Monday, June 18, 2012

Visiting Shuls of Old City Tzfat

Visiting Shuls of Old City Tzfat

Guest Post by Laurie Rappeport

Each year sees increasing numbers of tourists coming to visit the City of Tzfat in Israel. Tourists have a wide range of historical sites to explore in the city, all within ten minutes of the city center.

There are four synagogues which are open for visitors throughout the week.

The ARI Ashkanazi Synagogue was once a synagogue of Spanish Jews who had converted to Christianity under the duress of the Spanish Inquisition and subsequently fled to Greece, finally making their way to Tzfat. These Jews were not accepted at first by the local Jewish community so they established their own synagogue -- the Grigioris Synagogue. Later they changed the name of the synagogue to "ARI Ashanazi" in honor of the great Kabbalist scholar, the ARI, who initiated the Kabbalat Shabbat service in the field next to the synagogue.

The Abuhav Synagogue was first built by students of Rabbi Yitzhak Abuhav who wrote a Torah scroll which was transferred to the synagogue. The synagogue was destroyed by two earthquakes (1759 and 1837). Rabbi Abuhav's Torah scroll survived each destruction and is still in use today. The synagogue follows the Sepharadi tradition and is known as the "Blue Synagogue" because of its blue domed ceiling which features intricate paintings around the perimeter.

The Yosef Caro Synagogue is built on top of the cave where Rabbi Yosef Caro is believed to have written part of the Shulhan Aruch. The Yosef Caro synagogue served as the Beit Din of Tzfat during the 16th century. Visitors can see the geniza of the synagogue which is built along the northern wall of the synagogue. The geniza contains thousands of old books and scrolls that have been saved over hundreds of years.

The ARI Sepharadi Synagogue was known as the "Eliyahu HaNavi" synagogue in the 16th century. Legend relates that the ARI studied Kabbalah in a small room with Elijah the Prophet. The ARI Sepharadi is located at the base of the Old Jewish Quarter, directly above the old cemetery and the ARI Mikve.

After viewing the historical sites visitors can see a glass-blowing demonstration, hand-weaving, a silversmith at work, a doll museum, a winery, potters and other artists and artisans.

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