Celebrating Lag B’Omer With Bonfires

"How is that good for Los Angeles?" I thought when I was reading a press release for a Lag B’Omer bonfire Monday night. "We have bad air pollution in LA and bonfires will only add to it. What will the goyim say?"

Anon posts to Hirhurim: Perhaps you would like to mention all of the other problems that are commonly involved in the making of bonfires.
Stealing wood and shopping carts to transport wood. Danger to children who collect the wood, make the fire, or just observe. Every year there are injuries. Often the fires are left unattended without being extinguished and most often no clean up is done even when it is made in a public place.
Smoke fumes enter nearby homes.
And all of this at the cost of a tremendous waste of time and energy.
Not to mention the unnecessary pollution.

Even if this was a valid custom, it is overdone and would not justify potential stealing or not taking safety precautions.

LITVAK POSTS: When discussing matters related to lag ba’omer, bo bayom, why is there no mention of Minhag Ashkenaz, which means no pilgrimage to Meron, no bonfires, no upsherins (regular haircuts okay)? Have you become a mouthpiece for Hassidic propaganda to the exclusion of ancient minhog? Is the Chasam Sofer chopped liver? See teshuvos Chasam Sofer Yoreh Deiah 233, dibbur hamaschil omnom, where he questions making lag baomer a great yomtov, with pilgrimage to Meron and hadloko, and says that he would not take part, saying that to make a yomtov which is not mentioned in the gemara or poskim, he doesn’t know if it is allowed, also he cites the gemara that yom shemeis bo aviv or Rabbo (the day in which a father or Rebbe passed away) is a day of taanis (fasting), not celebration.

Cf Moreinu Rav Elyashiv shlita, as reported in the Jerusalem Post a few years ago, never went to Meron. He said that he feels closer to Rashbi when learning a blatt gemara.

Also noteworthy is that even some Hassidim do not go to Meron on lag baomer, either due to tznius reasons or otherwise.

I would hope that this blog would not just go along with the hype and party-loving masses, but rather have more substantive fare.

Y. AHARON POSTS: Rabbi Enkin, the gemara that you referenced (Succah 45b) doesn’t make the claim the Rashbi was the greatest scholar of his generation. Instead, he makes the claim that he and his son, Eliezer, are the most worthy of the generation. While such a statement would seem problematic, i.e., subjective and not very credible in the face of someone of the stature of R’ Yosi, it does have an explanation. R’ Shimeon is, in effect, stating that anyone who tolerates evil can’t be counted among the elite of the generation. In the famous story of the meeting or R’ Yehuda, R’ Yosi, and R’ Shimeon together with an, apparent, Roman informer, the Tana’im were prompted for their reaction to Roman rule. R’Yehuda praised Roman building activities, R’ Yosi remained silent, while R’ Shimeon was critical of everything Roman. When informed of the rabbis’ attitudes, R’ Yehuda was elevated, R’ Yosi was internally exiled, and R’ Shimeon had to flee with his son for his life. Hence, R’ Shimeon and his son were the only ones to openly oppose the evil represented by Roman rule. That is why he considered the 2 more worthy than anyone else in the generation.

LAWRENCE KAPLAN POSTS: Rabbi Enkin: There is an entirely different version of the srory of R. Shimon Bar Yohai and the cave in the Yerushalmi. The differences have ben discussed and analyzed by Ofra Meir in her book Ha-Sippur ha-Darshani be-Sifrut Hazal. Her convincing conclusion is that these stories should be viewed as literature and not history.

I once went to Meron on Lag Ba-Omer. Nachum Lamm will be pleased to hear that regarding this I agree with the late Rabbi Meir Kahana: Never again!

I’m opposed to the MO adopting upsheren because 1) it is "pandering" to the right and indicates a fundamenta lack of self-respect; 2) the custom may have superstitious origins; and 3) it provides yet one more occasion where we have a ceremony for boys and not for girls.

NACHUM LAMM POSTS: Last night I planned to get to sleep early. Last night the Ulmer Rebbe of KGH had a bonfire smack-dab in the middle of 141st Street, practically right outside my bedroom window, amplified music and all. Ah well.

LITVAK POSTS: Look at the news now (J Post, VIN).

Four from Chassidic family killed in horrific auto accident on way back from Meron.

Approximately forty treated for binge drinking. Seems that ad delo yoda is joing the ‘mitzvos hayom’ of lag, perhaps thanks to the chai rotel folks.

Nine suffer burns from bonfires.

And that is not going into all those sickened and forced to stay inside by fumes, and other ‘mitzvos and maasim tovim’.

What would Rashbi say??

When will this madness end?

I know it is hard to resist a party after an extended mourning period, but, hey, some restraint perhaps?

I was told about a year or two ago, that a RIETS/YU seminar on life-cycle events included upsherin with bris, bar mitzvoh, wedding…., although a high-ranking lecturer was ridiculing it. What has happened to YU? I know that Dr. Lamm is from Hassidic background, but what is happening to that once staunchly Litvish bastion?

S. POSTS: Maybe the seminar is in touch with reality and how amcha practices its Judaism late 20th century minhag America style, as opposed to some idealized ideological thing which doesn’t actually exist?

SIMCHA POSTS: It is interesting to me how Lag Baomer celebrates a yahrtzeit that is probably false, and that RASHBI’s greatness includes writing the Zohar which he apparently did not. So we have a strange "yom tov" the origins of which are unknown, celebrating a yahrtzeit that is likely inaccurate about a person who has likely been distorted using means that may well have pagan origins. Troubling, to say the least.

LITVAK POSTS: People used to fast on a yohrzeit, as brought in Shulchan Oruch. Then they would make siyumim to allow eating as on erev Pesach, and give a repast (‘kiddush’) afterward. After a while, the siyum/learning was forgotten and only the ‘kiddush’ remained (Rabbi Dr. Leiman briefly touches on this briefly in his shiur on lag baomer, which I highly recommend, highlighted this week at yutorah.org).

As kan that, now my thoughts.

1) There are people that still fast on a yohrzeit, esp. Yekkes, devoutly Ashkenazic Jews, and simple Shulchan Oruch following Jews.

2) It is well known that (esp. early) Hassidim strongly frowned upon fasting, so I could see that having a part in the decline or disappearance of fasting among its followers, along with the spread of the Hassidic idea of a yohrzeit being a day of celebration rather than otherwise (even if meant only/mostly for a tzaddik originally, ultimately it extended beyond that). Later the Hassidim developed and spread additional rationalizations, namely that it was a mitzvoh to give people to eat and any brochos that they made in the process would accrue to the merit of the niftar.

3)The saying /popularizing of expressions such as ‘the neshama should have an aliyah’, by Hassidic and Hassidic inclined and influenced, has increased much (seforim like Gesher Hachaim have had a strong influence as well). Years ago it was not said to such a degree, if at all, esp. in Litvish and MO circles. My practice is to refrain from such innovations and just say something like ‘ad bias goel’ (as Yekkes do) or ad meah viesrim shonoh, which an old Litvishe Rav (RVA z"l) I knew used to say to a baal yohrzeit after davening.

Upsherin is not a custom originated by Hassidim. It is a pre-Hassidic custom adopted by them later. Does it say anywhere that the Besht promoted upsherin? It seems that it was only adopted generations after the beginning of the movement, first in Eretz Yisroel (where it seems to have started among Mustarbim – Arabized middle eastern Jews) and later in the diaspora – see discussion and mekoros in Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz III p.254 and elsewhere. So therefore it is not, stricyly speaking, ‘a Hassidic minhag" (in terms of origin).

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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