Between Passover until Shavout, the Torah tells us to count seven weeks. The Rabbis added to this saying that because 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died during these seven weeks, we spend the majority of this time in a period of mourning (no listening to music, no weddings and no haircuts to name a few restrictions).

Why did the Rabbis decide that these 24,000 deaths warrant a period of mourning, but not other large numbers of Jewish deaths, namely 6 million during the Holocaust?

2 Answers 2


First of all, the tragedy of the deaths per se of Rabi Akiva's students is not what is being mourned during sefira. For the tragedy of their deaths pers se we have Tisha Ba'av.

Reb Aharon Kotler explains that since due to Roman persecution the number of real Torah scholars had dwindled, almost our entire tradition as a whole tradition came through Rabi Akiva. The role of these students would have been comparable to the role of the generation of the desert who received the Torah from Moshe, directly from his communication from Hashem.

Since they were to be the transmitters of the tradition, there could not be any flaw in their attitudes towards eachother, similar to our receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai, as one man with one heart.

Their death was a tragedy in the transmission of Torah for all future generations. We lost so much and instead we received whatever we could through the few students with whom Rabi Akiva started anew.

It is appropriate to reflect on the loss of their Torah and to work on our character traits this time of year, leading from leaving Egypt to receiving the Torah on Shavuos especially since Hashem saw it fit for them to die specifically during this time period.

It is the fact that this epidemic only hit the greatest students of the generation and specifically during the days leading to Torah being given to us that our sages saw fit to mourn them and their Torah during this extended period so that we will focus on refining our character traits in preparation for that important day.

As far as the holocaust is concerned, many sages have commented on the unique level of this tragedy amongst our other national tragedies. However, it happened over the period of at least 6 years, without any specific time of year as its overall focus, so it belongs with the other tragedies.

  • Beautiful explanation! I don't know if I've heard this particular view before.
    – Isaac Moses
    Mar 19, 2010 at 18:33

A couple of reasons I can think of offhand:

  1. There is no central authoritative body that could enact such a thing for the entire Jewish people. By contrast, in R' Akiva's times (and for a couple of centuries thereafter) there was a Sanhedrin whose rulings and enactments were binding on everyone.

  2. The deaths of R' Akiva's students (the number is usually given as 24000, by the way) occurred within a few weeks, so it's possible to restrict ourselves from weddings, haircuts, etc., for that short period. The Holocaust lasted for six years; if we were to commemorate it with similar restrictions, then those would have to stretch out over the entire year, and that would be impossible to maintain.

    Instead, then, we include the Holocaust with all of the other tragedies of Jewish history that we mourn on the Ninth of Av (and for which we have another similar period of semi-mourning, the "Three Weeks" beginning on the Seventeenth of Tammuz). Indeed, several rabbis during the past sixty-some years have composed kinnot (prayers of lamentation) to be recited on the Ninth of Av, side-by-side with the existing ones about the destruction of the Temple, the Crusades, etc.

  • 1
    While I see the logic in your answer Alex, there are a few things that just don't agree with. 1)If a few rabbis and write their own kinnot for Tisha b'av, then enough of those rabbis can get together and decide to enact a short peroid of mourning for the holcaust. 2)24,000 deaths = 33 days of mourning, but 6 million isn't worth it's own peroid. I would be satisfied with the rabbis saying, "the omer has 33 days for Rabbi Akiva's students, we'll count an additional 14 days during the Omer for the holocaust.
    – Ken
    Mar 12, 2010 at 20:45

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