Hundreds of thousands of people will make their way throughout the day Monday and Tuesday from all over Israel to Mount Meron in the Upper Galilee, to participate in the traditional revelry of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the featured protagonist of the holy Zohar, whose gravesite is located on Mt. Meron and is one of the most visited holy sites in the country.
Two years ago, on Lag B’Omer 2021, the worst civil disaster in Israel’s history took place, when 45 Jews were crushed to death in a huge stampede in a narrow path at one of the exits from the gravesite. The terrible disaster ended the revelry immediately, and a state commission of inquiry was established to investigate the disaster. In 2022, the authorities permitted only restricted access to the holy site, and thousands of disappointed individuals were left waiting their turn in the bus parking lots.
This year, the Mt. Meron event is being held under the interim conclusions and recommendations of the commission of inquiry, and the site and celebrations have been significantly altered.
The mass fire-lighting events, other than the opener on top of the gravesite, which will be ignited by the Boyaner Rebbe, Rabbi Nachum Dov Brayer, will not take place in the gravesite’s courtyard or even near it, but in a special compound that has been prepared on the slopes of the mountain.
Also, there will be no dances in the gravesite’s courtyard, because the dancing increases the number and density of people inside the gravesite. The only permitted activity in the courtyard will be prayer, and that, too, will have a time limit.
That’s the main change this year: the amount of time each visitor can spend on the mountain. To allow every person who wants to come and pray on the mountain on Lag B’Omer to be able to do so, it was determined that a person’s stay on Mt. Meron should not exceed five hours. Hundreds of thousands of tickets were sold for the event, each good for only five hours. That way, the organizers hope, everyone will be able to come in, pray, and celebrate, and then clear the crowded compound for the remaining thousands who should be able to ascend without fear of being crushed.
Ahead of the celebration, on Monday morning, the three Haredi councils of sages and great Torah scholars issued a letter calling on the public to adhere to the outline established by the event’s management headed by the Meron Project leader Yossi Deitch. The historical letter is signed by the Councils of Torah Sages of Shas, Agudat Israel, and Degal Torah Parties.
The united Haredi councils’ joint appeal instructed the masses of celebrants “not to come into danger and overcrowding, and to be careful and limit the stay in Meron to no more than five hours,” essentially endorsing the government commission’s recommendations.
The Boyaner Rebbe traditionally lights the first bonfire at the annual Lag BaOmer celebration at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron. This right was purchased by Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Friedman (1820 – 1883), the first Sadigura Rebbe, from the Sephardi guardians of Meron and Tsfat. The Sadigura Rebbe bequeathed this honor to his eldest son, Rabbi Yitzchok Friedman ((1850 – 1917)), the first Boyaner Rebbe, and his progeny.