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Safed – Ancient Synagogues travel guide

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Safed – Ancient Synagogues

Safed travel guide

During the sixteenth century, with the destruction of the Jewish community in Spain, which was the largest and most important Jewish community, and Spain’s conquest by Christians, Diaspora Jews’ interest in Kabbalah and mysticism grew, and hopes of Messianic redemption arose. As a world center for Judaism, with thousands of scholars, writers and poets living there, Safed became a spiritual center for Diaspora Jews. Customs and prayers still in use today originated in Safed. Joseph Karo wrote Shulchan Aruch – the written manual of Jewish law – and poet Shlomo Alkabetz wrote the song Lecha Dodi in Safed; most importantly, Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi “The Ari” created his interpretation of the Kabbalah in Safed.

Ancient synagogues have been preserved in Safed, from different periods, allowing a rare peek into the depths of the city’s fascinating history. Despite the difficult eras and hardships faced by the Jewish community during various periods, the city of Safed maintained a holy atmosphere. The sense of mystery that encompasses Safed is evident in the city’s alleys, synagogues and in ancient cemetery. In the 1830s, the city boasted upwards of 50 synagogues, mikvehs (ritual baths) and places of Torah study.

The Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue

This sixteenth century synagogue was built by Jews who had been expelled from Spain and was used by Rabbi Isaac Lurai – The Ari and his students. The synagogue is located in the outskirts of Safed’s Sephardic neighborhood. After the Hasids immigrated to the city, the synagogue served the Ashkenazi community. The synagogue was destroyed in an earthquake in 1837, and it took more than twenty years to rebuild it. The synagogue’s arc was carved by a craftsman, in a style used in eastern European synagogues. During the 1948 War of Independence, a munitions shell was fired near the synagogue; its shrapnel cut off the metal grate and struck the bimah, but did not hit a single individual, even though the synagogue was filled with worshippers seeking refuge. The synagogue’s courtyard houses a rock pillar, used by elderly and ill individuals who could not make the pilgrimage to Mount Meron on the holiday of Lag ba’Omer and participate in the bonfire ceremonies alongside the Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s burial place.

The Ari Sephardic Synagogue

The Ari Sephardic Synagogue, built in the 16th century, is the oldest synagogue in Safed. It is considered the synagogue of Rabbi Isaac Luria, where he chose to pray because of the view of Mount Meron and the proximity to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s burial site, visible from the synagogue window. The synagogue was destroyed during the great earthquake of 1837 and was rebuilt by Jewish Italian philanthropist Yitzhak Gueta.

The synagogue served as an important Haganah position in the days preceding the 1948 War of Independence due to its location, opposite the city’s Arab quarter. Despite the building’s beauty, it is closed to visitors most days of the year.

The Rebbe Avreitsh Synagogue

The synagogue is named after Rabbi Abraham Avreitsh, who immigrated from Ukraine in 1833 and settled in Safed. Rabbi Abraham Avreitsh greatly assisted the Jewish yishuv at the time, which suffered many hardships following the robberies and violence taking place. The Rebbe and his wife assisted and offered financial support to Jewish survivors for several months. Though the synagogue was filled with worshippers during the 1837, which destroyed the synagogue’s western section, no injuries were sustained and miraculously the holy arc remained standing.

Karo Synagogue

The synagogue is named after Rabbi Joseph Karo, who compiled the Shulchan Aruch and was one of the greatest rabbis and Jewish law adjudicators. Karo’s family left Spain due to the Spanish Inquisition introduced by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II and Isabella, and moved to Portugal, from which they were also expelled. Caro’s family then moved to Istanbul and Edirne, in Turkey, where Karo was appointed head of the yeshiva. In 1536 the rabbi arrived in Safed and established a place of Torah study, where he delved into the topic of halakha, Jewish religious law.

Abuhav Synagogue

The Abuhav Synagogue dates back to the sixteenth century. According to popular belief, it is named after Rabbi Yitzhak Abuhav from the fifteenth century, considered “the last gaon of the Castile” who dealt with Jewish thought and Kabbalah, and taught Rabbi Yaakov Biruv. The Torah scroll at the synagogue is attributed to Rabbi Abuhav and is the most ancient Torah scroll in Safed. The Torah is taken out and read from only three times a year: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Shavuot. The second Torah scroll is that of Rabbi Suleiman Ohana, who immigrated to Safed from Morocco and befriended The Ari’s students. For years, holidays and ceremonies were held at the synagogue because of its ancient, important Torah scrolls. On the synagogue’s domed roof are decorations depicting different musical instruments used in the Temple in Jerusalem, symbols of the tribes of Israel and the four crowns from the Mishna: The crown of the Torah, the priesthood crown, kingship crown, and the crowd of the good name. There is another crown, unique to Safed: The crown of the impending redemption, to mark the waiting for the Messiah. Paintings drawn by Tziona Tagger hang on the synagogue walls.

Beirav Synagogue

The Beirav Synagogue dates back to the nineteenth century, and was initially named after Rabbi Yaakov Beirav, one of the greatest and most respected rabbis in Safed in the sixteenth century. For many years the synagogue served as a place of worships for those who had immigrated to Safed from Hungary. Several years ago the American community in Safed began using the synagogue, and these days many visitors from around the world come to the synagogue to take part in prayers. On Saturdays and holidays, many worshippers attend the synagogue and congregate in the courtyard.

The Ancient Cemetery

Some of Judaism’s greatest scholars are buried in Safed’s ancient synagogue, attracting thousands of visitors throughout the year. Among the Jewish scholars buried in the synagogue: The Ari, Rabbi Joseph Karo, Rabbi Yaakov Beirav, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero and the “Yanuka” baby from Baram, who according to tradition began speaking miraculously and revealing secrets and enigmas. According to popular belief, the ancient burial sites of Rabbi Pinchas Ben-Yair, the son-in-law of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, one of the Ten Martyrs and the grave of Hannah and her seven sons, who died for Kiddush Hashem, or sanctification in the name of God, are in Safed’s ancient cemetery. The cemetery is also home to the burial sites of Olei Hagardom, members of the pre-State of Israel underground movement, who were tried in British Mandate courts and hanged in 1947.

Safed – Ancient Synagogues Safed – Ancient Synagogues

International Klezmer Festival

Every summer the city of Safed hosts the International Klezmer Festival. The festival has been held for 34 years and serves as a splendid musical celebration with the best Klezmer artists and leading musicians from Israel and around the world performing across the city. In 1988, the International Klezmer Festival of Safed was held for the first time and since then, it has followed its tradition every August, renewing and surprising the audience of Jewish music lovers. One of the year's most beautiful and exciting music festivals takes place in the streets of Safed. A festival of this nature attracts thousands of tourists and locals, of all ages, who are drawn by the Jewish soul music played during it. As accommodation arrangements are in high demand during the festival, it is recommended to check prices and book a room in advance. Aside from the performances, workshops and classes are conducted, led by the greats of Jewish soul music. Among the various events: Performances for the entire family, with audience participation, letting kids to experience playing the different musical instruments; magic shows; storytelling and tours in the old city; tours to Rabbis' graves, meditation workshops and more.

Safed – Ancient Synagogues Safed – Ancient Synagogues

Safed - City Travel Guide

Safed is the capital of the Upper Galilee and is the highest city in Israel, overlooking the Sea of Galilee on the east and the Meron Mountains on the west. Safed is one of the most ancient and beautiful cities in Israel, cloaked in an aura of enchanting mysticism. A visit to Safed is a very unique experience; through the picturesque alleys, ancient synagogues, artists' galleries, museums, stories and legends, you'll discover the city and all of its charms. Safed's history spans hundreds of years. The city was mentioned in the days of Yosef Ben Matityahu and the Bar Kochva revolt, and its history is rife with violent periods, wars and many uprisings. These days, Safed is known for its ancient historical sites, local artists, and its combination of mysticism, the occult, stunning views and crisp mountain air. Each year Safed hosts the International Klezmer Festival, with a range of street performances and Hasidic music, attracting many visitors who enjoy the city's picturesque alleys, artists' colony and unique atmosphere. Lodging options are from family run guest houses - Zimmers, to boutique hotels such as Villa Galilee and Mizpe Hayamim and the well known Ruth Rimonim Hotel.

Safed - Neighborhoods and Quarters

Walking through the lovely stone alleys and the ancient Jewish quarter in Safed grants visitors a unique experience that combines enchanting beauty and a spiritual vibe, alongside stories of the Jewish settlement prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. The ancient Jewish quarter is divided into two neighborhoods – Ashkenazi and Sephardic. The Sephardic neighborhood developed around The Ari mikveh, by Jews born in the country and those who immigrated from northern Africa. At the end of the fifteenth century Jews who had been expelled from Spain first arrived in Safed, establishing synagogues. The Ashkenazi neighborhood was established after the Sephardic neighborhood, in the direction of the city's fortress, by 300 Hasids who arrived in Safed in 1777, and by students of the Vilna Gaon, who arrived in the city at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Messiah Alley: This alley with a steep stairway is the narrowest in Safed. The alley is famous mainly due to “Grandmother Jochebed,” who sat at the entrance to the alley every day, waiting for the Messiah. According to legend, each person who passes through alley will witness the coming of the Messiah. Olei Hagardom Slope: A street on an incline, with stairs, dating back to the British Mandate. The British paved the street as a passageway between the Jewish and Arab quarters. The original streetlamp, which lit up the street, is still intact and visible.

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