The History of a Few Safed Synagogues

Looking at the history of a number of synagogues in Safed sheds light on Safed history. These synagogues tell the story of the people of Safed, of their religious practice and of the hardships that they've endured.

The Sephardi Ari Synagogue

The oldest synagogue in Safed is the Sephardi Ari Synagogue which was founded in 1522. This synagogue was, apparently, a favorite of Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (known as the great Ari) who prayed and studied in this location. It also looked out on the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and on Mount Meron. This synagogue was completely destroyed during both large earthquakes in Safed. It was, however, restored by a Jewish philanthropist from Italy. During the War of Independence in 1948, the synagogue actually played a strategic role. It was used as a strategic military fortress by the Jews to defend Safed against the Arabs in 1948.

The Alshekh Synagogue

This synagogue was one of the only ones that wasn't destroyed during the earthquake in 1837. It is named for Rabbi Moses Alshekh, who was a leading Kabbalist in the 16th century. It has a beautiful domed ceiling and it is painted blue, as are many doors and houses in the area. The blue symbolizes Heaven and the reign of God, and is also thought to ward off the evil spirit.

The Abuhav Synagogue

This synagogue honors the great 15th century Spanish sage, Rabbi Isaac Abuhav. It is designed with Kabbalistic ideas, with four central pillars that represent earth, water, air and fire. The ten windows in the dome represent the Ten Commandments and the pictures there are meant to represent the 12 tribes of Israel. One of the Torah scrolls in the ark was actually written by Rabbi Abuhav and is used only on Yom Kippur, Shavuot and Rosh Hashana. Legend has it that only this wall, which contained the Torah, was not hurt in the earthquake of 1837, while the rest of the synagogue was destroyed.

The Caro Synagogue

This synagogue was rebuilt after the earthquake in 1837. Prior to its destruction by the earthquake, it was a place where the 16th century chief rabbi of Safed, Yosef Caro, produced his great works and teachings on living a wonderful Jewish life. Tradition has it that an angel appeared to Rabbi Caro in the vault that is under the floor in the synagogue. One of the Torahs in the ark is over 500 years old.