Israel’s Lag BaOmer: On a Failed Revolt, a Fake Zohar and a Festival of Fraudulent Empirehood
“Bomer! Bome! Bomeh! What does that mean?” The man in front of me was shouting; it was typical. Bolivians think that linguistic misunderstandings are solved by shouting. If that doesn’t work, they opt for physical violence. “That teaches you well! Next time answer properly,” was the answer I feared.
In a desperate effort to avoid being beaten, I remembered that we were just after Easter. “Do you mean Lag Ba’Omer?” I asked and got a positive answer. It wasn’t the first time that members of my congregation displayed impossible knowledge on non-Biblical Hebrew. It was a sign that Israel had visited them; suddenly they knew how to pronounce “$$$.”
“It celebrates a failed revolt, a fake Zohar and the Festival of Fraudulent Empirehood,” I said and moved away hurriedly. Who knew how he would react to the word “Zohar?”
The event highlighted a recurrent problem regarding Israeli affairs. Hebrew is practically unknown, and its speakers often purposely confuse things. For example, the recently produced Oliver Stone’s The Untold History of the United States was killed with silk-gloves by the Israeli Administration.
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It was broadcast by a secondary channel, its reviews were misplaced and oddly phrased, and its name was mistranslated as The Secret History of the USA, making it difficult to find references unless discovering the dirty trick. One of the reviews inversed the blame in a typical Hebrew fashion, hinting that Stone was attempting a 1984-style manipulation. The purposeful misnaming caused it to be obscured by reviews of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
There is no better testimony to the excellence of Stone’s work that this carefully staged censorship. This is repeated almost in every affair. State agents have one Hebrew name, but they spell it in various ways in Roman script. Even festivals are disguised under Biblical roots while their nature was changed. Lag Ba’Omer, to be celebrated in the last weekend of April 2013, is a good example of this.
Chabad Logo for Lag Ba’Omer
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The logo shown above belongs to Chabad, a proselyting Haredi organization. “Revealing the esoteric soul of Torah” it says below the name of the festival. It hints to the relationship between Lag Ba’Omer and the Zohar, which is the basic text behind Kabbalah, the most mystical stream of Judaism, which is closely related to Hasidic communities. In recent years, it has become popular in Hollywood; singer Madonna likes to be portrayed with tattoos of Hebrew letters which according to Kabbala have magical powers.
Lag Ba’Omer sounds as a Biblical holiday, but it is not. The name means “33 days from the Sheaf,” it is part of the 7 weeks between Easter and Shavuot, the Jewish Pentecostes. This day has been dedicated in recent times to a “Hilula” (“Praising”) to Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai. He was active after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70AD, and is said to have written the Zohar. Lag Ba’Omer happens to be the day of his death; the holiday is unrelated to Passover and Shavuot.
Jewish Orthodox, Jewish Secular and Gentile scholars reject as one the possibility that he wrote the Zohar. The text was most likely written by Moshe ben Shem-Tov (Moses de León) a Spaniard Jew that lived between 1250 and 1305AD. Simply, the text includes Spanish words (Spanish didn’t exist in the days of Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai), it features awkward errors in Aramaic and the writer was unaware of the Holy Land geography. Bar Yochai wouldn’t have committed any of these. Moreover, the Talmud, the main Jewish religious text from that era, doesn’t mention the Zohar. The latter is enough to conclude the Zohar was written after the Talmud was closed.
Attributing a text to a better known author in order to render it more authoritative was common practice in old times. The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia acknowledges in its Zohar article that this was done for profit: “A story tells that after the death of Moses de Leon, a rich man of Avila named Joseph offered Moses’ widow (who had been left without any means of supporting herself) a large sum of money for the original from which her husband had made the copy. She confessed that her husband himself was the author of the work. She had asked him several times, she said, why he had chosen to credit his own teachings to another, and he had always answered that doctrines put into the mouth of the miracle-working Shimon bar Yochai would be a rich source of profit. The story indicates that shortly after its appearance the work was believed by some to have been written by Moses de Leon.”
Dear Madonna, I am sorry. You have been tricked by Hollywood.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai tomb is in Mount Meron, near Lebanon. Not everybody can travel there. Secular Jews don’t care about graves. Yet, this festival is a major one, with bonfires literally setting Israel on fire. This is not the result of people praising God for the fake Zohar, but because the event is related to the Bar Kochba Revolt.
Zionists were desperate to find a “proper Zionist answer” (“tshuva tzionit holemet,” Zionist idiom for violent retribution), to the Orthodox festival. In the 1940s, Zionist textbooks started to emphasize the victory of the Bar Kochba Revolt over the memorial day to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Some readers may get confused right now, and understandably so. Bar Kochba didn’t win.
His revolt against the Roman Empire took place between 132 and 136AD. Following his revolt, the Romans sent six legions with auxiliary forces and terminated the Jewish dreams of independence. Bar Kochba’s delusion died in the last battle of the war in Betar. The Jerusalem Talmud claims that the Romans “went on killing until their horses were submerged in blood to their nostrils.” Zionists claim it a victory. This is similar to their abovementioned inversion on Stone’s work having 1984-characteristics. At least, they are consistent.
If anything, this event eternized the Diaspora. Judaism had changed from a central temple-oriented religion to one that was portable, organized in synagogues and a shifting priesthood.
Festival of Fraudulent Empirehood
Thus, today Israel is on fire. It celebrates a false religious text. It celebrates a failed revolt. The fake festival falsely justified on religious and national reasons, creating a festival of Fraudulent Empirehood. An Independence Day for the poorman, smoky bonfires hiding the shame of those who have no honor.
Roi Tov is a graduate—among others—of Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science. In addition to his memoir, Tov is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Molecular Physics and other scientific journals. He won various travel writing and photography awards.
In his writings, he tries to reveal life in Israel as a Christian Israel Defense Force (IDF) officer—from human rights violations to the use of an extensive network of underground agents. He was recognized first as a refugee and subsequently as political prisoner of Bolivia.