Tzfat, Ancient Cemetery

Bet-HaChaim, the ancient cemetery of Safed

In this age of easy traveling, it is difficult to find the cemetery in Tzfat completely empty. 

 

There is always a group, or a lone person, who come to pour their hearts out, for personal and general reasons at the holy graves of the tzaddikim.

For over 2,000 years, the western slope of Safed has served as the cemetery of the city’s Jewish community.

The number of graves in the cemetery is unknown. The registration documents vanished about 70 years ago.

Earthquakes and landslides added to the confusion. Nevertheless, the cemetery attracts more than 700,000 visitors each year – who come  to make a pilgrimage to the graves of saints, rabbis, and central figures in the history of the Jewish people.

 

Within the ancient cemetery of Tsfat rests some of the holiest Tzaddikim of all times, the famous rabbis, Yitzhak Luria – Ha’ari, Shlomo Alkabetz, Moshe Cordovero, Yosef Caro, Moshe Mitrani – the Mabit, Moshe Alsheikh, and others. Their awesome spiritual energy permeates the air. Each of the thousands of tombstones huddled on the rocky slopes south of Safed’s Old City tells a bit of the history of this town and its inhabitants for hundreds of years.

 

Other popular pilgrimage sites are the graves of Rabbi Leibel Ba’al HaYissurim,  Rabbi Pinchas Ben Ya’ir,  Hannah and her seven sons and  the grave of the prophet Hosea. Burial in the ancient cemetery was halted in the 1960s and a new cemetery was opened at the foot of the slope.

The tombs of the sixteenth-century Kabbalists, many traditionally painted sky-blue, have areas for men and women to pray, light candles and give charity.

Following is a brief description of some of these Tzaddikim and where their gravesites can be found:

 

Tanaim

  • Rebbe Yehoshua ben Chananya

  • Benyamin HaTzaddik

  • Channah and her seven sons

  • Nachum Ish Gamzu

  • Reb Shimon ben Chalafta

  • Rebbe Dosa ben Horkinas

  • Rebbe Pinchas ben Yair

  • Rebbe Shimon ben Chalafta

  • Rebbe Yehoshua ben Chananya

 

Kabala Period

  • Rebbe Yitzchak Luria, The “Holy Ari zal"

  • Rebbe Yosef ben Ephraim Karo                                                        

  • Rebbe Moshe Luria, son of the Ari                                                    

  • Rebbe Moshe ben Yaakov Kordovero "Ramak"                                     

  • Rebbe Shlomo Alkabetz                                                                  

  • Rebbe Moshe ben Yosef Metrani "Mabit"                                            

  • Rebbe Moshe Alsheich                                                                   

  • Rebbe Yaakov Beirav                                                                     

  • Rebbe Yossi Bannai "Tzaddik HaLavan"

  • Great leaders

  • Reb Leib Baal HaYissurim

  • The The Arvei Nachal author of “Levushei Sarod”                                

  • Rebbe Chaim of Chernovitz, the “Be’er Mayim Chaim”

  • Rebbe Ysachar Ber from Zlotchov the Bat Ayin                                   

  • Rebbe Avraham Dov of Avreitsh                                                       

  • Rebbe Shimon Shamash (attendant) of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev

  • Rebbe David ben Zimra "Ridbaz"                                                       

  • Miriam, daughter of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev                                   

  • Rebbe Dovid Shlomo Ivshitz                                                            

  • Rebbe Yitzchok ben Noson Sternhartz                                               

  • Channah and her seven sons

 

Antiochus, the ruler of Greece called her and her seven sons before him and commanded them one by one to bow down to him, with the threat of death. Channah instructed each of her sons to refuse. Location: According to tradition, Channah and her seven sons are buried in the old cemetery, although the exact location is unknown.

Nachum Ish Gamzu
Located in South Tsfat on Ish Gamzu Street.
Known for saying gam zu l’tova, “this, too, is for the good,” even in the most difficult circumstances.

 

Benyamin HaTzaddik
Located in south Tsfat, at the bottom of HaNassi Street, to the left.

 

Rebbe Dosa ben Horkinas
Located in the Cave of Shem and Ever, above the bridge on Jerusalem Street, off of HaPalmach Street. He lived for over 400 years, from the time of the prophet Hagai, until the time of Rabbi Akiva. He said, “A morning nap, drinking wine in the afternoon, indulging in childish talk, or idling the time away with ignorant people, takes a person out of this world.” (Avot 3:10)

 

Rebbe Yossi Bannai "Tzaddik HaLavan"
Located in the women’s section of the Tzaddik HaLavan synagogue, in the lower section of the old city, on Mekubalim Street, just above the Great Breslev Synagogue.
A Tanna, he lived in the time of Rabbi Meir. The Midrash brings a dialogue between him and a gentile philosopher concerning the creation of the world. (Shemot Rabba 13:1)

 

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya
The Tana Reb Yehoshua ben Chananya (on his cave is written ‘The Navi - Hoshea Ben Be-ayri’ but the holy Ari revealed that it is the cave of Reb Yehoshua ben Chananaya).
Disciple of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, mentor of Onkelos and Shimon ben Azai, he was Av Beis Din in the time of Rabban Gamliel. “Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai enumerated the merits of his chief disciples: Rabbi Yehoshua, happy is she who bore him.’” (Avos, 2:11)
Location: Slightly further to the south stands a prominent cave within a domed-roof structure, the only one in the ancient cemetery. An additional tradition holds that the Prophet Hoshea is buried there.

 

Tomb of Rabbi Pinhas Ben Yair
At the bottom of the mountain, past the new cemetery, inside a large circular stone wall, under a pile of stones, and without any tombstone.

Prayer requests hang in plastic bags from a large fig tree at the tomb, which is located near the main entrance of the newer part of Safed’s cemetery.

A Tanna, he was the father-in-law of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai. The Arizal pinpointed the exact spot of the unmarked grave.

According to tradition the fact that no tombstone was ever erected alludes to the altruism of the Tzaddik, who never accepted benefits from others.

It is customary to circle the monument seven times while reciting the prayer Ana b’Koach and Psalm 91 seven times.

There is a tradition that there is an underground cave connecting this burial site with that of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, who was the son-in-law of Rabbi Pinchas, three miles away.

 

Ari - "The Holy Arizal" 1534-1572 , yartzeit, 5 Av
Rebbe Yitzchak Luria, ben Rebbe Shlomo

The Arizal's kever is located in the middle of the cemetery, housed by a large platform for the many visitors who come to pray. Taller than the surrounding grave stones, it is also has a glassed-in portion containing an eternal flame. On the Ari’s death date, the fifth of the Hebrew month of Av, a huge commemoration ceremony is held at his tomb.

 

Rabbe Moshe Luria
The Ari zal’s son. Located to the side of the Arizal’s grave.
A tree grows from within this tomb, on which prayer kvitlech are hung in plastic bags.

Rebbe Yosef ben Ephraim Karo - Shulchan Aruch (yartzeit, 1488-1575 13 Nissan)
By writing the Beit Yosef, Rabbi Karo sought to preserve Jewish scholarship and strengthen the unity of the Jewish people in the face of these hardships.

Location: Continue down the mountain slope along the same path until reaching a single tree on the left side. The tombstone is under the tree.

 

Rebbe Moshe ben Yaakov Kordovero "Ramak", yartzeit, 23 Tammuz
Ordained by REBBE Yaakov Beirav at the tender age of eighteen, the Ramak was a Torah great and renowned Kabbalist.
Located just below the Arizal’s grave.

 

Rebbe Shlomo Alkabetz - (1508-1593)
A major kabbalist in 16th century Tsfat, was the author of many important commentaries on Torah and Kabbala. He is best known as the composer of the famous liturgical poem "Lecha Dodi" (Come My Beloved"), sung by Jews worldwide to welcome the Shabbat.
Located to the side of the Arizal’s grave.

 

Rebbe David ben Zimra "Radbaz"
After serving as Chief Rabbi of Cairo for forty years, the Ridbaz came to Tsfat around 1570 and joined the rabbinical court. He was legendary as both a halachic giant and one who merited visits by

Elijah the Prophet.
Located to the side of the Arizal’s grave.

 

Rebbe Moshe Alsheich (yartzeit, 13 Nissan)
Rabbi Moshe Alsheich studied under and was ordained by Rabbi Yosef Karo. He was a great orator and the townspeople gathered in his synagogue each Shabbat afternoon to hear his weekly sermon. He was a mentor of Rebbe Chaim Vital and ordained him. Buried in a cave slightly further to the south. 

 

Rebbe Yaakov Beirav - yartzeit, 1474- 1 Iyar 1546
Was born near Toledo, Spain. As a young man, he studied with Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhav. Subsequently, he wrote commentaries on the four sections of the Rambam and on Talmudic subjects and published a volume of responsa. After serving as a rabbinical leader in Fez, Morocco, and Cairo, Egypt, he became the chief rabbi of Tsfat.

As leader of Tsfat, he reinstated semicha and ordained his some of his chief disciples including Rebbe

 

Yosef Karo, Rebbe Moshe Kordevero and Rebbe Moshe Metrani.
Location: Buried in the same cave as Rebbe Moshe Alsheich.

Rebbe Moshe ben Yosef Metrani "Mabit" yartzeit, 23 Nissan
Most outstanding member of REBBE Yosef Karo’s rabbinical court. Located to the side of the Arizal’s grave. 

 

Reb Leib Baal HaYissurim - 15th of Mar-Cheshvan 1836
Reb Leib "Baal Ha'yissurin" -- "The Master of Suffering" or "The Afflicted One"-- was an outstanding scholar and G-d-fearing man, a major disciple of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Rebbe of Chabad. It is customary to pray here for an easy birth.

Knowing his end to be near, he let it be known that anyone who found himself beset by insoluble problems (G-d forbid) should visit his grave. This amounted to a commitment to come to a person's aid, and to this very day there are many who who visit his grave in Tsfat hoping to benefit from his assistance to their prayers, especially on Fridays.

Rebbe Avraham Dov of Avreitsh, yartzeit, 1765-12 Kislev 1840
A Rebbe in Europe for forty years and in Zefat for ten, was a disciple of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev and the first two Rebbes of the Chernobyl dynasty.
Location: From the Arizal’s grave continue along the path down the mountain to the left. Not far to the right is the cave.

 

Miriam, daughter of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev
Rebbe Nachman's daughter moved to Eretz Yisrael with her husband and was buried in Tsfat.
Location: In the same cave with REBBE Avraham Dov of Avreitsh.

 

Rebbe Dovid Shlomo Ivshitz, (yartzeit, 22 Cheshvan)
A giant in both revealed and hidden aspect of Torah, he came to Israel in 1809. In Tsfat, he completed his halachic masterpiece Levushei S’rad on Yoreh Deah and Arvei Nachal, a Chassidic commentary to the Torah.
Location: In the same cave as REBBE Avraham Dov of Avreitsh.

 

Rebbe Yitzchok ben Noson Sternhartz
The second son of Reb Noson, leading disciple of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. Located right next to REBBE Yosef Karo.

 

Reb Shimon Shamash
(attendant) of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev and one of his first followers. Reb Shimon requested of Rebbe Nachman that he would merit serving the Rebbe in the World to Come just as he had served and helped him in this world. The Rebbe consented to his request.
Located between the Arizal and REBBE Yosef Karo.

 

Rebbe Chaim of Chernovitz "Beier Mayim Chaim" - yartzeit, 1760 – 1817, 27 Kislev

Was a leading disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch and of Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov. He authored a number of important books, but is best known by the name of his esoteric commentary on the Torah, Be'er Mayim Chaim. Towards the end of his life he moved to Safed, where he is buried. Located close to Rebbe Karo’s grave, on the left, is the cave of Rebbe Chaim.

Rebbe Yehoshua ben Chananya

Rabbi Joshua ben Hannanya was one of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai's most prominent disciples. He was born several decades before the destruction of the Second Beth Hamikdosh (3828), and he was one of the-Levite singers in the Beth Hamikdosh.

Reb Shimon ben Chalafta

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Rebbe Dosa ben Horkinas

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Rebbe Pinchas ben Yair

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Rebbe Shimon ben Chalafta

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