A good place to begin a walk in Zefat’s Jewish Quarter is the junction of Beit Yosef and Arlozorov streets. From here, proceed up Beit Yosef St. A stone-paved path crossing Beit Yosef Street marks the border of the Safad Jewish Quarter. Looking up to the top of the steps on the right is a concrete tower with an old search light on its roof. The tower and search light were used by the British Police to scan this ‘border’ in the months leading up to Israel’s War of Independence. Another relic of the of heavy fighting in Zefat during War of Independence is the bullet ridden exterior of the white building ahead on the right known as Beit Ishtam. For an overview of Zefat/Safed, check out An Introduction to Zefat.
Beit Yosef Street is a marketplace today, lined with shops selling Judaica, souvenirs, art and jewelry.
Follow Beit Yosef St. until it comes to a wide alley on the right called Simtat Alsheikh. Turn down the alleyway. At the junction with Abuhav St. the walls are painted various shades of blue and green reflecting a Talmudic criterion for determining if it is sufficiently light to begin morning prayers – distinguishing between blue and green.
Continuing up Abuhav Street to the right, there’s the Abuhav Synagogue, built during the 15th century. Named after an early Spanish Jewish Kabbalist, many of the architectural elements in the synagogue’s colorfully decorated interior have symbolic numerical significance.
There are several other unique aspects of the Abuhav Synagogue. It has three holy arks, while most synagogues have only one. The arks contain an unusually large number of Torah scrolls, approximately 30. The ark on the right is reserved for use on select holidays, while the central ark is used throughout the year. The strangest, however, is the ark on the left, which has a bench in front of it. This ark was added, because the Ottoman authorities demanded that, in addition to Torah scrolls, the synagogue also house a copy of the Koran. Subsequently an ark was built to house the Koran and a bench was placed in front of it.
Towards the front of the synagogue on the left is an elegant “Elijah’s Chair”, meant to be sat in by the sandak (“godfather”) during a circumcision ceremony. This particular Elijah’s chair has a cradle attached. Local Zefat legend claims that whoever sits in it will have a son within a year… so sit at your own risk!
Located next to a synagogue and study hall established by Hasidic immigrants to Safed from the Galician town of Kosov in the mid-19th century, the square is dedicated to the memory of the Jewish community of Kosov that was destroyed by the Nazis in 1942.
Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue
The Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue is dedicated to Rabbi Isaac Luria, the leading exponent of Kabbalah in the 16th-century Zefat.
The synagogue is located at the spot where his followers were said to have welcomed the Sabbath on Friday afternoon by chanting a collection of six psalms. Variations of this practice established 450 years ago have been adopted in synagogues around the world as part of their Friday evening services. A poem called Lecha Dodi, written by one Rabbi Luria’s students who was inspired by this practice, has also been incorporated into the Friday night prayers. The synagogue is open for visitors most of the day.
Just down the lane from the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue is the Safed Candle Factory – worth visiting just for fun and a good source of gift items.
Alternately, head out in the other direction and turn uphill to Maginim Square where there are some small coffee shops and falafel stands. Another option for coffee is at the Canaan Gallery, on the right side of Beit Yosef Street, which offers nice views of the Galilee and the white dome of the Abuhav Synagogue. It is also worth visiting the weaving studio next door.
Yosef Caro Synagogue
The Yosef (Joseph) Caro Synagogue is named after Joseph Caro, who was the leading Jewish legal scholar of the 16th century. In Zefat he wrote two definitive works of Jewish law, the Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, which continues to serve as an authoritative book of Jewish law to this day. The entrance is through a Judaica and souvenir shop. The owner is friendly and usually opens the ark to show the Torah scrolls inside upon request.
There are various ways of spelling Zefat: Safed, Safad, Zfat, Tsfat, Tzfat, and Tzefat, and these spellings are used interchangeably.
Continue to the Zefat Artists’ Colony