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The Schmooze

Lag B’Omer Can Wait 24 Hours, Says Israeli Rabbi

Everyone knows the joke about how much Jews love to disagree — the single inhabitant of a desert island builds two synagogues so that he has one to assiduously avoid. Now, disagreement has cropped up in a new sphere — the calendar.

Children across Israel are scouring forests and streets for sticks and scraps of wood for the traditional bonfires for Lag B’Omer, the next festival. But when is Lag B’Omer? It depends who you ask.

Refer to your calendar and it will tell you that it’s on Sunday (starting as most Jewish festivals do the night before). But the influential Israeli Sephardi rabbi Ovadia Yosef has ruled that celebrations should be delayed by 24 hours. His reasoning is that if bonfires begin on Saturday night, people — including the hundreds needed to secure Israel’s largest celebration at Mount Meron in the Galilee — will be led to desecrate the Sabbath to prepare them.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger are also instructing people to delay celebrations, though Yosef’s decree is more significant as he wields far more influence than either of the Chief Rabbis.

Still, large parts of the Haredi community are saying that a date is a date, and are refusing to reschedule celebrations. The Boyan sect of Hasidim, who traditionally light the first bonfire at Meron, say that they will light it as planned on Saturday night. No doubt 24 hours layer Yosef’s followers will arrive and do the same.

Now there’s a good riddle for Hebrew School teachers, when they’re teaching how most Jewish holidays are one day in Israel but two in the Diaspora. Which festival is double the length in Israel?

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