Public Safety Is a Boring Job, but the Meron Tragedy Proves That It Is a Necessary One

June 15, 2021 | Eli Spitzer
About the author: Eli Spitzer is a Mosaic columnist and the headmaster of a hasidic boys’ school in London. He blogs and hosts a podcast at

On the Jewish holiday of Lag ba-Omer, many devout Israelis, and Ḥasidim especially, make a pilgrimage to the Mount Meron in the Galilee, the traditional location of the tomb of Shimon bar Yoḥai, a 2nd-century sage associated with the holiday. While in 2020 the celebrations were sharply circumscribed due to the coronavirus, this year Lag ba-Omer—which itself celebrates the end of a plague—fell on April 30, just as many virus-related restrictions were being lifted. The joyous occasion was marred, however, by a disaster in an overcrowded compound, leading to the deaths of 45 men and boys from trampling and asphyxiation. The incident has raised concerns over safety at Meron, and in ḥaredi communities more generally. Just yesterday, Israel’s new government advanced an investigation into how the accident occurred.

Eli Spitzer reflects on what lessons his fellow Ḥaredim can learn from the tragedy:

I . . . hope that a full and honest inquiry will reveal the truth and, if necessary, result in the appropriate sanctions. . . . What I want to contribute here, however, is a very basic observation, which others have made, but bears repetition if only to ensure that it does not get drowned out amidst the din of the blame game: we [Ḥaredim], as a community, aren’t very good at health and safety.

I could point to countless examples of how this manifests itself in our daily life, from fire alarms without batteries to school vans without seatbelts and buildings without fire exits. . . . It is, I think, superfluous, to speculate too much about why Ḥaredim take a lackadaisical attitude to health and safety regulations, for while some things are mysterious, apathy and thoughtlessness aren’t among them. [In Britain], the phrase “elf and safety” has long been used to denote a certain type of annoying party-pooper spoiling everyone’s fun and costing money by pointing out the lack of a fire evacuation route. Inside the ḥaredi world, there has been a long-term shortage of people willing to take on the party-pooper role and scarcely more are [apt] to listen.

The precise number of accidents and injuries you are willing to tolerate to have a more relaxed and enjoyable life is a question that few wish to answer explicitly. I think all of us can agree, however, that accidents of this kind are unequivocally over the line of unacceptability. It’s past time to recalibrate.

So, in response to this tragedy there is no alternative to, or at the very least no replacement for, listening more to the officials with their risk assessments and insistence on compliance. . . . Health and safety is boring; it’s annoying, it’s expensive; but you can’t live without it, sometimes literally.

Read more on Eli Spitzer: