Tzfat Ancient Synagogues
Much of life in the Jewish areas of Safed revolved around the synagogue and for this reason there are many ancient synagogues within the city. Although Safed has been ravaged by earthquakes throughout the centuries, most of these synagogues have survived and many of them have mysterious legends surrounding their ability to withstand the devastating earthquakes.
The famous synagogues of Safed encompass Tzfat history alongside Kabbalistic tradition.
Some of the most famous synagogues include the Ari Ashkenazi, Ari Sephardi, Avritch, Abuhav, Beirav, Yoseph Caro and the Yossi Banai.
These synagogues are all located in the Old Jewish Quarter of Tzfat. They are all functioning synagogues and have regular prayer times.
In the Old City one can even today visit the synagogue that the Ari Hakadosh is said to have prayed in and learned in, and taught in. While this is the Ari Sephardi Synagogue, across the way is the Ari Ashkenaz Synagogue which bears a plaque in the Ari's name.
Sephardic Synagogue of the Ari Hakadosh
ARI SEFARDI Located at the bottom of HaAri Street, below Kiryat Breslev, above the old cemetery. It was here that the Ari-Hakadosh prayed during his time in Tsfat. In an adjoining room, tradition maintains that the Ari-Hakadosh studied Torah with Elijah the Prophet.
The Sephardic Synagogue of the Ari-Hakadosh is Safed's oldest house of prayer. It was originally dedicated to Elijah the Prophet, almost 300 years before the Ari-Hakadosh (Rabbi Isaac Luria) came to Safed in the sixteenth century. The Ari-Hakadosh is said to have prayed here; an alcove is shown where he communed with Elijah.
The synagogue’s facade, with two niches flanking the door, apparently for lamps, has recently been restored by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Its interior blue accents are said to go back to the Jewish experience in Moorish Spain where blue was sacred. True to Sephardic style, the synagogue has two focal points: the southern wall – closest to Jerusalem – for the Holy Ark (in this case, three arks), and the central, raised bimah.
Built in the spot where the Ari-Hakadosh and his disciples originated the Kabbalat Shabbat service. They would continue down the hill, singing, until reaching the synagogue (the Ari Sefardi).
Located on Abuhav Street in the lower section of the Old Jewish Quarter.
The synagogue is named after Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhav, a renowned 15th century Spanish Rabbi. Tradition claims he designed the synagogue while still in Spain, incorporating kabalistic symbols into the design. When his disciples arrived in Israel, they built the synagogue according to their master’s design. Some say the synagogue was built in Spain, but after the expulsion it miraculously moved to Tsfat overnight.
The Sefer Torah Rabbi Abuhav wrote now sits in the Holy Ark and is used only three times a year - during Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Shavuot.
Located in the Old Jewish Quarter on the street lined with art galleries.
The synagogue was built not as a house of worship but as a house of study (beit midrash), which can be entered from any direction. The elevated side was used by the Sefardic rabbinical court on the occasions when the court convened in the Beit Midrash.
In recent years the building was converted into a synagogue, a small women's section was added, and is currently in use.
The Alsheich synagogue is next to the Abuhav synagogue. The only structure in Safed intact from the 16th century, it survived the earthquakes of 1759 and 1837. It is open for tourists during July and August only. Services are held on Shabbat and holidays.
Named for the Rebbe of Avreitsh, Rabbi Avraham Dov, who settled in Tsfat in his later years. During the earthquake of 1837, Rebbe Avraham Dov stood in front of the ark of his synagogue called out “Come to me!” He prostrated himself on the floor and cried out to Hashem as congregants rushed toward him.
As the other half of the synagogue collapsed, the ceiling above him, miraculously remained intact.