Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel / Flash 90

The Israeli cabinet announced Wednesday night its unanimous approval of a ban on all bonfires throughout the country on the upcoming holiday of Lag B’Omer.

The decision was made in order to block gatherings that might lead to another outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus infections – but Lag B’Omer without bonfires is like a sandwich without the bread. Without any layers at all, in fact.

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The Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer begins this year on the evening of Monday, May 11 and continues through Tuesday until nightfall.

Were it not for the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people would already be streaming into the country from around the world to make their way towards the small mountain village of Meron, where the tomb of the second century Kabbalist and Mishnaic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi) is located.

The Rashbi (who authored the Zohar, the metaphysical work of Kabbala) hid from the Romans in a cave on Mount Meron together with his son and it is said that when the two first emerged from hiding, the rabbi’s gaze set fire to the fields, due to his anger at seeing farmers working the land rather than studying Torah. Each place the rabbi and his son gazed was set aflame, and so a heavenly voice ordered the two to return to their cave, where they remained for 12 months. The bonfires commemorate the fiery gaze of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, but they also reflect the intense light that Rabbi Shimon introduced into the world with his mystical teachings.

Each year, there is continuous praying and dancing and singing at the site of the tomb in Meron to mark Lag B’Omer and the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – which falls on the same date — with 24 hours of bonfires – but this year, no one will be allowed at the site with the exception of local residents, those who work in the area, and a delegation of rabbis.

The new restrictions take effect Thursday, May 7 and remain in effect until next Wednesday, May 13 to ensure no one will be tempted to travel to the site.

Police will block off Mount Meron and the surrounding area, with checkpoints to ensure only local residents and relevant employees can enter. Israelis are also being reminded: no local bonfires this year either.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.