For more than 40 years, Sesame Street has helped children around the world learn how to count. And as a child, I watched the famous Sesame Street character Count von Count: “One ha ha ha; Two ha ha ha; Three ha ha ha . . .”
Religious Jews everywhere are currently “Counting the Omer,” which is a fifty-day period leading up to Shavuot. But if Sesame Street were around in antiquity, Karaites and Rabbanites would still disagree about how to count to 50.
It turns out that Sesame Street can teach both Karaites and Rabbanites how to count; but we need to turn to a different source to know when to start counting.
By way of background, Shavuot is the only holiday in the Torah whose date is not expressly given. Instead, the Torah tells us to determine Shavuot’s date by counting fifty days from the “morrow after the Sabbath” until we arrive at the “morrow after the seventh Sabbath.” (See Lev. 23:15-16.) Shavuot is observed on this “morrow after the seventh Sabbath.”
In essence, Karaites and Rabbanites disagree as to the meaning of the “morrow after the Sabbath,” which starts the counting of the fifty days.
According to the Karaite understanding of the Tanakh, the Counting of the Omer always starts on the Sunday that falls during Passover.* In fact, this past Sunday, Karaite communities from throughout Israel traveled to the Karaite synagogue in Jerusalem for the first day of the Counting of the Omer. Under the Rabbinic understanding of the Tanakh, the Counting of the Omer always starts on the second day of Passover.
As a result of this difference, the Karaite Shavuot is always on a Sunday, but the actual Hebrew date varies – recall that this is the only holiday whose date is not mentioned in the Tanakh. And the Rabbanite Shavuot is always on the 6th of Sivan, but the day of the week varies. I’m not going to get into all the proof texts in support of the Karaite view. You can find those at the Karaite Korner.
So, here is my Counting of the Omer, according to the Karaite calendar: “Today is the 5th day of the 1st week of seven weeks. Today is the 5th day of the counting of fifty days from the day of the waving of the Omer on the morrow after the Sabbath.”
* As mentioned here, the actual name of the holiday is the “Feast of Unleavened Bread;” but I use the term Passover in accordance with modern convention.