May 16, 2024
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‘BaOmer’ or ‘LaOmer?’

After my many decades of counting, it is time to deal with this issue. Let us first look at the Acharonim. This is straightforward. The Mishna Berura (died 1933) writes that most poskim prefer “la,” (Orach Chaim, 489.8). Some examples: Mateh Moshe, Ari, Levush, Shelah, Yesod VeShoresh HaAvodah, Be’er Heiteiv, Rabbi Yaakov Emden and Aruch HaShulchan. See, e.g., Rabbi Zvi Cohen, “Sefirat HaOmer: Halachot U’Minhagim HaShalem” (1983), page 99, number 26. Some who prefer “ba” are: Taz, Eliyahu Rabbah, Chayei Adam and Vilna Gaon (Maaseh Rav, section 69).

But what about the Rishonim? The earliest work from the time of the Rishonim that gives us a text is Sefer HaOreh, by students of Rashi. (Rashi died in 1105.) In modern times, Machon Yerushalayim printed a text of this work and on page 268, they provide its instruction for the first day: “yom echad baOmer,” and one must mention the word “Omer” in the count, and on the seventh day, one says: “hayom shivah yamim laOmer … ” This is difficult as there is no reason to distinguish between the first day and the seventh day. Based on other manuscript evidence of Sefer HaOreh (see page 268), there is a reasonable basis to conclude that its approach was “ba” throughout. There is another work from the school of Rashi, Sefer HaPardes. This work has the same passage with “la” both times! But since this work took the passage from Sefer HaOreh, the key issue is what is found in Sefer HaOreh.

Okay, we are off to a difficult start… But what happens when we survey all the Rishonim? We see that they are not having philosophical fights about “ba” versus “la.” Rather, the underlying issue seems to be whether one needs to specify the word “Omer” at all after stating the number of days. Very often, a Rishon discusses the mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer but we cannot tell what exact words he recites. (See, e.g., Rambam, Tamidin U’Musafin, 7:22-25.) But sometimes they do specify their exact words.

One early source that specifies words is Rabbi Yitzchak Ibn Ghayyat (11th century, Spain). He instructs: “hayom yom echad.” No “Omer” word is added. Similarly, when one looks at the Tur (died 1340), in all the examples he uses at Orach Chaim 489, he always concludes with the number and never with an additional “Omer” word. The Tur lived his early life in Germany and the latter part of his life in Spain. That he does not mention anyone who uses an “Omer” ending in any form is highly significant.

Now, let us look at the Shulchan Aruch (16th century). At Orach Chaim 489 (1), on the first day: “Hayom yom echad.” In modern editions, this is followed by: (בעמר). But in the early editions (late 16th century) on hebrewbooks.org, this word in parenthesis is not there. And if one looks at Orach Chaim 493, Rabbi Caro calls the 33rd day: “Lag LaOmer.” It seems clear that just like the Tur, Rabbi Caro did not include—and is not advocating for—an “Omer” word after the number. (Admittedly, Rabbi Caro did include the response of the Rashba, below, in his Beit Yosef.)

Perhaps, the parenthetical בעמר was added by the Rama. In section 493, Rama calls the holiday “Lag BaOmer.”

Here is the only responsum that I am aware of in the period of the Rishonim on our issue, a brief responsum of Rashba (Spain, died 1310). He is asked whether one must say: “hayom kach vekach laOmer” or merely “hayom kach vekach.” His response: Both are equivalent, but it is more fitting to add that last word “laOmer,” to be clearer.

Based on the Tur and Shulchan Aruch, I conclude that many were not adding an “Omer” word in the time of the Rishonim. I can cite many examples. But admittedly there are some who recited and advocated “la:” e.g., Rashba, Shibbolei HaLeket (section 235), Kol Bo (section 55), and Ran (commentary to Rif, Pesachim 28a). Reciting “ba”—aside from Sefer HaOreh—was: Minhagim (Rabbi Isaac Tyrnau, end of 14th century). There may have been many more important figures who recited “ba.” For example, I am aware of many references to the holiday as “Lag BaOmer” in the 1200s and one a bit earlier.

Here are some:

Rabbi Isaac ben Durbal, who died around 1175 and seems to have been from northern France. See his glosses in Machzor Vitry, pages 222-223 (edition Hurwitz).

Rabbi Eliezer ben Yoel HaLevy (died 1220, Germany), section 276.

Rabbi Avraham min HaHar (Montpellier, Provence), commentary to Yevamos 62b.

Rabbi Shimshon ben Tzadok, who took care of Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg in prison for several years before Rabbi Meir died in 1293. Tashbatz, section 107.

For more sources in the 1200s which refer to “Lag BaOmer,” see the article by Simcha Emanuel on “the customs of the Omer” in Netuim 20, especially page 134, number 131. But as I stated earlier, one cannot infer from a reference to this holiday as “Lag BaOmer” that the author was counting with any form of the word “Omer” at the end of his count. There are also many who referred to the holiday as “Lag LaOmer” in the period of the Rishonim.

——

So far, I have only discussed sources from the time of the Rishonim and later. What was done in the Geonic period? I am aware of only one source from the Geonic period that provides a text of the counting: the siddur of Rabbi Saadiah (died 942). He counted in Aramaic, i.e., on the first day he said: “haidana chad yoma beumra (בעומרא).” This work was first published in 1941. If we want to rely on this, we should use the ב but perhaps we should also revert to Aramaic!

(Yemenite Jewry does this.) (Rabbi Richard Wolpoe suggested to me that perhaps Rabbi Saadiah chose Aramaic because he felt that it was important that the count be understood. We can perhaps extrapolate that we should count in English!)

——

Although the Mishna Berura wrote that most say “la,” it seems that there has been a change in recent times, at least in America. The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, page 286, chose “ba” as its text, with a brief remark mentioning that some say “la.” The Hebrew ArtScroll (Yitzchak Yair, page 128) also chose “ba.” The new RCA Siddur, “Siddur Avodat Halev” (2018), also chose “ba.” What might account for this change?

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer implies that it was the publication of the siddur of Rabbi Saadiah. But Rabbi Saadiah’s view is not well-known enough to have led to the change. I would point to the fact that Rama, Orach Chaim 493 (1), calls the 33rd day “Lag BaOmer.” Once Ashkenazim are using “ba” for the 33rd day, it seems inconsistent to count with “la.”

——

As to the subtle difference in meaning between “ba” and “la,” the earliest source that I have seen discussing it is the Taz (died 1667), who prefers “ba.” Mishna Berura (489:8) prefers “la” because it clearly explains that we are counting from the day the Omer sacrifice was brought.

Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik first counted with “baOmer,” and then counted again with “laOmer” and then said the prayer for the restoration of the Temple. See Siddur Avodat Halev, page 329, and Rabbi Hershel Schachter, MiPeninei HaRav, pages 102-03. It is widely agreed by those who prefer one version that one has fulfilled his obligation with the recital of the other version! (But possibly disagreeing is Sefer HaOreh long ago.)


Mitchell First can be reached at [email protected].

P.S. Someone told me that when his rabbi was leading the count he was able to (miraculously?) pronounce the word in an ambiguous way so that the congregation could hear both “baOmer” and “laOmer!”

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