Counting the Omer

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Every year arguments against the traditional Jewish calendar are raised, and one group or another produces a more accurate or a more Biblical calendar for people to follow. This year is an exception. It seems everyone was in agreement. While many factors control the disagreements, I will concentrate on one: “When should the counting of the Omer begin?”

“Usfartem — lachem — mimochorat hashabbat miyom havi’achem et omer hatnufah sheva shabbatot tamimot tihyeynah. Ad mimochorat hashabbat hashvi’it tisperu chamishim…” [Vayikra 23:15-16a].

And you shall count — for yourself — from the day after the Sabbath from the day you bring the sheaf for the wave offering; they shall be seven perfect Sabbaths. From the day after the Shabbat, seven shall you number. On day fifty, etc.” [Leviticus 23:15-16a].

The Omer Offering, is one of the days in which a wave offering is performed; the one particular to our discussion is said to be on the day after the Shabbat after Pesach. While it was not necessarily a holiday, it was a particular day in which three things occurred: designate, bring, and recite. Torah provides two stipulations associated with this day: one cannot eat new grain until this day is complete[1], and the Counting of Omer begins on this date[2].

As is common knowledge, Torah states we are to eat unleavened bread for seven days[3]. However, Torah states elsewhere, “for six days you shall eat matzot[4],” which appears to contradict the Leviticus passage. Rav Shimon ben Elazar states this refers to the six days of the festival after the sickle is put to the wave offering sheath. Torah forbids eating new grains until the wave offering celebration. After the Omer is offered, new grain is permitted when baking matzot for the last six days of the festival.

The Sadducees and Karaites argue the Leviticus passage refers to the weekly Shabbat, while the sages contend it refers to the first Yom Tov of Pesach[5]. By making the Wave Offering always land on Sunday, one cannot say Shavuos [the 50th day] is always on the 6th of Sivan. They find support in Torah, for it states, “and you shall count,” indicating one never knows upon which day of the month it lands. The Boethusians and Karaites understand “Shabbatot” as literally “Sabbaths,” meaning the actual weekly Shabbats are counted.

The Rabbis asked how one reconciles the apparent contradiction between “counting 50 days” [apparently counting from the Yom Tov of Pesach] and “counting seven weeks” [apparently counting from the weekly Sabbath]. The former proves that the beginning of the count is not dependent upon the first day of the week for the beginning of the count; otherwise Torah would have simply stated, “Count seven weeks.”

An unfortunate side effect of the Karaite calendar is that the wave offering that precedes the counting of Omer will land outside the seven-day festival of Matzot on years the Pesach Seder is celebrated on Saturday night. Additionally, the Karaite position does not answer the difference between the weekly Shabbat and the “sheva shabbatot tamimot,” or “seven perfect Shabbats” in our passage. The Rabbis, however, answer by translating it “seven complete weeks.” The “perfect week” takes the evening and daytime portions of a complete day into account by assigning “reaping” and “counting” to the evening, and “bringing” and “offering” assigned to the daytime. Since the Karaite calendar allows for an occasional wave offering observance outside of chag matzot, the Karaite method of counting cannot be correct. Therefore, the rabbinic counting is the only logical answer.

An additional thing to ask is, How did Moshiach count? Did He count as a Pharisee [as the Rabbis now count], or did He follow the Sadducee counting [the way of the Karaite calendar]? Did he not say, “The Soferim and Perushim sit on Moshe’s seat. All things, therefore, whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do?” Should we not follow the example of our Master?

Hashem gave the moadim [times of remembrance] to the Jewish Community. This means we as a community observe them together. If the community is celebrating a moed at the wrong time, one must make a decision: either err on the side of individuality or err on the side of community. Erring on the side of individuality is the greater avaira [sin] for no no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation.

Abaye said, “It is a mitzvah to count the days and it’s a mitzvah to count the weeks.” The Rabbis of the school of Rav Ashi counted the days and they counted the weeks. Ameimar counted only the days and he did not count the weeks. He said, “In these days, we count only in remembrance of the Temple[6].”

The Halacha follows Abaye.


[1] Leviticus 15:14

[2] Leviticus 23:15

[3] Leviticus 23:6

[4] Deuteronomy 16:8

[5] B. Menachot 65a – 66b

[6] The Artscroll Series® Talmud Bavli, Vol. 59, Tractate Menachot Chapter 6 page 66a3

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