Latest update: January 15th, 2015
Question: As the shamash in a small community shul with an aging population, I am faced with numerous challenges. The following is only one of them. During sefirah, different people daven for the amud for Ma’ariv. Once, a bar mitzvah was one of them. On another occasion, a very recent ger lead the service. Were these individuals allowed to lead the congregation in counting sefirah? I also wonder, in general, if everyone should be trusted to lead the counting. What if someone forgot to count on one of the previous nights but does not inform anyone of this?
Answer: We reviewed the mitzvah of sefirat ha’omer (Vayikra 23:15). The Talmud (Menachot 66a) tells us to start counting the omer at night so that a full 49 days are counted. If someone misses even one day, he has not fulfilled the essence of the mitzvah. If one forgot to recite the blessing, he should count on subsequent days without a blessing.
We cited many poskim who rule that a minor who becomes bar mitzvah during sefirat ha’omer should count with a blessing provided he has done so from the beginning of sefirah. Although he was not obligated to count with a blessing before he became bar mitzvah, he probably did so for chinuch purposes. Other poskim disagree and rule that a minor should not count with a blessing if he attains maturity in the middle of sefirah because his counting before bar mitzvah is considered different from his present counting as an adult, which is biblically mandated. Still others rule that even if a bar mitzvah boy had not counted the omer while a minor, he can start counting with a blessing upon reaching maturity. They reason that the obligation to count applies only from the day the boy becomes bar mitzvah.
We follow the first opinion – that a bar mitzvah may count with a blessing if he has not missed a single day of counting while still a minor. The Piskei Teshuvot adds that such a young man should not serve as a congregation’s representative to count on behalf of other adults. In his view, counting the omer is a biblical obligation for an adult, whereas the obligation of a boy who became bar mitzvah in the middle of sefirah might only be rabbinic according to some poskim.
Last week, we discussed whether someone who missed counting the omer on a single day has completely missed out on the mitzvah. Perhaps the counting involves 49 separate mitzvot, in which case one can continue to count even after missing a day. This latter opinion is supported by the fact that we recite a blessing for sefirat ha’omer each day.
A father is required to educate his son so that he will perform all relevant mitzvot, including sefirat ha’omer. He can hardly do so with the knowledge that his son will be required to halt counting in the middle. We concluded that our sages permit a bar mitzvah boy to continue counting with a blessing for the purpose of chinuch.
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The case of a ger who converts in the middle of sefirah presents a greater difficulty. In some respects he is similar to a boy who becomes bar mitzvah during the same time period. Just like a pre-bar mitzvah boy, someone preparing for geirus must count sefirah from day one for purposes of “chinuch.”
The Torah Temimah on Leviticus 23:15 states: “In the view of the [majority view of the] poskim, both a young man who has become bar mitzvah and a ger should count [the omer], but without a blessing, because they have not been able to fulfill the ‘sheva shabbatot temimot’ requirement.”
The Torah Temimah suggests, however, that perhaps the days the boy counted before his bar mitzvah should combine with the days he counts afterward to constitute “sheva shabbatot temimot.” If so, he would be able to say a berachah. The Torah Temimah offers proof to substantiate this suggestion which would apply equally to a ger who converts during sefirah. Tractate Yebamot (62a) teaches, “If [one] had children as a gentile and subsequently converted, he is not obligated [anymore] to fulfill the mitzvah of peru u’revu (‘be fruitful and multiply’).” Thus, we see that one’s actions before one becomes a full Jew, obligated in all mitzvot, are relevant after one reaches that status.
The Chidushim u’Berurim on Shas (37) maintains that the days a ger counted before his conversion do not combine with the days he counts afterward. He bases his decision on the Gemara (Yebamot 22a) that considers a convert similar to a child who has just been born. In effect, the convert is a new person. Thus, actions he performed before his conversion are separate from those he performs afterwards.
Although the Gemara we quoted above regarding peru u’revu seems to indicate that actions taken before conversion affect one’s mitzvah obligations after conversion, that Gemara might represent an exception. As R’ Yochanan states, the ger has fulfilled peru u’revu because his children, as a matter of empirical reality, are here on this earth. The mitzvah of peru u’revu was given to Adam so as to populate the world. Since the ger’s children are alive, he has fulfilled the miztvah. In general, though, a ger is considered a newborn child and the days of omer he counted before his conversion cannot combine with the days he counts afterward to constitute “sheva shabbatot temimot.”
In Responsa Chesed Le’Avraham (Vol. 2:56), we find a conclusion to the contrary. There we are told that we should only be concerned that “sheva shabbatot temimot” are lacking when one did not count on those days on which one was obligated to do so. However, in the case of a ger, since his obligation only starts after he converts, there is no issue.
Nevertheless, we follow the majority opinion (Birkei Yosef 120; Responsa Pri Haaretz Vol. 3:11; Shalmei Tzibbur p. 298; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayyim 489:15). A ger who converts in the middle of sefirah starts counting afterward without a blessing.
Tractate Berachot (15a) states that saying a berachah before fulfilling a mitzvah is not crucial to the mitzvah’s performance. In other words, one has fulfilled the mitzvah even without saying a berachah. Thus, a person who counts sefirat ha’omer without a berachah has still fulfilled the mitzvah. Of course, if someone is in shul for Ma’ariv, he should listen to the chazan or rav recite the blessing. By answering “amen,” he will also fulfill the rabbinical requirement of saying a blessing by the principle of “shome’a ke’oneh.”
All of the above opinions and considerations apply to an individual’s personal mitzvah to count the omer. However, the rules are different if one is serving as chazzan. Since there might be individuals in the congregation who are relying on the chazan to fulfill their obligation, it would not be proper for him to recite the blessing on their behalf.
As far as an ordinary Jew is concerned, unless there is definite reason to suspect that he has not counted the omer until now, he has a chezkat kashrut – a presumption of integrity regarding his mitzvah observance – and may count on behalf of the congregation with a blessing. (See Kiddushin 49b and Rambam, Hilchot Ishut 8:5.)
May it be His will that in the merit of our counting the sefirah, our dreams of redemption which we anticipate as we approach the festival of Shavuot be fulfilled speedily in our days.
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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