Laws and Customs of the Omer Period

Image Credit: Stacey Harvey

The Torah instructs us in the Mitzvah of counting the days starting from Motzi Yom Tov Rishon shel Pesach until but not including Shavuos. We generally refer to this mitzvah as “Sefiras Ha’Omer”. Let us look more carefully at the verses describing this Mitzvah. The Torah mentions this Mitzvah in two different places.

And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the holiday of Pesach, from the day of your bringing the Omer Hat’nufah seven complete weeks they shall be. Until the morrow of the end of the seventh week you shall count fifty days and then you shall sacrifice a new grain offering to Hashem1)Vayikra 23:15-16

Seven weeks you shall count for yourselves from the beginning of the time when the scythe is at the standing grain [i.e. harvest time] you shall start to count seven weeks2)Devarim 16:9

Laws of the Omer

Is the Mitzvah of Counting the Omer Still a Torah Law Nowadays?

In light of the fact that we no longer have the Temple, and thus can’t bring the Omer grain offering, there is a broad-ranging disagreement as to whether there is still a mitzvah from the Torah to count the omer.

The Rambam3)Hilchos Tamidin and Musafin 7:22, the Sefer Hachinuch4)Mitzvah 273 in Mosad Harav Kook Printing, the Shibolei Leket5)Siman 234, the Ravyah6)Sefer Ohr Zaruah Siman 329, Rav Yehudai Gaon, Rav Amram Gaon, and the Ritz Geus all hold that the mitzvah to count is irrespective of the mitzvah to bring the omer offering and therefore nowadays, it is still a Torah commandment.

The Tur7)Orach Chaim Siman 489, the Shulchan Aruch8)ibid, Tosafos9)Gemara Menachos 66a “Zecher Lammikdash”, the Rosh10)In Ch 10 of Maseches Pesachim Siman 40, the Ran11)In his comments to Maseches Pesachim pg 28 in the Dapei Harif “VeRov hamefarshim…”, and others all agree that the only time that the mitzvah of counting the omer is Torah Law is when we have a Korban Ha’Omer. Nowadays, since we don’t have the Korban Ha’Omer, the Rabbis instituted that we still count the omer as a remembrance of the Beis Hamikdash.

As a matter of halacha lemaaseh, the Mishneh Brurah puts forth that even though we consider this mitzvah to be rabbinical nowadays as the baseline halacha, nevertheless since there are many rishonim who say that it is Torah Law, there are a number of stringencies that we try to keep l’chatchilah in order to satisfy all opinions, as we will see ahead.

The Rationale for the Mitzvah of Counting the Omer

It follows from the above disagreement that there is not only a question as to whether the counting is still Torah Law today but also as to what the very rationale for this mitzvah is to begin with. Even though it is a historical fact that the giving of the Torah took place on the fiftieth day after the second day of Pesach, nonetheless nowhere in the Torah does it directly mention that the festival of Shavuos has any connection to Mount Sinai and the giving of the Torah. The verses of the Torah which command us to count the omer, are only within the context of the two grain offerings, those of the omer and the shtei halechem (the two breads of wheat that are waved on Shavuos).

Those Rishonim who hold that today the mitzvah of counting the omer is only rabbinical clearly understood that the purpose and rationale behind the mitzvah of counting is in order for us to make a connection in our minds and hearts between the bringing of the omer grain offering and the bringing of the shtei halechem offering. It would seem in that this view of the mitzvah, it is to garner our appreciation for Hashem in that He has blessed our agricultural cycle and given us the tremendous opportunity to serve Him by bringing the various sacrifices in the Temple. However, the Sefer Hachinnuch, who is of the opinion that counting the omer is Torah Law even nowadays, explains that the purpose and the rationale behind this mitzvah is in order to raise our awareness of the connection between our exodus from Egypt and the ultimate covenant that we made with Hashem when we accepted the Torah on Mount Sinai.

A Night Only or A Full 24 Hour Mitzvah?

The Sifra12)Ch 12 # 165  and the Gemara Menachos13)Menachos 66a teach us the nature of this Mitzvah regarding it being either a night time Mitzvah or a full day Mitzvah. There are three verses which all help to elucidate and clarify this issue. Had the Torah only written “And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the holiday of Pesach, from the day of your bringing the Omer Hat’nufah…” I would have thought to say that the counting of the Omer must be on the same day as the bringing of the Omer but not necessarily on the day of the harvesting of the Omer. However, if the Torah had only written “…from the beginning of the time when the scythe is at the standing grain [i.e. harvest time] you shall start to count seven weeks” I would have thought that the counting must be done on the same day as the harvesting of the Omer but not necessarily on the same day as the bringing of the Omer offering. Additionally, had the Torah only written these two verses I would have thought that you could harvest, count, and bring the Omer offering all during the day of the 16th of Nissan, therefore the torah wrote “…seven complete weeks they shall be”, the word temimos implies whole days and/or weeks of counting. This can only be accomplished if the counting is done at night since only then do we demonstrate a complete day and week in our counting (since the night is the beginning of the day in Torah Law). Finally, had the Torah only written “…seven complete weeks they shall be” I would have thought that we must harvest, count, and bring the Omer at night time. Therefore the Torah wrote “from the day of your bringing the Omer Hat’nufah”.

When we put all of these verses together we come to the conclusion that the harvesting and the counting of the Omer must be done at night in order to fulfill the tenet of temimos. However, the bringing of the Omer offering should be done in the morning of the 16th of Nissan. From here it seems clear that the Torah Mitzvah of counting the Omer must be done at night. This is the opinion of The Shibolei Leket14)Siman 234, The Ohr Zarua15)Siman 329, and The Mordechai16)Ch 2 Meseches Megillah # 803. However, The Rambam17)Hilchos Temidin Umusafin 7:7 (see the Lechem Mishneh there # 6), The Rosh18)Ch 10 Maseches Pesachim Siman 40, Rav Yehudai Gaon19)Ba’al Halachos Gedolos “Atzeres” , The Tur20)Orach Chaim 489:7, and Tosafos21)Gemara Menachos 66a “Zecher” disagree and say that although ideally the counting of the Omer should be done at night because of the tenet of temimos, nevertheless the Mitzvah of counting the Omer is linked to the harvesting of the Omer and we find in the Mishneh in Menachos22)Menachos 71a “Niktzar Bayom Kasher” that if for whatever reason the Omer was not harvested at night, b’dieved it should still be harvested by day rather then lose the whole Mitzvah altogether. From here these Rishonim contend that if the whole night passed and a person still didn’t count, then they should count the next morning.

The halacah lemaseh is that a person should count at night with a blessing, however if for whatever reason a person didn’t count at night he should still count the next day. In such a case a person should count without making a blessing out of deference to those Rishonim that say we can not fulfill the Mitzvah during the day.

A Separate Mitzvah Count Each Day or One 49 Day Counting Mitzvah?

There is quite an interesting discussion amongst the Gaonim and Rishonim regarding the nature of the counting of the Omer in terms of seeing each day as a separate mitzvah or seeing the entire 7 weeks as one big mitzvah. There are three main approaches in the Rishonim to this question.

Tosafos23)Gemara Menachos 66a “Zecher” and Megillah 20b “Kol Halaylah”, The Rosh24)Pesachim Ch 10 Siman 41, and Rav Hai Gaon25)See Maharitz Geus Vol 2 pg 109 and Tshuvos Hagaonim Vol 2 pg 212 explain that there is no clear indication in the verses to support the conclusion that this is one 49 Day Mitzvah. Rather each day of counting is a mitzvah in its own right. The concept of temimos indicates that the counting should be done at night and perhaps has other ramifications but isn’t relevant to this particular point.

Rav Yehudai Gaon26)Ba’al Halachos Gedolos “Atzeres” explains that due to the tenet of temimos the entire counting of all 49 days must also be complete. That is to say that if a person misses counting one day out of the 49 he has thus lost the entire mitzvah of counting the Omer.

Rav Sadyah Gaon27)Sidddur Harasag pg 155 takes a position somewhat in the middle. He agrees with Rav Yehudai Gaon to a degree that all 49 days are bound together as one and require temimos. However, the limit of this qualification is only with regards to starting the count on the 16th of Nissan. If a person counts the first night of the Omer correctly, then even if he misses other nights during the rest of the 49 days we look at it as if he is “still in the process of counting 49 days from the 16th of Nissan. However, if a person missed counting the first night on the 16th of Nissan then he has lost the entire opportunity to fulfill this mitzvah for this year. The reason is because once he missed the first night we can no longer see him as being “in the process” of counting the 49 days from the 16th of Nissan until Shavuos.

The Shulchan Aruch28)Orach Chaim 489:8 writes that the halacha lemaseh is that if a person missed a day of counting (both night and subsequent day) he must still keep counting for the rest of the 49 days but he may not make a blessing out of deference to the opinions that this is One 49 Day Mitzvah.

The Terumas Hadeshen29)Vol 1 Siman 37 writes that if a person has a doubt as to whether he counted on a particular day (i.e. he is truly uncertain one way or another whether he counted) in such a case since there is a double doubt he may continue to count on the remaining days with a blessing. The rationale is that maybe the halacha follows the Tosafos and the Rosh, and even if it follows the Gaonim it is possible that he counted yesterday. This is in fact the halacha Lemaseh found in Shulchan Aruch30)Orach Chaim 489:8 .

Another outgrowth of this disagreement relates to a person who converted to Judaism or even a young boy he became 13 during the middle of the Omer period. According to the view that it is a separate mitzvah each day then he may surely count from the point at which he becomes obligated in mitzvos. If it is one long 49 day mitzvah then how can he achieve temimos in which case he should count the rest of the time without a bracha.

The prevailing custom regarding a Bar Mitzvah is that provided he started the count when he was still before Bar Mitzvah he can continue the rest of the count with a bracha. The rationale here is that perhaps the halacha is like those who say each day is a separate mitzvah and furthermore, there are poskim who add another facet that since until now the boy wasn’t obligated, so from here on if he counts without missing that is called temimos for him.

A Communal Mitzvah or A Mitzvah Upon Each Individual?

The verse writes “And you shall count for yourselves…” the word in Hebrew for “yourselves” is “lachem”. There is a disagreement in the Rishonim as to how to understand the precise intent of this word. The opinion of Rashi31)Menachos 65b “Lakol Echad” and the Rashba32)ibid is that the word “lachem” comes to teach that each individual must perform this mitzvah by himself and no one else can be his agent to help him fulfill it. The Maharitz Geus disagrees and says that “lachem” just comes to teach that we shouldn’t think this mitzvah is only incumbent upon the Jewish High Court. We find other mitzvos like counting the years of Shemittah and Yovel which are patterned in that way. By those mitzvos no individual has to keep track of what year in the cycle it is just the Jewish High Court. The Torah came to teach us here that Counting the Omer is not that way. It is a mitzvah for all Jews but not to the degree that we can not be an agent to help another fulfill his obligation through hearing us count and having intent to fulfill his obligation through the mechanics of “hearing is like saying- shomeyah k’oneh”.

The Shulchan Aruch33)Orach Chaim 489:1 says that the halacha lemaseh is that each person must count the Omer for himself. The Biur Halacha34)Orach Chaim 489:1 “Umitzvah al kol echad” says that we should definitely do the mitzvah this way l’chatchilah. However, in a case where a person is unable to pronounce the count he may rely on those opinions that say he can hear it from someone else who had him in mind. Furthermore, if for whatever reason a person did intend to hear it from someone else he is considered as if he fulfilled the mitzvah but he should count again without a blessing.

Counting the Days and Counting the Weeks

The Gemara in Menachos35)Menachos 66a teaches that it is a mitzvah to count the days of the Omer and it is also a mitzvah to count the weeks of the Omer. The obvious basis for this understanding is the fact that the torah writes in the verse “…you shall count fifty days” and it also writes in a different verse “Seven weeks you shall count for yourselves…”.  However, there are three main approaches in the Rishonim as to how to understand the intent of this Gemara.

The Rosh36)Tshuvos HaRosh Klal 24 Siman 13, The Ran37)In his gloss to Ch 10 of Maseches Pesachim pg 28 in Dapei Harif, The Rif38)ibid, The Tur39)Orach Chaim 489:1, and The Shulchan Aruch40)ibid understand that this means that a person should always count both the amount of days and when applicable (i.e. starting from the seventh day and onward) the amount of weeks as well. Therefore, on the seventh night a person would say “today is seven days which are one week of the Omer” and on the eighth day he would say “today is eight days which is one week and one day of the Omer” etc.

The opinion of the Ba’al Hameor41)Ch 10 Maseches Pesachim pg 28 of Dapei Harif is that a person must count the days every night of the Omer. However, the weeks he only needs to count at the end of a seven day cycle. For example on the sixth day he would say “today is six days of the Omer”. On the seventh day he would say “today is seven days which is one week of the Omer”. On the eighth day he would say “today is eight days of the Omer. On the fourteenth day he would say “today is fourteen days which are two weeks of the Omer”.

The opinion of Rabbeinu Ephraim42)Quoted in the Mordechai in the end of Ch 2 of Meseches Megillah is that a person must only count the days separately during the first week. On the sixth day he would say “today is six days of the Omer”. On the seventh day he would say “today is seven days which is one week of the Omer”. On the eighth day he would say “today is one week and one day of the Omer”. On the fourteenth day he would say “today is two weeks of the Omer”. On the fifteenth day he would say “today is two weeks and one day of the Omer”.

The halacha lemaseh follows the opinion of the Tur and Shulchan Aruch. However, the Mishneh Brurah43)489:7 and also Shar Hatziun 489:11 writes that if a person only counted the days and not the weeks he gets credit for the mitzvah and yet ideally he should count again properly without a blessing that same night. If a person counted the weeks and not the days it would depend on whether it was the first week or further in the count. If it was on the seventh day he would not get credit but if it was from the eighth day and onward and he said “today is one week and one day of the Omer” then he gets credit but ideally he should say it again that same night correctly without a blessing.

From the Morrow of the Holiday of Pesach

The verse says “from the morrow of the Shabbos…” indicating to us which day we should begin counting from. Our sages in the Gemara Menachos44)65b-66a had many different methods within the Oral Law to derive that the meaning of this verse is that we should start counting from the morrow of the first day of the festival of Pesach. In other words we begin counting from the 16th of Nissan. We also learned above that because of the word temimos we should start the count from the night of the 16th.

However, in the days of our sages, the Sadducees who rejected the Oral Law came with the claim that we should take the above verse literally. It would thus read “from the morrow of the Sabbath following Pesach…”you should start your count. This would mean that the Festival of Shavuos would fall out 50 days after the Sabbath following the first night of Pesach which could vary from year to year. Our sages took great pains to fight against the opinions of the Sadducees and also went out of their way to try and humiliate them in order to prevent simpleminded Jews from being led astray from the tradition.

The Obligation of Women and Children to Count the Omer

The Rishonim argue as to whether the counting of the Omer fits the classic mold of being a positive time bound commandment or not. The Rambam45)Hilchos Tamidin Umusafin 7:24 and the Kesef Mishneh46)ibid understand this to be a classic example of a positive time bound commandment which women are generally exempt from. However, the Ramban47)In his chiddushim to Gemara Kiddushin 34a lists the counting of the Omer as a non time bound positive commandment which would mean that women are obligated to count. The Avnei Nezer attempts to explain the meaning of the Ramban is that the counting of the Omer links Pesach and Shavuos together and serves as a kind of Chol Hamoed between them. Therefore, as an extension of Pesach which women are obligated in due to the negative commandments involved in keeping it, they also become obligated in the positive commandments related to Pesach. The Maharam Chalavah48)In his comments to Kiddushin 29b offers a different approach to understanding the approach of the Ramban which is that the conting of the Omer is not time bound. Rather the act of bringing the Omer sacrifice “causes” the obligation to count. Therefore, the counting of the Omer is actually not caused by the arrival of a certain time but an actual act that must be done. This doesn’t fit the classic model of time bound positive commandments and therefore women would be obligated to count.

Many Achronim49)Magen Avraham 489:1; Eliyah Rabbah 489:2; Shulchan Aruch Harav 489:2 say that nevertheless women can count the Omer if they want to and they may do so even with making the blessing. Some poskim bring down that women have become accustomed to count the Omer50)Magen Avraham ibid and other poskim bring down that women are accustomed not to count at all51)Mishneh Brurah 489:3. There is not a clear enough consensus to decide what women should do. It appears one should either consult their local Rav or verify what the custom of the community is regarding this issue.

As for children the law is like any other Mitzvah that once they reach the age of chinuch they should be instructed and encouraged to perform the Mitzvah. In our case the child should count and follow all of the laws of counting the way an adult would.

A mute person should hear the blessing and the counting from another52)Beis Yosef Orach Chaim 55 “Matzasi Kasuv…”. A deaf person who can speak should make the blessing and count on his own53)Mishneh Trumos 1:8; Gemara Berachos 15b; Tur Orach Chaim 62:3 and 186:3. A deaf mute has no method by which to perform this mitzvah.

The Time of the Counting

Ideally the counting should be done just after “tzeis hakochavim” which is officially the night according to Torah Law54)Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 489:2. Counting at this point in time serves to greater demonstrate the concept of temimos– whole days. Practically speaking this would mean counting just after finishing the Ma’ariv prayer55)See Biur Halacha 489:1 “Achar Tefilas Arvis” who brings two reasons for this one is that it used to be prevalent to say the Ma’ariv service before tzeis hakochavim and finish just around that time in which case they were saying Ma’ariv first but also counting the Omer right at tzeis hakochavim. Alternatively, Ma’ariv should always precede the Omer because of the rule “tadir v’sheino tadir tadir kodem”. Based on the two rationales here some say that according to the first opinion there is greater value to counting the Omer just after tzeis regardless of when you plan to say the Ma’ariv service. Therefore, although we generally follow the second opinion and count after Ma’ariv whenever that may be, if a person is concerned that he may not make it to a minyan that night and thus fears he may forget to count should actually count right at tzeis hakochavim and say the Ma’ariv service later with a minyan if the opportunity arises.. Due to the concept of temimos-whole days, it is preferable to daven Ma’ariv during the Omer period at the first minyan so as to fulfill the concept of temimos in a more preferred way. However, if you must daven Ma’ariv at a later minyan then you can do so and then count the Omer after that minyan. See the footnote for a discussion about certain unique circumstances that may arise.

There is a discussion as to when the earliest possible time to fulfill the mitzvah of counting is. The most widely accepted approach is that if a person counted during the “Bein Hashmashos” period, they have fulfilled the mitzvah post facto and do not have to count again. The Mishneh Brurah56)489:15 suggests that even in such a case it would be better to count again after tzeis hakochavim without a blessing but if you don’t you are considered as having fulfilled the mitzvah of counting for that day.

If for whatever reason a person forgot to count the Omer after Ma’ariv, they may still fulfill the mitzvah of counting with a blessing throughout the entire night. Like we saw above, if a person didn’t count the Omer at any point during the night they should count it on the subsequent day before sunset without a blessing.

As a matter of custom Ashkenazim count immediately after the Kaddish Tiskabeil which the chazzan says after the congregants have finished the Amidah. On Motzi Shabbos if the congregation is saying Vayehi Noam then the counting is done immediately after the Kaddish Tiskabeil which is recited after that prayer. Following the counting everyone says Aleinu and then if there is a mourner present he recites the mourners Kaddish at that point. Chassidim and Sefardim on the other hand follow a different custom which is to say Kaddish Tiskabeil after everyone finishes the Amidah and then to follow with Aleinu and a mourners Kaddish. At that point everyone counts the Omer and this concludes the service.

Eating Before Counting the Omer

The Darkei Moshe57)Orach Chaim 489:1 writes that a person should not sit down to a meal before counting the Omer. This would mean not to wash in order to eat more than a kebeitzah of bread or to sit down to drink more than a revi’is of wine. The fear is that when a person does so he tends to linger in such eating and drinking sessions and there is a fear that he might miss the counting. He adds that if one started these eating or drinking sessions before the time when he could count the Omer he may finish and then count. However, if he started these sessions after tzeis hakochavim if we hold like those who consider counting the Omer a Torah Law nowadays he would have to stop eating and drinking immediately in order to count. If we hold like those who consider counting the Omer a Rabbinical Law he may finish his session and then count. This is also what he writes in the Rema58)Orach Chaim 489:4. The Mishneh Brurah points out that this law applies equally to the Ma’ariv prayer. In fact the Gemara in Shabbos59)Shabbos 9b-10a teaches that before any of the 3 prayers of the day a person may not sit down for a formal eating or drinking session within a half an hour before the first possible time for that prayer sets in. Therefore in our case, in order to be able to continue eating a person would have to have started this eating or drinking session a half an hour before tzeis hakochavim. The same would apply not only to eating but also to other forms of labor or involvements that tend to drag on60)Ibid and see also Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 232:2 and the Rema and Mishneh Brurah there. The Mishneh Brurah61)Orach Chaim 489:25 adds that in any event with regards to this law we consider the counting of the Omer a Rabbinical Law and therefore, we shouldn’t start such a meal half an hour before tzeis hakochavim but if we did we would not need to stop.

All of the above applies again to sitting down to a beitzah’s worth of bread or a revi’is worth of wine, but to merely eat in a less formal way would be fine. This is true even if we were to look at the counting of the Omer as Torah Law nowadays62)Mishneh Brurah 235:16. Therefore, in our current cultural realities where people rarely sit down to supper with a kebeitzah’s worth of bread or a revi’is worth of wine but rather to a light meal or a non bread meal there is no issue to eat such a meal before counting the Omer.

Standing During the Counting

Many Rishonim mention that the counting of the Omer must be done while standing. The source for this (although this does not seem to be an actual Torah derivation) is because the verse says “you shall count for yourselves from the beginning of the time when the scythe is at the standing grain…” which alludes to the concept of “standing” in relationship to the counting. This halacha is brought in Shulchan Aruch63)Orach Chaim 489:1. The Mishneh Brurah64)Orach Chaim 489:6 points out that since this is not a full fledged Torah derivation if a person counted while sitting he still gets credit for the mitzvah after the fact.

Making a Blessing Before Counting

As with all positive commandments whether they be Torah or Rabbincal Law we must make the blessing of “Asher Kidishanu B’Mitzvosav Vitzivanu al [Sefiras Ha’Omer]”. The Tur65)Orach Chaim 8:1 and Beis Yosef66)Ibid (see the Bach, the Smak quoted there in the Prisha and the Mishneh Brurah 8:2) both point out that it is necessary to stand when we make these blessings before performing a Mitzvah. The source for this is actually derived from the very same source we saw above for why counting the Omer should be done while standing.

Language Subtleties in the Counting

Some Rishonim67)Avudraham; Rokeach;Maharil;Hamanhig mention to say “today is six days” with no other phrase. Most Rishonim68)Rashba; Rabbeinu Yerucham;Eshkol;Ran; Ravyah say the appropriate phrase is “today is six days la’omer”. The Gra69)Sefer Maseh Rav , The Rema70)Orach Chaim 489:1, and The Chok Yakov, say the phrase is “today is six days ba’omer”. Ashkenazim generally follow the approach of the Rema and the Gra whereas Sefardim and Chassidim follow the approach of saying la’omer.

We always say “echad” as opposed to “echas”, “shnei” as opposed to “shtei” as these are the preferred male forms of the numbering71)Mishneh Brurah 489:9.

For the first ten days we say “yomim” and from the eleventh day onward we say “yom”.72)ibid

We also say the units of the ones before the units of the tens. For example “echad v’esrim yom” as opposed to “esrim v’echad yom”.73)ibid

All of the above dikdukim are not me’akeiv the counting after the fact. However, if one realizes they said these the wrong way they should correct it if it si still “toch k’dei dibbur” (approximately 3 seconds)

Sefirah can be said in any language provided that you understand that language. Usually a person can fulfill their verbal Mitzvos with Hebrew even when they don’t understand the words but by counting the Omer even in Hebrew one must understand the words because otherwise it isn’t called “counting”. The implication is that counting requires an intellectual understanding of the process.

Sefardim and Chassidim are accustomed to say the “l’shem yichud kudshah brichu…”, whereas Ashkenazim are accustomed not to say this phrase.

Ashkenazim say “Yehi ratzon sheyibaneh Beis Hamikdash…and Harachaman Yachzir…” and it is also good to add the Mizmor of Elokim yechanenu…74)Mishneh Brurah 489:10

If a person counts with “roshei teivos” for example on the eighteenth day he says “hayom yud ches yom…” most poskim75)Chok Yakov; Eliyah Rabbah; Shulchan Aruch HaRav; Birkei Yosef agree that he gets credit for the counting. However, it is better to count again properly without a blessing.

Unintentional Counting

The Rambam76)Hilchos Tamidin Umusafin 7:25 teaches that if a person counted without first making a blessing he has fulfilled the mitzvah after the fact. Based on this the Shulchan Aruch77)Orach Chaim 489:4 says that if someone asks you what day of the Omer it is you should be careful to answer “yesterday was such and such day”, so as not to unintentionally be considered as if you counted already.

The Gra78)Biur Hagra Orach Chaim 489:4 and the Pri Chadash79)Orach Chaim Siman 489 both point out that this whole application of the Shulchan Aruch is based on the opinion that in general Mitzvos don’t require intent in order to get credit for fulfilling them. However, they both point out that we hold Mitzvos do require intent in order to get credit for fulfilling them. According to them a person need not be careful to answer what day of the Omer it is when asked since this would surely be called a case of counting without intent.

The Mishneh Brurah80)489:22 adds that even though in general we say Mitzvos do require intent in order to get credit, nevertheless we should be stringent in the case of the Shulchan Aruch.

However, in terms of halacha lemaseh there are four qualifications to this stringency. The first is that it only applies from Bein Hashmashos and later since it is only from then that you can get credit for the Mitzvah of counting81)MB 489:19. Secondly, this only applies to a person who has not already counted for the night. If I already counted then there is no problem to answer a person exactly what night it is tonight. Thirdly, this whole problem only applies when the person responding says “today is…” for without that phrase we don’t even consider it an unintentional counting82)MB 489:20. Finally, on a practical level this whole fear only applies during the first week since without mentioning the “weeks” we wouldn’t consider it an unintentional counting83)MB 489:22 and Shar Hatziun 489:28. Most times when a person answers they wouldn’t mention the weeks as well.

Mistakes in the Counting

We have already discussed many of the common mistakes or mishaps in counting the Omer. There are three more general rules that we need to bring in to the picture in order to have a full picture of the laws of counting the Omer.

The first is that a person should only make the blessing to count if he knows the correct day to count in advance. In the event that a person made the blessing when he was mistaken or not aware of what day it was he still gets credit after the fact provided that in the end he counted the correct day.84)Shulchan Aruch 489:5-6

The second rule is that any time a person makes a mistake in the counting (i.e. he counted the wrong day, or any other mistake in the wording of the count) he can and should fix it within “toch kdei dibbur” (about 3 seconds). Assuming he fixes his words in time he gets credit for the Mitzvah. If too much time passes and it is the type of mistake which disqualifies the count, he must count over again from the beginning and he would need to say Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuso Le’olam Va’ed and make a new blessing as well.85)Mishneh Brurah 489:32

The final rule is that any mistake that disqualifies the count must be fixed. If a person didn’t fix it and the next evening arrives he has lost the ability to continue counting with a blessing. However, any mistake which is a matter of “l’chatchilah” but after the fact doesn’t disqualify the counting, if it wasn’t fixed and the next evening arrives he may continue to count with a blessing.86)Mishneh Brurah 489:38

Customs During the Omer Period

It is well known that the 24000 students of Rebbe Akiva passed away during the Omer period. The Talmud87)Gemara Yevamos 62b says the reason for this is that they were punished for not showing the proper respect for one another. As a result Klal Israel has taken on certain aspects of mourning in an effort to preserve our memory of this tragedy and also to arouse ourselves to improve our respect and love for one another “bein adam lechaveiro”. As a result there are three basic elements of mourning which Klal Israel observes during this time

Refraining From Making Weddings

We find from the Geonim in their comments and in their mentioning of the above Gemara that “from that time and onward” the earlier generations accustomed themselves in certain aspects of mourning.

The main aspect of mourning that is mentioned in the writings of the Geonim is to refrain from making weddings.

In addition to the rationale of reducing simcha to show our mourning during this time, it is also brought down that one should avoid getting married during this time since it is an inauspicious time period. There is therefore a fear that the union will not succeed. Nevertheless there is no custom to avoid dating or formalizing a shidduch during this time nor is there a custom to avoid making a vort or an erusin.

The Mishneh Brurah understands from this concept that one should avoid “an increase of joy” during this time. Some poskim take from this that one should avoid moving into a new house during the Omer though repairs and renovations would not be an issue. Others have the custom to avoid coming to a situation that requires making the blessing of Shehechiyanu, though Hatov V’hameitiv would not be a problem.

There is a discussion about being a guest who calculates the days of the customary mourning one way at a wedding that is held during the Omer by a couple who is calculating the days in a different way. Some poskim hold that the guest can be part of the wedding ceremony but not at the festive meal where there is live music. Other poskim say that since the bride and groom have permission according to their calculation, then guests who are called may be fully involved in the simcha in order not to diminish from the joy of the chassan and kallah.

Dancing and Listening to Music

As a function of not making weddings there is also a custom not to have dancing and live music during this time. The idea behind not making weddings was to reduce simcha and keep aspects of mourning. Therefore, it follows that we should not have dancing or live music during this time even if it is for the purpose of a mitzvah and all the more so when they are just for pleasure.

There is a discussion as to whether this custom applies to listening to recorded music as well. Most poskim concur that we are accustomed to refrain from listening to recorded music as well. However, if there is just vocals and no instrumentation many poskim are lenient.

A person who makes a livelihood by playing music or giving lessons need not refrain from doing so during the Omer.

Refraining From Taking Haircuts and Shaving

Although it is less clear that refraining from haircuts and shaving was accepted custom from the earliest generations following the tragedy, nevertheless in the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema it is clear that today it is no different. We look at taking haircuts and shaving as being universal Jewish custom to refrain from due to the mourning.

A person may trim their mustache if it is interfering with eating. A woman may trim her hair either for mitzvah (i.e. ritual immersion) or tznius purposes. Parents should not cut their children’s hair during this time in order to educate them in these customs.

A person who needs to shave out of concern that looking unkempt might cause him a financial loss or affect his job security should consult a Rabbi as there are poskim that will allow shaving under certain circumstances.

The Different Customs for Calculating These Days of Mourning

The Midrash says that “Until Pros Ha’Atzeres the students of Rebbe Akiva were dying”. This means that from the 16th of Nissan until a half of a month before Atzeres the students were dying. One custom based on this approach understands that therefore the mourning should take place until the 34th day of the Omer in the morning. Another custom based on this approach understands that the mourning should take place until the 33rd day of the Omer in the morning. The point of distinction between these two understandings is whether the students died up to and including the 34th day or up to but not including the 34th day. The Shulchan Aruch says the accepted custom is to calculate the days of mourning as the first 34 days of the Omer meaning until day 34 in the morning. The Rema says to keep the customs of mourning until the 33rd day of the Omer in the morning like the second understanding.

Tosafos had a different version of the tradition which is that they died for 33 days during the 49 days between the 16th of Nissan and Erev Shavuos. On days when Klal Israel didn’t say tachanun the students didn’t die. This would mean that during the seven days of Pesach (16th of Nissan until the 22nd of Nissan which was Yom Tov sheni), another 6 Shabbasos between then and Pesach, the two days of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, and Rosh Chodesh Sivan which adds up to 16 days the students didn’t die. This leaves 33 days remaining where they did die. The custom then developed to either keep 33 days of mourning from the 16th of Nissan until the 33rd day of the Omer or to keep 33 days of mourning from the 2nd of Iyar until Erev Shavuos. Essentially what this means is that in addition to the 2 customs we saw above it is also valid to start keeping the customs of mourning from the 2nd of Iyar until Shavuos.

All versions of the custom agree that to take haircuts, shave, make weddings, and/ or listen to music after Lag BaOmer but also to be lenient on Rosh Chodesh Iyar has no basis.

A person may change the custom by which they calculate the days of mourning from year to year but he may not contradict within the same year.

The Rema adds that a in one city there shouldn’t be some people keeping one calculation and others keeping another. Many poskim point out that nowadays in large Jewish cities where Jews of all backgrounds and heritages all live together in one place there is no longer a real problem of people keeping different customs in one city with regards to this matter since in any event there isn’t one clearly established custom.

The Arizal was accustomed to keep the customs of mourning for the entire 49 days of the Omer and only took a haircut on Erev Shavuos. This applies to making weddings as well, though it seems that even the Arizal would agree that on Lag Ba’omer a couple can make a wedding.

Lag Ba’Omer the 33rd Day of the Omer

The Rema writes that on Lag Ba’omer one can take a haircut (accdg to his approach above), we can increase somewhat in our joy, and we don’t say tachanun. This indicates that there was something special about Lag Ba’omer in addition to the fact that the students of Rebbe Aiva stopped dying.

It is explained that the reason for this unique feature to Lag Ba’omer is either because it is the yahrtzeit of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai or the day of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai’s great joy (perhaps the day he was given smicha from the great Rabbis of his generation).

References   [ + ]

1. Vayikra 23:15-16
2. Devarim 16:9
3. Hilchos Tamidin and Musafin 7:22
4. Mitzvah 273 in Mosad Harav Kook Printing
5, 14. Siman 234
6. Sefer Ohr Zaruah Siman 329
7, 79. Orach Chaim Siman 489
8, 32, 38, 40, 46, 72, 73. ibid
9. Gemara Menachos 66a “Zecher Lammikdash”
10. In Ch 10 of Maseches Pesachim Siman 40
11. In his comments to Maseches Pesachim pg 28 in the Dapei Harif “VeRov hamefarshim…”
12. Ch 12 # 165 
13, 35. Menachos 66a
15. Siman 329
16. Ch 2 Meseches Megillah # 803
17. Hilchos Temidin Umusafin 7:7 (see the Lechem Mishneh there # 6)
18. Ch 10 Maseches Pesachim Siman 40
19. Ba’al Halachos Gedolos “Atzeres”
20. Orach Chaim 489:7
21. Gemara Menachos 66a “Zecher”
22. Menachos 71a “Niktzar Bayom Kasher”
23. Gemara Menachos 66a “Zecher” and Megillah 20b “Kol Halaylah”
24. Pesachim Ch 10 Siman 41
25. See Maharitz Geus Vol 2 pg 109 and Tshuvos Hagaonim Vol 2 pg 212
26. Ba’al Halachos Gedolos “Atzeres”
27. Sidddur Harasag pg 155
28. Orach Chaim 489:8
29. Vol 1 Siman 37
30. Orach Chaim 489:8
31. Menachos 65b “Lakol Echad”
33, 39, 57, 63, 70. Orach Chaim 489:1
34. Orach Chaim 489:1 “Umitzvah al kol echad”
36. Tshuvos HaRosh Klal 24 Siman 13
37. In his gloss to Ch 10 of Maseches Pesachim pg 28 in Dapei Harif
41. Ch 10 Maseches Pesachim pg 28 of Dapei Harif
42. Quoted in the Mordechai in the end of Ch 2 of Meseches Megillah
43. 489:7 and also Shar Hatziun 489:11
44. 65b-66a
45. Hilchos Tamidin Umusafin 7:24
47. In his chiddushim to Gemara Kiddushin 34a
48. In his comments to Kiddushin 29b
49. Magen Avraham 489:1; Eliyah Rabbah 489:2; Shulchan Aruch Harav 489:2
50. Magen Avraham ibid
51. Mishneh Brurah 489:3
52. Beis Yosef Orach Chaim 55 “Matzasi Kasuv…”
53. Mishneh Trumos 1:8; Gemara Berachos 15b; Tur Orach Chaim 62:3 and 186:3
54. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 489:2
55. See Biur Halacha 489:1 “Achar Tefilas Arvis” who brings two reasons for this one is that it used to be prevalent to say the Ma’ariv service before tzeis hakochavim and finish just around that time in which case they were saying Ma’ariv first but also counting the Omer right at tzeis hakochavim. Alternatively, Ma’ariv should always precede the Omer because of the rule “tadir v’sheino tadir tadir kodem”. Based on the two rationales here some say that according to the first opinion there is greater value to counting the Omer just after tzeis regardless of when you plan to say the Ma’ariv service. Therefore, although we generally follow the second opinion and count after Ma’ariv whenever that may be, if a person is concerned that he may not make it to a minyan that night and thus fears he may forget to count should actually count right at tzeis hakochavim and say the Ma’ariv service later with a minyan if the opportunity arises.
56. 489:15
58, 77. Orach Chaim 489:4
59. Shabbos 9b-10a
60. Ibid and see also Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 232:2 and the Rema and Mishneh Brurah there
61. Orach Chaim 489:25
62. Mishneh Brurah 235:16
64. Orach Chaim 489:6
65. Orach Chaim 8:1
66. Ibid (see the Bach, the Smak quoted there in the Prisha and the Mishneh Brurah 8:2)
67. Avudraham; Rokeach;Maharil;Hamanhig
68. Rashba; Rabbeinu Yerucham;Eshkol;Ran; Ravyah
69. Sefer Maseh Rav
71. Mishneh Brurah 489:9
74. Mishneh Brurah 489:10
75. Chok Yakov; Eliyah Rabbah; Shulchan Aruch HaRav; Birkei Yosef
76. Hilchos Tamidin Umusafin 7:25
78. Biur Hagra Orach Chaim 489:4
80. 489:22
81. MB 489:19
82. MB 489:20
83. MB 489:22 and Shar Hatziun 489:28
84. Shulchan Aruch 489:5-6
85. Mishneh Brurah 489:32
86. Mishneh Brurah 489:38
87. Gemara Yevamos 62b