JERUSALEM (JTA) — An influential Sephardic rabbi in Israel and the country’s two chief rabbis have called on Israelis to delay Lag b’Omer obervances by a day.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual head of the haredi Orthodox Shas Party, as well as Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, have issued rulings that the festival traditionally marked by bonfires should begin on Sunday night instead of as scheduled by the calendar on Saturday night.
The reason for the change is that if the bonfires begin on Saturday night, people may desecrate Shabbat by starting them early or by preparing for them before the end of Shabbat.
The rabbis called on the public to refrain from traditional trips to Meron, the burial site of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who died on Lag b’Omer and requested of his students that they celebrate the day at his gravesite, until Sunday.
Lag b’Omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer, marks the day that the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying from what is described as a divine-sent plague. Some 24,000 students are said to have died in the plague.
But many parts of the haredi Orthodox community say they will come to Meron on Saturday night to light the annual massive bonfire. The site must be prepared and secured in advance for the hundreds of thousands of people who are expected to arrive there.
Israeli schools traditionally are closed on Lag b’Omer.