Throngs to mob tomb, set country on fire for holiday

Throngs to mob tomb, set country on fire for holiday

Hundreds of thousands expected at Meron burial site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, as others mark Lag B’Omer with bonfires

Lag B'Omer celebrations on Mt. Meron in 2013. (photo credit: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Lag B'Omer celebrations on Mt. Meron in 2013. (photo credit: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Much of Israel will be filled with a smoky haze Wednesday night, as thousands spark bonfires to mark the death of a second-century rabbi for the minor Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to converge on the village of Meron on the slops of a Galilee mountain, where the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is located.

Police closed off roads leading to Meron and to the tomb Wednesday morning ahead of the holiday, which begins at sundown and lasts until Thursday evening.

The area will be reachable only by public transportation after that time, police said.

Hundreds of police officers, plus border patrol officers, medics and other public safety officials will be dispatched to the site for the all-night commemoration.

Lag B’Omer, which occurs on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar and the 33rd day of the Omer — the seven-week period between the festivals of Passover and Shavuot — is the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a prominent sage and mystic who lived in ancient Israel in the second century.

Thousands of people visit the site of his tomb in Meron on that date, and bonfires are lit throughout Israel. In certain Jewish communities, it is customary to give 3-year-old boys their first haircut on Lag B’Omer.

Air pollution levels in some areas of Israel rise to record-breaking levels due to the bonfires, and every year Magen David Adom treats several hundred visitors to the tomb on Mount Meron for injuries including dehydration and heat stroke.

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