Mismanagement Threatens Israel's Second Most Visited Site

Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews have been fighting over tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai for 200 years.

The tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai - the nation's second most visited site - is being seriously mismanaged, the State Comptroller's Office stated in a recent report.

The tomb of the rabbi, known in Hebrew as the Rashbi, sits on Mount Meron in the Upper Galilee, and draws nearly 1 million visitors a year, making it the nation's second most visited site after Jerusalem's Western Wall.

"Many individuals were involved in managing [the site] over the last year, which saw both private and public events - including Lag Ba'omer - which drew hundreds of thousands of visitors," the report said. "These individuals have been in conflict for years, leading to paralysis."

Bar Yohai lived in the Roman-occupied Land of Israel during the first century CE, and many observant Jews believe he authored the mystical work known as the Zohar.

Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews have been fighting for control of the site for more than 200 years, but the conflict worsened in recent years, as the site becomes more popular - leading some observers to speculate the conflict may stem from financial considerations.

Under the current arrangement, most of the built-up area and donation boxes are managed by the Sephardi religious leadership, namely Rabbi Shlomo Chelouche, son of Netanya chief rabbi David Chelouche.

Other religious leaders involved in the tomb's management include Safed chief rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and his father, former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu.

According to the report, "The government's modus operandi regarding Rabbi bar Yohai's tomb cannot remain as it is. It not only harms the site, whose national and religious significance to Jews is very great, but it also harms the hundreds of thousands of visitors and seriously compromises the environment."

The report calls for considering putting another body in control of maintaining and operating the site and the surrounding areas.