May 1, 2013

Should the Lag b'Omer bonfires have been pushed off or not?

I was in favor of pushing off the Lag b'Omer bonfires until Sunday. My opinion was based on the Rabbanut pushing off Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut in similar situations as well as the bonfires being nothing more than a minhag at best (one can argue whether it is good or bad and what the source is, but that is not my issue). It was a project doomed for failure, and in the end those who followed the Rabbanut's instructions seemed to be definitely in the minority.

What was particularly striking, to me, was the lack of discussion about the issue. Some rabbonim, generally aligned with the Dati Leumi public, accepted it, while others, mostly aligned with the Haredi public, completely ignored it. There was no discussion, no explanation why it is right or wrong, why a rav would comply and support the Rabbanut in this or not.

So be it.

Interestingly enough, post facto there has been some discussion. The Haredi activists have been very upset about the collapse of systems in and around Meron that left people sitting in traffic and on buses for hours in the heat. In the wake of the discussions about this, Mishpacha newspaper (mid-week free edition), this week ran a column asking whether it was worth it, whether Lag b'Omer bonfires should have been pushed off or not.

Being that this was the only Haredi discussion of the matter that I have seen, I want to share it with you. Mishpacha ran two responses to the question - one from a rav supporting holding the bonfires on Motzei Shabbos and another from a rav supporting (I think only in hindsight) moving the bonfires to Sunday.

Rav Mordechai Dov Kaplan HaKohen, rav of the Old City of Tzfat and member of the administrative committee of the monument of the Rashb"i penned the piece supporting the bonfiring on Motzei Shabbos. Rav Kaplan says that  the bonfire in meron must be at the designated time and there is no reason to push it off. He says that anybody who knows the reality that the preparations of the police have absolutely nothing to do with the lighting of the fire in Meron. the police deal with security and their role in this is the necessity to secure an area that will have 150,000 or 200,000 people.

Furthermore, Rav Kaplan posits, the lighting has nothing to do with how many people come to Meron. Whether the bonfire would be lit at midnight on motzei shabbos or Sunday afternoon would only make a difference to hassidei Byan (whose rebbe lights the bonfire), which, with all due respect, is a relatively small number among the masses that come. Maybe 2000 or 3000 people come specifically for the central lighting, he says. Most people  come starting from before Shabbos and extending until Sunday night, and the nearly 500,000 people dwarf the number who come for the central lighting event. So, the chillul shabbos has nothing to do with the lighting of the central bonfire.

Second, Rav Kaplan argues, this is a tradition going back many generations. Even in the days of the Arizal there was already a tradition of many generations. He goes into the background, the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the revealing of secrets of Torah, etc.  If the lighting would affect chillul shabbos, for sure that would be more important, but the lighting has no effect on chillul shabbos - Meron is bustling regardless of the lighting of the bonfire.

Rav Dovid Yosef, rav of Har Nof and rosh kollel of Yechave Daas, penned the piece supporting the delay of the bonfires until Sunday. Rav Yosef says that immediately after Shabbos hundreds of thousands of people leave their houses and make their way to meron. On the mountain of Meron there were about 20,000 people staying over Shabbos. The police must be present to secure the areas. The question is not regarding the police - they must do their job, and that would require workign on Shabbos no matter what.

the question, Rav Yosef says, is what about the haredi community - is it worth it? is it allowed?

1. we cannot ignore that chillul shabbos of thousands of police was caused by us. There is the issue of "lifnei eever". We are not causing it indirectly, but we are forcing them to secure us via chillul shabbos. And, this is not for the sake of a mitzva the Torah commands us to fulfill, but for the sake of a minhag - albeit an important minhag, but just a minhag and putting the minhag up against the chillul shabbos b'farhesya, we cannot come and say that chillul shabbos is not our fault.

Furthermore, when the State was established, the religious public requested Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut be delayed when it is a situation that puts the days right around Shabbos in order to avoid chillul shabbos that would be caused by the preparations. How does it look now that it affects Lag b'Omer we just close our eyes to the massive chillul shabbos that we have caused?

Rav Yosef concludes by admitting that pushing off a bonfire would be like treating a heart attack with aspirin.  It would not change the level of chillul shabbos at all. But we cannot ignore the question - Should Haredi people care only about themselves and fulfill the "positive commandment" of going up to meron and celebrating, and shut their eyes to the tens of thousands desecrating the Shabbos because of us?

Reach thousands of readers with your ad by advertising on Life in Israel


  1. No. It's kind of silly to turn this into a 2-day chag. And it's cruel to make those who suffer from the smoke, suffer for two days!

  2. If Meron's "bustling" would be causing Chillul Shabbos, bonfire or not, then the bustling as well should not occur. Responsible Rabbonim should be saying that people should not go at all, just as what occurred in previous generations, when only those in the immediate area attended.

  3. Good post, thanks, always nice to see an issue discussed in reasonable and rational terms.

  4. The fact that there are police working on Shabbat in Meron is less relevant to the many more police that need to start preparing in the afternoon before to get ready for the masses. Pushing off the central bonfire would not prevent people from coming for the hilula.

    On the other hand, and I was one of the skeptics, in my city, the vast majority of non-religious bonfires were indeed on Sunday night and there were very few lighting up on Sat nite. I take off my hat to the rababnut, yashir koach!

  5. It is rare that a modern question can be answered directly by the value system of chazal as we know it, but this is one of them. Chazal were so concerned about one person's chilul shabbat that they decreed that the entire mitzvot of lulav and shofar (and megillah on the proper day) should be cancelled if chillul shabbat might occur.

    As with many disagreements between the RZ and the Haredi worlds, had it been a Haredi idea or initiative, it would be widely accepted. The problem is not in the content but in the identity of the initiator.


Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...