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