This is a page from an Omer chart written in a traveller’s prayer book that was published in Amsterdam in 1793. The chart consisted of four tables; this is the first one. The first day of the Omer is written on its own page and the subsequent forty-eight days are written in four tables, each with circular shapes drawn in a three by four pattern. Each circle contains the day of the Omer and the two words corresponding to the kabbalistic message for the day. According to Kabbalah, the forty-nine days between Pesach and Shavuot are used to refine one’s character. This is done by combining the seven emotions identified by Kabbalah in forty-nine unique combinations. The chart presents the day of the Omer along with the corresponding two-word kabbalistic combination and words and a letter corresponding to other traditional texts. The dark background is decorated with a flower design.
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Counting the Omer – The Omer is the forty-nine-day period between the second night of Pesach and Shavuot. The Torah (Leviticus 23:15–16) commands us to count seven full weeks from when an omer of grain was first brought to the Temple on the second day of Pesach. The omer was a unit of measurement and the grain (barley) was brought to the Temple as an offering every day for forty-nine days. On the fiftieth day of the Omer, the holiday of Shavuot is celebrated. Although, after the destruction of the Temple, offerings were no longer made, Jews continue to count the days of the Omer. Counting is done at night by reciting the blessing: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.” This is followed by counting the specific day with the formula: “Today is X day, which is X weeks and X days of the Omer.” As of the Middle Ages, the Omer has been regarded as a period of mourning, except for the thirty-third day, Lag B’Omer, which is seen as a day of festivity.
Kabbalah – Kabbalah is a form of Jewish mysticism. Its main text is the Zohar which is attributed to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a second-century sage. The Zohar is a commentary on the Torah which focuses on explaining the origins of the world. Kabbalah developed in Spain in the thirteenth century. Rabbi Isaac Luria, who lived in Tzfat in the sixteenth century, is a main figure in kabbalistic thought.
The Jewish Community of the Netherlands – Jews have been living in the Netherlands since the Roman era, but the most reliable records referring to Jews living in Nijmegen, Doesburg, and Arnhem date back to the 1100s. The spread of the Black Death during the Middle Ages led to much anti-Semitism, blood libels, expulsions, and massacres in the Netherlands, as in other European countries. Documentation describes that Jews provided services, mainly financial, and paid taxes and in return received some protection from the kings and nobles. In the late fifteenth century, Jews were expelled or forced to convert to Christianity in Spain and Portugal. The atmosphere in the Netherlands, however, was more tolerant and favourable for the Jews, and many Spanish and Portuguese Jews arrived in the country, where they could practise their religion freely. Many of these Spanish and Portuguese Jews settled in Amsterdam and established successful trading businesses. Famous Jews of this time included the rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel and the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. German Jews were also attracted to the tolerant Dutch cities and began to immigrate to the country. They were generally poorer than the Sephardi Jews who had already settled in the Netherlands and were less welcome. Many were turned away and ended up settling in rural areas and establishing Jewish communities throughout the Dutch provinces. Over time, these Jews also prospered, and many were responsible for founding the Dutch diamond business. The eighteenth century brought the Dutch Jews emancipation and further prosperity. By the outbreak of World War II around 140,000 Jews lived in the Netherlands, among them approximately 25,000 German Jewish refugees. Germany occupied the country in 1940, and only 35,000 Dutch Jews survived the Holocaust. The Dutch Jewish community underwent many changes after the war, and many of the survivors immigrated to Israel and other countries. In the 1980s the community was boosted by an influx of Israeli and Russian Jews, and currently around 45,000 Jews live in the Netherlands, mostly in Amsterdam.