The days between Pesach and Shavu’ot are days of sorrow, because 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died then. Therefore, we keep some of the customs of mourning during this period, postponing marriages, refraining from taking haircuts, and avoiding dancing, unless it is for the sake of a mitzvah.
Before we discuss the details of these customs, it is fitting to expand a bit upon the main point, which is the reason R. Akiva’s students died. The Talmud states in Tractate Yevamot (62b): “Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students… and they all died during the same period, because they did not treat each other with respect… It is taught in a bereita, ‘They all died between Pesach and Atzeret (Shavu’ot)’… They all died an evil death. And the world was desolate, until R. Akiva came to our Rabbis in the South and taught them (and these are the new students): R. Meir, R. Yehudah, R. Yosi, R. Shimon, and R. Elazar son of Shamu’a; and they established the Torah.” The Midrash (BeReishit Rabbah 61:3) further recounts that R. Akiva said to his new students, “My sons, the first ones died only because they begrudged one another; make sure not to do as they did.” 1 that they died at the time of the Bar Kochva rebellion. Some students went out to fight the Romans, while others continued studying Torah, and the two groups denigrated one another, saying: “I am greater than my colleague, for my contribution is important and beneficial, while my friend’s is useless.” Because of this baseless hatred, they were defeated by their enemies, [which explains why] they all died around the same time. Indeed, the date is not coincidental – between Pesach, which represents Jewish nationalism, and Shavu’ot, which symbolizes the celestial Torah. By showing disrespect for one another, these students separated between the holiday of Pesach and that of Shavu’ot, between nationalism and Torah, causing them all to die during this season. Some quote the passage from BeReishit Rabbah as follows, “They begrudged one another’s Torah.” According to this, the primary rectification needs to be directed towards increasing respect between the Torah scholars of the different camps. (See below, end of note 13, [where we explain] that these days have a festive side, as well, serving as a chol ha-mo’ed [of sorts] – intermediary days between Pesach and Shavu’ot.) ]
Since then, we observe some customs of mourning and try to improve our interpersonal relationships, especially those between Torah students, during the period of Sefirat HaOmer. And since this is based on Jewish custom, not an explicit Rabbinic enactment, there are different customs among the various communities, as we will explain below.
Around a thousand years later, during the Crusades that began in 4856 (1096), the Christians slaughtered tens of thousands of Jews in Germany. These tragedies also occurred mainly during the days of the Omer. Approximately five-hundred years later, from 5408-5409 (1648-49), terrible massacres befell the Jews once again, this time in Eastern Europe. Tens, and perhaps even hundreds, of thousands of Jews were murdered. These pogroms also occurred, for the most part, during the Omer period. Therefore, Ashkenazi Jews are inclined to rule more strictly regarding these customs of mourning.
The Gemara says that the harsh death they suffered was “ascara” (croup), and Rav Sherira Gaon writes in his Iggeret that they died as a result of religious persecution. In this regard, I heard an interesting explanation, [which postulates ↩
There are many customs as to when the mourning period begins and ends. We will mention the four primary ones:
1) The laws of mourning last the entire Omer period. This custom is based on the version of the Gemara that appears in our texts (Yevamot 62b), which states that R. Akiva’s students died between Pesach and Atzeret (Shavu’ot). If so, one should follow the customs of mourning throughout that period.
2) The mourning period continues until Lag B’Omer (the 33rd day of the Omer). This custom is based on the well-known tradition that R. Akiva’s students stopped dying on Lag B’Omer.
3) The customs of mourning cease on the 34th day of the Omer. This is based on a Sefardic tradition, according to which the Gemara reads: “R. Akiva’s students died until P’ros HaAtzeret.” P’ros means half, that is, [they died] until half-a-month before Shavu’ot. When we subtract fifteen days from the forty-nine days of the Omer, we are left with thirty-four days during which R. Akiva’s students died and we observe customs of mourning.
4) The mourning period lasts thirty-three days. This custom is based on a tradition that R. Akiva’s students died on every non-festive day of the Omer period, which add up to thirty-three days. Consequently, we must observe customs of mourning for thirty-three straight days, no matter whether they coincide with the beginning or the end of Sefirat HaOmer. 1. Orchot Chayim states this with regard to both weddings and haircuts (Minhagei Yisrael, vol. 1, pp. 101-102). The author of Shibolei HaLeket and Rabbeinu Yerucham give two additional reasons why we mourn during the Omer period: a) it is based on R. Yochanan ben Nuri’s opinion that the wicked are judged in geihinom (hell) between Pesach and Shavu’ot, b) this is when we are judged regarding grain.
2, 3) [These customs] are based on a tradition that R. Akiva’s students stopped dying on Lag B’Omer. Several Rishonim mention this, including the Meiri (Yevamot 62b): “The Ga’onim had a tradition that the dying ceased on the 33rd day of the Omer. We, therefore, have a custom to refrain from fasting on that day. This is also why there is a custom not to get married between Pesach and that [day].” There is a different version in Tractate Yevamot, as the author of Sefer HaManhig writes in the name of R. Zerachiyah HaLevi (Razah), that according to Sefardic tradition, R. Akiva’s students died until “P’ros HaAtzeret.” Since P’ros implies half-a-month, or fifteen days, it comes out that we must observe the customs of mourning until the 34th day of the Omer. This raises a difficulty, for according to the above-mentioned tradition, the students ceased dying on the thirty-third, but according to the calculation of P’ros, we mourn until the thirty-fourth. Indeed, there are two opinions regarding this issue. Some say we must observe the customs of mourning until the 34th day. This is the viewpoint of Ibn Shu’ib and Tashbetz (vol. 1, 178), cited in Beit Yosef 493. The Shulchan Aruch (493:2) concurs: “The custom is not to take haircuts until Lag B’Omer, for they say that [R. Akiva’s students] stopped dying then. One should not take a haircut until the morning of the thirty-fourth.” Perhaps these authorities explain that the students continued dying throughout the day of the thirty-third; therefore, the mourning period ends only on the thirty-fourth. In contrast, the words of HaManhig (Hilchot Eirusin, end of 106) imply that the period of mourning actually ends on Lag B’Omer. Other Rishonim and Acharonim write similarly. According to them, we must explain that [when Chazal say] “P’ros,” they mean approximately half-a-month, because in reality, we stop mourning sixteen days before Shavu’ot. So writes R. Ya’akov ben R. Avraham Castro (Maharicas) in Erech Lechem (see also below, note 3).
4) The Rishonim cite a tradition in the name of Tosafot (it is not printed in our Gemaras) that R. Akiva’s students died on the thirty-three ordinary, non-festive days of the Omer period. If we subtract from the forty-nine days six days of Pesach, isru-chag, six Sabbaths, and three days of Rosh Chodesh, we are left with thirty-three days on which the students died. Consequently, we observe customs of mourning for thirty-three consecutive days. Some observe them at the beginning of the Omer, while others do so at the end. The Beit Yosef cites this tradition in the name of Ibn Shu’ib, and the Rama (493:3) mentions it as well. Bach, M.B. (493:13), and B.H. (ibid.) explain its laws. Many Ashkenazim observe the customs of mourning during the latter part of the Omer, because the Crusades – during which the wicked [Christians] carried out terrible massacres – began in the months of Iyar and Sivan. On the eighth of Iyar, the Jews of Speyer were massacred; on the twenty-third of the month, the community of Worms [was decimated]; on the third of Sivan, [the murderers massacred] Mainz’s Jews; and on the sixth of Sivan, Cologne [was attacked]. The earliest custom in this regard was to begin the mourning period on the second of Iyar and end it on the day before Shavu’ot. Nonetheless, one [who follows Ashkenazi practices] may start the mourning period at the beginning of the Omer, as well. Even though the laws of mourning do not manifest themselves on chol ha-mo’ed Pesach – for there is a mitzvah to rejoice [throughout the holiday] – this does not take away from the thirty-three days, just as the days of Shabbat, on which mourning is precluded, count towards the thirty-three days of the Omer and the seven days of regular mourning.
See Siddur Pesach KeHilchato 12:1-3 and Hilchot Chag BeChag 7:21. The author of Minhagei Yisrael, vol. 1, pp. 101-111, explains the Sefardi and Ashkenazi customs. In his addenda, vol. 4, pp. 237-241, he brings proofs that the word P’ros does not usually mean half, but “close to.” According to this, the version that reads, “until P’ros HaAtzeret” means until Erev (the day before) Shavu’ot. It is important to note that there is another custom: to observe mourning throughout the Omer period, except the days of Rosh Chodesh and Lag B’Omer, when everything is permitted. We do not follow this practice (cited in M.A. 493:5 and M.B. 15). ]
Sources: 1) Rav Natrunai Gaon, Rav Hai Gaon, and R. Yitzchak Gi’at write that ever since Rabbi Akiva’s students died, we refrain from making weddings between Pesach and Shavu’ot. The Tur (493) cites this opinion anonymously, [indicating that it is the accepted opinion ↩
According to the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 493:1-2), the customs of mourning begin on the first day of the Omer and last until the morning of the thirty-fourth. This is based on the tradition that reads the Gemara: “R. Akiva’s students died until P’ros HaAtzeret,” meaning fifteen days before Shavu’ot. This implies that we must continue mourning until the 34th day of the Omer. However, [the halachah determines] regarding the seven-day mourning period [for a close relative] that part of a day is [considered] like a whole day. Therefore, when a mourner sits on the ground for a short time at the beginning of the seventh day, he effectively completes that day and may terminate his mourning. The same applies to the mourning of the Omer period, and one need not wait until the end of the 34th day. Rather, all customs of mourning become null and void a few moments after daybreak on the morning of the thirty-fourth, because part of a day is [considered] like a whole day.
Actually, one is permitted to sing, play music, and dance on Lag B’Omer, in honor of the anniversary of R. Shimon bar Yochai’s death. However, the other customs of mourning remain binding. Thus, according to this practice, one is forbidden to get married or take a haircut on Lag B’Omer, and when the day ends, it is forbidden to play music or dance on the night of the thirty-fourth. When morning comes, however, all practices of mourning are nullified. (Those who follow the Ari’s customs act strictly and refrain from taking haircuts until the day before Shavu’ot – K.H.C. 493:13.)
Some Sefardi communities – like those from Turkey and Egypt – end all customs of mourning on Lag B’Omer. And even though most Sefardim in Israel today do not follow this practice, if there is a great need to act leniently on Lag B’Omer or the night of the thirty-fourth, there is room to present the question before a wise Torah scholar. 1 writes in this vein in Yabi’a Omer 5:38. [This leniency applies] especially to those who come from countries where the custom is to act leniently on Lag B’Omer, like Turkey. (On the night of the thirty-fourth, one can also figure in the Ramban’s opinion, that part of the night is considered like its entirety. See below, note 5.) According to Radvaz and Pri Chadash, one who has yet to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation need not avoid getting married during this period. The Jews of Yemen followed such a custom (Sh’tilei Zeitim 493:4, Maharitz 2:111). In practice, though, we do not act leniently on this issue, unless circumstances are pressing, [and even then, only] in accordance with the ruling of a wise scholar. (Even Yemenite Jews act strictly; see Shulchan Aruch HaMekutzar 92:7.) ]
The Sefardi custom is elucidated in Shulchan Aruch (493:1-2), and we explained its foundations in the previous halachah (the third custom), based on the version that reads “P’ros HaAtzeret,” which means the thirty-fourth. However, several Sefardic poskim hold that the customs of mourning end on Lag B’Omer. Maharicas and R. Ya’akov Rakach write in this vein, and Maharicas explains in Erech Lechem that P’ros does not necessarily mean exactly half-a-month. The author of Shiyurei K’nesset HaGedolah (Hagahot B.Y. 493:3) writes that in and around Kushta the custom is to make weddings on Lag B’Omer. Pri Chadash, Nahar Mitzrayim, and others rule similarly. However, the prevalent custom follows the Shulchan Aruch’s opinion. This can be found in Yechaveh Da’at (3:31) and Yabi’a Omer (vol. 3, O.C. 26:4). Nonetheless, in pressing situations, and when there is potential for loss, there is room to be lenient, in accordance with the ruling of a wise Torah scholar. [R. Ovadyah Yosef ↩
The prevalent custom among Ashkenazi Jews today in Eretz Yisrael combines several traditions. Most expressions of mourning last until Lag B’Omer, while some continue afterwards. This is based on the tradition that although the plague ended on Lag B’Omer, those students who fell ill beforehand died between the 34th day of the Omer and Shavu’ot (Maharal, Chidushei Aggadot, Yevamot 62b). Therefore, [Ashkenazim] do not take haircuts, celebrate weddings, play music, or dance until Lag B’Omer. Afterwards, however, they refrain only from weddings and very joyous affairs. Another reason: during the Crusades and the [Chmielnicki] Massacres of 5408-5409 (1648-49), hundreds of thousands of Ashkenazi Jews were killed, and these murders occurred mainly during the latter part of the Omer period. Therefore, Ashkenazi communities refrain from great celebrations during this period. From Rosh Chodesh Sivan, however, the custom is to permit weddings, because the holiday of Shavu’ot, which is already perceivable from the beginning of the month, cancels the mourning. Some rule leniently and allow weddings from Lag B’Omer and on, avoiding only great celebrations that are optional in nature until Shavu’ot. (In the footnote, we will mention another custom that was very widespread in Ashkenazi lands.) 1 died until P’ros HaAtzeret to mean approximately half-a-month [before Shavu’ot]. Furthermore, according to this custom, there is no great difference between the Ashkenazi and Sefardi customs. Nonetheless, we still continue to avoid great celebrations even after Lag B’Omer, in accordance with the tradition that claims that R. Akiva’s students who fell ill before the thirty-third died throughout [the remainder of] the Omer period. Furthermore, the Taz writes (493:2) that it is because of the tragedies that occurred after Lag B’Omer. Another explanation for this custom: it coincides with our version of the Gemara (Yevamot 62b), which states that they died between Pesach and Atzeret (Shavu’ot). And since refraining from getting married is the [only] expression of mourning mentioned in the works of the Ga’onim, we do not celebrate weddings during the entire [Omer] period (except from Rosh Chodesh Sivan and on, that being the only detail in which this custom deviates from the Gemara). The prohibition against taking haircuts and listening to music was instituted later; therefore, the custom is to refrain from them only until Lag B’Omer. Another way to interpret the Ashkenazi custom is that thirty-three days of mourning are required, [not necessarily the first thirty-three]. Accordingly, we count thirty-three days starting from the day after isru-chag until the 29th of Iyar (not including Rosh Chodesh Iyar and Lag B’Omer). Everything is, thus, permissible from Rosh Chodesh Sivan and on. Some [authorities] permit weddings after Lag B’Omer, if necessary, because they fulfill a mitzvah, forbidding only great celebrations that are optional in nature, until Shavu’ot.
In Germany, the Jews adopted the fourth custom mentioned above, according to which the important thing is to observe thirty-three days of mourning at the beginning or end of the Omer period. Here, too, there are several options: 1) at the beginning of the Omer (like the Ashkenazi custom in Eretz Yisrael); 2) from the thirtieth of Nissan, which is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, until the morning of the third of Sivan; 3) from the second of Iyar until the day before Shavu’ot (Rama 493:3, M.B. 15; also see Hilchot Chag BeChag 7, 73-75).
The Rama (493:3) writes that a community should not follow two different practices, because of [the prohibition of] Do not divide yourselves (Devarim 14:1). However, if people from different communities assemble together in one place, they may [follow different customs]. [R. Moshe Feinstein] concurs in Iggrot Moshe, O.C. 1:159. According to Ashkenazi practice (the fourth custom mentioned in section 2), if there is no established custom in a particular city, the residents may chose one of the customs, as long as they do not adopt the leniencies of both. They may even observe the first thirty-three days one year and begin on Rosh Chodesh Iyar the next, because these are not [really] different customs, the important thing being to observe thirty-three consecutive days of mourning. This is taken from [Responsa] Chatam Sofer (O.C. 142), as Iggrot Moshe (O.C. 1:159) explains it. It is also quoted in Siddur Pesach KeHilchato 12:4:23 and Hilchot Chag BeChag 7:23. See also Piskei Teshuvot 493:12-13. The Chatam Sofer writes further that one may follow one practice regarding weddings and another regarding haircuts. Nowadays, there are practically no Ashkenazim in Israel who [begin the mourning period on Rosh Chodesh Iyar and thus] celebrate weddings [in between Pesach and] Rosh Chodesh Iyar. It seems appropriate to stop those who want to make weddings then, because the Israeli practice is also based on the third custom mentioned above (sec. 2), and one should not follow two practices in one place. ]
On the day of Lag B’Omer itself, one may get married and take a haircut. There is a dispute, however, regarding the night. Some say that these actions are permissible at night, as well, because the entire day of Lag B’Omer is joyous. Others maintain that one is required to observe thirty-three consecutive days of mourning. Therefore, it is permissible to get married and take a haircut only after morning has arrived and we can apply the rule: “Part of a day is [considered] like a whole day.” The custom is to act strictly, le-chatchillah (ideally), but one may follow those who rule leniently, if necessary. According to all customs, it is permissible to celebrate with music and dancing on the night of Lag B’Omer. 2 is permissible. They include the authors of Ma’adanei Yom Tov, Chok Ya’akov, Mor U’Ketzi’a, and more. Their reasoning is that Lag B’Omer, both night and day, is a time of joy, when [R. Akiva’s students] stopped dying. The problem, however, is that we need to observe thirty-three days of mourning. According to those who do not celebrate weddings until Rosh Chodesh Sivan, these is no problem, because [they observe] more than thirty-three days. There is also no difficulty according to our version of the Maharil, which states that one must avoid haircuts only thirty-two days (although he writes that we refrain from weddings the entire Omer period). The author of Shulchan Aruch HaRav (493:5) makes this halachah contingent upon the question of whether or not we recite tachanun in the Minchah service before Lag B’Omer. I.e., according to those who hold that tachanun is omitted, the mourning period lasts thirty-two days, and the custom is to omit tachanun (see below, chap. 5, note 1). If we, nonetheless, insist on thirty-three days of mourning, and we do not count the days after Lag B’Omer, perhaps we can rely on the Ramban’s opinion that a portion of the night is tantamount to an entire day. Then, we can celebrate weddings and take haircuts a few moments after the night of Lag B’Omer begins (so writes the Pri Chadash). See Hilchot Chag BeChag 7:71, who substantiates this opinion. See also Siddur Pesach KeHilchato 12:12. ]
The Ashkenazi custom in Eretz Yisrael regarding weddings is explained in a book called Minhagei Eretz Yisrael (18:2). The author of Siddur Pesach KeHilchato (12:3) writes likewise. This custom covers all the various traditions. First of all, there are thirty-three days of mourning at the beginning of the Sefirah period, which satisfies the tradition that the Rama quotes from Tosafot. It also coincides with the tradition that the plague ceased on Lag B’Omer. In addition, we can now explain the Talmudic text that states that [R. Akiva’s students ↩
A simple reading of the Rama (493:2) implies that one is permitted to get married and take a haircut only on the morning of Lag B’Omer, not on the night of the thirty-third. This is because we need to observe thirty-three days of mourning, and the Shulchan Aruch rules (Y.D. 295:1) in accordance with the opinion of the Maharam of Rotenberg, as opposed to that of the Ramban, that a portion of the night is not considered like a whole day, only a portion of the day is. The Gra concurs, and the Mishnah Berurah (10) leans towards this opinion. However, many authorities maintain that the entire day of Lag B’Omer [including the night ↩
After having discussed the duration of the mourning period, we will now delineate the laws of the various customs in detail. The Ga’onim write that ever since Rabbi Akiva’s students died in the period between Pesach and Shavu’ot, the Jewish people have a custom not to get married during this time.
Several poskim hold that only optional marriages are prohibited, like that of a man who has been married before and has already fulfilled the mitzvah of procreation. However, one who has yet to procreate may get married during Sefirah, because the mitzvah overrides the custom (Radvaz, Pri Chadash). In practice, though, the Acharonim determine that the custom is not to get married during this period, even if one has yet to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation. Otherwise, the custom of mourning would have almost no significance. One is, however, permitted to remarry his ex-wife, because there is a mitzvah involved and it is not an overly joyous occasion (M.B. 493:1, K.H.C. 2-3).
According to the custom of most Sefardim, the prohibition against weddings lasts from the beginning of the Omer until the thirty-fourth day of the count. [That is], one may get married from the morning of the 34th and on. Some Sefardic communities follow a more lenient custom, celebrating weddings already on Lag B’Omer (the thirty-third). In pressing situations, one may follow this practice, in accordance with the ruling of a wise scholar (see above, note 3).
The Ashkenazi custom in Eretz Yisrael is to forbid weddings from the beginning of the Omer until the twenty-ninth of Iyar, allowing them [only] from Rosh Chodesh Sivan and on. Some rabbis permit those who have yet to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation to get married from Lag B’Omer and on. When there is a [special] need, a wise scholar should be consulted. All Ashkenazi customs agree that one is allowed to get married on the day of Lag B’Omer, and some are even lenient on the night of Lag B’Omer. Everyone also agrees that if a couple gets married on the day of Lag B’Omer, they may continue the celebrations into the night of the thirty-fourth.
The Chief Rabbinate [of Israel] has established that all Ashkenazim may get married on the 28th of Iyar, the day Jerusalem was liberated. 1
If someone is invited to a wedding on a day that weddings are forbidden according to his custom, but the groom follows a custom in which weddings are permitted, he may attend the affair, partake of the meal, and dance with joy before the bride and groom (Iggrot Moshe O.C. 1:159).
Only weddings are forbidden. One is, however, permitted to make what is called today an “engagement” party, on condition that no music is played. 2 it involves some degree of mitzvah observance. After all, it strengthens the bond between the couple. Nonetheless, one should not play music at such an occasion, because it is not considered an actual se’udat mitzvah (a meal celebrating the performance of a mitzvah), as the Magen Avraham (493:1) and Mishnah Berurah (493:3) demonstrate regarding se’udat shidduchin (a meal celebrating an engagement), as opposed to what [R. Ovadya Yosef] writes in Yalkut Yosef (35) in [the Mishnah Berurah’s] name. Furthermore, we will explain below, in section 9, that even at a [full-fledged] se’udat mitzvah, like a brit milah (circumcision), it is permissible to play music only if the local custom is to always play music at such events, and many people do not play music at engagement parties. In the last few years, [however], many people have adopted the custom of playing music and dancing at engagement parties. [Therefore], one who believes that this is the custom of his entire milieu, he may act leniently, if he wishes, in accordance with what is minimally accepted. [Still], it is proper to also complete a Talmudic tractate [at the party]. ]
Regarding the custom not to get married until Rosh Chodesh Sivan, see note 4. For elaboration on the law of the night of Lag B’Omer, see note 5. If the wedding took place during the day of Lag B’Omer, the celebrants may continue the meal and dance on the night of the thirty-fourth (see Piskei Teshuvot 493:11). Also see HaNisu’in KeHilchatam, chap. 5, 19-34; and Matza Tov, pp. 274-79. Some say that it is preferable to get married on the night of Lag B’Omer, so that the joy and dancing will not carry over into the thirty-fourth (Hilchot Chag B’Chag 7, end of note 71).
Some Ashkenazi poskim allow, under pressing circumstances, a couple to get married on Friday, the 31st day of the Omer, when Lag B’Omer falls out on Sunday, just like the Rama permits haircuts on that day. Others forbid this (see HaNisu’in KeHilchatam 5:23, Piskei Teshuvot 493:11). According to Sefardi practice, it seems clear that one should not act leniently in this regard.
The Mishnah Berurah (493:5) holds that if Rosh Chodesh Iyar falls out on Shabbat – making it doubly joyous – one may get married on Friday and serve the meal and rejoice on Shabbat/Rosh-Chodesh. Sefardim rule leniently in this case only under pressing circumstances (K.H.C. 493:42, based on Beit David and Chida). ↩
Even though such a party is joyous, [it is permitted because ↩
The Rishonim write that one should not take a haircut during the Omer period. As we learned above (sec. 3-4), Sefardim observe this prohibition until the morning of the thirty-fourth day of the Omer. Ashkenazim, on the other hand, keep it until the morning of the thirty-third, while some allow haircuts starting from the night of Lag B’Omer. One may rely on those who rule leniently, if necessary (see above, note 5).
Only regular haircuts, that entail an aspect of joy, are prohibited, but it is permissible to trim one’s mustache, if it interferes with one’s eating. Similarly, one who gets headaches when his hair is overgrown, or one who has sores on his head, may cut his hair during this period (based on S.A. 551:13, M.B. 21, and B.H. ibid.; Sefer Pesach KeHilchato 12:8-9).
Both men and women are included in this prohibition. However, a woman may cut her hair for purposes of modesty. For example, if her hair comes out of her head covering, she may cut it (S.A. 551:13, M.B. 79). It is also permissible to cut or pluck hair in order to avoid embarrassment. Therefore, women may pluck their eyebrows or remove facial hairs (Piskei Teshuvot 493:7, quoting R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach; see also Iggrot Moshe, Y.D. 2:137).
One may not cut children’s hair, as well, during this period, but if there is a great need – to prevent them from suffering – it is permissible (see S.A. 551:14, M.B. 82).
The main participants of a brit milah – the father of the child, the sandak, and the mohel – may cut their hair in honor of the occasion (M.B. 493:12; we will discuss the law of Yom HaAtma’ut below, 4:11). According to Ashkenazi custom, one may take a haircut in anticipation of Rosh Chodesh Iyar when it falls out on Shabbat (M.B. 493:5). Sefardim act leniently in this regard only under pressing circumstances (K.H.C. 493:42). 1
Those who follow the customs of the Ari z”l are careful not to take haircuts the entire Omer period, until the day before Shavu’ot, when they cut their hair in honor of the holiday. According to the Ari, one should not get a haircut even for the sake of a brit milah. The only exception is giving [first] haircuts to young, three-year-old boys on Lag B’Omer (K.H.C. 493:13; see below, 5:6, regarding the chalakah [or upsherin] custom).
According to Ashkenazi custom, one may shave and take a haircut in honor of Shabbat when Lag B’Omer falls out on Sunday (Rama 493:2). Sefardi custom, on the other hand, prohibits this. If Lag B’Omer falls out on Friday, however, even Sefardim allow one to take a haircut and shave on that day (S.A. 493:2). ↩
A question arises regarding the issue of shaving during the Omer period. Is one who shaves [regularly] throughout the year allowed to shave during Sefirah? Many authorities maintain that shaving is included in [the prohibition of] taking haircuts and whenever it is forbidden to cut one’s hair, it is also forbidden to shave. Most yeshiva students follow this practice, to the point that refraining from shaving has become the most prominent and discernable [sign] of mourning during the Omer period.
Some poskim, however, hold that there is a fundamental difference between taking a haircut and shaving. Haircuts are celebratory; it is therefore accepted that people get their hair cut before holidays and festive occasions. Shaving, on the other hand, has become an ordinary task nowadays, done every day, or every few days, in order to remove the stubble that mars the faces of those who are accustomed to shaving frequently. Therefore, the custom to refrain from cutting hair does not apply to shaving. [According to this opinion], it is especially appropriate to shave on Fridays, to avoid bringing in the Sabbath disgracefully.
Those who want to rely on the lenient opinion may do so, and one should not rebuke them [for this]. In practice, however, everyone should follow his father’s custom or his rabbi’s instructions. For even though, according to the letter of the law, one can rely on the reasoning of those who rule leniently, one cannot ignore the fact that the custom to abstain from shaving during Sefirah is an indelible expression of willingness to sacrifice for the sake of mitzvah observance, and there is room for concern that nullifying this custom will compromise one’s dedication to upholding customs. Therefore, it is appropriate for everyone to do as his father does, or as his rabbi instructs him to do, because the issues of tradition and how one’s actions influence others are more important here than the specific question of whether or not shaving is included in the customs of mourning. 1 rule strictly, forbidding all shaving during the Omer mourning period. So writes the author of K.H.C. (551:66). In section 493:19, he quotes the Acharonim as saying that one may shave only if not doing so will cause a loss of income. In Iggrot Moshe (O.C. 4:102), as well, [R. Moshe Feinstein] allows one to shave in order to avoid financial loss; for example, if his employers demand it. On the other hand, one could say that daily shaving is not like taking a haircut. After all, this concept [of shaving daily] did not exist when the custom to show our mourning through [the avoidance of] haircuts first began. And just as there is a distinction, regarding a mourner’s prohibition to bathe, between bathing for pleasure or refreshment and bathing in order to remove filth, so too, one could make a distinction between festive shaving and shaving in order to remove unsightly [facial hairs]. The purpose of all the Sefirah customs is to avoid merrymaking, not to exhibit mourning, and beard stubble exhibits mourning. Granted, one should not be lenient on this issue during shiva and shloshim (the seven- and thirty-day mourning periods after the death of a close relative), but just as we allow shaving during the year-long mourning period [after the death of a parent], so may we be lenient during the Omer period and the Three Weeks, until Rosh Chodesh Av. Rabbi Schachter cites this in Nefesh HaRav (p. 191) in the name of Rav Soloveitchik. This is especially true with regard to shaving for the sake of Shabbat. After all, the Magen Avraham (551:14) cites Hagahot Oshri as saying that Ashkenazim, who are accustomed not to take haircuts the entire Three Week period, should not cut their hair even before Shabbat, because [people] do not cut their hair every week. This implies that those who are accustomed to shaving [every week] may shave in honor of Shabbat. See B.H. (551:3), which states that the Yerushalmi also indicates that one may shave for the sake of Shabbat. In addition to all this, it should be noted that the custom to mourn during Sefirah originally prohibited only weddings. And according to the Ge’onim, Jews already began refraining from getting married soon after Rabbi Akiva’s students died. In contrast, the custom to avoid haircuts is first mentioned in the writings of the Rishonim: Orchot Chayim, Shibolei HaLeket, and others. Perhaps, they instituted it after additional tragedies befell the Jewish people (like the Crusades; see Minhagei Yisrael, vol. 1, pp. 105, 112-117). The Ridbaz writes in his Responsa (2:687) that some people have a custom to take haircuts the entire month of Nissan, during which fasting and eulogizing is forbidden, while others cut their hair every Friday. He also permits haircuts on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, disputing the Shulchan Aruch’s opinion (493:3). His words indicate that one may follow the more lenient opinions when it comes to this custom [of not taking haircuts]. Ancient Yemenite custom did not forbid haircuts during Sefirah; they began acting strictly only later on. R. Mashraki (the author of Shtilei Zeitim) and the Maharitz (Responsa Pe’ulat Tzaddik 2:76) rule that one should cut one’s hair on the eve of Shabbat. Thus, when there is a doubt whether shaving has the same status as haircutting, one may take into consideration those who rule leniently altogether. See Responsa Ner Ezra (vol. 2, pp. 155-58), where the author concludes that one may shave before Shabbat, writing that this is the opinion of Rabbi Min-Hahar and R. Lichtenstein. Rabbi Rabinowitz, Rosh Yeshivat Ma’aleh Adumim, recommends that everyone act as his father does, to avoid a situation in which a father shaves and his son does not, or vice versa, thus violating the father’s honor.
Another reason to permit [shaving on Fridays]: those who shave regularly usually feel great distress when unable to shave for several days. Perhaps this is similar to the dispensation to trim one’s mustache if it interferes with one’s eating, or to remove hairs that cause head sores or headaches. See K.H.C. 493:17, where the author allows one to cut his hair in honor of the Sabbath, if [his long hair] causes him suffering. In addition, the Chida mentions (in Yosef Ometz 40) the rationale that those who shave [regularly] suffer greatly [when they do not shave], even more than one suffers due to [long] hair.
In my humble opinion, it would be proper – according to the letter of the law – to rule that those who shave throughout the year should shave in honor of Shabbat, and those who wish to act leniently may shave every day, because the customs of mourning do not apply to daily shaving. However, as I stated above, one should be careful not to undermine the tradition of such a prominent custom. Therefore, everyone should follow his father’s custom, or do as his rabbi instructs him. See a similar discussion below, 8.11, regarding shaving during the Three Weeks. ]
Since the custom is not to celebrate too much during the Omer period, the Acharonim write that one is forbidden to engage in optional dancing [as opposed to dancing for the sake of a mitzvah] (M.A. 493:1). They also forbid playing or listening to musical instruments.
According to Sefardi custom, the laws of mourning last until the morning of the 34th of the Omer. Nevertheless, in honor of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s Hillula (festivities marking the day of his passing), music and dancing are permitted on the 33rd (Lag) of the Omer. Afterwards, however, the prohibition [resumes and] continues through the night of the thirty-fourth, until the next morning, when all customs of mourning expire.
According to Ashkenazi practice, the prohibitions last until the end of the 32nd day of the Omer, meaning that music, dancing, and rejoicing are permitted from the beginning of the night of Lag B’Omer, in honor of R. Shimon bar Yochai’s Hillula. Most Jews of Ashkenazi descent refrain from large celebrations – like gala evenings of dance – until the holiday of Shavu’ot, but one may play and hear musical instruments. It is also permissible to hold aerobic classes, because their main purpose is to provide exercise, not joyous dancing. 1 the weekdays therein; 2) the fact that [so many] tragedies befell the Ashkenazi communities during these days. The only difference is that we are more rigid in our observance of these customs before Lag B’Omer than we are afterwards. All this was already explained above, in sections 2 and 4, and in footnotes 2 and 4.
The distinction between a great or large celebration and a regular one is undefined. However, organizing an optional evening of dance is certainly a large celebration. On the other hand, aerobic classes, which are mainly for the purpose of exercise, are permitted. Regarding [other] joyous events, about which one is unsure whether it is considered a great celebration, one may act leniently if one combines it with a siyum (the completion of a Talmudic tractate) or some other mitzvah component. Sefardim are permitted to participate in any type of celebration [after Lag B’Omer]. If many members of a group [organizing an event] are Sefardic, [the group as a whole] may be lenient, in accordance with their custom, but it is preferable to combine [the event with] a siyum or some other mitzvah. ]
The custom is to allow music and dancing on Chol HaMo’ed Pesach, because we are commanded to rejoice on these days (M.B. 529:16; see Piskei Teshuvot 493:6). Weddings, however, may not be held on Chol HaMo’ed, because we do not mix one celebration with another (S.A., O.C. 546:1). The Rabbis also forbid one to take a haircut on Chol HaMo’ed, to ensure that people do so prior to the holiday (ibid. 531:2).
A Jew who makes a living playing music may perform at non-Jewish affairs, [if] he needs the income. It is also permissible to teach or learn music during Sefirah, since these endeavors are not joyful (Siddur Pesach KeHilchato 12:16; see Piskei Teshuvot 493:4). However, a music student who, in any event, studies intermittently throughout the year should schedule a break, if possible, during the mourning period of the Omer. And if he intends on taking only one break a year, it is preferable to save it for the Three Weeks (see below, 8.2).
Later-day Ashkenazi authorities are unsure whether it is permissible to make large celebrations after the thirty-three main days of mourning are finished. They are even in doubt concerning the days between Rosh Chodesh Sivan and Shavu’ot, as the author of Sha’ar HaTziyun cites (493:4) in the name of Eliyah Rabba and Pri Megadim. Siddur Pesach KeHilchato (chap. 12, note 50) also cites this. R. Auerbach and R. Wosner rule strictly (Piskei Teshuvot 493:6:43). Even though the custom in Eretz Yisrael is to permit weddings after Rosh Chodesh Sivan, there is room to be strict the entire Omer period when it comes to optional dancing. The rationale behind extending the customs of mourning past Lag B’Omer is based on two factors: 1) the tradition that R. Akiva’s students died throughout the Omer period, or [at least ↩
It is permissible to make a festive meal for the sake of a mitzvah. This includes singing and dancing at the meal, to the degree that is acceptable throughout the year. For example, one may prepare a festive meal for a brit milah (circumcision), pidyon ha-ben (redemption of the first born son), or a siyum. And one who regularly dances and plays joyous music at such meals may do so during the Omer period, because these celebrations are made for the sake of a mitzvah.
The same goes for hiring out musicians: if the local custom is to always bring in musicians for these mitzvah parties, one is permitted to do so during the mourning period of the Omer. Even though some poskim rule strictly on this matter, the halachah follows those who are lenient; after all, we are dealing with a doubt regarding a custom of mourning. If, however, it is not clear that people hire out musicians for such events, it is preferable to avoid doing so during these days.
It is permissible to bring a new Torah scroll into a synagogue, accompanied by music, singing, and dancing, as is widely accepted, because such revelry is mitzvah oriented.
The same applies to a bar mitzvah celebration held on the very day the boy reaches thirteen. That is, one may celebrate the occasion as one would throughout the year. When it is impossible to schedule the party on the day the boy actually becomes obligated in mitzvot, it is permissible to make a festive meal, but without music. If, however, [the organizers] make sure that someone completes a Talmudic tractate or an order of Mishnayot at the beginning of the party, they may supply music, as people regularly do at bar mitzvah celebrations. 1. The questioners expected a lenient ruling seeing that it is a mitzvah to bring joy to these people. I answered that it is forbidden, because such a party is [nevertheless] optional, and the disabled have to keep the customs of mourning, as well. In addition, they do not make a party for them every week, not even every month, so why schedule a party for them specifically during a period of mourning? ]
See M.A. 493:1 and M.B. 3, regarding engagement parties, which are considered se’udot mitzvah to some degree. Also see above, sec. 5 and note 7. The authorities that permit musical instruments at se’udot mitzvah are: Iggrot Moshe, O.C. 2:95, E.H.E. 1:97; Meshaneh Halachot 6:109; Yechaveh Da’at 6:34. Those who forbid it are: Minchat Yitzchak 1:111, based on Da’at Kedoshim; see also Piskei Teshuvot 493:5. The halachah follows the lenient opinion when it comes to these laws. The author of a book called Shalmei Mo’ed (p. 454) writes in the name of Rabbi Auerbach that one may celebrate a bar mitzvah on a different day, as long as there is no band or dancing. I was once asked if an institution for the disabled is permitted to make a party with music and dancing [during Sefirah ↩
Many poskim hold that there is no difference between listening to live music and listening to music on the radio, or by way of any other electronic device; both are forbidden during Sefirah (until Lag B’Omer) and the Three Weeks. It is permissible, though, to listen to a cappella songs via electronic music players (Iggrot Moshe, Y.D. 2:137, Yechaveh Da’at 6:34). Some forbid even this, because the device is considered like a musical instrument (Tzitz Eliezer 15:33, Sheivet HaLevi 8:127).
On the other hand, some authorities hold that the prohibition against listening to musical instruments during these [periods of mourning] does not apply to listening to music on the radio or any other household, electronic device. The rationale being that listening to music this way is not as festive as is listening to it live. Furthermore, nowadays, everyone listens to music on electronic devices regularly, and since it has become so routine, the festiveness and joy associated with listening to music has disappeared. This is similar to singing without musical accompaniment, which is permitted during the Omer. In addition, a distinction should be made between joyous songs and regular songs. Only regarding joyous songs is it logical to prohibit household devices, but one should not prohibit regular music – and certainly not sad tunes – during the mourning period of the Omer. One who wishes to act leniently may rely on this opinion and listen to regular and sad songs on a household, electronic device. He should not, however, listen to them loudly, because the force of the sound that fills the room generates a certain atmosphere of jubilation.
Apparently, everyone would agree that a driver who is worried that he might fall asleep at the wheel may listen to music in order to keep himself alert. 1: In Iggrot Moshe, Y.D. 2:137 and O.C. 1:166, [R. Moshe Feinstein] is inclined to rule strictly, forbidding one to listen to musical instruments throughout the year, [as a sign of] mourning for the Temple’s destruction – all the more so, during the Omer period and the Three Weeks. And even though [R. Ovadyah Yosef] permits one to listen to music [throughout the year], he forbids one to listen to instrumental music on the radio and the like during Sefirah and the Three Weeks (Yechaveh Da’at 6:34). (In private conversation, however, he allowed Arutz Sheva [to play music], to ensure the continued [broadcasting] of Torah-oriented shows.) The author of Minchat Yitzchak (1:111) concurs. R. Auerbach and R. Elyashiv, as well, forbid one to listen to music on the radio (Shalmei Mo’ed, p. 453). The authors of Tzitz Eliezer (15:33) and Sheivet HaLevi (8:127) forbid even a cappella songs. See also Piskei Teshuvot 493:4.
However, the arguments indicating a lenient ruling are strong. First of all, musical instruments do not necessarily denote joy. See Shabbat 151a, which [mentions the usage of] flutes in funeral elegies. Similarly, the Pri Megadim allows one to play music [during the Omer] in order to make a living, and his ruling is quoted in B.H. 551:2. The Maharam Schick (Y.D. 368) discusses the distinction between joyous tunes and sad ones, stating that sad tunes are not forbidden during times of mourning. (However, he forbids teaching music to certain children during their year of mourning, because they learn music only for egotistical reasons, not in order to make a living.) Anyway, we see that only joyous songs are forbidden. The wording of the Rambam in Hilchot Ta’anit (5:14), where he deals with the prohibition of playing music after the Destruction, also indicates this: “In addition, [the Rabbis] decreed that we refrain from playing musical instruments and [engaging in] all types of song… It is forbidden to rejoice in them or listen to them, because of the Destruction.” According to this, it seems that the prohibition against listening to musical instruments relates mainly to happy songs, which go along with dance, but regular songs – and certainly sad ones – are permitted. The author of Responsa Chelkat Ya’akov (1:62) brings up another point: listening [to music] via electronic devices is not included in the decree (or custom of mourning), because these devices did not exist [when the decree (or custom) was originally established]. Now, perhaps when these devices were rare, listening to them was a festive activity, and that is why many poskim disagreed with him. Nowadays, however, listening to music players is routine and uneventful; therefore, it is not included in the custom which forbids [listening to live music]. My father, my teacher, agrees with this viewpoint. R. Shmuel David writes likewise in Techumin (vol. 13). See also below, 8:4. And since the entire prohibition is based on a custom, the halachah follows the more lenient opinion in cases of doubt. This is how Arutz Sheva conducted itself during the mourning period of the Omer, broadcasting regular songs and avoiding songs that were meant for celebrations and dancing.
Everyone agrees that it is forbidden to attend a concert, even if the songs being performed are regular or sad ones, because the very act of coming together for a concert is festive and joyous. In my humble opinion, the same is true of listening to neutral songs at a high volume: they become somewhat festive because of the force of the sound. According to all opinions, a driver may listen to music in order to keep himself awake, both because [listening to music while driving] is not so joyous and because of the possible danger to life. Even the stricter poskim agree that one who suffers from depression may listen to music, in private, as cited in Hilchot Chag B’Chag 7:39. ]
The following poskim forbid [listening to music on electronic devices ↩
During the Omer period, one is permitted to buy a new fruit, garment, or piece of furniture and recite the SheHechiyanu blessing over it. True, after the Crusades and the horrific massacres that the Christians carried out during the Omer period, some rabbis in the Ashkenazi community began treating the mourning of the Omer period as strictly as that of Three Weeks. And just as we refrain from saying SheHechiyanu during the Three Weeks – because it is inappropriate to say, “Who has kept us alive… and brought us to this time,” during the period in which the Temple was destroyed – so too, it is inappropriate to say SheHechiyanu during a time in which holy Jews were murdered.
In practice, however, the accepted halachah is that there is no prohibition against saying SheHechiyanu during the Omer period, for these days are not comparable to the days between the 17th of Tammuz and Tish’a B’Av. Nonetheless, one who wishes to act stringently and refrain from buying clothing and furniture during this period deserves a blessing. If there is a [special] need, however, even such a person may act leniently. For example, someone who needs an article of clothing or a piece of furniture may buy it. Similarly, if someone comes upon an opportunity to buy one of these items at a reduced price, he may buy it. Those who follow the stricter custom should wear the garment for the first time, and recite the SheHechiyanu blessing over it, on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, Yom HaAtzma’ut, or at a se’udat mitzvah. Likewise, if one buys a new piece of furniture, he should try to begin using it on these joyous days.
One is permitted to buy a house, and [even] move into it, during the days [of Sefirah], especially if the house is in the Land of Israel, and all the more so if it is located in an area devoid of Jews. For, anyone who buys a house in such a place fulfills the mitzvah of Yishuv HaAretz (Settling the Land of Israel) elaborately. Thus, if the buyer is single, he recites the SheHechiyanu blessing, and if he has a wife, they say HaTov VeHaMeitiv. 1 summarizes the various opinions. Some authorities forbid moving into a new house, because it is a very joyous occasion, similar to a wedding (Responsa Avnei Tzedek, Sighet, Y.D. 44). [R. Ovadyah] rules leniently in Yechaveh Da’at 3:30. See also Piskei Teshuvot 493:1-3, where the author cites authorities who rule strictly.
It is important to note that the days of the Omer have a joyous side, as well. Accordingly, the Ramban writes (in Parashat Emor) that they are like intermediary days (chol ha-mo’ed), extending from Pesach to Shavu’ot. However, they also have an aspect of tension and suspense, for a person needs to ascend during this period from one level to the next, until he reaches the pinnacle of Matan Torah (the Sinai Revelation). And when one fails to climb from one level to the next in the proper order, crises and misfortunes are liable to result, as happened throughout Jewish history. This is why we mourn during the Omer period. Nevertheless, the holiness of these days remains in place, and they are very conducive for spiritual growth and purification, in anticipation of Matan Torah and cleaving to God. ]
One is allowed to invite friends to a meal during the Omer, as long as no musical instruments are played. One may also take a trip or go hiking, because one must avoid only joyous endeavors, not pleasurable ones. And even though some [authorities] are strict about this, the halachah follows the more lenient opinion when it comes to these customs of mourning. Nevertheless, it is better not to schedule a school trip before Lag B’Omer, because such trips are very joyous. However, a school can – [even] le-chatchilah – schedule a trip that is defined as educational. 2
In a volume called Leket Yosher, the author quotes his teacher, Mahara’i, the author of Terumat HaDeshen, as saying that one should avoid saying SheHechiyanu during Sefirah. Several other Rishonim and Acharonim write in a similar vein. However, many Acharonim reject this stringent custom, including the author of Ma’amar Mordechai (493:2) – quoted in M.B. 493:2 – and the author of K.H.C. 493:4. See Yabi’a Omer, O.C. 3:26, and Yechaveh Da’at 1:24, where [R. Ovadyah Yosef ↩
See the volume Bein Pesach LeShavu’ot 15:10, 12, which cites the more lenient opinions. Also see Hilchot Chag B’Chag 7:11, where the author leans toward being strict, but brings the lenient opinion in a footnote. See below, 8.6, regarding trips during the Three Weeks. ↩
None of the customs of mourning are practiced on Chol HaMo’ed Pesach, because one is commanded to rejoice on these days, as we explained above, in sec. 8, regarding music.
According to some poskim, one may take a haircut on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, because it is like a yom tov (holiday) and none of the customs of mourning apply to it. In practice, though, the custom is not to take haircuts on that day, as the Shulchan Aruch (493:3) rules.
According to Ashkenazi custom, if Rosh Chodesh Iyar falls out on Shabbat, giving it extra joy, one may take a haircut on Friday. One may also get married on that Friday, [shortly] before Shabbat, such that the rejoicing and festive meal take place on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. The prevalent custom among Sefardim is to act leniently in this regard only under pressing circumstances.
Yom Ha’atzma’ut is a holiday for thanksgiving and rejoicing. Therefore, it is proper to shave the day before it, and one may even take a haircut. Getting married, however, is forbidden (see below, 4.11).
According to Ashkenazi practice, one may take a haircut and get married on the day of Lag B’Omer, and if needed, one may even act leniently on the night of Lag B’Omer. Sefardi custom, however, forbids haircuts and weddings on Lag B’Omer, as explained above, in sections 3 and 4.
When Lag B’Omer falls out on Friday, even Sefardim are allowed to shave and take haircuts (S.A. 493:2).
According to Ashkenazi practice, one may take a haircut on Friday when Lag B’Omer falls out on Sunday. According to Sefardim, however, this is prohibited (see above, note 8. Regarding weddings: some Ashkenazi poskim rule leniently under pressing circumstances, but Sefardim forbid it; see note 6.)
Even according to the custom of many Ashkenazim, who refrain from making weddings until Rosh Chodesh Sivan, one may get married on the twenty-eighth of Iyar [Yom Yerushalayim]. It is also permissible to organize very joyous events for that day (see below, 4.11).