Among the odder Jew things is a ritual called “The counting of the omer.” It’s a very important ritual because something something something. OK, it’s not, but it’s commanded in the Torah (Leviticus 23:15 and 16 for you beforeskinned types) so when Yahweh says, “Do it,” you do it. Otherwise, there will be a plague, which seems to be Yahweh’s favorite hobby.
First obvious question: what’s an omer? I’m glad you asked, because I was prepared with an answer. It’s a unit of volume, analogous to a bushel, but much more Hebraic. In days of yore before the Temple got wasted, the priests there were recipients of all sorts of pelf, given to propitiate Yahweh- if you think televangelists begging for contributions claiming that the money is for God is something new, you’re a few millennia late to the party. One of the perks was omers of barley or wheat, which were required to be delivered daily between the second day of Pesach (which we talked about last week) and the first day of Shavuot (which we’ll talk about in 6 more weeks). Since pelf needed to be accounted for (Jews are punctilious about their graft), the priests developed a ritual, rituals being job security for them. Each day of that period, the supplicants would deliver the grain, then recite a prayer which ended in best Sesame Street fashion, “Today is x days, which is y week(s) and z day(s) of the omer,” with x, y, and z being sequential. The priests would then accept the grain as a gift to Yahweh, and go do some baking. Or maybe the Levantine equivalent of risotto, if they were smart. Being a priest was equivalent to being a GS-14 these days, short hours, easy work, lots of bribery opportunities, great pension.
Now, once the Temple was destroyed, what to do? This becomes a complicated story, involving certain schisms within Judaism (Pharisees vs. Sadducees, which ended up being Patriots vs Browns), deserving of a stand-alone story, and it is a story I shall surely tell when I’m not on assignment and have to keep things brief (“assignment” being “setting up cameras in the elementary school bathrooms, purely for security reasons”). But the result was the recitation ritual remained, the priests (who trended Sadducee) were cut out.
Now, this is indeed brief and boring, but even as pressed for time as I am, I can’t leave you without a small dose of death and destruction. This involves the legendary Rabbi Akiva, an uber-Pharisee who in retrospect reads like Ayatollah Khomeini. Despite the counting of the omer looking like an accounting function, the tradition is that these are days of mourning. Why? Because Akiva lost 24,000 students in either a plague or war deaths fighting Italians- it’s unclear which. If it was Italians, self-explanatory- Akiva was deeply involved in the Bar Kochba revolt against the wops, which went about as well as you’d expect. If it was a plague, it was Yahweh getting his divine panties in a holy wad about some rule or other that everyone wasn’t slavishly following. Yahweh was often a dick about stuff like that.
So because of the 24,000 ambiguous deaths, the omer-counting period is (with the exception of one day, more about which, later) treated as a period of mourning, which means no music, no sex, no shaving, mirrors covered, no TV. Being a Jew ain’t easy. It seems like every week, we’re losing 24,000 of us.
Next week, with more time on my hands, I’ll tell you gentiles about the Sadducees, the Pharisees, how they relate to constitutionalism, and how fighting over graft can really fuck up a religion. In the meantime, say your prayers and note that this is 8 days, which is 1 week and 1 day of the omer. And yes, you can actually buy an app to remind you of the daily count. Jews, smdh.
Also, since it’s fashionable, here’s a gratuitous non-Jew link.