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Omer Calendar (detail), London, 1826

Omer Calendar

Visit the Museum before the end of May and explore a special display of one of our hidden treasures: An Omer Calendar.  This calendar is used for the ritual called the Counting of the Omer, a daily Jewish blessing marking the period between the festivals of Passover (April 7 – 13 2012) and Shavuot (27-28 May 2012).

Omer Calendar, London, 1826
Written and illustrated
by Rabbi Aaron Levy of Lissa
JM 363b

Rabbi Aaron Levy (c1795-1876), a gifted calligrapher and illustrator, served as scribe and dayan (religious judge) at the London Rabbinical Court for 45 years. He came to London from the town of Lissa in Prussia.

Our calendar is one of three surviving works by him, all made in the 1820s, before his appointment as dayan. The illustrations on the top tablet were copied by Levy from an 18th century amulet by Abraham bar Yaakov of Amsterdam. All the texts are from the daily Blessing on the Counting of the Omer. The Omer day itself appears in the centre window.

The calendar was probably commissioned in the mid-1820s by an affluent London Jewish family. From a handwritten label inside the box, we know that in 1902 it was the property of Mrs Emanuel Jacobs of Newport, Monmouthshire. In 1913 it was acquired by Alexander Hyams, the Newport congregation’s Hebrew teacher, who later donated it to the Jewish Museum.

The Counting of the Omer

The Counting of the Omer (Sefirat HaOmer) is the period beginning on the second day of the festival of Passover - when in ancient times an offering of the Omer, the first harvest, was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Counting of the Omer ends on the  festival of Shavuot. These two festivals commemorate the two most important events in the formation of the Jewish people: the Exodus from Egypt on Passover, and the Giving of the Torah on Shavuot. There is a Biblical commandment to mark this period by ‘counting’, or verbally acknowledging, each of the 49 days as they pass.

In later centuries it came to be a period of mourning, in commemoration of tragic historical episodes that occurred during this time. It is customary to avoid joyous celebrations such as weddings or musical performances, and the more observant would not shave or cut their hair. These rules are relaxed on the 33rd day of the Omer and the three days before the festival of Shavuot.

Omer Calendars are designed to help with the Counting ritual, providing a visual prompt for each of the Omer days.

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