Question: May one recite Sefirat Ha’Omer with a berachah after sunset (shekiah)?
Answer: Yes. The Chayeh Adam (klal 131:6) explicitly rules that according to those authorities who maintain that sefirat ha’omer is a rabbinic mitzvah, it is permitted l’chat’chila to recite sefirat ha’omer after shekiah with a berachah.
The Chayeh Adam (klal 131:1) claims sefirat ha’omer is only a rabbinic obligation since nowadays we no longer cut or bring the omer offering. The Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chayim 489:14) clearly states that the majority of halachic authorities maintain that sefirat ha’omer is only a rabbinic mitzvah nowadays. Nonetheless, he maintains that it is proper to wait until nighttime (tzeit hakochavim) to count sefirah since it’s best to avoid performing this mitzvah between sunset and tzeit hakochavim – a time period that is of questionable halachic status.
This ruling, however, is difficult to understand since halacha allows one to perform rabbinic mitzvot with a berachah during this period of time l’chat’chila. Furthermore, the Mechaber (Orach Chayim, 493:4) writes that “women had the practice of refraining from work from Pesach to Atzeret from sunset onwards.” Why? One explanation, offered by the Mishnah Berurah (O.C. 493:19), is that sunset commences the period of time when one should count the omer (according to the Tur). The Bible uses the word “shabatot” in talking about the omer, a word that is related to the word “shevut,” or “rest” – which suggests that one should refrain from work during the period one counts the omer.
Many people forget to count omer if they do not do so it in shul. Therefore, if a congregation davens Maariv early, it is advisable that it count sefirah with a berachah (as long as shekiah has passed). There are more than enough halachic bases and sources to rely on.
Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, has authored several works on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas,” is available at Amazon .com and Judaica stores.