

1) No new יום טוב not mentioned in ש”ס. As the חתם סופר famously wrote in a teshuvoh (יורה דעה רלג, last column on bottom left of page linked to), we do not go along with the making of a new Yom tov not mentioned in Shas and poskim. We don’t go along with making a holiday of the day a tzaddik passed away (aka hillulah) , when the gemara mentions such a day as a day of fasting. In the mesorah of Ashkenaz that is called a yohrzeit, and is a day of fasting and introspection. We don’t make a small village in northern Eretz Yisroel the focus of a giant pilgrimage, more than ירושלים עיה”ק.

Update: The Chasam Sofer also mentions this in a hesped that he gave after the devastating earthquake that hit northern Eretz Yisroel in the 1830’s למספרם. See in ספר תורת משה in the paragraph בד”ה אך לפי here.

2) No Bonfires. No putting ארץ ישראל under a giant cloud of smoke. It can be dangerous to people and the environment. Pollution, smoke inhalation. Some people suffer from the smoke, have to stay inside all day and night and keep their windows closed. Contractors in ארץ ישראל complain of significant losses from wood disappearing from building sites.

And what are the origins of bonfires in connection with such a day, if it is a yohrzeit, a death anniversary, as is claimed, anyway?  The Wikipedia entry on bonfires is interesting.

And even for those who insist on doing so anyway, must they be all over the place? And in the diaspora too lately? That was not done in the past.

3) No Upsherin – That has been well covered by others, see שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק ג and elsewhere.

4)  No Chai Rotel Mashkeh. Chai Rotel is a Chassidic segulah, connected to the Meron event.

Interestingly though, in the sefer of minhogim of Worms, by ר’ יוזפא שמש, it does mention that מלמדים gave יי”ש to תלמידים, although presumably within reason of course. I assume it was something like ‘making a lechayim’.

5)  No תחנון – According to old מנהג אשכנז that goes only for שחרית though.

What many people don’t realize with all the Meron hype, is that many gedolim, and I am not just talking about גדולי אשכנז, but also great Chassidishe Rebbes and Sepharadic gedolim, deliberately do not participate in this event.

Rav Schach זצ”ל told his talmidim not to go to Meron (hat tip to Rafi). להבדיל בחל”ח, Rav Elyashiv שליט”א, as of a few years ago, had never gone to Meron. He stated, as was reported in the Jerusalem Post, that he feels closer to רשב”י learning a blatt gemara.

If the Chasam Sofer voiced reservations about the Meron pilgrimage close to two hundred years ago, when the attendance there was  much smaller than it is nowadays, would his reservations not be much greater today?

I am not getting into the she’eilos of possible חילול שבת caused by preparations for lag baomer when it comes out on Sunday like this year, and whether it is actually the yohrzeit of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai. An excellent article discussing the latter issue, as well as other matters related to the day, has just appeared at the seforim blog.

YES – YES – YES – YES – YES – Minhag Ashkenaz & The Old Way Of The Day

1) Yes, we have simcha because the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying.

2) Yes, it is a day when students are given leisure.

3) Yes, we enjoy music and have weddings.

4) Yes, we can take haircuts.

5) Yes, there is a place for משתה ושמחה.

In the zechus of following מנהג אבות, may we soon be zoche to ביאת משיח צדקנו, and have the zechus to be oleh to ירושלים עיה”ק בב”א.

א גוטען שבת און א פרייליכען ל”ג בעומר


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