Yosef Caro Synagogue

Building History

This synagogue is named after Rabbi Joseph Caro, scholar and Kabbalist, author of the "Shulchan Aruch" (the codification of Jewish laws). It was built in the 16th century as a large and magnificent synagogue and house of learning, using marble and carved stone. The building was destroyed in the 1759 earthquake but was later rebuilt in a more modest style. The Hassidim who came to Safed in 1777 began praying here, and also took part in its reconstruction after it was destroyed again in the Great Earthquake of 1837. Three men, headed by the Italian philanthropist Yitzhak Guetta, contributed jointly towards its rebuilding over a period of a decade. Yitzhak Guetta heard about the destruction of Safed while in Italy and decided to use his fortune to help rebuild the ruined city. If you look to the floor of this synagogue you will see an Italian marble floor imported from Italy by Guetta. Legend has it that Guetta used only half the budget he set aside for this structure's reconstruction and that he buried the other half in the ground for when the messiah comes.

Until the beginning of the 20th century this building served as a house of learning. You can tell that this structure was not originally build as a synagogue since by Jewish law all synagogues need to place their entrance on the wall farthest away from Jerusalem. This way when worshippers enter the building they will automatically be facing Jerusalem, the direction they need for prayer. However, in 1903, the building was once again refurbished and transformed into a synagogue by the Ben-Shimon family, who administer it to this day.

The Maggid And The Set Table

Rabbi Joseph Caro was expelled from Spain along with the rest of Spanish Jewry at the end of the 1400s, and after living in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, he settled in Safed in 1536. He served as the town's Chief Rabbi and Head of the Rabbinic Court until his death in 1575, at the age of eighty-seven. Rabbi Caro was greatly affected by the trauma of the Jews from Spain at this time and worried about what the forced conversions, inquisition, and ultimate expulsion would do to Jewish tradition and faith. He therefore set out to compose a book dealing with issues of halakha (issues pertaining to Jewish law) and interpreted how one should deal with these many issues and situations while remaining within the realm of Jewish law. The book is called Beit Yosef and it took Rabbi Caro thirty-two years to compose. The condensed version of this book, known as the Shulchan Aruch (The Set Table), is considered one of the most important books for governing in the Jewish Orthodox world today.

Beneath the synagogue is a residence where, according to tradition, Rabbi Joseph Caro lived and where the "Maggid" appeared to him and revealed the secrets of the Torah. His visions were put to writing in his book "Maggid Meisharim."