June 14, 2024
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Sefirat HaOmer by a Woman Who Converts Mid-Omer

A Beautiful Inquiry

On Sunday, I received a beautiful halachic inquiry from a woman who converted through the rabbanut-recognized GPS system that morning. She counted the Omer each day before her conversion. She wanted to know if she could continue counting the Omer with a bracha post-conversion.

Background to the Question: Missing a Day of the Omer

The Behag (cited by Tosafot Menachot 66a s.v. Zecher) famously rules that one who misses a day of counting the Omer cannot continue counting the Omer. The Rosh (Pesachim 10:41) and the Sefer HaChinuch (306) explain that the Behag believes that, conceptually, the 49 days of counting the Omer constitute one mitzvah. Hence, if one misses one day, he has missed an integral component of the mitzvah, which can no longer be fulfilled properly.

On the other hand, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited by Rav Hershel Schachter, Be’Ikvei Hatzon 3:6-7) suggests a different explanation of the Behag. He explains that Behag believes one is not defined as counting if he has skipped a day. Counting, by definitiondescribes the ravrequires continuity. Therefore, the continuity of the counting of the Omer is disrupted when one forgets a day of counting the Omer.

Most Rishonim disagree with the Behag, as noted by the Sha’ar HaTziyun (489:46) and Rav Ovadia Yosef (ad loc). However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 489:8) adopts a compromised view and rules that if one forgot to recite the Omer one day, he should continue to count the Omer without a bracha for the duration of the count.

The Shulchan Aruch (ibid), though, rules (based on a responsum of the Terumat HaDeshen) that if one is unsure if he counted the Omer on a particular day, he may continue to count the Omer with a bracha. The reason for this leniency is that there exists a safeik safeikah (a double doubt) to be lenient in this case. One safek (doubt) is whether he recited the Omer on a particular day. The other doubt is, perhaps, the halacha follows the many Rishonim who reject the opinion of the Behag.

Bar Mitzvah in the Middle of the Omer

The Acharonim (see, for example, the Shaarei Teshuva Orach Chayim 489:20) debate whetheraccording to the Behaga bar mitzvah boy may continue counting the Omer with a bracha, even if he counted every day pre-bar mitzvah. Before his bar mitzvah, he was not yet obligated to count. Therefore, arguably, his pre-bar mitzvah actions do not contribute to fulfilling the one complete mitzvahaccording to the Rosh and Sefer HaChimuch’s explanation for the Behag.

On the other handaccording to Rav Soloveitchik’s explanation of the Behagthe boy has maintained a continuous count and continues Sefirat HaOmer with a bracha. Moreover, the boy is arguably obligated since his rabbinic obligation of chinuch obligated him. Furthermore, a boy must honor his nedarim (promises) after age 12 (Muflah Samuch L’Ish). Accordingly, since he has accustomed himself to counting the Omer, he has assumed the obligation to count as a neder. He, thus, counts the Omer as an obligated individual, even pre-bar mitzvah.

On the other hand, Rashi (Brachot 20a s.v. Ketanim) believes that the katan is not obligated in chinuch. Unlike Tosafot (Brachot 20a s.v. Ketanim), he thinks the father must ensure the pre-bar mitzvah performs mitzvot. Furthermore, to create one whole mitzvah, one arguably cannot combine Sefirat HaOmer fulfilled for disparate obligations (Sefirat HaOmer post-bar mitzvah and honoring nedarim pre-bar mitzvah).

The Acharonim debate how to resolve this issue. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 489:15) rules he should continue counting with a bracha. Moreover, a safeik safeikah pertains to this situation. Perhaps, the halacha does not follow the Behag, and, perhapseven according to the Behagthe katan who counted pre-bar mitzvah may continue to count with a bracha.

On the other hand, Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 3: Orach Chayim 28) rules he may not continue to count with a bracha since safek brachot l’hakel, when in doubt, one should not recite a bracha, lest one recite an unnecessary blessing.

Women Counting Sefirat HaOmer

Now, we must address whether a woman counts the Omer with a bracha. A woman is not obligated to count the Omer, since it is a mitzvat asei shehazeman grama, a positive time-bound mitzvah (Rambam Hilchot Temidin U’Musafim 7:24). However, the Rishonim dispute whether a woman recites a bracha if she chooses to perform these positive time-bound mitzvot such as sukkah, lulav and shofar. The Rambam (Hilchot Tzitzit 3:10 and Hilchot Sukkah V’Lulav 6:13) rules that they may not, whereas Rabbeinu Tam (cited by Tosafot Rosh Hashanah 33a and Kiddushin 31a) argues they may.

The Rambam rules that the women cannot recite the bracha since the word “ve’tzivanu” does not apply to a woman regarding mitzvot from which they are exempt. On the other hand, Rabbeinu Tam believes that since “ve’tzivanu” is in the plural, it refers to the Jewish people as a whole. Thus, a woman can thank God for commanding us to perform mitzvot asei shehazman grama, since she relates to the Jewish people as a community, not herself.

Rav Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch 589:6) follows the Rambam, while the Rama (ad loc) follows Tosafot and the Rosh. Ashkenazic women follow the Rama, and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 1: Orach Chayim 39-42) insists Sephardic women follow the Shulchan Aruch.

The woman who posed the question follows Ashkenazic practice and recited a bracha on Sefirat HaOmer before her conversion. Although the Mishna Brura (489:3) rules that even an Ashkenazic woman should not say a bracha on Sefirat HaOmer, in our community, women tend to follow the Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 489:4) that women do recite a bracha when counting the Omer.

Interestingly, the Mishna Berura believes that in his region, women do not count the Omer at all. In sharp contrast, the Aruch Hashulchan writes that the custom is for the women to count the Omer with a bracha. It is even most interesting that these two great poskim were contemporaries and lived only 50 miles apart. Accordingly, this matter hinges on custom, and many women today recite the Omer with a bracha. Indeed, Rav Aharon Feldera leading talmid of Rav Moshe Feinsteinrules (Moadei Yeshurun, page 89) that a woman who wants to count the Omer may recite the blessing.

Converting in the Middle of the Omer

Nonetheless, the Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 489:15) rules that one who converts in the middle of the Omer should not recite a bracha. A convert is the equivalent of a katan shenolad, a newborn (Yevamot 62a). In fact, when I helped a young man convert through the Rabbanut-recognized GPS system a few years ago, I asked him to serve as a witness for a sensitive get-related matter only an hour after he emerged from the mikvah, since he was free from all sins!

Regarding Sefirat HaOmeraccording to Rav Soloveitchikshe recites a bracha since there is continuous counting. But, on the other hand, she was not obligated to count before her gerut. Thus, many arguments favoring taht the bar mitzvah boy should continue to recite a bracha does not apply to converting mid-Omer. Therefore, I counseled the woman to follow the Aruch HaShulchan and refrain from saying a bracha. At the least, it is a situation of safek brachot l’hakel, where one omits a bracha in case of doubt.

Conclusion

When discussing this question at Congregation Shaarei Orah between Mincha and Arvit that evening, Sabha Azar commented on the magnificence of this woman posing this question. He marveled at the zechut the Jewish people have in welcoming such a fine person and committed Jew to their ranks! On behalf of the entire community, we wish Hashem bestow upon her a plethora of mazal and bracha!


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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