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Mystical pyromania for all

by ben May 22 2008
HolidaysFor the kidsThings to do

Child enjoying Lag B'omer bonfires

There are plenty of historical and mystical reasons for Jews to party on Lag B'omer, which begins tonight.

The Omer itself, the seven-ish weeks between Passover and Shavuot, is traditionally a time of mourning and introspection, but the 33rd day of the Omer (33 is lamed-gimel to numerologists, two letters which can be enunciated together as "lag"), is a time for bonfires and revelry.

On Lag B'omer, the Jewish rebels who fought the Romans following the destruction of the Second Temple are said to have done some serious damage, and a plague that had been killing off the students of Rabbi Akiva is said to have disappeared, paving the way for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai to begin studying under Rabbi Akiva's wing.

"Bar Yochai," as the ubiquitous Lag B'omer chant affectionately nicknames him, went on to canonize The Zohar, the central text of Kabbala, on this day, and he is said to have passed away on its anniversary as well.

Lag B'omer heralds a return to dogmatically sanctioned live music performances, weddings, haircuts and other festivities, but Lag B'omer is a harbinger of festivity for Jerusalemites who don't plan their lives around dogma as well.

Perhaps because of its superstitious, folky appeal, Lag B'omer is unlike many other religious observances in that its central lofty yet visceral ritual – namely, pyromania – has been adopted by the Israeli masses. Nearly as much smoke emanates from Sacher Park on Lag B'omer as the amounts that rise on Independence Day, arguably the most secular of holidays.

Just make sure to close your windows before you go to sleep so as to avoid waking up to a layer of soot on every surface in your home.

Photo of a child mesmerized by the Lag B'omer flames surrounding him courtesy of lev_cap from flickr under a creative commons license.

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