Currently, according to a previous question on this site, we count the omer without doubt: "Today is the Xth day of the omer" because we have a fixed calendar, and because counting with doubt is invalid.

But what happened before the establishment of the fixed calendar? Did the community adjust their counting once the messenger of the new month arrived? Did Shavuot start on different days in different places? Did we count like we leyn on Sukkot chol hamoed ("Today is the 3rd day and today is the 4th day")? Or did folks in chu"l neglect this mitzvah?

  • 2
  • How could Shavuot start on different days in different places? There's either a two-day doubt, or they know which day it should be on. – Double AA Apr 15 '13 at 16:55
  • @DoubleAA If the halakha is that counting the omer must be in order and without safek, and we must start counting the day after the [first] seder, then in a 30-day Adar year, we end up with communities in chu"l starting sefirah on [what they will soon learn was] 15 Nisan, while communities in Israel started counting on 16 Nisan. Then chu"l communities would start Shavuot a day earlier than Israel. – Charles Koppelman Apr 15 '13 at 18:45
  • @DoubleAA my calendar calculus might be off, so please correct any errors. – Charles Koppelman Apr 15 '13 at 18:47
  • Ahh I understand what you mean. This is not anything new. It is no different for a holiday to start the same in Chul and Israel but end on different days, than to end of the same day and start on different days. It just depends if the previous month is 30 or 29 (ie is the safek off by one day preceding or following the actual day). The only reason you are used to Yom Tov Sheni shel Galuyot and not Yom Tov Rishon shel Galuyot is because all of our holidays happen to be in months which follow months that have 29 days (Adar (II), Iyar, Tammuz, Elul). – Double AA Apr 15 '13 at 19:11

According to the Dvar Avraham (1:34), the reason one does not count ספירת העומר מספק is because if you do not know for certain what number it is, that is not considered "counting" at all. According to this reason, if there was an actual doubt, you would not be able to count at all. As the Dvar Avraham explains,

אבל לפי דברינו הנ"ל נראה לומר דבר חדש דדוקא ביו"ט היו נוהגין אבותינו לעשות ב' ימים מספיקא, אבל בספירה באמת לא הי' אפשר כלל לאבותינו לספור שתי ספירות ביחד מספק לפי שזו אינה ספירה כלל כמ"ש ובמקום ובזמן שהיו מסופקין לא היה תקנה לדבר וצ"ל שלא היו סופרין כלל

I recently saw that R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik objected to the Dvar Avraham's position precisely because it is inconceivable that before there was a fixed calendar, Jews were unable to perform the mitzvah of sefirat ha-omer. This would have meant that generations of Babylonian Amoraim would not have been able to perform this mitzvah, which is not mentioned anywhere in the Talmud. (Quoted in R. Hershel Schachter's Nefesh HaRav.)

  • 2
    So if they didn't count, how did they know when Shavuot was? – Charles Koppelman Apr 16 '13 at 3:26
  • @CharlesKoppelman 50 days after pesach. They couldn't do the mitzva of counting, but that doesn't mean they can't look at a calendar and note the two possible days Shavuot could fall on. – Double AA Apr 16 '13 at 6:36
  • 2
    @DoubleAA if by "looking at a calendar" you mean "counting to 50" since neither Iyar nor Nisan were fixed. I guess at least someone counted, but not in a sefirah-related way. – Charles Koppelman Apr 16 '13 at 22:39
  • The Dvar Avraham was originally printed in the city of Warsaw in the year 1906, and as he says, this answer is his chiddush. I don't think this authoritatively answers what they did before we had a fixed calendar (c. 2000 years ago). I'd appreciate a source from that era. – Shmuel Apr 27 '14 at 1:49
  • 1
    "Rav Soloveitchik said this is a very nice reason, but he disagreed with it. There is no real sefeika d’yoma today because we have a set calendar, but before Hillel the Elder established the calendar, there were years when people were unsure when Pesach began. Therefore, Rav Soloveitchik assumed that when necessary, it is very possible that people did count sefirah in this unusual manner." – Shmuel Apr 27 '14 at 2:17

Ba'al Hameor and Ravad (both at the end of Pesachim) assume that the communities counted only one day, starting from the first day of Yom Tov. Whether or not they did this with a beracha would probably depend on whether or not you make a bracha on a mitzvah done out of doubt (Rambam to Milah 3:6 says no and the Ravad there argues; Ran Shabbos 23a agrees with the Ravad), though this may be different than the classic case of performing a mitzvah 'just in case'.

The thing is though, even though they remained in doubt for the holidays, the diaspora communities clearly found out at when the right day of rosh chodesh is eventually, because we only have two days of yom tov, and not more (i.e. if they weren't sure when nissan or adar started, they should have 3 days of yom tov). Therefore, by the time Shavuot came around, they always knew when the right day was, and merely kept the second day to be consistent with other holidays (Rambam Hil. Kiddush HaChodesh 3:12).

Therefore, I'm not sure what they did if they found out that they had the wrong day in the middle of sefirah; I assume that they would start counting correctly as soon as they got word that Adar was 29 days. The problem is that the Baal Hameor and Ravad both say that the reason why they wouldn't count two days of Omer is because we don't want to be counting the 49th day of the Omer and celebrating Shavuot at the same time - but (as the Rambam explianed) that should never happen anyway, because by Shavuot there's no reason to count twice!

Therefore, it could very well be that they counted two days (at least until they found out what day it really was). Or, they might have believed, like the Devar Avraham (1:34) that counting two things at once can't really be called a count, and therefore they only counted one day. (The author of the Devar Avraham himself though is hesitant to accept that this is true).

I know this isn't really an answer but it's the best I've got, sorry.

  • I guess if they found out they'd been counting the wrong day, they would start counting the correct day from that point, but no longer make a b'racha. Presumably the "real" day is the one they kept as the 2nd day if this happens, but they will keep 2 days Shavuot, one which is really the 49th day of the Omer. So yeah, they will have to not count on it. – CashCow May 25 '16 at 11:39
  • I think that this is a reasonable answer, esp. since you mentioned that the messengers had arrived in mid Sefirah period resolving any doubt. The only problem that I can see is that perhaps, the counting may not have been considered tamim? – DanF Apr 13 '18 at 16:28

The Baal HaMaor asks (last piece on Pesachim) why we don't count twice for the ספיקא דיומא. He answers that if so, the count will go until the first day of Shavuos (i.e. you'll count "today is 49" on Shavuos itself), and we will come to disgrace Yom Tov. The Raavad answers the same question by saying that if we count on two days we will end up with a contradiction: we celebrate Shavuos, showing that the count has ended, yet we are also counting day 49!

  • So.... you are assuming the count cannot be corrected once it is started? And then the communities in chu"l (before the fixed calendar) might celebrate Shavuot starting on an earlier day? (see judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/27947/…) – Charles Koppelman Apr 15 '13 at 21:09
  • 3
    I think you mean to be answering this judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/6964/… – Double AA Apr 15 '13 at 21:52
  • Similar to why we do not take lulav on Shmini Atzeret as that is suggesting it is Hoshana Raba, but we sit in the sukkah without reciting a b'racha just in case (and people would often sit outdoors in nice weather even when it was not sukkot, e.g. in Babylon, but there's a question in very cold climates whether one should) – CashCow May 25 '16 at 10:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .