In religious neighborhoods, massive crowds defy ban on bonfires for Lag B’Omer

Ignoring Ministry of Health regulations banning bonfires and large gatherings in order to contain the spread of COVID-19, hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jews flagrantly violated these rules on Monday night in order to celebrate Lag B’Omer, a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar.

Many attacked police and reporters at the scene and several were arrested for violating restrictions.

Ironically, the ban was ignored in the exact neighborhoods most affected by the coronavirus: Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh and Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. Many in the crowd were not even wearing the masks and observing social distancing guidelines.

Lag B’Omer — the 33rd day of the counting of the omer between Passover and Shavuot and the anniversary of the death of mystical rabbi Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai — is marked by massive bonfires and parades while some visit Bar Yochai’s grave in the north. Police arrested many people trying to break through the barriers around the grave this year.

This was the third Jewish holiday in the last two months for which coronavirus fears prompted restrictions on celebrations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the bonfires and National Security Department head Meir Ben Shabbat warned that “this kind of behavior could bring about an outbreak of disease.”

Israel’s Haredi population has been hard hit by COVID-19 and some 75 percent of cases in Jerusalem were discovered in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Now with a slowing death toll, which now stands at 258 from the coronavirus, Israel is in the process of easing restrictions and reopening business, schools and parks.

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