Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Sefira Restrictions

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

As is well known, we are to limit certain pleasures and activities which bring joy during the Sefira period.[1] The primary reason for this custom is to serve as a sign of mouring in memory of the students of Rabbi Akiva who died due to a plague during this time. However, there are other reasons as well.[2] It is during the Sefira period that judicial proceedings in Hell take place.[3] It is also the season when God's judges the world's annual wheat supply and hence, a sense of reverence is in order.[4] This period is also intended to recall the Crusades which wreaked havoc on Jewish communities throughout Europe.[5] Common Ashkenazi custom is to observe the mourning-like Sefira practices from Pesach until Lag B'aomer[6], though there are a number of other customs as well.[7]

Click here to read moreLeading these restrictions is the ban on weddings, though engagement parties are permitted.[8] Although a wedding performed during Sefira in violation of the custom remains valid, doing so is said to be "dangerous" and will have a negative effect on one's married life.[9] Nevertheless, one may re-marry his divorcee ("machzir gerushato") any time during the Sefira.[10] One may attend and participate in a wedding which is due to take place even if it conflicts with the period that one normally observes the Sefira restrictions.[11]

One should avoid moving into a new house during this period.[12] If it is absolutely necessary, one should at least arrange that it take place on Rosh Chodesh Iyar.[13] If one is truly faced with no choice, then one may move into the new home any time during Sefira.[14] It is perfectly in order to fix up or decorate one's home during Sefira.

It has become a widespread custom to avoid necessitating the need to recite the "Shehecheyanu" blessing during Sefira, though it is completely permissible to do so if an occasion warrants.[15] The custom[16] to prohibit listening to music is a well known Sefira time damper.[17] While all authorities agree that the ban refers to enjoying live music, there are grounds to suggest that listening to a tape or CD is not included in the prohibition.[18] Although acapella tapes and CDs are quite popular during Sefira, it is interesting to note that not all authorities permit listening to such music.[19] Some authorities permit one to listen to music in private if not doing so may lead to sadness.[20] Haircuts are not taken during this period and most authorities attach shaving to this, as well. A minority of authorities allow one to shave during the Sefira in honor of Shabbat.[21] Rav J.B. Soloveichik permitted those who normally shave every day to do so during Sefira.[22]

There is a mysterious custom cited for women not to engage in any work from sunset onwards each night between Pesach and Shavuot.[23] Some authorities include men in this custom as well.[24] Two explanations are offered for this custom. First, it was after sunset that the students of Rabbi Akiva who had died that day were buried, and as such, people were busy tending to the burial and not working.

The other reason offered has to do with the Torah defining the Sefira period as "Sheva Shabbatot Temimot - Seven full weeks". With a play on the word "Shabbat" to "Shevut" it is suggested that one should not work during the "time zone" that the Sefira is counted each night. Based on this approach, the prohibition on working applies only from sunset until one has counted that night's Sefira. Those who don't have this custom need not concern themselves about observing it.[25]

NEXT WEEK: "The Fast of Behab". Please send me your lesser-known and obscure sources as well as anecdotes for inclusion. I truly thank and appreciate all those who sent me tidbits in preparation for this article!! rabbiari@hotmail.com


[1] Mishna Berura 493:2
[2] Yevamot 62b. There are four views as to when the plague killed Rabbi Akiva's students, any extension, when to observe the Sefira restrictions: a) During the entire 49 days of the Omer, b) The plague ceased on the 34th day of the Omer, c) The plague ceased on the 33rd day of the Omer d) The students died on 33 (or 32) days during the Omer, excluding Pesach, Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. See Biur Halacha 493:3
[3] Kaf Hachaim 493:6
[4] Kaf Hachaim 493:6
[5] Taz 493:2
[6] Rema 493:1
[7] Among the more widespread Sefira customs is to observe the restrictions for the entire Sefira period as per the Arizal. Others observe the restrictions until the 34th day of the Omer. Others only begin observing them from Rosh Chodesh Iyar through till the 3rd of Sivan. (O.C. 493:2)
[8] O.C. 493:1
[9] Kaf Hachaim 493:2
[10] Mishna Berura 493:1, Kaf Hachaim 493:3
[11] Igrot Moshe O.C. 1:159
[12] Piskei Teshuvot 493:1
[13] Piskei Teshuvot 493:1
[14] See Piskei Teshuvot 493, note 6
[15] Mishna Berura 493:2
[16] Minhag Yisrael Torah 493:8
[17] Aruch Hashulchan 493:2, Igrot Moshe 1:166
[18] See for example Chelkat Yaakov 1:62 and Hilchot Chag B’chag p.62. See also http://www.bknw.org/library/articles/miscellaneous/Music%20during%20Sefirah.pdf for additional lenient considerations
[19] Shevet Halevi 8:127, Salmat Chaim 4:21
[20] Hilchot Chag B’chag p.63, Halichot Shlomo p. 361.
[21] Led by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein
[22] Nefesh Harav p.191
[23] O.C. 493:4
[24] Mishna Berura
[25] Kaf Hachaim 493:53

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