On the second day of the Hebrew month of Iyyar, the seventeenth day of the omer, there is a little-known holiday that you won’t find on a typical Jewish calendar. That’s because it’s completely made up. It’s called Dag BaOmer.
You might be thinking, “That actually sounds kind of familiar,” but you’re probably thinking of Lag BaOmer, the thirty-third day of the Omer, which commemorates the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. No, that’s a totally different holiday.
In 2016, Dag BaOmer lands on Tuesday, May 10. So on that day, greet your friends with a hearty “Dag Sameach!”
Reliving the Days of the Risen Messiah
The celebration of Dag BaOmer started back in 2006 when a few disciples of Yeshua were contemplating the appearances of the risen Master to the eleven during the period of the counting of the Omer.
From a Jewish perspective, time is not linear, but it is constantly circling. Each Passover, we are once again freed from bondage in Egypt; every Shavu'ot we receive the Torah anew. Likewise, we wanted to relive and truly experience the presence of Yeshua during this time.
A commemoration of some sort seemed in order, and it was determined that having grilled fish for breakfast would be a delicious reenactment of the story of the post-resurrection miraculous catch of fish in John 21. But when should this commemoration take place? The text does not say when the miracle occurred. Or does it?
A Curious Detail
John 21:11 teaches,
So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.
Why was the precise number of fish noted in the narrative? Surely it would have sufficed to say “many fish,” or at perhaps “more than 150.” The mention of the exact number seems to imply that there is something significant about that number, especially in such a symbolic and mystical book as John.
Scholars have pondered the significance of the number and have proposed a variety of interpretations. Math geeks point out that the number 153 is significant in that it is triangular. In other words, the units can be arranged in a perfect equilateral triangle shape, like this:
Triangular numbers are also the sum of a set of consecutive whole numbers. In other words, six is a triangular number because it is the sum of 1 + 2 + 3. Look at the top three rows of the graphic for an example.
As it turns out, 153 is the sum of all whole numbers from 1 to 17. That is:
153 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 + 11 + 12 + 13 + 14 + 15 + 16 + 17
This sequential pattern is curious when coupled with the fact that this happened during the counting of the omer. What if the number 153 was miraculously chosen to mark the 17th day of the Omer?
Kind of Fishy
OK, so this interpretation is admittedly a stretch. It could simply be that the specific number of fish was included to make the story more vivid and credible. But that doesn’t matter. There is no reason to say that it couldn’t have been the 17th day of the omer. And so it seemed like a good day for the celebration.
Dag is the Hebrew word for fish. The name Dag BaOmer (“fish on the omer”) was chosen as a play on Lag BaOmer.
Over the years, our observance of Dag BaOmer has developed in interesting ways. On one hand, we recognize that it is fictional and we don’t take it too seriously, but on the other hand, it has turned out to be very meaningful, inspiring, and fun, and it has caught on. In that way, I kind of think of Dag BaOmer along the lines of Seinfeld’s “Festivus.”
Some time ago, I penned a list of “laws and customs” of Dag BaOmer. Keep in mind that this list of “laws” is satire. It was purposely written in the style of halachic manuals as an attempt at insider humor. By no means are these laws authoritative on any level, nor do they actually reflect any longstanding Jewish practice.
On the other hand, the list of “laws” does actually reflect the way our tradition has developed over the last eight years. So if you want to join us in our lighthearted celebration, this list would set you on the right path!
These laws are written in halachah-speak. That’s part of the joke. If I defined all of the Hebrew terms for you, it would no longer be funny, so if you have any questions, you’ll just have to ask your local rabbi.
Laws of Dag BaOmer
- One should rise early in the morning on the seventeenth day of the omer (the second day of the month of Iyyar), to pray according to the vatikin, who would time the Amidah to begin simultaneously with the sunrise, as the verse says, “They shall fear you with the sun” (Psalm 72:5). During shacharit, the story of the miraculous catch of fish (John 21:1-14) is recited.
- In ancient times when the calendar was determined by observation, Dag BaOmer would sometimes fall on Shabbat. In that case, Dag BaOmer must be postponed. While the miraculous catch of fish is a “sign,” Shabbat too is a sign, as it is written, “It is a sign forever” (Exodus 31:17), making the sign of the fish superfluous. The sages in their wisdom, however, fixed the calendar in such a way that in our time Dag BaOmer never lands on Shabbat.
- One should strive to pray with a minyan if possible. If one cannot gather a minyan, a group of seven men is sufficient, as it is written, “Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were there” (John 21:2).
- It is a custom of very pious individuals to immerse in a mikvah prior to shacharit, in memory of Shimon Keifa, who “threw himself into the sea” (John 21:7).
- It is ideal to partake of the customary meal immediately after the morning prayers, as the Master said, “Come and have breakfast” (John 21:12). “Come” means none other than prayer, as it is said, “when he comes and prays toward this house” (1 Kings 8:42).
- Nonetheless, lechatchilah one may eat the meal any time before midday. Bedieved, one may eat it until sunset. As the Master taught, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world” (John 11:9).
- The meal should be eaten near a natural body of water. If there are forty contiguous seahs of snow outside, there is no need to leave one’s home, since snow qualifies as mayim chayim (see Rashi on b.Shabbat 145b).
- The preferred type of fish is the amnun. “O you of little faith” (keton amanah). Read not “amanah” (faith), but “amnun” (tilapia). While this is the preferred fish, any other fish can be used to fulfill the obligation, as long as it is a kosher species. As the Master taught, “When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good [fish] into containers but threw away the bad” (Matthew 13:48).
- It is ideal for a person to use a fish that he himself has caught, as the Master said, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught” (John 21:10), despite the fact that there were already fish on the fire. Common custom, however, is to ignore this practice. Regardless, one should at least own the fish that they eat, either by buying the fish personally or through a symbolic act of kinyan. One who partakes of the meal with a stolen fish has not fulfilled his obligation.
- The fish should be cooked over an open flame. As it is stated, “they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it” (John 21:9). If none is available, it may be baked in an oven or fried in a pan, as long as it is cooked with the specific intention of use on the holiday. Uncooked fish such as sushi, sashimi, and lox are not valid. Some authorities allow gefilte fish, as long as it is either made from scratch or baked from a frozen log; the type packaged in a jar with jelly is not kosher for the holiday.
- Using a whole fish including a head is a segulah for parnasah, especially when Dag BaOmer coincides with Tax Day, as the Master said, “Go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself” (Matthew 17:27).
- At least one kazayit of bread should be eaten at this meal, as it says, the Master “came and took the bread and gave it to them” (John 21:13). If one does not have bread, one may also use any pat haba bekisnin, such as crackers or cake, as long it is eaten in sufficient quantity to make a kevi’at se’udah. Some consider it a hiddur to use pita.
- While it is not obligatory, it is also customary to eat potatoes (symbolizing the burial and resurrection of the body). As the verse states תחת התפוח עוררתיך, “The tappuach below, I awakened you” (Song of Songs 8:5); the “tappuach below” refers to the tappuach adamah (potato). The potato dish may be served in any fashion. If potatoes are unavailable, other root vegetables may be substituted, as the verse says, תחת התפוח (“instead of the tappuach”).
- Common practice is to drink coffee (symbolizing the revival of the spirit). Lenient authorities say that it is merely a custom and not an obligation; others consider it a requirement, based on Isaiah 51:17 (“Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD his hot cup [כוס חמתו]”). Some have the custom to take it black, in accordance with the verse, “I am very dark, but lovely” (Song of Songs 1:5), whereas others prefer it creamy and sweetened, as it is said, “honey and milk are under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11). When in doubt, ask your rabbi about the local custom.
- While coffee is the preferred beverage, any warm brewed drink that sufficiently constitutes a mechayeh will suffice. In certain locales it is customary to use a glass of tea.
- According to some authorities, the coffee should be served hot (at least yad soledet bo). An allusion to this is seen in Exodus 16:21: בבקר בבקר איש כפי אכלו וחם (“each morning, a man consumed coffee and it was hot”).
- There is a machloket regarding the status of decaffeinated coffee. According to some opinions, it qualifies as a mechayeh because it still contains a minute amount of caffeine. Others argue that because of the intent to remove the caffeine, the remaining traces are considered undesirable and are thus batel in the preponderance of liquid. One who is sensitive may rely on the lenient view; however, to be stringent one should add at least a few drops of regular coffee to the cup. All authorities agree, however, that herbal teas are invalid and should not be used. In any case, one who for medical reasons cannot consume caffeine is exempt from the requirement.