Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Omer: What is a Conservadox Woman to Do?

Every year, I struggle with the Omer. The two questions I have are: 1. For How Long? 2. What do I do (other than counting the Omer)?

Question 1 was answered convincingly for me by the husband of a friend a few years ago. He said that it makes no sense to observe the Omer, a mourning or partial mourning period, in Nissan, the month of Passover, traditionally associated with the Redemption. (Observing the Omer on Chol HaMoed Pesach in particular seems dumb to him). If there is no tachanun (a prayer of supplication that is omitted on happy occasions) in Nissan, why should there be Omer observance? Furthermore, there is no tachanun on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, so he starts to observe the Omer on the third of Iyar (the Hebrew month after Nissan). He continues to observe it for about three more weeks, until Lag Ba'Omer (the thirty-fifth day of the Omer), and then he stops. His reasoning is that the official reason for observing a mourning or semi-mourning period during the Omer is that, according to the Gemara, Rabbi Akiva's students started dying during the Omer, and they stopped dying on Lag Ba'Omer. He thinks that the custom arose to observe the Omer as a mourning period from the thirty-sixth day of the Omer until Shavuot only for the maintenance of symmetry between the first and last halves of the Omer. In true Conservadox style, I follow this minhag (custom), since it makes sense to me, although I feel kind of guilty about not observing the Omer (other than counting it) after Lag Ba'Omer, since everyone else is doing it.

The question of how I observe the Omer is a much harder one. My friend's husband is (wait for it) a guy, which means that he can observe the Omer very visibly by not shaving. Since he is hirsute, his observance is quite visible. But what should women do? There is no historical connection between mourning and not shaving legs, and I have to be seen in public, so that's out. In the past, I have not listened to recorded music, but this year is a bit of a challenge, since with the exception of one train ride in the near future, I wouldn't normally listen to music anyway. I'm also not convinced that listening to recorded music during the Omer is not allowed. Listening to LIVE music is not allowed, and going to weddings is not allowed, but I don't do those things at this time of year anyway. That is my question, I suppose: Does it "count" (no pun intended, but it's still funny) if I don't do what is forbidden if I wasn't going to do it anyway? Is the idea only to avoid the forbidden--assuming I even know what that is--or do I also have to make a separation between Omer and not-Omer?

I have considered giving up TV, or some TV, but it's hard to convince myself that that is necessary. Even the reason about Rabbi Akiva's students dying seems insufficient to me as a reason why all Jews shouldn't be allowed to have any fun (a gloss from an old acquaintance) for three or six or seven weeks. Is this a situation where the mourning custom, which had developed but whose origin had been forgotten, had to be explained retroactively by the rabbis?

What do you guys do? I am open to suggestions.


elf's DH said...

not observing the Omer (other than counting it)
The main mitzvah of the Omer is counting. Not mourning.

on the third of Iyar
The second of Iyar. RH day 1 is 30 Nisan. RH Day 2 is 1 Iyar. There's also a break for Yom Haatzmaut (again, a day of historical celebration setting aside historical mourning).

since everyone else is doing it.
Not everyone. There are 5 common minhagim for the dates of omer mourning:
1. Pesach to Lag B'omer, noninclusive
2. Pesach to Lag B'omer morning
3. 1 Iyar to 2 Sivan, excluding Lag B'omer
4. 2 Iyar to Shavuot, excluding Lag B'Omer
5. Pesach to 2 Sivan, excluding Lag B'Omer.

There are also various minhagim as to whether preparations for Shabbat override omer mourning. So, I don't think there's the kind of uniformity you're implying here. The only period that everyone agrees about is 2 Iyar to Lag B'omer. The only disadvantage is that it loses the "33 days" aspect. (#5 might be made 33 days by excluding Shabbat, I think).

Shira Salamone said...

I have a similar conflict of opinions on the subject of Sefirah. Thanks for posting this. You’re linked.