Israel bans traditional bonfires for Lag b’Omer
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Israel bans traditional bonfires for Lag b’Omer

Jewish festival which begins on Monday will not feature traditional bonfires marking 33 days since the start of Pesach 

Thousands of orthodox Jews gather at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, on Mt. Meron in Israel's northern Galillee, in traditional celebration of the Jewish Holiday of Lag Ba'omer, early Tuesday morning, May 22, 2019. Lag Ba'omer is celebrated to commemorate the day a plague ended in which thousands of students of Rabbi Akiba, a Talmudic scholar, died. This holiday is traditionally celebrated by the lighting of bonfires and festivities. Mt. Meron is the location for the central event of the evening, attracting approximately 40,000 celebrators every year. Photo By: Gil Eliyahu-JINIPIX
Thousands of orthodox Jews gather at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, on Mt. Meron in Israel's northern Galillee, in traditional celebration of the Jewish Holiday of Lag Ba'omer, early Tuesday morning, May 22, 2019. Lag Ba'omer is celebrated to commemorate the day a plague ended in which thousands of students of Rabbi Akiba, a Talmudic scholar, died. This holiday is traditionally celebrated by the lighting of bonfires and festivities. Mt. Meron is the location for the central event of the evening, attracting approximately 40,000 celebrators every year. Photo By: Gil Eliyahu-JINIPIX

Israelis will be prohibited from the traditional practice of lighting bonfires on Lag b’Omer.

Lag b’Omer, which this year starts on Monday night and lasts for 24 hours, marks the 33rd day of the counting of the days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. It also marks the end of a minor mourning period recognising the deaths of thousands of students of the second-century C.E. sage Rabbi Akiva.

Israel’s Cabinet on Wednesday night approved emergency regulations to prohibit the bonfires in order to prevent the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

Traditional bonfires and other events that are held yearly at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Mount Meron will be canceled this year. Instead, the Religious Services minister will allow three separate bonfires, each led by a prominent rabbi, in the area of the tomb to be held by special permit at different times. No more than 50 people will be permitted to participate in each bonfire, and women must be allowed equal participation.

No one will be permitted to enter the tomb and it will remain closed through May 17. The community of Meron will be open only to residents beginning on Thursday.

Lag b’Omer is the yartzheit of Shimon Bar Yochai, who was a disciple of Rabbi Akiva. (One interpretation says the bonfires are a symbol of the light he brought into the world.) Tens of thousands of mostly Charedi Jews converge on Meron on Lag b’Omer each year and spend the entire night and the following day lighting bonfires, giving first haircuts to boys turning 3 and celebrating.

The tomb at Meron is said to be the second most visited religious site in Israel following the Western Wall.

In 2018, the Fire and Rescue Service banned bonfires in great swaths of northern and central Israel due to a heat wave that also included windy conditions.

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