A Bridge Too Far? 'Priests-only' Bridge at Mount Meron to Be Demolished After Just Seven Months

300-meter long bridge to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's tomb replaces the traditional Cohanim route after a Hassidic sect claimed it passed by ancient burial caves.

The "purity trail," the bridge built only seven months ago at the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron in the Galilee, will soon be demolished. The bridge, designed for use by Cohanim, or descendents of the ancient Jewish priesthood who are not allowed to come into contact with the impurity of a grave, was constructed without the necessary permits - even though the state encouraged its construction and even committed to paying half the NIS 500,000 cost.

The 300-meter long bridge was built from the rear of the grave along the side of the hill and the Meron Stream. The traditional route for the Cohanim was ruled out two and a half years ago when a Hassidic sect claimed the old path passed by ancient burial caves.

tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai - Yaron Kaminsky - 30122011
Yaron Kaminsky

The Merom Galil Local Planning and Building Committee has ordered the bridge destroyed as it was built without proper approval.

No date has been set yet, but sources at the site said it would probably be soon, as the commander of the Northern District of the police, Roni Atiya, visited the site last week in what seems to be preparation for carrying out the demolition order.

The state's participation in building the bridge received widespread coverage in ultra-Orthodox newspapers. The reports emphasized the cooperation between the state and the Hassidic sect Toldot Avraham Yitzhak, which demanded the building of the bridge. A petition to the Safed Magistrate's Court by the Hassidic group and 12 cohanim against the demolition order was rejected two weeks ago.

The Finance Ministry responded to a request from Haaretz on the budget involved. The treasury said the funds came from the Tourism Ministry's development budget.

The Tourism Ministry said it had received a special allocation from the Finance Ministry in May for the Lag Ba'omer events at the grave in Meron, which enabled building the bridge to allow cohanim to access the site. The ministry said the amount received was NIS 200,000, which was used not only for the bridge but also for uses such as temporary stairs, hand rails and stages for the events.

The Tourism Ministry said it did not pay for, or was in any way connected to, any permanent structures.