Lag B'Omer bonfire
Lag B'Omer bonfire Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Chief Rabbinate on Sunday asked that Lag B'omer celebrations be delayed by a day this year, to ensure that there are no Sabbath violations.

Once again this year - as it has for three of the past four years - Lag B'omer falls on Saturday night, which means that police, bus drivers, and security personnel will be working during the day on Shabbat to prepare for the hundreds of thousands of people who come to Meron in northern Israel to celebrate the event.

Lag B'omer marks the 33rd day between the festivals of Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot. It is widely celebrated as the date of the passing of the Talmudic-era sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi). The commentary on the Pentateuch called the Zohar (Shining Light), a classical source of Jewish mysticism, is usually attributed to Rashbi, who lived in the 2nd century C.E, passed away on Lag B'Omer and is buried in Meron.

The Talmud tells how Rashbi was forced to hide in a cave with his son for twelve years in order to escape the Roman authorities in Israel, who wanted to kill him for dissent.

During this period, the Talmud relates that a carob tree and spring of fresh water were the pair's only sustenance, and that he and his son reached spiritual heights in Torah study and kabbala that made their return to the everyday world a difficult transition.

Before he died Rashbi - widely revered as a mystic, supremely pious sage, who did not engage at all in worldly pursuits - requested that instead of mourning his death, his students should celebrate his teachings. As a result, many Jews celebrate the day by visiting his tomb in Meron.

On the night of Lag Ba'Omer, the Grand Rabbi (Rebbe) of the Boyaner Hassidic sect lights the first flame of the festivities at midnight and the thousands who have come to Meron continue to sing and dance through the night, chanting the refrains of various songs praising Rashbi, expressing the joy of being a Jew, calling on G-d to deliver His people from danger, and describing their confidence that He purifies them from transgressions.

Over half a million people are expected to join in the celebrations – which even during “normal” years, the Rabbinate said, was a major logistical challenge.

According to the Rabbinate, there is no way that the preparations – whether traffic planning, security deployment, or setting up emergency treatment centers – could be undertaken without major Sabbath violations.