Ministry okays Lag Ba’Omer leave, but no Shabbat bonfires

MKs discuss preparations for Saturday night on Mt. Meron; students' day off stays scheduled for Sunday.

By JONAH MANDEL
May 17, 2011 02:20
2 minute read.
Children celebrate Lag Baomer on Saturday.

lag baomer 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The Education Ministry has decided to not put off the one-day vacation scheduled for Sunday, destined to let the pupils sleep off their smoky Lag Ba’Omer nocturnal activities, despite requests from rabbis.

As a spokesman for the ministry explained, the request came at the last moment, and furthermore – there is a mathematics matriculation exam on Monday. Shifting the day off to Monday would necessitate a change in the scheduling of all the matriculations, he said.

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What the ministry did do to accommodate the special situation was to send out a director general’s notice calling on all principals and teachers in the state secular and state religious schools to refrain from desecrating Shabbat and not light fires before the end of the Jewish day of rest.

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The letter was initiated by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who in the past months has gone out of his way – with a great degree of success – to mend the tensions that had existed between his ministry and the haredi sector, where he was perceived as a foe of sorts after he proved his insistence to ensure that the state-funded haredi schools would teach their required quota of secular core-curriculum studies.

In addition, the Education Ministry has resolved to postpone any future days-off following Saturday night Lag Ba’Omers, from Sunday to Monday, in coordination with the rabbinic establishment, the spokesman said.

On Friday, Israel Police Insp.- Gen. Yochanan Danino told Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites Shmuel Rabinowitz that the police preparations around the main Lag Ba’Omer events on Mount Meron near Safed on Saturday night would be put off to a later hour than originally intended. Danino's decision followed the recent decision of the rabbinic leadership to postpone the commencement of the bonfires to 12:30 a.m., in a bid to minimize Shabbat desecration by the security forces and nonobservant revelers. Last week, the chief rabbis issued a letter calling on people to put off their festive bonfires to Sunday, for fear that preparations for the event would include desecrations of Shabbat. Senior Sephardi adjudicator Rabbi Ovadia Yosef also signed the document.

Also on Monday, a hearing at the Knesset’s State Control Committee revealed that despite a harsh State Comptroller's Report on the festivities at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai on Mount Meron, attended by hundreds of thousands every year, there remains much to be amended and controlled, such as ensuring that the food booths at the site have licenses from the Health Ministry.

Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov said he was personally taking care of the preparations for the event, which is becoming more orderly by the year. The minister also announced that he was canceling all special entry permits to the site provided to VIPs and rabbis, who this year will have to coordinate their presence with police.

Rabbi Yosef Shvinger, director of the National Center for Holy Sites, told the committee that the event’s success depended on the public’s safety and mobility. He also noted that the parking areas had been expanded and were covered by security cameras, and that toilets were connected to water and sewage infrastructure.


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