By Rabbi Ari Enkin / Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was one of the more prominent sages and personalities of the Talmud, specifically in the Mishna. Within Talmudic texts he is referred to in a number of ways including “Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai” and “Rashbi”. In the Mishna he is simply referred to as “Rabbi Shimon”. In fact, any reference to a “Rabbi Shimon” refers to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. While his father’s name, Yochai, is...

Lag Ba'omer – Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was one of the more prominent sages and personalities of the Talmud, specifically in the Mishna. Within Talmudic texts he is referred to in a number of ways including “Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai” and “Rashbi”. In the Mishna he is simply referred to as “Rabbi Shimon”. In fact, any reference to a “Rabbi Shimon” refers to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.[1] While his father’s name, Yochai, is well known, his mother’s name is not. Most sources record his mother’s name as Chami,[2] while others suggest that her name was Sara.[3] Among his many accomplishments, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is accredited with having authored the Zohar, the primary work on kabbala.[4] He was also one of the most prominent students of Rabbi Akiva. It has even been suggested that Rabbi Shimon and his son were the greatest scholars of their generation.[5] 

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was forced to flee and go into hiding as a result of having criticized the Roman government who were ruling the Land of Israel at the time. He fled with his son and ended up hiding in a cave in the city of Peki’in for thirteen years.[6] According to tradition, a carob[7] tree miraculously emerged at the entrance of the cave as well as a spring of fresh water which allowed Rabbi Shimon and his son to survive. Some sources indicate that Eliyahu Hanavi would also bring them bread and wine from time to time[8] as well as matza and wine for Pesach.[9] We are told that in order not to wear out their clothes they would keep their clothes exclusively for prayer while at all other times they simply immersed themselves in sand up to their necks. Rabbi Shimon and his son spent their days studying Torah.[10]  Talmudic scholars point out that all references in the Talmud to “Rabbi Shimon” refer to the period before he went into hiding while references to “Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai”, or “Bar Yochai”, refer to him after he had once again emerged from the cave.[11] 

According to tradition, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai died on Lag Ba’omer although this is disputed by some sources.[12] Similarly, while it is widely accepted that Rabbi Shimon and his son were buried in Meron,  which is a tradition that has been in existence for generations, there is a minority view that they were buried in Kfar Chanania. Other sources suggest that no matter where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai may have actually been buried God miraculously transported his body to Meron as a result of the Jewish people having “declared” that he is buried there. His Yartzeit is celebrated with singing, dancing, feasting, and, of course, bonfires. 

The reason why the day is called “Lag Ba’omer” not “Lag La’omer”[13] is because “Lag Ba’omer” is the numerical value of “Moshe” which is intended to emphasize the belief that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a reincarnation of Moshe Rabbeinu and reached the same levels of greatness as Moshe did.[14] It is also noted that the Yartzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai always fall on the same day of the week. 

Those in Israel who are able to ascend to the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, located in Meron, are encouraged to do so. Once there, one should hold a meal in honor of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and celebrate his life.[15] Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura writes: “On the eighteenth day of Iyar, the day of the Yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (the Rashbi), people from surrounding areas gather and light huge bonfires aside from lighting candles. Many barren women have been helped and the sick have been healed when they made a promise and donation for this holy site.”[16] It is taught that one who has forgotten some of his Torah knowledge should pray at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and then review the material three times.[17] Those who are unable to travel to Meron should at least study the teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai throughout the day of Lag Ba’omer.[18] 


[1] Pesachim 51b.

[2] Pirushim U’psakim Al Hatorah (Rabbeinu Avigdor Tzarfati), Parshat Shelach, p.34; Yerushalmi, Shabbat 15:3; Midrash Rabba, Parshat Behar 34:16 cited in Birurei Chaim 3:29 footnote 32.

[3] “Yesh Omrim” cited in Birurei Chaim 3:29 footnote 32.

[4] The authorship of the Zohar is the subject of some controversy. Some scholars attribute the Zohar entirely to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai while others argue that it was Rabbi Moses de Leon who wrote it. Yet others suggest that it was started by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai or that it contains the thoughts and teachings of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, but was compiled and completed by de Leon. It is simply not possible to accredit Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai with the complete authorship of the Zohar as the Zohar discusses rabbis who were born after Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai had died. It also discusses certain ritual matters which were only instituted after Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai had died.

[5] Sukka 45b.

[6] There is a minority opinion that the cave in which Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai hid when fleeing the Romans was located in Lod. Zohar Chadash, Ki Tavo.

[7] Some say that it was a date tree and others say that it was both. Esther Rabba 3:7; Yerushalmi, Sheviit 9:1 cited in Birurei Chaim 3:29 footnote 44b.

[8] Sefer Ha’eshel, Reish, 15 cited in Birurei Chaim 3:29:2 footnote 45b.

[9] Hagadda Shel Pesach Tzemach Menachem, cited in Birurei Chaim 3:29:2 footnote 45c.

[10] Shabbat 33b.

[11] Shabbat 33b.

[12] Minchat Elazar 4:64, cited in Nitei Gavriel Minhagei Lag Ba’omer. There are eminent authorities such as the Chida, the Ben Ish Chai and Rabbi Chaim Vital who are of the opinion that Lag Ba’omer is not the Yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. They argue that this claim is based on scribal errors. See http://www.shofar.net/site/ARDetile.asp?id=8159 for more. See also Divrei Yitzchak (Kaduri) Shaar Moadim V’zemanim 5.

[13] Which would be consistent with the “La’omer” formula that most people use to count the omer each night.

[14] Likutei Sichot Vol. 7 p.337; Birurei Chaim 3:29:2 footnote 29; Nitei Gavriel, Pesach Vol 3, p. 268 in the footnote; Shemen Sasson Mechaverecha, cited in Birurei Chaim 3:29:2 footnote 29,30.

[15] Kaf Hachaim, OC 493:26.

[16] Hilula D’rashbi p.89. Note: There is reason to believe that Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura was referring to the 28th of Iyar Yartzeit celebration for Shmuel Hanavi in Jerusalem and not the 18th of Iyar celebrations in Meron. See: “Darkei Tzion” p.33-34 available at http://www.hebrewbooks.org/9488

[17] Kohelet Rabba 10:11.

[18] It is especially good to review the story of Rashbi starting on Shabbat 33b (That is daf “lag”), or other pieces of Gemara which include teachings of Rashbi.

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

63 comments

  1. Is Peki’in the same as Moron… the cave I mean, or is there a seperate cave that is identified?

  2. They are completely different cities, nowhere near each other. (both in the Galilee, though)

    Ari Enkin

  3. …by the way, I’ve been to the cave in Peki’in several times. Nothing too impressive, though it is likely the authentic site (or thereabouts)

    Ari Enkin

  4. R’ Ari,

    Regarding footnote #16: ‘See: “Darkei Tzion” p.33-34 available at http://www.hebrewbooks.org/9488

    Looks like the link no longer works.

    The active link to this sefer is:
    http://hebrewbooks.org/3738

    The link to the specific page (pg.33) is:
    http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=3738&st=&pgnum=33&hilite=

  5. Oh you’re good!!

    Tnx!

    Ari Enkin

  6. “It is simply not possible to accredit Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai with the complete authorship of the Zohar as the Zohar discusses rabbis who were born after Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai had died.”

    Why not? If a carob tree can miraculously appear, if Eliyahu Hanavi can come feed them, if their bodies can be miraculously transported after death, and if barren women made fertile and the sick healed because of donations, why should a few anachronisms about dead rabbis be very meaningful — other, that is, than to those who are concerned with facts and not fables.

  7. Since when do we observe a Yahrzeit with singing and dancing? If anything, doesn’t a Yahrzeit call for fasting? Why the departure in this case?

  8. R. Enkin:

    any discussion of lag ba-omer should take into account prof. leiman’s lecture on the subject. your essay would have read (and possibly concluded) very differently

    JOSEPH KAPLAN:

    just curious, why do you find these “fables” so objectionable?

  9. ANON:

    “Since when do we observe a Yahrzeit with singing and dancing?”

    no worse than using a yahrzeit as an excuse to get tipsy at 7:00am.

  10. Good point Kaplan!

    Today’s post certainly aint for the rationalists.

    Ari Enkin

  11. More Lag Ba’omer “Torah” will appear in my next sefer, Ramat Hashulchan, due out in July.

    Ari Enkin

  12. “More Lag Ba’omer “Torah” will appear in my next sefer”

    stop the presses if you haven’t listened to prof. leiman’s lecture

  13. …thanks for that. I will, bl”n. Anyone have the link handy?

    Why doesnt Prof. Lehman put his amazing lectures into book form??

    Ari Enkin

  14. “Those in Israel who are able to ascend to the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, located in Meron, are encouraged to do so.”

    by whom?
    Avoid the passive voice,- Strunk and White, eyen sham v’dok

  15. R’ Enkin, the link is at http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/734356/Dr._Shnayer_Leiman/The_Strange_History_of_Lag_B%27Omer . It usually pops up as one of the most popular lectures this time of year. 🙂

    R’ Leiman (note spelling) publishes many lectures as essays in Tradition; most of these are freely available (with lots of other writings) on his website, http://leimanlibrary.com/ .

    “Among his many accomplishments, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is accredited with having authored the Zohar,”

    Your desire to be accurate has come at the expense of coherence. It’s no “accomplishment” to be “accredited” [sic] with anything.

  16. Well, as we count down to May 21st (http://www.npr.org/2011/05/07/136053462/is-the-end-nigh-well-know-soon-enough)…

    In a discussion about when Mashiach will come and the 36, in Sanhedrin 97b, the following point is made by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai:

    מי נפישי כולי האי והאמר חזקיה א”ר ירמיה משום רשב”י ראיתי בני עלייה והן מועטין אם אלף הם אני ובני מהם אם מאה הם אני ובני מהם אם שנים הם אני ובני הם

  17. “just curious, why do you find these “fables” so objectionable?”

    It’s a question of context. I wouldn’t find them objectionable in, say, a sermon or mussar schmooze. But I think that, for the most part, they have no place in halachic discussions which is what I thought R. Enkin’s weekly column is supposed to be about.

  18. “It is simply not possible to accredit Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai with the complete authorship of the Zohar as the Zohar discusses rabbis who were born after Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai had died.”

    _____________

    I’m reminded of an experience that I had with the commentary of Yonasan ben Uziel, or Pseuodo-Jonathan, as I later came to know it. Somewhere in Breishis, in the context of Yishmael, the author refers to Mohammed, which is odd – at least at first glance – because Yonasan ben Uziel lived before Mohammed came on the scene. And sure enough, when I first encountered this passage, a rabbi from a decidedly right-wing yeshiva in Israel said that this was evidence of ruach hakodesh.

    Fast-forward to a few years later, when I enrolled in Intro to Bible at YU and learned all about the Pseudo-Jonathan aspect of the commentary – and this very passage was summoned as a proof-text for Yonasan ben Uziel’s lack of authorship!

    Bottom line: it’s all about first assumptions.

  19. >“Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai”, or “Bar Yochai”, refer to him after he had once again emerged from the cave.[11]

    It almost always says “Ben” Yochai.

  20. …by the way, I’ve been to the cave in Peki’in several times. Nothing too impressive, though it is likely the authentic site (or thereabouts)

    See http://www.ladereh.co.il/BRPortal/br/P102.jsp?arc=124531 for a convincing argument why it is NOT the authentic site of Pekiin… though it may be the authentic site of RSBY’s cave nonetheless!

  21. R’ Enkin, neither Sukka 45b nor Sanhedrin97b state that R’ Shimon and his son were the greatest scholars of the generation. They cite R’ Shimon as claiming that he and his son, Eliezer, were among the ‘b’nei aliya’ even if that exclusive group contained only 2. B’nei aliya doesn’t mean outstanding scholars, but those most worthy of the divine presence. It would be both arrogant and unrealistic to claim that both he and his son were greater in scholarship than contemporaries such as R’ Meir, R’ Yehuda, and R’ Yosi. Rather, his statement is a reflection of the attitude that those who didn’t fearlessly oppose evil, such as his evaluation of Roman rule, are less worthy than those who did – i.e. R’ Shimon and his son.

  22. …then I stand corrected. I have always assumed that “the greatest scholars” is compatible with “bnei aliya” Perhaps I am wrong.

    On a similar topic, take a look at this: http://www.breslev-midot.com/eng/hillulat_moharahn_2005.asp#Praises Rebbe Nachman said of himself

    Ari Enkin

  23. Y. Aharon — While I don’t disagree with your point, to be fair the broader context of the Sanhedrin reference does see scholarship as the standard bearer for salvation.

  24. IH, I am unclear as to what you mean by “the broader context of the Sanhedrin reference”. If you refer to subjects discussed elsewhere in Sanhedrin, perhaps so. The specific reference to San. 97b refers, however, primarily to the timing and circumstances of the messianic age. As an aside it discusses the number of righteous ones who are worthy of seeing the divine presence. One opinion is 36, another is 18,000, and R’ Shimon is cited as being uncertain if the number is 1000, 100, or 2. The gemara then reconciles the different numbers. I see nothing here about relative scholarly abilities – just worthiness.

  25. Y. Aharon — Search for Torah in Perek Chelek. E.g. the references on 92a, 94b (my favorite), 97a and 99b.

  26. MiMedinat HaYam

    the druze also come to celebarate at meron (per r xxxx of tara reciords). it seems they have no kvarim to go to (the nature their religion), and since they (claim to) descend from yitro, they consider rashbi to be a cousin, since rashbi is a descendant (not reincarnation; or perhaps both) of moshe rabbenu.

  27. MiMedinat HaYam

    to abba at 8:11am:

    you should be ashamed of yourself — accusing chassidim of going to 7am minyan — they go to 900, 930.

    unlike litvaks who (tend to) fast on a yartzeit. (ok — not too many of them.)

  28. r xxxx of Tara records is Velvel Pasternak and the story is recorded in his book Beyond Hava Nagila in the context of relating how the misserlou became part of the holy cannon of Jewish music(there was some cross cultural pollination at the kever of RSBY between the druze and some chassidim).

  29. The Druze have tons of kevarim. Yitro’s grave, they think, is just north of Teveryah and they have a big holy site there.

  30. Just north meaning several km away.

  31. Looking on the map, it’s actually 6km NW of Teveryah, called Nabi Shuib

  32. I’ve been to Kever Yitro (Nebi Shueib) many times. Actually – I’ve been to almost all Druze holy sites, especially those with a Torah connection…..but thats for a different time.

    Ari Enkin

  33. Noam-

    Do you have this book? Or contact info for Velvel Pasternak? I would love to leanr about the Jewish/Druze connection to Misserlou.

    Ari Enkin

  34. According to some Ashkenazi rishonim (Raavia, if I remember), Lag Baomer was celebrated by children interrupting their normal routines and going out to the fields to play and shoot bows and arrows. The most likely explanation of this holiday is a commemoration of a victory against the Romans in the revolt of Bar Kosba haMelech (Bar Kochba). Thus, on Lag BeOmer one should remember the revolt against the Romans and keep in mind that the Jewish people were fiercely dedicated to national integrity and independence. On Lag BeOmer one should endeavor to speak of the the revolt against the Romans and mention that initially the Romans were driven from the Land of Israel and an independent state established for a number of years.

  35. בר כוזיבא מלך תרתין שנין ופלגא אמר להו לרבנן אנא משיח אמרו ליה במשיח כתיב דמורח ודאין נחזי אנן אי מורח ודאין כיון דחזיוהו דלא מורח ודאין קטלוהו

    Sanhedrin 93b

  36. Micha-

    Indeed, it is well known that the “plague” which killed Rabbi Akiva’s students was the failed B.K. revolt in which they were killed.

    Ari Enkin

  37. “Those in Israel who are able to ascend to the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, located in Meron, are encouraged to do so.”

    When I was in yeshiva in Israel for the year, some of the guys wanted to go up to Meron for the celebrations. Someone asked the RY if it was okay, and he didn’t mince words. “Assur.”

  38. MiMedinat HaYam

    r ari e — i believe tara pubs / records / music has a web site.

    2. gary — minchas eluzur comes out strongly against going to meron. but he went there on lag baomer, while in palestine in early 1930s.

    3. lag baomer also yarzeit of another moshe — the ramoh.

    4. thanx for (exact) source for bows and arrows. now a source for bonfires?

  39. >3. lag baomer also yarzeit of another moshe — the ramoh

    And according to a funny legend he was 33 years old.

  40. RE: Bonfires:

    It must be noted that the idea of lighting bonfires is not of Jewish origin. Bonfires were known in Christian Europe as a way to honor Christian saints as far back as the tenth century. They don’t appear as a Jewish practice until the 16th century. The word bonfire derives from the words “fire of bones.” The term became to be used for any large fires used in celebrations, although it is originally associated with various Christian saints, particularly John and Peter. Most Christian scholars say that the practice of celebrating saints with bonfires is traced to pagan, pre-Christian sources which were later adapted by Christianity. Indeed, the Celtics made bonfires to honor some of their deities and spirits. From: http://www.kashrut.org/forum/viewpost.asp?mid=8751. Nevertheless, it may just be that lighting bonfires in honor of the dead may have indeed have a Jewish Scriptural source, see: Divrei Hayamim 2 16:14. See also: http://parsha.blogspot.com/2008/05/is-burning-pyre-to-rabbi-shimon-bar.html.

    Ari Enkin

  41. A quick look at Wikipedia indicates a pagan source. Following one of its footnotes:

    “The ancient Celtic ancestors of these people divided the year into two halves, a dark half starting in this very cold early fall, and the preceding light half of the spring and summer months. Many scholars believe that the Samhain, was the beginning of the Celtic year, with this celebration taking place during the beginning of the lunar cycle , or the midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. This tradition existed even until late medieval time sin early Ireland, as many people believed Samhain was the principal calendar feast of the year. In ancient times the festival was celebrated with a great assembly at the royal court in Tara, the archaic hill fort and bastion of the Irish kings. The festival lasted for three days, and began after a ritual fire was set ablaze on the Hill of Tlachtga. This bonfire served as a beacon, signaling to people gathered atop hills all across Ireland to light their ritual bonfires. This ritual was called the Féile na Marbh in old Irish, meaning the ‘festival of the dead’ took place on the night of Samhain, or “Oíche Shamhna” and and was said to fall on the 31st of October. The word ‘bonfire’ itself is a direct translation of the Gaelic tine cnámh or Bone Fire, because villagers were said to have cast the bones of the slaughtered cattle upon the flames. October was the traditional time for slaughter, for preparing stores of meat and grain to last through the coming winter. With the bonfire ablaze, the villagers extinguished all other fires and then each family then solemnly lit its hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together with the symbolic bones of their ancestors.”

    http://www.theancientweb.com/community/articledetail.aspx?article_id=30

  42. IH, a pagan source for what exactly? The word “bonfire”?

    It seems a bizzar trend these days to connect everything and anything to paganism, when no real connection exists… Which is disturbing, because when a real connection does exist, it becomes ignored.

    I guess the rosh chodesh bonfires from the talmud are also pagan in origin, as are the large fires before Pesach in burning the chametz.. also pagan in origin.

  43. R’ Enkin, I think you mean “Celts”…”Celtic” is the adjective, and the name of some sports teams. 🙂

  44. layman – I was amplifying Ari’s comment and the article is also linked into the kashrut.org article.

    To state the obvious: fire is an elemental force and was used for many purposes, including pagan ones. And I would expect the Celtic ceremonial/symbolic use of bonfires has parallels in the rest of the ancient world.

    But, surely you see a difference between using fire for a quotidian purpose (e.g. cooking, communication) and ritual purposes (e.g. sacrifices, worship).

  45. “Indeed, it is well known that the “plague” which killed Rabbi Akiva’s students was the failed B.K. revolt in which they were killed.”
    -Ari Enkin

    It’s a bit strange to see you write this so unequivocally given how untraditional a p.o.v. it is. (Seriously, is this “well known” by even YU roshei yeshiva. at best i would guess they would cite it as a yesh omrim. and once you get to lakewood at all, not even that…) Perhaps this is related to the general issue of unequivocal tone in your posts.

  46. *lakewood et al. phonetic typos are funny.

  47. Emma-

    Its the view of Rav Hai Gaon.

    It is highly unlikely that so many people from the same group died from “askara” and no one else.

    Of course, there is the Midrashic view that only 300 students of Rabbi Akiva were killed.

    Ari Enkin

  48. As I mentioned at the tail end of the “Movies During Sefirah” thread, I am increasingly convinced that the whole Omer period (which was no longer relevant from its original celebratory biblical purpose) was re-interpreted as a period of mourning to commemorate the cataclysmic disaster that befell the Jewish people in following the first false messiah – Bar Kochba.

    And for anyone who protests, see IH on May 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm for the Bavli Masechet Sanhedrin quote that unambigiously pronounces Bar Kochba a false messiah.

    But, then, how to deal with Rabbi Akiva and those of his students who followed Bar Kochba? This was a serious complication. My theory is that led to the ambivalence in the texts, which in turn led to the confused rationales for the rituals associated with Sefirat ha’Omer and Lag ba’Omer.

    I am keen to hear other hypotheses…

  49. Thanks, I was not aware of R. Hai Gaon’s view.
    To be clear, I personally believe this to be the most likely interpretation. But I still think it’s odd to describe it as “well known” given that i would bet the majority of people who know about the death of r. akiva’s students at all have probably not heard of it, and certainly don’t believe it. “Many subscribe to the opinion” would be fine.

  50. IH-regardless of the statements of the Talmud in Sanhedrin that Bar Kochba was a false messiah, how would you understand or propose to understand Rambam’s views of R Akiva and Bar Kochba as expressed at the end of Hilcos Melachim?

  51. I would suggest that the Talmud itself provides some clues as to the uniqueness of R Akiva, as opposed to his colleagues and talmidim. A recently posted article from Aish on Beyond Teshuvah mentioned that R Akiva was the only Tanna who emerged whole from his entrance into Pardes. IIRC, there is another statement either in the Talmud or Midrash that R Akiva understood the need to organize data, in a far greater sense than his colleagues. OTOH,
    another passage in Kesuvos mentions that when R Akiva reunited with his wife, his talmidim refused to allow her to meet him.

  52. The Ashkenazi practice during the sefira period appears to be more associated with the pogroms in the Rhineland during the first crusade, rather than a talmudic tale about the students of R’ Akiva or the disasterous Bar Cochba rebellion. The more prevalent Ashkenazi practice, it seems to me, is to start the usual mourning practices in Iyar rather than immediately after Pesach. This corresponds to the month when massacres occurred in Mainz, Speyer, and Worms (May, 1096). Those massacres are commemorated in various ways; the av harachamim said at Shabbat musaf, in a piyut on tish’a b’av, and in the sefira practice.

  53. Y. Aharon —

    As layman observed in the previous thread: “The Crusades” lasted some 200 years, so the “story” to me, requires more details and more theology to sound compelling. There is also the timing issue that some mourning customs were already in place during the Ge’onic period (ref: http://www.yeshiva.org.il/midrash/shiur.asp?id=2262 and http://www.aishdas.org/asp/2008/05/mourning-during-omer.shtml).

    My thinking is that the explanations for how & why this biblical period of celebration was inverted into a period of symbolic mourning — of: a) the martyrdom of R. Akiva’s talmidim; b) the Crusades; and, c) loss of mesorah – are corruptions of the broader original reason as I described.

    Steve –

    Could you paraphrase the alternate hypothesis that you infer I will find in MT Hilchot Melachim and/or provide specific mareh mekomot?

    The story of R. Akiva as “the only Tanna who emerged from his entrance into Pardes” is, of course, the text many of us were taught in High School as the warning about studying Kabbalah. I think this only strengthens my point about why the issues — R. Akiva is so central a figure among the Tannaim that his support for Bar Kochba (and the resultant disaster) are hugely problematic.

    On the topic of R. Akiva, I noticed that the Jewish Quarterly Review has an article in their Fall 2010 edition called “Rabbi Akiva’s Youth” by Prof. Azzan Yadin that I have not yet had a chance to read. Other potential sources are listed in: http://michtavim.blogspot.com/2011/04/da-yomi-and-tale-of-two-passages-in.html

  54. IH-see Hilcos Melachim 11:3-then compare the same with the Talmudic passage that you cited. Rambam does not IMO suggest that R Akiva’s support of Bar Kochba was problematic , but rather that R Akiva and all the Chachmdei HaDor viewed Bar Kochba as the Melech HaMoshiach . However, Bar Kochba’s own demise proved that he was not the Melech HaMoshiach. WADR, please offer a reconciliation between the above stated passages.

  55. Steve — thanks, I will try to look it up on Shabbat, but already have a long list.

    I’m not sure what you’re asking to me to reconcile. The statement from the Talmud is what it is — I did not make it up. As Prof. Schiffman summarizes in From Text to Tradition (p. 173):

    “The sobriquet Bar Kohkba, “Son of a Star,” was given to him in accord with Num. 24:17 (“A star shall go forth from Jacob”), taken to refer to the messiah. The tannaim were divided, some supporting his rebellion, others not. Those who supported him saw him as a messianic figure.”

  56. Ah, yes, that section of Rambam — it’s been a while since I last read that. The mention of R. Akiva there is within the context of Rambam’s chiddushim regarding Mashiach. I’ll defer to the Rambam experts on that — e.g. perhaps Prof. Kaplan can answer your question.

    Readers without a hardcopy MT, can read it as clause Vav and Zayen at: http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/e511.htm
    n.b. the final sentence וכל המוסיף … רשע ואפיקורוס does not appear in my hardcopy Mishne Torah (ירושלים תשל”ג)

  57. IH-Thanks for your response. Notwithstanding R Schiffman’s comments, I would sugggest that the Rambam states that R Akiva and Kol Chachmei HaDor had no doubts about Bar Kochba until his demise proved otherwise. I would also welcome Larry Kaplan’s thoughts on the view of the Rambam and the passage in Sanhedrin 97

  58. IH wrote:

    “And for anyone who protests, see IH on May 18, 2011 at 2:12 pm for the Bavli Masechet Sanhedrin quote that unambigiously pronounces Bar Kochba a false messiah” and refered us to Sanhedrin 93b:
    בר כוזיבא מלך תרתין שנין ופלגא אמר להו לרבנן אנא משיח אמרו ליה במשיח כתיב דמורח ודאין נחזי אנן אי מורח ודאין כיון דחזיוהו דלא מורח ודאין קטלוהו

    Sanhedrin 93b”

    Perhaps, this statement is following those Tanaim who did not agree with R Akiva’s assessment of Bar Kochba. Once again, the Rambam in Hilcos Melachim would appear not to accept the Pashtus of this statement, although the Raavad asks why not on the spot.

  59. Ih-thanks for the reference to Sanhedrin 93b. See the Chiddushei Aggados of the Meharsha thereat-fascinating comments.

  60. I was reading two things the other day, which have quite altered my opinion on the matter. One, was a book about the history of the jews, and it mentioned that there was a strong Jewish presences and autonomous rule in Northern Israel until the end of the 11th century. This was based in Tiveria, and there was also a large group called the “Mourners of Zion” in Jerusalem that were allowed to live there by the Muslim empires. However, the crusades destroyed both communities.

    The second, the idea of a typo which instead of saying “the day of Rashbi’s death”, it says “the day of Rashbi’s happiness”.. this would fit better with a bonfire as means of celebration. It also mentioned that people would travel to meron to pray for water at the graves of Hillel and Shamai.

    These two details to me, explain the history of Lag B’omer better than previously mentioned theories. Especially combined with Bar Kochba. BTW, one of the links provided mentions “(Sidenote on askara. Most translate the word to mean diptheria, that Rabbi Aqiva’s students died in an epidemic. According to Rav Hai Gaon, “askara” is a transliteration of the Greek word “sicari”, a dagger, or the class of soldier who were armed with daggers. He understands them to have been killed during the Roman persecutions.)”

    This is not really accurate. the Sicari, were a group of assassin mercenaries, as described in Josephus. (soldiers using daggers? really?) These assassins would kill people in the marketplace, then keep on walking so as not to be discovered. Masada, apparently, was a stronghold used by the Sicari before the final stand. And they were a different group from the “zealots”

  61. R Ari -See R Asher Weiss’s Sicha on LaG BaOmer and the reference therein to the Igeres R Sherira Gaon-Perhaps, the reason we are so happy is that R Akiva’s five latter talmidim were the only talmidim spared by the plague.

  62. Bayla Neuwirth

    Hi. Some time ago I saw a post asking if anyone had a copy of Davar B’Ito calendar. I have one from the year 5763. Please contact me if you are still interested.

    Also, I am curious whether Shayna nee Elber is related to Miriam Small, who is my aunt. Mrs. Small’s daughter was married to a person named Erber. Please let me know if we are related!

    Bayla Neuwirth
    Phoenix, Arizona

  63. Bayla-

    Shayna Erber is my wife. Sol and Miriam Small are her grandparents. Shayna’s mother is Chanie [Small] Erber. Her phone number is (Jerusalem area code – 02) 999-7663.

    Regards,

    Ari Enkin

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