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General Halachos Of Sefira

Q. I heard that one is allowed to chose which "Period of Sefira" he keeps [the first period with begins from Pesach concluding on Lag B'eomer the second beginning on Rosh Chodesh Iyar concluding before Shevuos ] and that even if one usually over the years has always kept a particular custom never the less he may switch his custom, going back and forth from year to year (regardless of the custom of his father and family). Is this indeed correct?

Rosh Hayeshiva: Yes, you are "basically" correct, but it is more complicated than the way you are presenting the Halacha.

There are five different customs of the"Sefira Period":

[1] Minhag Bnei Sfarad : Based on the Mechaber — sefardim keep Aveilus of Sefira from the end of Pesach until the 34th day of the Omer.

[2] Minhag Ashkenaz: divides into three different customs

A. From Pesach until Lag Baomer - the 33rd day of the Omer.

B. From the first day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar until the third of Sivan.

C. From the second day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar [the first of Iyar] until the 4th of Sivan.

[3] Minhag Arizal: the entire seven weeks - from Pesach until Erev Shavuos. Many Sephardim adhere to this custom.

Many claim based on the Chasam Sofer that one may change customs from year to year. Actually, the Chasam Sofer never wrote as such. The Chasam sofer did write (Teshuvos Orach Chaim 159) that one may change customs holding Sefira from day one of Rosh Chodesh Iyar or day two of Iyar ]not day two of Rosh Chodesh] at will. When doing so even, "Hataras Nedarim" [which is usually necessary when changing from one's custom] would not be required. [The Chasam Sofer seemingly believes that both of these customs are basically one of the same, and any switching between the two is not "changing the Minhag"]

Maran Rav Moshe Feinstein, though in Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim vol. 159) while discussing the Chasam sofer does seem to write that one may indeed change his custom from year to year [according to the "Bach"]. But it has been relayed is that Rav Moshe opinion actually was that one may indeed change customs year to year, but if one changed from keeping the "Second Sefira," to keeping the "First Sefira," he would need "Hataras Nedarim" as does one who changes from any Minhag that one has. However, if one changes from keeping the "First Sefira" to keeping the "Second Sefira," even "hataras Nedarim" would not be required. The reason for this opined Rav Moshe because the Minhag of Sefira is a "Minhag B'tous," a Minhag that evolved without firm Halachick origin and bases.[Heard from my Rebbe Rav Dovid Feinstein Shlit"a. Upon further research, I heard the same from Rav Yosef Fund Quoting Rav E. Bluth Shlit"a in the name of Rav Dovid Shlit"a ]

It is with great humility and trepidation and with the sight of how great my Rebbe is and how small and unlearned I am, that I question if Rav Moshe said the above, for there is no hint of this in Rav Moshe's Teshuva and on the contrary the implication is the reverse [and that possibly one cannot switch at all if he usually keeps the first Sefira ] added to the fact that this custom of the "First Sefira" is indeed brought in the Maharil to be the correct custom.

To better understand what Rav Moshe is saying, it would be conducive to have a short overview of the connection between Minhagim and Nedarim. Nedarim are basically commitments by mouth to do or not to do certain things [and though a Neder is about

"forbidding an object" while a Shevua is an "obligation on the person" the difference between a Shevua and a Neder is not relevant at the moment] How then does a Minhag turn into a Neder subject to "Hataras Nedarim"? Did the person verbalize his commitment to keeping his Minhag?

As stated in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 213:2), any verbal commitment to perform a Mitzvah becomes a Neder even without using the word Neder. According to the Rama, even if one did not verbalize his commitment but just thought of it, that will produce a neder as long as the person in his mind made a strong decision to do it [There is some dispute amongst the poskim if this concept is strictly by Tzedaka or even by all Mitzvos (see Chasam Sofer Ev"h vol 2 # 101 and Aruch Hasulchan Y.D 258) The same would follow if one took on a Custom with a firm decision in his mind to continue to adhere to this from here on. If one did not make this commitment in his mind, then by merely doing the custom three times results in a neder (see Yoreh De'ah 214:1)

Some common examples of "Minhagim that one accepts on oneself" that may cause an issue of Nedarim subject to the necessity of "Hataras Nedarim" when the person wishes to stop :

[1] Woman whom begin Davening Mariv

[2] Men whom

begin waking up "Netz Hachama" to pray Shachris

[3] One who begins learning "Daf Hayomi" [

[4] A woman who lights extra candles for Shabbos (usually in correlation to the number of children she has) and one week wants to revert back to the essential "required two candles" (usually because she is away from home and finds it difficult to light so many candles where she is staying)

It is important to note that only Minhagim that are rooted in Halacha or are a legitimate founded custom are subject to the need of "Hatares Nedarim" if one makes a "custom for himself" or has a self incorporated custom even if it is a pre-existing custom but obscure it will not create a Neder, and thus is no the subject of "Hataras Nedarim" (see Igros Moshe O.C vol 3 #64)

One can "kler" [contemplate] is eating Cholent on Shabbos a "Minhag" that could reach the level of Neder subject to a requirement of "Hataras Nedarim" if one wants to discontinue eating it for health purposes? It is well known the reason and importance of eating Cholent on Shabbos to discredit the claim of the Tzedukim that no fire may be used on Shabbos even from a pre-existing fire. Therefore, all religious Yidden customary to have a hot dish that "stayed overnight" on a pre-existing flame. The name Cholent many do not know is based on the "She-lon," which means remained overnight on the flame.

If we accept that eating Cholent on Shabbos does indeed rise to the level of a "Minhag" that may require Haters Nedarim, we can still question if eating Kugel on Shabbos can rise to the level of a Minhag that can have the strength of a Neder. The Mishna Berura (O.C sim. 242: ) does actually refer to eating "Pashtida" on Shabbos as a custom - which seemingly is referring to what we call today "kugel."

I am still not certain that even if we accept the rule, one may "Switch Sefiros" if this may be done without a "real and good legitimate reason". A good example will be if one has a wedding to make during the time period, which is his sefira period. I hesitate to permit switching one's custom "just for convenience." Many like to keep the first custom of Sefira - from Pesach until lag B'omer - because it lessens the days one cannot listen to music for even if one keeps the Hilchos Aveilus in the first custom the days of Chol Hamoed are never the less permitted.

[My main question above is "actually" more directed at one who wants to change from the "First Sefira" to the "Second Sefira" — which possibly according to Rav Moshe needs no Hataras Nedarim — for if one is switching from the second Sefira to the first, he will need Hataras Nedarim which would inherently require him to produce some form of a good reason and explanation why he can not or does not want to keep his Neder leveled Minhag.

Based on all the above, it is evident that Minhagim becomes Nedarim due to the person's commitment to continue to do as he has committed. We "could" therefore make an exception that a person must not do as his custom all the time. When one accepts to do something "usually," he has in mind that if it is extraneously difficult, he will not do it that time, or that there will indeed be times which he will have to skip or miss. [ this would explain the opinion of the Dagul Mervava that a person has the right to forgo one time any Minhag he created for himself (the Shach argues on this) ] This I believe explains why one who begins to learn "Daf Hayomi" does not need to be Matir Neder before he misses a night.

In Conclusion:

Possibly one who begins keeping a particular Minhag of Sefira since he may be under the assumption - rightfully or not - that he "may switch every year" this itself may permit him actually to switch. When keeping one of the Minhagim in his mind, there was no commitment to continue to keep specifically this particular Minhag.

Nevertheless, in practice any change of Minhag should be due to good and important reasoning to the level of "Shas Hadc'hak" and should be preceded with Hataras Nedarim [especially since making Hataras Nedarim takes little effort and causes no difuculty]

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