Lag Ba'omer School Break Postponed at Last Minute Over Religious Concerns

Education Ministry changes vacation from May 14 to 15 to ensure bonfires aren't lit on Shabbat

Ultra-Orthodox Jews dance next to a bonfire during celebrations for the Jewish holiday of Lag Ba’omer in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood May 25, 2016.
Ronen Zvulun, Reuters

School vacation for Lag Ba’omer will be postponed by one day, from Sunday, May 14 to Monday, May 15 due to concerns over desecration of the Sabbath the day before, the Education Ministry announced on Friday. In its announcement, the ministry said it was taking the step to accommodate the needs of students and following a request from the Chief Rabbinate on the matter. The change will also result in the postponement of matriculation exams in computer sciences that had been scheduled for May 15.

The actual Lag Ba’omer holiday, which begins on Saturday evening, May 13 and runs through the following day, marks the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. It is observed in part by the lighting of bonfires and has become associated with visits to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron in Israel’s north.

The request to postpone the school holiday was made in January by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, who expressed concern that bonfires would be lit before the end of the Sabbath on May 13, in violation of the traditional Jewish prohibition on lighting fires (or using machinery or electricity) on Shabbat. Lau noted that in 2014, the school holiday was deferred by a day for the same reason.

The short notice provided by the Education Ministry this year on the change of the school vacation date has sparked complaints, including one from a group representing parents’ committees at schools. Teachers, some of whom have made vacation plans based on the original vacation schedule, also expressed discontent and the Teachers Association union has conditioned its consent in part on accommodating teachers who already have vacation plans.

Education Ministry spokesman Amos Shavit said in response that the change was decided upon to meet the needs of students who observe the Sabbath and who would not have time after Shabbat ends at 8 P.M. to build their bonfires. Flexibility, he added, would also be shown to teachers who had already made vacation plans.