|THE seven weeks between Passover and Shavuoth are marked in tradition by the ceremonial Counting of the Omer. There are several interpretations that apply to this Biblical injunction:
In the 19th Century, Reformers moved away from many of the traditional restrictions placed upon Jewish society during Sefirah-the counted days. Reviewing the three interpretations of the period as outlined above, perhaps their motivation can be understood as a rejection of the role of the Kohanim in Jewish life-a common theme in Rabbinic Judaism.
In the period just after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Roman legion under Titus (70 c.e.), the Priests were limited to the 1st Aliyah to Torah in Synagogue, Pidyon haBen (Redemption of the First Born), and Duchen (the Priestly Benediction). Even these prerogatives were dismissed by Reformers.
The second interpretation, dealing with the agricultural aspects of life, was likely dismissed during the urbanization that has typified the past 200 years. The third, associated with the ancient messianic hope, fell away as rationalism, positivism and optimism about the human role in progress became predominant explanations of this world in the Jewish community.
Our own consciousness, however, might call us to re-evaluate their decision on the basis of the second and third interpretations. As our awareness of ecological concern for the state of the world grows, and as we perceive the fragility of food supplies, adequate harvests and the importance of meaningful work for every person, turning back to regular acknowledgement of the significance of the harvest is a means of calling us to mindfulness of God’s role in the most mundane aspects of life.
It is notable that the newly published Siddur Mishkan Tefilah that has been edited to supersede Gates of Prayer includes the brief ceremony for counting the Omer, traditional at evening services on weekdays and Shabbat.
Tradition – and Minhag South Africa – urge us to refrain from joyous celebration throughout the sefirah with the exception of Roshei Chodesh Iyar and Sivan (First day of each month) and the 33rd day of the Omer (Lag B’omer); many in the Progressive community also add Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) to this list.
Calendar of dates of Jewish Festivals for the years 2008 to 2010.
The seder discussion for a progressive Jewish family should be not only about the ancient journey from slavery to liberation, but also about the personal journey of our own liberation
Pesach is a time for us to ask where we came from, where we are going, and what our life journey means
The Pesach haggadah is a multi-layered text, embracing some traditions thousands of years old — and some very recent, writes Rabbi Greg Alexander
Two powerful feminist additions to Pesach custom, worth considering for your next seder: Miriam Cups and oranges
It is the universal message of Pesach which makes it the one festival that appeals to unobservant Jews … and even to non-Jews