But Who’s Counting, Anyway?

How Would Count von Count Count the Omer?

How Would Count von Count Count the Omer?

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.

10 Comments

Filed under Counting of the Omer, Holidays, Karaite Korner, Shavuot

10 Responses to But Who’s Counting, Anyway?

  1. It should be noted that the English word “morrow” is an archaism. It originally meant the same as the Hebrew word Mahorat (מחרת), “the morning after”. We can see from Yehoshu’a‘ [Joshua] 5:11 that the Israelites ate new grain on the morning after the Passover sacrifice, i.e., on the first day of Hagh HaMassot [festival of unleavened bread]. Since the Torah forbids eating of the new grain of the land until after the waiving of the sheaf [‘Omer] on the morning after Shabbat (i.e., Sunday), it is obvious that in that year the first day of Hagh HaMassot was a Sunday. This is direct proof that the Rabbanite claim that the counting is to start on the second day is incorrect.

  2. Michael

    “Feast” of Unleavened Bread is sarcasm, right?

    • Micahel,

      Absolutely not! The Hebrew word Hagh חג means a pilgrimage feastival. The Torah commands three such pilgrimage festivals: Hagh HaMassot חג המצות [the pilgrimage festival of unleavened bread] at the time of the barley harvest, Hagh HaShavu‘ot חג השבועות [the pilgrimage festival of weeks] at the time of the wheat harvest, and Hagh HaSukkot חג הסכות [the pilgrimage festival of arbor booths] at the time of the autumn harvest. These are times of joy, celebration, and feasting, each with its own character.

  3. Elie Lichaa

    It is noteworthy to state that not only the Rabbanites consider the 1st day of the Omer is the morning following the 1st day of Pessah ; but also that in their calendar, Pessah can never fall on : Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Consequently, the 1st day of the Omer (and obviously, Shavuot) can never fall on : Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.

  4. I was writing an analysis entitled When Shavuot (Pentecost) Actually Is when I happened across your blog. It’s very nice! Feel free to check out my post on this topic. As I point out, Shavuot is not actually linked to Passover in the Bible. I also discuss the meaning of “abib” in the Bible and address the Joshua passage which Mr. Qanai mentioned, which is not a proof to the Karaites or the Rabbanites in any case.

    • I tried to post this to your blog, but it would not let me.

      Do you know the Essene view? (I do not.)

      I think that the connection between Joshua and Leviticus 23 is much stronger than you find.

      Or course, as a Karaite, I respect differences in opinion.

      I would be inclined to observe Rosh Chodesh Aviv at the first crop to reach Aviv. It happens that barley reaches Aviv first in Israel, but I do not know of anything to prevent us from observing the aviv if another crop reached their first.

      • Hey thanks Shawn. I’ve corrected the comments thing on my blog. It’s still early days so I rely on good Samaritans like you to help me debug it.

        Do you know the Essene view? (I do not.)

        I found this, pretty remarkable. I have not seen the sources with my own eyes but it would be great to do so.

        I think that the connection between Joshua and Leviticus 23 is much stronger than you find.

        I have presented the Joshua passage in Hebrew and English in my blog post. As you can see, there is no mention of the Omer or Shavuot. I would be interested to hear what aspects of the text lead you to think there is a connection.

        I would be inclined to observe Rosh Chodesh Aviv at the first crop to reach Aviv.

        I agree that barley is never specified. In fact, the whole idea of proclaiming “Chodesh Ha’aviv” based on the crops is never specified. The Hebrew Bible mentions Jubilee years, but it does not mention leap years. For all we know they didn’t formally exist back then.

        • That is fascinating – especially in light of Psalms 81 – which says (roughly) to blow the shofar on the new moon day and the full moon day – the full moon day which is our feast day (Hagganu).

          In the Essene tradition then all the Haggim would be on (or very near) a full moon, which is the 14th or 15th of the month.

          I’ll investigate this more. Thank you for this discussion.

          • In the Essene tradition then all the Haggim would be on (or very near) a full moon, which is the 14th or 15th of the month.

            Interesting! Yom Kippur must really mess with their OCD…

            I’ll investigate this more. Thank you for this discussion.

            You are welcome, thanks for a great blog.

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