Bonfires aplenty as Israel marks Lag B'Omer

Sunday, April 28, 2013 |  Israel Today Staff

Israelis were out in force Saturday night to light bonfires in commemoration of the extra-biblical holiday of Lag B'Omer.

The Bible (Leviticus 23:15, Deuteronomy 16:9) commands the people of Israel to count the days from Passover, and on the fiftieth day to celebrate the festival of Shavuot, known to many Christians as Pentecost.

The counting of these days was to consist of families bringing an "omer" (a measurement of weight) of grain to the Temple. "Lag" is simply the combining of two Hebrew letters whose total value equals 33. So, something happened on the 33rd day of this counting of the omer that someone at some time deemed worthy of a holiday.

The truth is that no one is absolutely certain of the reason for marking Lag B'Omer, and certainly not for the reason for marking it with bonfires.

There are numerous myths, such as the story of Rabbi Akiva, a first century CE religious leader whose disciples were dying by the thousands to a mysterious plague, only to have the plague disappear under equally mysterious circumstances on the 33rd day of the counting of the omer.

Another tale is that Lag B'Omer marks the passing of Rabbi Akiva's greatest disciple, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, also known as Rashbi, to whom many attribute authorship of the Zohar, the chief work of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. Many Orthodox Jews celebrate Lag B'Omer by camping out at Rashbi's tomb on Mt. Meron in northern Israel.

Within the Messianic community, Lag B'Omer is a subject of some controversy. Many Jewish believers take part in the celebrations as it is a time of warm fellowship with a patriotic Jewish theme. But many feel it is wrong to mark the holiday due to the anti-Messianic side story that accompanies Rabbi Akiva's activities in the Holy Land two thousand years ago.

As explained by the OneForIsrael blog, Rabbi Akiva was the primary backer of the Bar Kochva revolt against Rome, going so far as to declare the uprising's leader, Simon Bar Kochva, to be the promised Messiah.

Obviously, Jewish believers in Yeshua a the time had a major problem with this, even if they wanted to support the revolt. When Yeshua's followers refused to follow another "messiah," Rabbi Akiva and the majority of the Jews who looked to him for leadership are said to have labeled the Jewish believers in Yeshua as traitors who had abandoned their people.

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