Lag B'Omer and Klal Yisrael Consciousness
There's an episode of House M.D. in which the brilliant but cynical doctor is asked by his boss if he knows what a simchat bat ceremony is. He replies that he does; "It's an ancient Jewish tradition dating all the way back to the 1960s,” he explains.
I feel much the same about Lag B'Omer. Growing up in England, Lag B'Omer was barely noticed; it was merely a day in which the frum schools went for a hike in the cold and wet British countryside. Today, in Israel, the Lag B'Omer bonfire seems to be more important than the avodas Yom Kippur of the Kohen Gadol in the Beis HaMikdash. Shopping carts are stolen by kids who cart away any piece of wood that they can find. The second little piggy would lose his house even before the Big Bad Wolf showed up.
But perhaps the most interesting and disturbing aspect of the Lag B'Omer bonfire phenomenon is how it sharply demonstrates the difference between the national-religious (dati-leumi) and charedi approach to Judaism.
A few months ago, in a post entitled Rosenblum Nails The Problem With Charedi Society, I noted that one of the most striking and significant differences between the charedi and dati-leumi communities is with regard to their "Klal Yisrael consciousness." The dati-leumi world perceives itself as part of the entire nation of Israel and weighs its approach to Torah in that light. The charedi world, on the other hand, sees itself as a separate entity, and therefore doesn't care as much about the welfare of non-charedim, whether spiritual or physical.
When Lag B'Omer falls on motzai Shabbos, as it did last year and as it does again this year, it provides a powerful demonstration of this. Having bonfires on motzai Shabbos would mean that there is a risk of people who are lax in their Shabbos observance making various preparations on Shabbos, as well as the emergency services having to get in place on Shabbos. As a result, it was proposed by various dati-leumi rabbanim that the bonfires should be delayed until Sunday night. As they pointed out, Chazal made a much more drastic move to safeguard Shabbos when they suspended the Torah commandment of blowing the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah due to the mere risk that someone would carry a shofar to an expert who will teach him how to blow it! Certainly a bonfire, which is not a mitzvah at all, should be delayed when it certainly causes chillul Shabbos.
This logical proposal was accepted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. But this move is entirely ignored by the charedi community. Their primary reason appears to be that nobody in their community would be mechalel Shabbos, so why should they change their plans just because of people in the emergency services who aren't charedi?
Perhaps an additional reason for chareidi rejection of the move is that they are not going to make a change based on a directive that comes from such a source. The move was first proposed by Rav David Stav, head of Tzohar and a candidate for Chief Rabbi in the last elections, who was sharply condemned by charedim for being "too lax" in his approach to Judaism. Likewise, the move is being strongly pushed by Rav Yaakov Ariel, who was defeated in a previous election for Chief Rabbi because Rav Elyashiv's camp felt he was too moderate; they wanted Rabbi Metzger, whom they said would "restore the glory to the chief rabbinate" by following Rav Elyashiv's dictates. Another rav pushing for the bonfire move was Rav Druckman, who was attacked by Rav Elyashiv's court, allegedly for allegedly being too lax regarding conversion.
At any rate, there is an extraordinary irony here. It is precisely the rabbanim who are condemned by the extreme right as being "too lax" who are the ones actually trying to prevent widespread chillul Shabbos that is caused by those on the right. These dati-leumi rabbanim turn out to be the ones who care the most about shemiras Shabbos for all the Jewish People.
The modern incarnation of Lag B'Omer turns out to have a surprising benefit, after all. It's an opportunity to learn about the nature of different communities and different types of rabbinic leadership.