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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays The Meaning Sefirat Ha'omer

Celebrating During the Counting of the Omer Period

Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of pupils spread out all over the country from Gevat to Antipatros and they all died during the period from Passover to Shavuot because they did not treat each other with respect and the world was desolate.
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1. The Talmudic Source of the Prohibition
2. Marriage and Betrothal during the Omer
3. Brit Mila - Circumcision
4. Pidyon HaBen - The Redemption of the Firstborn
5. Conclusion

The Talmudic Source of the Prohibition

The Mishnah tells us that it is forbidden for a man to abstain from fulfilling the Torah commandment to procreate unless he already has children - according to the School of Shammai, two boys; according to the School of Hillel, a boy and a girl. In response, the sages of the Talmud conclude that this Mishnah does not follow the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua, "for Rabbi Yehoshua teaches: [Even though a man] married in his youth, he must marry in his old age; [even though a man] had children in his youth, he must have children in his old age, as the verse states: ‘In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good’" (Yevamot 61b-62b; Ecclesiastes 11:6). In other words, according to the Talmud, the Mishnah that claims that if a person already has children he is permitted to refrain from bearing more is at odds with the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua; according to Rabbi Yehoshua, even one who already has children must continue to procreate - and the Halakha rules in accordance with Rabbi Yehoshua (Cf. Rambam, Ishut 9:16 who states that this is a "Divrei Sofrim" Commandment; Shulchan Arukh, Even HaEzer 1:8).
"Rabbi Akiva says: [Even though one] studied Torah in his youth, he must study Torah in his old age; [Even though one] had disciples in his youth, he must have disciples in his old age, in accordance with the verse, ‘In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand…’" This means that even though a person absorbs the Torah that he learns in his youth much better than that which he learns when he gets older, it is forbidden for a Jew to be content with what he knows and hence discontinue his studies or refrain from reviewing what he learned while young. This is not acceptable, for the verse states: "In the morning, etc." The reason is that, according to the Sages (Shabbat 152), as a Torah scholar gets older his knowledge accumulates and he gradually understands what he learned in his youth that much better. Similarly, if he taught Torah while young he should continue to teach those same students when he gets older, for with age his knowledge and reasoning capacity become more expansive, and he becomes better equipped to explain himself. Or, alternatively, he should teach more students and not be satisfied with the fact that he taught so many students when he was young (Cf. Ben Yehoyada ad loc.).
"Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of pupils spread out all over the country from Gevat to Antipatros and they all died during the short period of time from Passover to Shavuot because they did not treat each other with respect, and the world was desolate (‘Shamem’)." Rabbi Akiva’s Yeshiva was so large - pupils would come from all over the world to learn there - that when his students died the world became desolate of Torah. From here we learn that without Torah the world is seen as desolate. Rashi understands desolate "Shamem" to mean that Torah was forgotten. I.e., if there is no Torah, the world cannot exist and desolation and emptiness reign. "Finally Rabbi Akiva journeyed to our Rabbis in the south and taught them. [These were:] Rabbi Meir (baal HaNes), Rabbi Yehudah (ben Ilai), Rabbi Yosi, Rabbi Shimon (bar Yochai), and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamoa. They were the ones who reestablished the Torah."

Marriage and Betrothal during the Omer
Yaakov ben Asheri, the Tur, following the opinion of Rabbi Hai Gaon, writes: "The practice everywhere is to abstain from marrying from Passover to Shavuot. This is so that we not become overly joyful during the period in which the students of Rabbi Akiva died." The Mahari Giat adds that what is prohibited is marriage ("Nisuin"), for it is a true source of joy, but that betrothal ("Irusin") and consecration ("Kiddushin") are permissible. And he writes there (based upon "Shut Geonim" Shaarei Teshuvah 278) that this was the instruction of the Geonim in general. Beit Yosef adds that Rabbenu Yerucham also cited this as the correct practice. (Nativ 22:2; or pg. 186 column 4 in the Venice edition).
According to Rabbi Hai Gaon it is permissible to consecrate and take in a bride between Passover and Shavuot, for only when there is a canopy and a festive meal is there true joy. But if somebody comes and asks whether or not to take a wife we tell him absolutely not, for all of Rabbi Akiva’s pupils died between Passover and Shavuot because they did not show proper respect for one another. But if one chooses to go ahead and took a bride we neither beat nor fine him." Rabbi Hai Gaon was asked if it is permissible to marry or betroth and to take in a wife during this period, and he responded that consecration - i.e., consecration or betrothal alone - is not forbidden during this period; to marry with a canopy and a festive meal is forbidden. Yet what exactly is meant by "a canopy and festive meal"? Does this mean that the two together are forbidden but that marrying under a canopy without a festive meal or holding a festive meal without a canopy is permissible? Or not? The rabbi continues that if somebody comes to ask if it is outright permissible to take a wife during this period, he should be instructed not to do so for we do not wed in these days. Next he tells us that if at any rate one went ahead and took a wife we do not beat him, for, despite this, he has fulfilled the commandment to reproduce. (Cf. Mishnah Berurah ad loc. 4, that only if he actually married is he free of punishment through fine, for he fulfilled the obligation to reproduce, but if he cuts his hair he becomes liable for punishment; Kaf HaChaim also holds this to be the rule, ad. loc. 10).
From the above, then, we have learned that while consecrating and betrothing a bride is permissible during the Counting of the Omer, it is not clear what the law is regarding the festive meal. Is it permissible to have a festive meal at an engagement party (or at the time of consecration, in the days when the practice was to consecrate the bride a good deal of time before the actual marriage under the canopy)? The same question applies with regard for the festive meal accompanying a Brit Mila, Pidyon HaBen (Redemption of the firstborn), or Bar Mitzvah. The source of this uncertainty derives from the words of the sages (Moed Katan 18b) that "it is permissible to betroth a woman during the Chol HaMoed intermediate days of a festival lest somebody else come along and beat him to it." After this the Talmud teaches us, "Yet it is forbidden to hold an engagement meal." But Beit Yosef (441) brings the opinion of Rivash (260) who holds that on the occasion of an engagement ceremony it is permissible to dance. "And even if the groom makes a meal with his friends, so long as he is not in the house of his future bride, he has not detracted from [the command] ‘Be joyful because of your festival’ - not because of your bride.’" "What’s more, it is permissible for the groom to eat a festive meal in the house of his in-laws so long as it is not at the time of the engagement." And the Shulchan Arukh follows this opinion as well (Ad loc. 1).
The question is, is this the ruling during the Omer period, i.e., is it permissible to hold an engagement meal during this period? And if so, is it permissible to dance at such an occasion?
Shulchan Arukh (493:1) holds that betrothal and consecration are permissible. Concerning the festive meal Magen Avraham cites the reason for its permissibility as being, "Lest somebody else comes along and beat him to it (Ad. loc. 1). Then he adds, "And it seems to me that it is permissible on such an occasion to hold a festive engagement meal, but it is customary to forbid dancing. Furthermore, I believe that dancing is forbidden even on a matchmaking celebration."
Machatzit HaSheqel and Chok LeYaakov comment there that on the occasion of a consecration (which, though customary in those days, is no longer practiced) it is permissible to have a festive meal, along with dancing. But in our time, when people only arrange matches, it is permissible to have a festive meal but without dancing, i.e., without musical ensembles and any sort of musical instruments, including recorded music. Later authorities imply that it is only permissible to sing (Cf. Mishnah Berurah ad. loc. 3; Kaf HaChaim 9).

Brit Mila - Circumcision
A festive meal at a Brit Mila ceremony is permissible during the Chol HaMoed (intermediate days of a festival), and it is also implied that this is true in the case of the Omer counting period as well, so long as there is no dancing (Shulchan Arukh 446).
The Tosafists discuss the question of whether a festive marriage meal alone is forbidden during the Chol HaMoed because of the rule that we do not "mix joy with joy," or if even a festive Brit Mila meal is forbidden (Moed Katan 8b, "Mipnei"). They begin by explaining that there is no joy at the Brit Mila meal because of the pain caused to the baby, and that this is why we do not recite the words "SheHaSimcha ViMono…" in the Zimun at such an occasion (Cf. Ketuboth 8). In addition they explain that because the time for a Brit Mila is fixed (that is, it is not given to choice), "it should not be cancelled because of this (i.e., the Chol HaMoed)."

Pidyon HaBen - The Redemption of the Firstborn
Regarding a festive meal at a Pidyon HaBen ceremony the Tosafists displayed initial uncertainty in a case where the ceremony takes place later than the appointed time for this event. They conclude that we follow the opinion of Rabbi Yossi who says to "be joyful with your holiday - not with your wife," (Chagigah 8), and Pidyon HaBen is not "joy with your wife." What’s more, "only a festive meal at a wedding is considered ‘mixing joy with joy.’" According to this it is permissible to make a festive meal at a Pidyon HaBen ceremony even when it is held after its appointed time. This is the opinion of the Shulchan Arukh (546:4; Cf. Magen Avraham, ad loc. 5; Turei Zahav, ad loc. 4; Gaon, ad loc. 6). Yet all of this is true specifically regarding Chol HaMoed, for the entire prohibition is not a result of the joy of the meal as such; during Chol HaMoed there no mourning laws are practiced. Rather, the reason is that it is forbidden to mix joy with joy. All the same, we find in the Tosafists’ last solution that only a festive wedding or engagement meal is considered "joy," while a festive Brit Mila or Pidyon HaBen meal is not considered "joy." This, though, is true regarding the festive meal, not regarding the dancing during the Omer counting period.

Conclusion
In summary, it is permissible, during the Omer counting period, to make festive engagement, Brit Mila, or Pidyon HaBen meal, even if friends are invited, on the condition that it is a meal alone - without dancing and without the playing of music instruments. It is permissible only to sing and praise God vocally.
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