Lag Ba’omer
Children gathering around a bonfire for the Jewish holiday of Lag Ba’omer. 2010. Photo by Netzer Miloa
Text size

Education Ministry director general Shimshon Shoshani last week instructed schools to refrain from holding Lag Ba'omer bonfires that would desecrate the upcoming Sabbath and offend traditional and religious students.

Because this year's Lag Ba'Omer starts on a Saturday night, the festival has become a hotly-debated topic for both the state and leading rabbis. The Education Ministry's order was issued last week on the same day Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the two Chief Rabbis, Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger, issued a call telling people not to desecrate the Sabbath with bonfires and to postpone them until Sunday.

Shoshani did not instruct schools on when they should hold the bonfires but his instruction implies that they could be held either after the end of the Sabbath or on Sunday, which is a school holiday - the way the rabbis also recommended.

The rabbis are concerned about desecration of the Sabbath by bonfires that start before sunset on Saturday evening. They're also perturbed by preparations in the north ahead of the celebration at the burial site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Meron. They've requested that all graveside celebrations at the site be delayed until Sunday.

The Education Ministry had previously announced it would not be able to grant the rabbis' request to move this year's Lag Ba'omer from Sunday to Monday because of a long-standing matriculation examination, but it has asked the schools to avoid desecrating the Sabbath as the rabbis ordered.

In a letter from Shoshani to the regional directors, he wrote: "The Chief Rabbinate has drawn our attention to the many complaints coming in from religious/traditional parents who are annoyed because their children have been invited to bonfires in school settings that begin before the end of the Sabbath. We ask you to instruct the schools to make sure to refrain from desecrating the Sabbath."

Last year Rabbi Ovadia Yosef came out with a rabbinical ruling in advance of Lag Ba'omer, to the effect that the lighting of bonfires must be postponed by a day in order to avoid desecration of the Sabbath.

With this year's Lag Ba'omer falling on Saturday evening and Sunday, Yosef - the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party - ruled that, in such a situation, "It is a holy obligation in the entire land to postpone the lighting until Sunday."

As published in Haaretz, leading national religious rabbis sent letters to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar asking them to move Lag Ba'omer by a day.

They asked Sa'ar to change the day of the school vacation from Sunday, May 22, to Monday, May 23.

However, the mathematics matriculation exam scheduled for the Monday made that suggestion a non-starter.