Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sefirah: Could we have a little logic, please?

For the record, I started with the previous post.

Sefirah is an old topic of mine (not to mention DovBear's)--start here and following the links. It's been brought to the fore this year by the fact that now it's my husband who's protesting.

Nothing about the mourning practices of Sefirah makes sense. For openers, the whole notion of one teacher, even as great a one as Rabbi Akiva, (a) having had 24,000 students (b) all of whom died in a plague strikes me as being as preposterous as the number of Israelites traditionally believed to have left Egypt with Moses (not to mention the number traditionally believed to have died later in various plagues and/or rebellions).

For closers, the Churban (Destruction of the Temples) gets two half-fasts (sunrise to sunset) and one full fast (Tisha B'Av, a sunset-to-sunset fast), plus three weeks of mourning, and the Shoah (Holocaust), with its six million victims, gets a grand total of one day of mourning (Yom HaShoah), which some say should be merged with Tisha B'Av. So why do the allegedly-deceased alleged students of Akiva get a whole month (er, 33 days?)?

And to top it all off, how can one mourn and rejoice at the same time? Observing the mourning restrictions of Sefirah during Nissan, a month in which we're supposed to be so intent on rejoicing over our liberation from slavery in Egypt that we're not even supposed to say Tachanun, makes no sense whatsoever.

So do we observe the period of the alleged plague as a time of mourning, and mourn beginning in Nissan, starting, noch besser (even better) on the second day of a holiday, Pesach (Passover), or do we mourn during the time of the attacks against Jews in Europe in the Middle Ages, and observe a period of mourning from Rosh Chodesh Iyar until Shavuot?

This sounds to me like a classic case of "two Jews, three opinions." We can't even decide why we're mourning, much less when.

Maybe we should just listen to the songwriter: "Let's call the whole thing off."


Anonymous Mordechai Y. Scher said...

I would like to address just one notion in your post. You object that it is ridiculous that one teacher can have tens of thousands of students. I, too, wondered about that - until the death of our great teacher Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriyah. Rav Neriyah founded the first Yeshivat Bnei Akivah, where my teachers studied. Out of the yeshivah at Kfar Haroeh grew a nationwide network of Bnei Akiva yeshivah high schools and seminaries. When Rav Neriyah died, tens of thousands mourned him, declaring him their teacher. Indeed, he had directly and indirectly educated several generations of young men and women. I understand the statement about Rabi Akiva to maybe mean something similar. Tradition says, for instance, that any unidentified mishnah is from Rabi Meir in accord with his teacher, Rabi Akiva. Rabi Akiva shaped the way generation study Hashem's Torah.

Tue May 03, 06:09:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Good point.

On the other hand, I tend to be more than a bit skeptical regarding any legend that speaks not of thousands of deaths from a plague, but of the deaths of a specific group from a plague *as a punishment.* Sounds too much like the way some people treat the AIDS epidemic ("Of course they're dying--they're Gay!") for my taste. Also, the fact that the Sefirah period doesn't seem to have been observed as a period of semi-mourning until centuries after the alleged punishment plague speaks volumes about the plague having nothing to do with the Sefirah restrictions.

Wed May 04, 10:32:00 AM 2011  

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