Bill regulating annual pilgrimage to Mount Meron passes first reading

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

The head of the Boyan Hasidic sect lights a bonfire during Lag B'Omer celebrations on Mount Meron in northern Israel on May 18, 2022. (David Cohen/Flash90)
The head of the Boyan Hasidic sect lights a bonfire during Lag B'Omer celebrations on Mount Meron in northern Israel on May 18, 2022. (David Cohen/Flash90)

A bill regulating the annual pilgrimage to Mount Meron in northern Israel passes its first reading 23-0 in the Knesset plenum, with an eye toward preventing a repeat of a 2021 crush that killed 45 people.

The legislation allows Jerusalem Affairs Minister Meir Porush to determine a maximum number of attendees, requires permits to stay overnight at the complex and limits the number of bonfires to one primary lighting event — with additional bonfires requiring permission from the minister in order to maintain public safety.

Forty-five men and boys were killed on April 30, 2021, in a crush at the hilltop gravesite of second-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Mount Meron during the annual Lag B’Omer celebrations, after 100,000 worshipers, mostly members of the ultra-Orthodox community, crowded into the holy site despite longstanding warnings about the safety of the complex.

A state commission of inquiry into the disaster last month named Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as one of those personally responsible for the tragedy, leading the Likud party to dismiss the commission’s findings as a “political weapon” against him.

Despite Netanyahu’s rejection of the report, Porush promised to implement the commission’s recommendations ahead of the coming Lag B’Omer pilgrimage in May. However, due to the short period between the report’s release and the holiday, the legislation is being advanced as a temporary measure.

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