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Rabbis: Save the Sabbath, Change Lag BaOmer

A religious-Zionist rabbinical organization is working to have Lag BaOmer bonfires postponed by a day, in order to prevent Sabbath desecration.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 5/5/2011, 1:58 PM / Last Update: 5/5/2011, 1:47 PM

A religious-Zionist rabbinical organization is working to have Lag BaOmer bonfires postponed by a day, in order to prevent Sabbath desecration.

The Tzohar Rabbis Organization, which calls itself a “window between worlds” – the secular and the religious – has contacted the Education Minister, the Chief Rabbis, and others in an effort to effect the change.

Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day of the Omer period between Passover (Pesach) and Pentecost (Shavuot), is the anniversary of the death of the holy Sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai nearly 2,000 years ago. It also marks the end of a period of partial mourning over the plague that killed thousands of Torah students 1,900 years ago.

The nationwide custom in Israel for decades, based on the practice in many communities and dating back to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai himself, is to light bonfires. The central bonfire is lit at Rabbi Shimon’s grave in Meron, in the Galilee, and is accompanied by night-long singing and dancing in honor of Rabbi Shimon and the Kabbalistic teachings he disseminated.

“When Lag BaOmer falls on Saturday night and Sunday,” Tzohar director Rabbi David Stav told Israel National News, “as it does this year, instead of honoring Rabbi Shimon’s memory, it is widely desecrated. This is mainly because of the bonfires, preparations for which – by the police, fire department, and the public at large – begin at the height of the Sabbath day. Some of the fires around the country are actually lit on the Sabbath.”

Tzohar is therefore calling upon the Chief Rabbinate to officially declare that when Lag BaOmer falls on Saturday night, the commemorations should be held a day later. “The Rabbinate made this decision regarding Independence Day, and they can do the same regarding Lag BaOmer,” Rabbi Stav said.

“Our Sages of yore made a much more drastic move to safeguard the Sabbath when they suspended the Torah commandment of blowing the Shofar on Rosh HaShanah for fear that the Sabbath would be desecrated.”

Tzohar has asked Education Minister Gideon Saar to agree to postpone the post-bonfire school vacation day by one day, such that instead of having Sunday off, schools would be closed on Monday. “Saar has expressed his consent in principle,” Rabbi Stav said. “The teachers’ groups must agree, and the Chief Rabbis must agree, and the hareidi-religious leadership must agree as well.”

But most of all, Rabbi Stav admits, those who light the central bonfire in Meron – the Boyaner Hassidim – must agree as well.

“If we can get all the elements to realize the importance of this move – changing the date of a custom in order to safeguard the sanctity of the Biblically-mandated Sabbath – we will have accomplished a great thing for all of Israel and for Rabbi Shimon’s holy memory as well,” Rabbi Stav concluded.

The letters to Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger, the Education Minister, and Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef were signed by Rabbis Stav, Yaakov Ariel, Chaim Druckman, and Shlomo Aviner.