Counting the Omer - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Counting the Omer

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Tonight is Lag BaOmer – the thirty-third day of the Omer! In honor of this festive day, we are presenting below a selection of pages from our collection of Omer counting manuscripts. These manuscripts include entries for each day of the Omer, with various other materials as the scribe saw fit. While each includes the recitation of the enumeration, further contents vary from artistic illustrations to Kabbalistic kavvanot (meditations meant to focus one’s intentions) on the divine name. The textual tradition provides ample sources with which to augment the straightforward counting to 49, often presented in a stunning variety of forms.

Each of the pages below depicts the recitation for the 33rd day of the Omer, unless noted otherwise. Enjoy!

Lag ba'Omer Scroll

HUC MS 603

This attractive miniature features a clean, consistent, and orderly script, bordered in gold. The Kabbalistic readings which join the recitation include an arrangement presented in the form of a 7-branched menorah known as “The Mystical Menorah of R. Eleazar of Worms.” This design includes the full text of Psalm 67 – traditionally recited after the counting is performed. One explanation for associating recitation of Psalm 67 with the counting is that it contains exactly 49 words, one for each day of the Omer. This same form appears on each and every page of the 18th century work.

Lag ba'Omer Scroll

HUC MS 798

This 19th century manuscripts employs a tasteful and consistent motif of floral patterns presented in green and red. The varied shading gives the design both depth and simple beauty. This approach is maintained in the text, in which the counting takes full stage, leaving only small references for liturgical inserts and the traditional recitation of Psalm 67 after the counting has been performed.

Lag ba'Omer Scroll

HUC MS 799 – 19th century

This Omer book includes the evening prayer service, presented before the order of the counting. Its artistic motifs resemble MS 798 above, utilizing the same colors and subjects, while expanding the design to include both centerpieces and border frames. The text presentation is also similar, giving focus to the counting and only small footnotes for Psalm 67 and further liturgical recitations.

 Lag ba'Omer Scroll

HUC MS 800 – Italy, 18th century

Of our manuscripts so far, this is the first to note the 33rd day of the Omer with special mention. After each counting the text presents a single word. When all the words are put together, they form the text of Psalm 67. Below each text entry is a pen drawing depicting an event relating to the period of the Omer. The drawings start with the Exodus from Egypt on the first day, and end with the offering of first fruits on the final entry. The biblical depictions are interrupted starting on the 20th day. Thereafter, the imagery switches to depictions of the tragedy of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students, who died from a sudden plague. The pen drawings switch from the great redemption of the Exodus to grim scenes of death, preparation for the interment, and burial. The page for the 32nd day (the right-hand side of the above image) shows four individuals filling in a grave and the caption reads, “the last of Rabbi Akiva’s students to pass.” This is immediately contrasted with the entry for the 33rd day (on the left-hand side), which shows a procession of revelers, playing various instruments as they parade around, celebrating the end of the plague.

Lag ba'Omer Scroll

HUC MS 801 – Italy, 1753

While the previous manuscripts included carefully crafted works of art, this Kabbalistic counting focuses entirely on the text. Similar to MS 800, each entry in this work includes a word or two from Psalm 67, and instructs the reader to focus on specific words and letters of the selection while contemplating the divine name as a mystical act of meditation.

Lag ba'Omer Scroll

HUC MS 809 - 1753

This simple and minimalist manuscript from 1753 spends little effort on elaborate decoration or liturgical ornamentation. Instead, each spread presents the simple recitation of the counting, and a single pen-drawing. Lag BaOmer is specially noted and accompanied by a depiction of blooming flowers. Besides the floral theme which appears on many pages, other images include birds and geometric patterns.

Lag ba'Omer Scroll Lag ba'Omer Scroll

 

-- The final page ends with a message of hope and happiness --

 

Lag ba'Omer Scroll

 

Next year in Jerusalem
Joyously!

However you are celebrating, may it be joyous and happy.

!ל''ג בעומר שמח

 

Contributed by Jason Schapera, Klau Library, Cincinnati

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