Lag BaOmer: Jewish bonfires honor Shimon bar Yochai

Tall bonfire in background with dark shadows of people in foreground, at night

A Lag Ba’Omer bonfire burns in Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, MAY 17: With Lag BaOmer (English spellings vary), Jewish families enjoy a day of joy in the midst of the solemn seven-week period of Counting the Omer (a period of days after Passover).

Families pack picnic lunches, young children receive their first haircut and the initial weddings of the spring season commence, as Jews far and wide recall the death anniversary of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a Mishnaic sage known for sharing secrets of the Kabbalah. For the symbolic light that Rabbi Shimon brought to the world on this, the 33rd day of the Omer, enormous bonfires are lit. (Wikipedia has details.) Hundreds of thousands of devotees gather annually at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon, in Meron, Israel.

COUNTING THE OMER (AND A RECIPE)

In this week’s FeedTheSpirit column, Bobbie Lewis explains the idea of “Counting the Omer” in fairly simple language. She provides lots of fascinating background on the observance, including this: “In the Middle Ages Lag B’Omer became a holiday for rabbinic students, when they engaged in outdoor sports. Today it’s a great day for holding picnics, barbecues and sporting events. And because it’s the only day during the 50-day Omer period when weddings are permitted, it’s considered an auspicious day to start a marriage; in Israel, hundreds of weddings take place.” Click on the link to Bobbie’s column to read more—plus she provides a tasty recipe for barbecue chicken wings on the grill. Mmmmm. Mmmmm.

You may also be interested in a simplified and annotated edition of the Zohar for general readers from our friends at Jewish Lights Publishing.

In Israel today, many also recall the Bar Kokhba revolt against the the Roman Empire, and the Bar Kokhba rebels who lit bonfires to relay messages—despite being forbidden to do so.

In the news: In response to requests by pilgrims and visitors, improvements are being made to accommodate persons visiting the site at Meron, where Shimon bar Yochai is buried. Read more here.

Need tips on building a proper bonfire? Look no further than this article, which is complete with tips from a Jewish Boy Scout.

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)