Police on Sunday were gearing up to enforce restrictions put in place for the Lag B’Omer festival, with traditional bonfires and large gatherings banned this year to prevent spreading the coronavirus.
During the holiday, which begins Monday evening and runs through Tuesday, police will increase their presence in cities, beaches, forests, parks and open areas to enforce the emergency ordinances put in place for Lag B’Omer.
Besides patrolling in cars and on foot, police will also use aerial patrols to locate any bonfires or prohibited gatherings.
Violators of the emergency ordinances, which came into effect over the weekend and will be in place until Wednesday, can be hit with a NIS 500 ($142) fine.
“Police will act together with municipal inspectors and emergency services to prevent, monitor and enforce the ordinances, in particular the ban on bonfires and being near them,” a police statement said.
The holiday usually sees hundreds of thousands of Israelis throng the Galilee’s Mount Meron, famed as the burial site of the famed 2nd century CE sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. Children and teenagers across the country also celebrate the holiday with local bonfires.
Police reiterated that entry to Mount Meron is prohibited, though exceptions will be made for residents and workers of the northern town surrounding the gravesite. The town of Meron will be reopened on May 13, but the site will remain closed to visitors through the weekend, until May 17.
In Jerusalem, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrated Sunday against the barring of access to Mount Meron over the holiday, with policing arresting five protesters for refusing to obey officers’ orders.
המשטרה עצרה חמישה מפגינים באזור כיכר זקס בירושלים במהלך מחאה על איסור העליה להר מירון בל"ג בעומר. המפגינים ניסו לחסום את התנועה במקום ופונו. חלקם סרבו להישמע להנחיות השוטרים ונעצרו@VeredPelman @SuleimanMas1
(צילום: מחאות החרדים הקיצוניים) pic.twitter.com/6XqPZ23hdh
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 10, 2020
The tomb at Meron — the second most visited Jewish pilgrimage site in Israel after the Western Wall — is overseen by a subdivision of the Religious Affairs Ministry.
The regulations approved by the cabinet last week permitted the religious affairs minister to sign off on a special dispensation for three Lag B’Omer celebrations at Meron for prominent rabbis, with the lightings staggered and each gathering capped at 50 participants. It said these events must ensure fair participation, including equal representation of women and men.
Lag B’Omer has become a key holiday in the Jewish mystical tradition, said to be the day of the death of Bar Yohai, and also marking the anniversary of when he first conveyed the text of the seminal Jewish mystical work, the Zohar.
The decision to impose restrictions during Lag B’Omer came as the containment measures introduced to stem the outbreak successfully brought the number of daily cases down to dozens.
Lockdown measures were introduced over Passover, Memorial Day and Independence Day to prevent a spread, and continue to be in effect in some areas for the monthlong Ramadan Muslim holiday and fast.
In recent weeks, in the rest of the country, the government has rescinded many restrictions on movement and allowed most stores and businesses to reopen.