Counting the Omer

Not forgetting a day with the help of a forgotten calendar

As we count the 49 days of the Omer, marking the period between Pesach and Shavuot, I am sure I am not alone in my worry about missing a day in this commanded count. We can only count after dark, so remembering early does not help. If one were to miss one day, Jewish law has concluded, then one can only continue with the count in a half-hearted way, doing so without reciting a bracha.

With this worry in mind, I look round my collection to see what might help me remember to count Sefirat ha’Omer.

I have a small booklet printed in 1919 (illustrated) which is an independent publication with its own title page. Judging by the paging (380-384, 410-418), the booklet is simply a couple of sections taken from a full Siddur. The publisher must have thought this version would be handy in a pocket format. One of the sections is the Prayer for Counting the Omer and what to say on each day of the count. Carrying this small booklet around could serve as a helpful reminder to count the Omer if one is out and about. But if one is busy at home (watching TV!) or if one is unsure what number day it is, even with this booklet one could easily forget to do so.

A small booklet printed in 1919, containing the Order of Counting the Omer

Instead, Omer boards could be used. These are in the form of a calendar plaque which one winds forward each day on counting so you know what to say on the next night. I have one such board made in around 1825 (illustrated) by Rabbi Aaron Levy (1795-1876). Levy was a Dayan of the London Beth Din and the first Rabbi to visit Australia. It has a central panel indicating the day of the Omer which one winds forward each day. This is surrounded by the bracha and other associated prayers written in the Dayan’s beautiful calligraphy.

Dayan Levy’s rotating Sefirat ha’Omer calendar

More surprisingly, although the Dayan (illustrated) was of unimpeachable Orthodoxy there are also drawings of naked cherubs (illustrated). It is hard to imagine a Dayan of today drawing these decorations. As Professor Marc B Shapiro has charted, such surprising artwork is of course forgotten in today’s Orthodox world. But with this board I certainly haven’t forgotten to count the Omer, nor have I missed a day so far.

Rabbi Aaron Levy (1795-1876), a Dayan of the London Beth Din


The drawings of naked cherubs decorating the Sefira calendar
About the Author
Professor David Latchman, CBE, is a leading UK academic, author, and philanthropist, and currently holds the position of Vice-Chancellor of Birkbeck University of London, having led the university since 2003. Latchman holds First-class Honours in Natural Sciences, a MA, and a PhD, and has completed a three-year post-doctoral fellowship at Imperial College London. He also has a DSc (higher doctorate) from the University of London.
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