Mount Meron celebrations to go ahead as MKs approve safety regulations

Entry requires an admission ticket and is limited to 4 hours, and there will be only 1 central bonfire at the pilgrimage site, after last year’s Lag B’Omer event ended in 45 deaths

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews celebrate during a Lag B'Omer gathering on Mount Meron in northern Israel on April 29, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)
Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews celebrate during a Lag B'Omer gathering on Mount Meron in northern Israel on April 29, 2021 (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Knesset’s Public Security Committee on Tuesday approved safety regulations for the Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron next week.

The move comes a year after 45 people were killed in a crush at the site in northern Israel. Hundreds of thousands typically visit Mount Meron, home to the mountaintop gravesite of second-century sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, for an annual all-night pilgrimage marking his death.

No more than 16,000 people at a time will be allowed in and around the tomb complex on Wednesday-Thursday, the day of the celebration, according to regulations drafted by the Justice Ministry, the Religious Affairs Ministry and the police.

Instead of there being open access to the site, as in years past, entry will now be conditioned on pre-purchasing a ticket. There are three transportation and admission options: by public transportation, the ticket for which constitutes a permit to enter the site; via private buses of up to 50 passengers, with transport from the parking lot to Meron by shuttle that requires a ticket; or by private car, also requiring a ticket for a shuttle ride from the parking lot.

No private vehicles will be allowed onto the mountain.

Residents of the Meron community also require entry tickets to the celebration compound, and can obtain them through their municipal authorities.

Each person’s stay will be limited to four hours, to make room for the many who wish to enter. It was not clear how the time limit would be enforced.

Illustrative: View of Mount Meron in the Upper Galilee, on February 4, 2018.(Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

During the celebration itself, there will be only one bonfire, on the roof of the tomb complex, which will be led as per tradition by the rebbe of Hasidic sect of Boyan, and it will not be possible to hold additional bonfires or events without the approval of the head of the Merom Galil Regional Council.

At the Bar Yochai tomb visitors won’t be able to tarry but rather will be moved along, conveyor belt-style. An adjacent area will be prepared for those who wish to pray more slowly.

The need for the new regulations arose following the opinion of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who clarified that no criminal proceedings can be pursued against violators without regulations or legislation.

The tragedy occurred on April 30, 2021, as thousands of celebrants streamed down a narrow walkway. Some people fell on the walkway and down a flight of stairs at its end, toppling onto those below and precipitating a fatal crushing domino effect.

The crush has been blamed on improperly installed ramparts and walkways, as well as a failure to limit numbers at the site. Different areas of the sprawling Mount Meron complex were administered by different ultra-Orthodox groups, making regulation and organization difficult.

A state commission of inquiry into the incident is ongoing, though it was slowed following the death of Miriam Naor, the head of the investigation, in January.

The Knesset approved this week a grant NIS 500,000 ($160,000) in “initial aid” for each of the 45 victims to their bereaved families.

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