Photo Credit: David Cohen/Flash90
The Boyaner Rebbe, Rabbi Nachum Dov Brayer, lights the first bonfire of Lag B'Omer on Mt. Meron, May 11, 2020.

On Sunday, the government is expected to approve the recommendations of the State Commission of Inquiry on the Mount Meron disaster. On Thursday, Walla quoted an acquaintance of Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana (Yamina) who said that “whoever thought that what was is what will be, has probably not followed Kahana over the last six months. There’s a new in town, the Meron event will be completely different from anything we’ve known.”

Following the committee’s recommendations, Minister Kahana is considering canceling all the different bonfire lighting of the various Chassidic dynasties in the upcoming celebration in Meron next Lag B’Omer, and instead allowing one bonfire lighting by a “state rabbi,” (Rav mamlachti) managed by the Ministry of Religious Services.

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If this is true and not a journalistic wild goose, it is nothing short of a declaration of war on several Chassidic dynasties who have for more than a century been lighting their own bonfire on Mount Meron, and a particularly nasty appropriation of the right of the Boyan dynasty to the lighting of the first bonfire there on Lag B’Omer.

This may not be the proper place for a description of the Boyaner dynasty and the entire family of the descendants of the Holy Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhin (Sadigura, Chortkov, Husyatin, to name a few). Suffice it to say that the House of Rizhin has had royalty written over it since its inception, with the motto of Noblesse oblige. As a result, you’ll never see the Boyaners or any other Rizhiner involved in politics, intrigue, scandals. They are on the give, not the take, if you will. And so, should Minister Kahana chooses to step on their right, they may attempt to change his mind, but probably not directly and certainly without statements to the press. The Boyaners don’t tweet.

With that in mind, rather than attack Minister Kahana, let’s examine Boyan’s legal right to the ceremony.

According to Hapirsum Ha’Haredi (ההדלקה המסורתית של חסידות בויאן מירון ל”ג בעומר תשע”ח), the Rizhiner Rebbe, Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhin, purchased for market value the right to light the first bonfire in Meron from the rabbis of the city of Tsfat. The holy Rizhiner Rebbe, a direct descendant through the male line of Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch (the Maggid of Mezritch), the ultimate teacher of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s Chassidic message, was a very wealthy man who was renowned for his great palace, the silver-handled carriage drawn by four white horses, and his golden yarmulke and stylish clothing with solid-gold buttons. So, believe it, he paid good money for the right to light the bonfire. And since he passed away in 1850, it means that the purchase was done more than 170 years ago.

The Chief Rabbi of Tsfat at the time, Rabbi Aharon Brandoin, happened to be a Rizhiner Chassid (he was the Rebbe’s nephew from his sister), and so he lit the bonfire every year on behalf of the Rebbe – after receiving each year a letter and an official assignment.

The Rizhiner’s children, most of whom became Rebbes in various cities in Eastern Europe, continued to pay each year a hefty sum of money for the right to light the first bonfire in Meron and appointed a special messenger every year.

After Rabbi Brandoin passed away, the assignment was given to the next Chief Rabbi of Tsfat, Rabbi Rafel Zilberman, who was acting on behalf of the Rizhiner’s son, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedman of Sadigura, and later for his son, Rabbi Yitzchak of Boyan. Next in line was Rabbi Avraham Leib Zilberman, who served in the Tsfat rabbinate for many years, and was the emissary of the Rebbe of Boyan-Chernovitz. He carried the torch (literally) for thirty years and was followed by Rabbi Simcha Kaplan.

The first direct heir of the Rizhiner Rebbe who lit the bonfire himself was Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Kapichnitz, before he became a Rebbe, in the summer of 1936. When he returned to his home in Vienna, he immediately went to his cousin, the Boayan-Chernovitz Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Nachum, and told him about his experiences in Eretz Israel and especially the lighting of the bonfire in Meron. He managed to excite him so much that, the Boayan-Chernovitz Rebbe decided to make aliyah and in the summer of 1937 arrived in Israel, and for the first time, a Boyaner Rebbe lit the bonfire.

And so, through most of the 20th century, it was Boyaner Rebbes who held on to the tradition of lighting the first bonfire on Mount Meron every single year – a right they purchased from the Tsfat Rabbinate and is theirs by law. In 1984, when the new Boyaner Rebbe, Rabbi Nachum Dov Brayer, the grandson of the late Boyaner Rebbe of New York, Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo Friedman, accepted the mantle of leadership of his flock in the US and Israel and settled in Jerusalem, he also took up the tradition of lighting the first bonfire which he has maintained for close to four decades.

It must be noted that the interim recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry that were about a month ago, included a series of restrictions, including keeping down the number of participants at any given moment during the holiday so that there would be a limited number of participants on the mountain all the time. The committee also recommended canceling all the private bonfires which follow the first, official one – and suggested that honor be preserved for the Boyaner Rebbe.

Taking away the right he owns legally would be simple theft.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.