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Nathan Shahar: Piety, Neglect, and Economic Interests Behind the Tragedy in Israel

Last year, annual celebrations were banned for infection control reasons, and the number of participants this year was estimated to be slightly lower than usual, perhaps 200,000. The Israeli Police deployed 5,000 policemen to monitor the matter, but they were powerless at the critical moment. While hiking through an eight-meter-wide gorge, the pressure from behind becomes so intense that those walking basically fall forward. In the back ranks, none of this was realized and he kept moving forward. Those who fell were trampled and suffocated, as the pessimists expected, as happened in several similar tragedies in Mecca during the month of Hajj.

Every year, 33 days after the Jewish Passover, hundreds of thousands of believers, most of them men, go to the forested Mount Meron near the border with Lebanon. The place is considered sacred because the famous Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi hid there during the persecution of Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 20th century. The rabbi’s tomb is at the center of the annual celebrations.

As recently as 2008 The municipality in question, Merom Hagelil, turned to the government and demanded stricter rules during the annual invasions of visitors; Partly for safety reasons, partly to address the widespread spread of garbage. But both the government and the police are reluctant to confront the ultra-Orthodox sects and political parties whose supporters see the Hajj as one of the highlights of the year.

The numerous buses – 1,300 – that transport the faithful to a distant location, and those that shelter and feed them during the three days of celebration, represent major economic interests. But the main difficulty in creating order in this mess is the extreme reluctance of the ultra-Orthodox groups to allow the state and the secular authorities to control and take over their affairs. We saw extreme examples of this during the health crisis last year, when some – but not all – Orthodox groups and leaders ignored infection control regulations.

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At the bottom of the cult of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi is a tainted historical conflict. Believers believe that the Rabbi is the author of the central work of Jewish-Kabbalistic-Zohar mysticism. However, there is a somewhat unanimous science that believes that Zohar, who wrote in Aramaic for Rabbi Shimon, is not his work at all. There are many indications that the Zohar was brought up 1,000 years after the life of Rabbi Shimon, by Moshe de León, the rabbi of the Spanish city of Guadalajara. To arouse interest in his work, they reminded Leon that he had mysteriously encountered Rabbi Shimon’s wise words he had left behind. But it is not advisable to mention this “Spanish” theory of the emergence of the Zohar in the ultra-Orthodox community.

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