The spiritual importance of Tzfat extends beyond the city limits to Mt. Meron, a pilgrimage site both for ultra-Orthodox Jews and for nature lovers.
Meron has for centuries drawn thousands upon thousands of Orthodox Jews to pay homage to the great rabbis of the Roman era who are buried at the eastern foot of the mount. The most important site on Mt. Meron—and one of the holiest places in Israel—is the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, survivor of the Bar
Kochba Revolt of almost 2,000 years ago. The simple building that houses the tomb is a place for quiet reflection and prayer, though you may encounter a bar mitzvah or other festive event in the courtyard outside. Women and men have separate prayer areas, and all are expected to dress modestly (coverups are available for those who don't have them).
Bar Yochai is said to have fled from the Romans with his son Elazar after the fall of Jerusalem to a cave at Peki'in, not far from here, where he remained for 13 years. The faithful, beginning with the 16th-century mystics who settled in Tzfat, believe that from his cave-hideout Bar Yochai penned the Zohar (The Book of Splendor), his commentary on the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Others claim that the Zohar dates from 13th-century Spain. Nevertheless, the constant flow of visitors is evidence of the pilgrims' devotion to the great rabbi and rebel.
The pilgrimage is still celebrated en masse on Lag Ba'Omer, the festive 33rd day of the seven solemn weeks that begin with Passover and end with Shavuot (Pentecost). At this time Mt. Meron comes alive as a grand procession arrives on foot from Tzfat, carrying Torah scrolls and singing fervently. Bonfires are lighted, with celebrations lasting days. Many ultra-Orthodox Jews still uphold the tradition of bringing their three-year-old sons here on Lag Ba'Omer for their first haircuts. Signs point to the Tomb of Rashbi, which is the Hebrew acronym of the rabbi's name.
Off Rt. 89, Tzfat, 1391000, Israel