haredi praying on Mount Meron.
(photo credit: Reuters/Baz Ratner)
The State Comptroller’s Report released on Monday pointed to ongoing safety
concerns at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Mount Meron, but also noted
that some improvements had been made.
The Tourism Ministry stated that it
acknowledges that problems at the site need to be addressed but that
improvements had been made in the last three years. It further added that the
recent decision to transfer the site to the ministry’s jurisdiction would enable
the renovations to be completed quicker and more efficiently.
Wave of arrests in Mea She’arim may dampen protests
complex surrounding the grave of Bar Yochai – a Talmudic sage of the second
century CE – on Mount Meron in the Galilee, is the second-most-visited Jewish
holy place in Israel after the Western Wall, with 1.5 million visitors every
It is, however, ill suited for this large number of visitors, in
terms of infrastructure, access and general amenities. The Lag Ba’omer holiday,
which is also the anniversary of Bar Yochai’s death, typically sees hundreds of
thousands of religious Jews flocking to the site. In 2010, more than 400,000
worshipers arrived for the festival.
Because of the huge numbers of
worshipers who come to the site and its poor state of repair, government action
was taken following the 2008 State Comptroller’s Report, which highlighted a
number of deficiencies in the site’s infrastructure.
This year’s report
points out that some of the unauthorized building developments at the site,
highlighted in the 2008 report, are structurally unstable but have still not
been torn down.
The 2008 report also drew attention to the narrow access
roads and footpaths at the complex, which are a cause for concern when thousands
of worshipers crowd along them during Lag Ba’omer. Monday’s report noted that
although an underground causeway has been built to ease pedestrian traffic,
vehicular access is still restricted which is of particular concern for
Noaz Ben-Nir, director-general of the Ministry of
Tourism, told The Jerusalem Post
that the site requires a lot more work and
stated that the ministry estimates that the level of investment required to
bring it up to acceptable standards is at least NIS 100 million.
document itself shows that there was a drastic improvement in the preparations
for the Lag Ba’omer celebrations at at Meron and in general there has been great
improvement,” he said.
Referring to the government decision passed two
weeks ago to place the site under the management of a special government body,
supervised by the tourism minister, Ben-Nir said it will be easier to implement
the necessary renovations.
“Only two weeks ago the government passed its
decision to invest NIS 27 million in the public transport infrastructure at
Meron, and now that the site is in the jurisdiction of the Tourism Ministry it
will be easier to affect the changes we need.”
The new government agency
will now be responsible for the upkeep of the site and the implementation of
The decision to expropriate the site from the
management of the various charitable trusts who have administered it until now
sparked significant opposition from ultra- Orthodox groups who see the move as a
desecration of the holiness of the site.
Ben-Nir said he didn’t expect to
encounter any more problems, but admitted that the trusts which invested money
and donations to the complex continue to be troubled by the
“It’s important that there will be one agency which will be
responsible, and that the responsibility is not spread out between different
agencies,” he said.
“We are better organized to deal with those visiting
the site, we know these issues from other tourist sites and we will apply these
practices also at Meron, while preserving the unique character of the place and
the feelings of those praying there.
“I believe that in general there
will be a significant improvement for those visiting and praying at the site
under the new management of the Tourism Ministry.”