Kosel Rav Testifies on Meron Tragedy

YERUSHALAYIM -
meron tragedy
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch in Meron in January 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The panel investigating the Meron tragedy took testimony for a second day on Monday, hearing the views of various officials who had responsibility for the event.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the Kosel and Holy Sites, told the three-member panel that prior to Lag BaOmer no safety issue had been raised by experts related to the narrow passageway where 45 people were killed in the crush.

“We didn’t know there was a problem,” he said on Monday. “They didn’t tell us there was an issue with the ‘Dov Bridge.’ Nobody brought it up to us.”

Rabbi Rabinovitch served as the head of the Committee of Five ostensibly charged with overseeing the Mount Meron site, where hundreds of thousands congregate every year for the yartzheit of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He testified that he was not directly involved with the planning of the events on Lag B’Omer, and did not have the authority to intervene.

“If the state had told me that I was responsible for the events of Lag B’Omer, I would have immediately resigned,” he said on Monday.

He noted that when the committee was established in 2008, the site was in much worse condition than it was in 2021. “The situation there in 2008 was awful — there was no infrastructure, there was illegal building, electric cables everywhere, and every brick we tried to move set off a war,” he said, referring to conflicting claims of ownership and control.

“I decided that I couldn’t give in [to demands] because the place was so dangerous. And for three years there were major changes … Previously, any child could touch an electric cable and get electrocuted.”

On a personal note, the rabbi told the panel: “I am also part of the bereaved families. I lost a nephew during the incident. It’s a horrible tragedy, my heart is hurting.”

On Sunday, proceedings began with testimony from Northern District police chief Shimon Lavi, the officer who was in charge of managing the event.

While discussions of the tragedy have typically focused on the extreme crowding, Lavi explained that, nevertheless, out of safety concerns “there has been no limitation on attendance at Meron — that’s how it has been done for the last 30 years.”

Any attempt to limit entry and put up barricades could result in “bottlenecks and much greater disasters,” he said.

The state commission of inquiry is composed of three members: former High Court president Miriam Naor, former Bnei Brak mayor Rabbi Mordechai Karelitz and former IDF planning chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Shlomo Yanai.

The investigation is expected to take at least a year to complete.