Tzfat, one of Judaism’s four holy cities, has something for everyone!
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
Tzfat (Safed), a city in northern Israel, is situated on a mountaintop 900 meters above sea level. That makes it the highest city in Israel! The summers are warm but the winters are some of the coldest in Israel due to the elevation. Legend has it that Tzfat was founded by one of Noah’s sons after the Great Flood. Today it has a population of about 35,000.
Tzfat has been identified with “Sepph,” a fortified town in the Upper Galilee mentioned in the writings of the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus. When the Ottomans occupied Palestine they made Tzfat the “capital of the Galilee” and a number of Ottoman era sites remain in Tzfat and can be visited.
Tzfat rose to fame in the 16th century as a center of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, many prominent rabbis found their way to Tzfat. Among these rabbis were Rabbi Isaac Luria who founded a Kabbalistic movement that is popular to this day.
Other great Kabbalists of Tzfat included Rabbi Moshe Kordovero, Rabbi Joseph Caro (who authored the Code of Jewish Law), and Rabbi Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz, who authored the famous “Lecha Dodi” prayer which ushers in the Sabbath every Friday night. To this day, Tzfat remains the worldwide “go-to” destination for anyone seeking to discover Kabbala. Since the 16th century, Tzfat has been considered one of Judaism’s four holy cities, along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias (in that order).
Visitors to Tzfat can make use of the extensive Tourist Information Center in the Old Jewish Quarter on Alkabetz Street. The Center provides assistance to visitors planning to tour and discover Tzfat and nearby Mount Meron, another Kabbalistically-oriented destination. It also helps with accommodations, food, historical sites, and more.
The Old Jewish Quarter of Tzfat consists of the northern half of the Old City, and is where the bulk of the Jewish population used to live before the 1948 war. It is now also called the Synagogue Quarter due to its 32 synagogues. Most of the tourist attractions are in the area.
Some of the more famous synagogues in the Jewish quarter include, the two “Ari Synagogues” named after the Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (1531–1573), the Abuhav Synagogue, named after Talmudist Rabbi Isaac Abuhav, the Alsheich Synagogue, named after Rabbi Moshe Alsheich (1508–1593), and the Yosef Karo Synagogue, named after Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488–1575) who authored the code of Jewish law.
The Artists’ Quarter, located just south of the Jewish Quarter contains a large number of galleries and workshops run by different artists and art vendors. There are also a number of boutique wine- and cheese-making factories that welcome visitors and offer free tastings.
Tzfat is truly a city with something for everyone!
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