Shrine and Pilgrimage in Historical and Anthropological Perspectives: The Cult of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai in Meron

Prof. Elchanan Reiner

The shrine of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai in Meron stands out as the most popular pilgrimage center in Israel. As a complex, multifaceted phenomenon, informed by a centuries-old tradition and attracting up to 250,000 celebrants on the saint’s hillulah day on Lag Ba’Omer, the cult of Rabbi Shimon calls for a comprehensive, interdisciplinary exploration. We seek to employ a combined diachronic and synchronic perspective in order to explore the textual, performative, and experiential aspects of the cult of the saint in Meron. Our primary goal is a detailed ethnography of the performative arenas of the precinct accompanied by a thorough investigation of the historical vicissitudes of the current rituals and processions, and the architecture of the sacred complex. Specific areas of investigation include:
1) The interethnic, interreligious and intercultural relations among the participants in the pilgrimage site.
2) The spatial history of the precinct with a special emphasis on the displacements and shifts that took place in various foci of the sacred complex and on the struggles of various groups and factions for staking a claim in and controlling the site throughout the centuries.
3) The interdigitation of religious symbols and personal experiences among the celebrants in Meron as manifested in visitational dreams, miraculous cures, personal transformations, and other subjective experiences in which the idiom of the saint has been introjected and embodied.

Content Pages

Research Objectives and Proposed Significance The Cult of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai in Meron – Scientific Background