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Meron and its connection with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi)

The tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, commonly known as Rashbi, is a major attraction in Meron, and there is a major gathering here on the anniversary of his death on the holiday of Tu Beshvat. There are also other sites in and around Meron that make a visit worthwhile. Close to the main parking lot are the ruins of Meron's ancient synagogue. A pleasant 2-hour hike to the ruins of Shema and its ancient synagogue also starts from Meron.

Present-day Meron was founded as a moshav by the Hapoel HaMizrachi movement at the foot of Mount Meron and on the ruins of an Arab village in 1949. Meron was probably never a Biblical city. Excavations have revealed ruins from the Hellenistic and Roman periods. It was then a Jewish town that was well-known for its olive oil production. It was fortified by Josephus during the Great Revolt. The town was abandoned after an earthquake in 363 CE. During the Ottoman period, it was a mixed Muslim-Jewish town, although predominantly Muslim.

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The tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi).

Meron is well-known because it contains the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi). This has made Meron the second-most popular religious site in Israel after the Western Wall. It was not always like this. Binyamin Metudela visited Meron in the 12th century CE and described the burial cave of Hillel the Elder, but mentioned nothing about the burial place of Rashbi. What changed were kabbalistic ideas from the nearby city of Safed.


Safed in the 16th century attracted a group of messianic kabbalists, including Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (the Arizal), the originator of Lurianic kabbalah. His ideas in kabbalah would have a major influence on the Jewish world. Rashbi is credited with writing the Zohar, the foundational text of kabbalah. The kabbalists of Safed believed that the messianic era was approaching and that the Messiah would arise from Meron before making His way to Jerusalem.

The ancient synagogue of Meron

Just above the main parking lot for Rashbi's tomb are the ruins of the ancient synagogue of Meron. It was built in the late Roman period, in the 3rd century CE, in the typical Romanesque style found in many of the synagogues in the Galilee. Its southern façade is still standing and you can see its three entrances facing towards Jerusalem. The third entrance is reconstructed. This design meant that congregants entered the synagogue in the same direction that the congregation was praying. Later communities would change this, including the synagogue found in the ruins of Shema (see below). The western aspect of the synagogue is carved into bedrock. There are fallen pillars on the ground. As in other Galilean communities, the synagogue was in close proximity to members’ homes and not at a distance from the town.

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Entranceway to the synagogue in Meron that was built during the Roman period.

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This is a very pleasant hike along the Schvil Yisrael with wonderful scenery and several interesting sites along the way. None of these sites have been definitively identified with their historic context, but this makes this hike all the more intriguing!


Time: About 2 hours there and back.

Distance: About 3 Km there and back.

Type of hike: There and back on the same path.

Difficulty: An easy hike.

Directions: Enter “Kever Rashbi” into Waze. The parking lot is in front of the building containing the tomb.

Public transport: There are numerous bus lines to Meron, including from Safed. Enter “Kever Rashbi” into Moovit.

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Roman mausoleum said to be the tomb of Shammai seen on the way to Shema.


  • Facing the entrance to Rashbi’s tomb, turn to the left and proceed behind the building. You will immediately see the presumed burial cave of the 1st century sage Hillel the Elder. This is a medieval tradition and there are no texts to support it. One cannot enter the cave and other than a non-conspicuous notice one would have difficulty even knowing that such a tradition exists. Proceed down the hill on a gravel footpath with stairs and railings.

  • At the bottom of the stairway turn to the right on the paved path. Continue to the first turning on the left marked by a short green metal pole with a Schvil Yisrael marking next to the path and two concrete structures on the other side of the road.

  • Continue along this footpath until you come to large stone structure. This is a Roman mausoleum which has been identified since the medieval period as the tomb of the sage Shammai (50 BCE to 30 CE). Again, there are no texts to support this.


  • Shortly on turning to the left you will come to the ruins of Shema. Prominent among the ruins are those of its synagogue.


This was a Jewish village in the Roman/Byzantine period. It has been given the name Shema just so that it has a name, but it has not been identified with any Jewish village of that period. An interesting suggestion is that this could be the village of Tekoa. There were two places in Israel called Tekoa. One was to the south of Jerusalem on the edge of the Judean Desert, and this is where the prophet Amos lived. There was also a Tekoa in the Galilee whose location is unknown. We do know, though, that Rashbi had a beis midrash or study hall in Tekoa. The synagogue here was built at the beginning of the 4th century CE on the foundations of an earlier synagogue from the 3rd century, and was in use until the 6th century. Interestingly, the synagogue faced towards the east, as did its ark, and not towards Jerusalem. There are a few other synagogues in the Galilee like this.


  • This hike turns back at this point. It is possible, however, to continue along the Schvil Yisrael to as far as Mount Meron.

Map of hike from Meron to the ruins of Shema

To follow your location on your smart phone, click on Click on the black box with a cross at the top left of the map and it should change color to green. It is not necessary to download the free app unless you wish to.

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The synagogue ruins in Shema.

What’s the big deal about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi)?


Everyone enjoys stories about the supernatural, especially if they have a happy ending. A number of such stories are told about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the Talmud and midrashim. In fact, almost the same stories can be found in different sources with different supernatural happenings. No matter. The very fact that such tales exist tells us that Rashbi was a particularly pious individual, was completely immersed in Torah, and that he existed on a higher spiritual plane than most other human beings.


Rashbi was one of the select students of Rabbi Akiva, and he studied with him for 13 years in Bnei Brak. He and a fellow student Rabbi Meir were the only ones who received ordination from their teacher. During the Bar Kochba Revolt, he left Israel for Sidon, but returned to Palestine, as it was then called, after this. During the Hadrianic persecutions following the revolt, the few remaining rabbis in the country maintained a small, almost underground, Sanhedrin to provide religious guidance to the people and to keep the rabbinic ordination program functioning. Many of the rabbinic discussions from this time and somewhat later were incorporated into the Mishna, and Rashbi is the fourth most frequently quoted sage in this book. He transmitted the traditions of his teacher Rabbi Akiva and also voiced his own ideas.


At some stage he ran afoul of the Roman authorities who placed a death sentence on him and he was forced to go into hiding. The reason recorded in the Talmud is because of disparaging remarks he made about Rome, but his offense could have been more consequential than this. He and his son Rabbi Eleazar ben Shimon hid initially in a study hall and received food and clothing from Rashbi's wife. However, they realized that this was too risky for her and they went into hiding in a cave close to Meron. One tradition is that their hiding place was in Peki’in, although there is no textual basis for this.


Several beautiful stories are told in the Talmud about this 13-year period, including how father and son subsisted miraculously on a date and carob tree, and how after many years they realized that the time was appropriate for them to leave their hideout. Following their exit from the cave, Rashbi settled either in Meron or in Tekoa in the Galilee. He was buried in Meron.

There is a Jewish tradition that the Zohar was composed by Rashbi. The Zohar is a commentary on the Torah and is the foundational text of Jewish mysticism. This 1,000-page text was discovered in Spain in the 13th century, when Moses de Leon claimed to have found a manuscript called Midrash de-Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai. However, modern literary analysis by Gershom Scholem suggested that it was composed in the medieval period, in that its Aramaic is in a different style than that spoken at the time of Rashbi. De Leon’s wife also admitted that her husband composed it. Nevertheless, kabbalists would strongly disagree with this type of speculation.


Because of the blossoming of the study and practice of kabbalah in 16th century Safed, the tomb of Rashbi became a place of pilgrimage, particularly on the anniversary of his death (yahrzeit) on Lag Be’omer.  


On a firmer basis, there are important halachic works attributed to Rashbi, namely the Sifre, which consists of halachic midrashim to the biblical books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, and the Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon on the book of Exodus. The Sifre is one of a number of important commentaries that were based on the traditions of Rabbi Akiva and that were published by his students. Numerous aggadic statements made by Rashbi are recorded in the Talmud that emphasize in particular the primacy of Torah study. A strong mystic trend is also apparent in his sayings, which is another reason his name became associated with kabbalah.


An important halachic activity he performed was the purification of the city of Tiberias. This city was built by Herod Antipas. However, Jews were reluctant to settle in it because it was built on top of Jewish tombs. Rashbi identified these by growing lupins on suspected locations. Where there were tombs, the lupins did not take root and this allowed him to remove the bodies and bury them elsewhere. Jews were now able to live in Tiberias and it would become the major center for Jewish life in the country.



The Tomb of Rabbi Yose HaGlili:

Rabbi Yossi Haglili spent his early life in the Galilee, and was a teacher of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaria. In his later life he joined the sages who assembled at Yavne after the destruction of Jerusalem. He was a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarphon.


He is buried within a brick structure on a mountaintop on the outskirts of Dalton in the Upper Galilee. The mountain provides an incredible view over the Hula Valley. There are picnic benches in the compound. Enter into Waze "קבר רבי יוסי הגלילי.”

Links to the HOME PAGE and best family activities, hikes and historic sites in the GOLAN, EASTERN GALILEE, UPPER GALILEE, LOWER GALILEE, JORDAN VALLEY & LAKE KINNERET, the SHEFELAH, TEL AVIV-YAFFO and surroundings, NORTH of TEL AVIV, and SOUTH of TEL AVIV.

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