JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hundreds of haredi Orthodox residents of Jerusalem gathered for large bonfires on Monday night despite a national ban on such gatherings.
Videos and photos from the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem showed large crowds singing and dancing around bonfires in honor of the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer. Few of the revelers were wearing masks or practicing social distancing.
Bonfires were banned this year under emergency regulations passed by Israel’s Cabinet in order to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.
In Bnei Brak, police used a water cannon to put out a bonfire and break up a crowd of hundreds of haredim, according to the Jerusalem Post. Illegal bonfires also were reported to have been lit in Beit Shemesh, a city about 20 miles west of Jerusalem.
National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat criticized the revelers, saying such behavior was liable to lead to more outbreaks of the coronavirus and deaths.
Traditional Lag B’Omer celebrations held yearly at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Mount Meron in northern Israel were canceled this year. Instead, three small bonfires, each led by a prominent rabbi, were held near the tomb with no more than 50 people each.
Lag B’Omer marks the 33rd day of the counting of the days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. It also marks the end of a minor mourning period commemorating the deaths of thousands of students of the second century sage Rabbi Akiva.