03 May CUSTOMS DURING SEFIRA PART 1
The time from Pesach to Shavuos is a time of minimizing joy. However, many question arise as to what is included in this, such as what are the reasons for this custom? Are there different customs? What is included in the custom? When are haircuts permitted? These questions and many others will be answered in this article.
During the period between Pesach and Shavuos 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva perished, and only seven of Rabbi Akiva’s students remained. The reason for their demise is because they did not show honor to one another. There were other things which occurred during this time as well. For example, the crusaders did their terrible actions towards the Jews during this time of year. Others say the time between Pesach and Shavuos are days of judgment so we should act in a serious manner.
When did the Custom Start?
The Gemorah and the main Rishonim who codify halacha do not bring down the custom of refraining from any actions during sefira. The custom to refrain from certain actions started during the times of the Geonim. When some poskim discuss this inyun they say “some places” do not take haircuts, and by weddings, “some” have the custom to refrain from making them. However, the accepted custom in all of klal yisroel is to refrain from these activities during sefira.
When the time of sefira arrives, many times one will see people taking haircuts etc after Pesach and others will not do so until Lag B’omer. Is there any reason to have different customs among Yiddin or is there one universal custom?
Some say that the students stopped dying on Lag B’omer in which case one can rejoice afterwards. According to this, the time to refrain from certain actions is from the second day of Pesach until Lag B’omer. This is the custom followed by most people.
One opinion is that the students did not stop dying on Lag B’omer and they died throughout the forty nine days. However, they did not die on the days which tachnun is not said. Those days are seven days of Pesach (we start counting sefira from the second day of Pesach), six Shabbosim, two days of Rosh Chodesh Iyar, and one day of Rosh Chodesh Sivan. All the numbers equal to thirty two days that the students died so the thirty third day is a time to rejoice. According to this view, one has to refrain from certain activities for thirty three days. Some hold those thirty three days starting from after Rosh Chodesh Iyar (second day of Iyar) until Erev Shavuos, others hold from the first day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar until the three days before Shavuos. (Some say this is the custom of most people). According to this opinion, the thirty three days to refrain from certain activities are not because that is when the students died, but rather it is a remembrance of the death of the students who died during the entire period (except for 16 days). According to all the above opinions it is permitted to take haircuts, shave etc on Lag B’omer (whether this is at night or day see later on).
The opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and the custom of the Sefardim is that the students of Rabbi Akiva did not stop dying until the thirty fourth day of the sefira. This is based on the following: Some say the students died from Pesach (second day) until “peros atzeres” which means fifteen days before Shavuos. Forty nine minus fifteen is thirty four. Therefore, the custom became of some to hold aveilus until the thirty forth in the morning (unless Lag B’omer is on Erev Shabbos, see below). One is not allowed to hold from Rosh Chodesh Iyar and then take haircuts etc. after Lag B’omer, since it is not like any of the customs mentioned above.
According to the opinion of the Arizal, haircuts and shaving is not allowed even on Lag B’omer. However, shaving on Erev Shavuos is permitted even according to the Arizal. Some say weddings are permitted according to the Arizal on Lag B’omer. One who follows the custom of the Arizal and wants to change his custom should be matir neder beforehand.
Generally there is a concept of “lo sisgodidu,” which means there should not be two different customs in one city. Although this may be applicable in our situation of different customs during sefira, this is not so, as will be explained below. In New York since there are so many people who come from different places there is no issue with some people holding like one custom and others holding like a different custom. This would not apply to a city which has one accepted custom.
According to the opinion mentioned above that the students did not die for thirty three exact days, but died throughout the forty nine days, one is permitted to change which thirty three days he refrains from certain activities from one year to the next. For example, one year he can keep from Pesach to Lag B’omer and the next year from Rosh Chodesh Iyar until Shavuos.
According to the Gr’a, however, since the students died from Pesach to Lag B’omer, one may only refrain from certain activities during these days, unless it is a pressing situation. If one does not know his custom then he may switch it every year.
A woman who has a different custom than her husband follows her husband’s custom when they get married. This is also true for a kallah who has a different custom than her chosson and wishes to pick a date for her wedding.
Some Rishonim only bring a custom to refrain from marriage during this time and not from haircuts. However, the accepted custom is that during the period of thirty three days one does not take a haircut, or shave. The custom to take haircuts applies to women and to men. Children should not take haircuts as well. Although one can be lenient for children who have not yet reached the age of chinuch, the custom is to be stringent.
According to the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch one may not take haircuts until the thirty fourth day in the morning. The Rama holds one may shave on Lag B’omer itself Many say this means even at night (because no tachnun is said already from erev Lag B’omer), while others say it means first thing in the morning because if one waits a little in the morning it is as if one waited a whole day. This is known as miktzas hayom kekulo. The custom is that shaving or taking a haircut is permitted after neitz hachama. However, when Lag B’omer falls out on Friday one may shave on Thursday night in honor of Shabbos if there is a need, such as one who is going to a wedding on Thursday night.
When Lag B’omer falls out on Sunday, shaving etc is permitted on Friday because of kovod for Shabbos. It is questionable if this is permitted for a Sefardi who holds sefira until the thirty forth day. The reason why it is kovod for Shabbos is because by the mincha before Lag B’omer one does not say tachnun, so technically shaving would be permitted on Shabbos, but since one can not do so, the allowance is pushed back to Friday. One may not shave etc. on Motzei Shabbos when Lag B’omer falls out on Sunday. Furthermore, many say that shaving etc. in the above situation is not permitted on Thursday night if one has time to do it on Friday. One who started shaving etc. on Lag B’omer may continue after shekia as well (even if he holds no shaving after Lag B’omer).
Shaving on Friday when Erev Shavuos etc. is Sunday.
When either Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the first day of the three preparation days before Shavuos, or Erev Shavuos falls out on Sunday, shaving is permitted on Erev Shabbos even for those who hold of aveilus until either the first days of the three preparation days or Erev Shavuos. Others hold that doing so is forbidden and this is the custom of many. If one is in a pressing situation he may be lenient. Some say if Rosh Chodesh Sivan falls out on Friday those who do not shave on Rosh Chodesh can shave on Thursday.
When is one permitted to Cut Hair?
One is permitted to cut his hair if it is in the way of his eating. Plucking hair on top of the eyes (women) is not considered cutting hair and is permitted even if it is done for beautification. A married woman who has too much hair and it is coming out of her sheitel etc may cut it, or if it is too long and going into her eyes.A woman who has the custom to cut her hair before immersing herself may do so when going to the mikvah during sefira as well. One whose hair grew long and it may be a problem of chatzitzah with his tefillin shel rosh is permitted to take a haircut. Combing hair is permitted during sefira even if hair may fall out. One who needs to cut his hair because of health reasons is permitted to do so.
Whatever is permitted to be cut during chol hamoed is permitted to be cut during sefira.
Rosh Chodesh Iyar on Shabbos
When Rosh Chodesh Iyar falls out on Shabbos one is permitted to shave even if one holds that he does not shave until Lag B’omer. The reason for this is because there is an added joy since Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh are on the same day, so shaving is permitted for the honor of Shabbos on Friday. Those who follow Rabbi Yehuda Hachassid would not be able to shave since according to him shaving on Rosh Chodesh is forbidden. However, l’maseh, since shaving was prohibited the day before because of sefiras ha’omer, he would agree that it is permitted.
Shaving for Work
Some poskim are of the opinion that if one who will encounter a loss (i.e. lose clients) if he does not look groomed is permitted to shave or take a haircut during sefira. The same would be true for one who is going in front of a judge etc and would not look honorable going with stubble etc.
Others say since there are people in today’s society who do not shave, walking around unshaven is not going to be a reason for a loss of parnasa.
The opinion of some is that the custom of refraining from haircuts can not be worse than the twelve months during which one is an avel r”l over one’s parents. The halacha there is that if one has so much hair that his friend tells him to take a haircut then doing so is permitted. When one shaves every day the time span of a friend telling you to shave is a short period of time. Therefore, one may shave during sefira (even without any loss of money).
Shaving or Taking a haircut for a Bris
One who is making a bris, the sandek, and the mohel may shave and take a haircut during sefira. The reason is because it is a Yom Tov for them. The kevater and guests may not shave. If the bris will be taking place on Shabbos, shaving is permitted on Friday even before chatzos. However, doing so is not permitted on Thursday. Shaving is permitted close to the night before the bris as well. According to some poskim, those who are permitted to shave for a bris would be permitted to do so on Friday for a bris which is on Sunday, if there is no time to shave on Sunday. Others say this is not permitted and shaving is only permitted on the day of the bris. According to the opinion of the Arizal, one may not take a haircut even for a simcha. One who forgot to shave before the bris for whatever reason may not shave after the bris.
The custom is that one who is making a pidyon haben for his child does not shave etc.
Bar-Mitzvah / Bas-Mitzvah
Although the halacha maintains that shaving is permitted for a ba’al bris etc. (see above), however a bar-mitzvah boy is not included in this and therefore the haircut should take place while he is still under thirteen. If this is not possible then one can be lenient. However, the father of the bar-mitzvah boy should not take a haircut. The same is true for a bas-mitzvah.
Shaving for a date
One is not permitted to shave during his custom of sefira even if he has a date.
Chosson – Attending a Wedding
One who is getting married during sefira (in the permitted times) may shave the erev Shabbos before his wedding. A chosson who is getting married the night of Lag B’omer may shave on the thirty second day even before shekia. A chosson who holds aveilus after Lag B’omer can still shave during his sheva berochos since it is a Yom Tov. The family members (except for the father of the chosson and kallah) should not shave before shekiah. They can bring a shaver to the wedding and can shave there after shekiah. Those who follow the opinion of the Arizal do not shave even if they are getting married.
A child who was born on Chol Hamoed may have his upsherin on Chol Hamoed. If a child was born the last days of Yom Tov one may cut the child’s hair on Chol Hamoed if he so desires.
Hundreds, if not thousands of people, cut their children’s hair in Meron on Lag B’omer, as was the custom of the Arizal. Some say the reason is so that the holiness of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai will be a zechus for the child. Others say the reason is because hair is part of the yetzer hara, as was taught to us by Rav Shimon Bar Yochai when he gave us the Zohar. Many have the custom to go to Meron to cut a child’s hair even before the child turns three. Others say one should only wait to go to Meron if the child was born during sefira. If the child was born after Shavuos or before sefira then one should not go to Meron to cut his hair.