January 2nd 2015
Nestled among the modern galleries and picturesque, terraced, limestone-lined alleyways of Tzfat are a number of historic synagogues that will help visitors touring Israel to connect to the indescribable mysticism of the holy city.
The Ari Sephardic Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Tzfat. During the 16th century, it was a favorite place of prayer for The AriZal (Rabbi Isaac Luria), who especially appreciated the view of Mt. Meron’s burial site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, as afforded from the synagogue’s windows.
The Ashkenazi HaAri Synagogue also dates from the 16th century. The aforementioned Rabbi Isaac Luria prayed the Kabbalat Shabbat service at this spot on Friday nights, and a synagogue was later built on the site. Don’t miss the Holy Ark, crafted from olive wood. Above the Holy Ark is the human-like face of a lion, said to be a tribute to the kabalistic majesty of The Ari, whose moniker means lion.
Originally founded in the 16th century, The Yosef Caro Synagogue, like many structures in Tzfat, was destroyed twice by earthquakes and rebuilt each time. During this institution’s third generation of refurbishments, an Italian marble floor, still visible today, was installed by an Italian philanthropist named Guetta. Local legend has it that half the budget allotted to the reconstruction was spent on construction, and the other half was buried underground to be used when the messiah comes.
Built in 1490, The Abuhav Synagogue houses the oldest Torah scroll in all of Tzfat. It is kept under lock and key, except for three times a year when it is read: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Shavuot. Look at the domed interior for images of musical instruments used in the Holy Temple, symbols of the Twelve Tribes and four crowns: the Torah crown, the priestly crown, the royal crown and Tzfat’s own “crown of impending redemption.”
Known also as the Bannai Shul, named after the Talmud’s Rabbi Yossi Bannai, The Tzaddik HaLavan Synagogue is one of the three oldest synagogues in Tzfat. Built atop Bannai’s gravesite, the building been maintained by the Shababo family for 400 years. Closed to the general public except on Shabbat, the synagogue can be opened for visitors by special arrangement. Be sure to ask about the Miracle of the Roosters and the significance of the dominant blue color.