Watch: Masses at Meron for Lag Ba'Omer Hilula

Traditional bonfire celebration run by Boyan hassidic sect draws hundreds of thousands. Arutz Sheva is at the scene.

Arutz Sheva staff ,

Bonfires in Meron (file)
Bonfires in Meron (file)

(Live feed courtesy of Eli Aviv)

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish worshippers are converging on the town of Meron in northern Israel to celebrate Lag B'Omer at the Tomb of the ancient Jewish scholar and mystic Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

The yearly mountaintop gathering at the tomb of the Jewish leader, seen by many as the father of the kabbalistic movement, is believed to be the largest Jewish festive gathering in the world.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai - also known as "Rashbi" - was a tannaitic sage who lived during the second century in ancient Israel. One of the most eminent disciples of Rabbi Akiva - a leading scholar who also served as spiritual leader of the Bar Kochba Revolt against Roman occupation - Rashbi was himself forced into hiding by Israel's Roman occupiers after criticizing the regime.

According to the Talmud, he hid for 13 years in a cave in the Galilean town of Pekiin, along with his son Rabbi Eleazar. The Talmud records that they spent their time in hiding studying Torah, sustained by a stream and carob tree which miraculously sprouted for them, until a Divine Revelation revealed that the Roman viceroy had died and the decree calling for their execution had been nullified.

It is during that period that Rashbi is said to have gained an insight into the mystical aspects of the Torah. On his deathbed, tradition has it that he told his disciples that rather than mourning him, they should celebrate his life and teachings on the anniversary of his death - or hilula - which is on the 39th day of the Omer period between the festivals of Pesach and Shavuot.

Bonfires are lit at the tomb to signify the light of Torah, as well as in remembrance of the Bar Kochba rebels, who lit fires to communicate the start of the revolt.

The Boyaner Hassidic Rebbe, now Rabbi Nachum Dov Brayer, has the honor of lighting the first bonfire at the Meron celebration each year, and the sect runs the event. 

The tradition was given to them after Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Friedman, also known as the Sadigura Rebbe, bought the privilege from the Sephardic guardians of Meron and Tzfat (Safed).