8 People Arrested After Riots at Holy Burial Site

Eight men were arrested yesterday morning after "particularly violent" riots at the burial site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi) on Mount Meron, police reported.

The men, from the Eda Haredit community in Beit Shemesh outside of Jerusalem, were protesting repair work being done on the premises.

According to police, the men tried to prevent the work from continuing, and were arrested by policemen and Border Police. Later in the day, garbage bins were set alight in Jerusalem in solidarity with the protesters.

The tomb of Rashbi is Israel's second most-visited religious site after the Western Wall; the government estimates that over one million people visit it every year.

A state comptroller's report on the holy site said a large number of organizations and individuals are involved in administering it - in particular in connection with organizing special events there, such as Lag Ba'omer, which draws hundreds of thousands of people annually.

Representatives from Ashkenazi and Sephardi groups have battled for control over the tomb for over 200 years, but the actual site and the charitable work done on its behalf is dominated by latter.

A year ago, the state decided to regularize the site's administration by replacing representatives from various ultra-Orthodox sects with a committee of five.

While the creation of the committee drew criticism, it was the repair work - during which some human remains were uncovered - that provoked violent protests and personal threats against Shmuel Rabinovitch, the committee chairman and also the rabbi in charge of the Western Wall.

Following the pressure, Rabinovitch recently resigned, and was replaced by Alex Wiznitzer, general manager of the National Roads Company.

"Rabbi Rabinovitch didn't want any more confrontation," a source knowledgeable about the burial site said. "But the state decided to keep the pressure on, so they appointed Wiznitzer, a powerful man."

Indeed, Wiznitzer recently authorized the digging of a pedestrian tunnel for pilgrims to the grave site, which led MK Menachem Mozes (United Torah Judaism) to propose that the tunnel be named after Wiznitzer.