Built into the steep mountains of the Upper Galiee, Safed is a city often associated with religion, holiness, mysticism, and art. It joins Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias as one of Israel’s four holiest cities.
Safed is the center for Kabbalah, Jewish Mysticism. Many people from all over the world come here to live and study mysticism under the guidance of some of Kabbalah’s most well-known rabbis.
In addition to people moving to the city on the grounds of religion or ideology, recent years have brought in an influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union as well as Ethiopia.
One thing unique to Safed is the color blue. You will see doors, window frames and entryways all painted blue. According to Kabbalah, the color blue is symbolic of the sky and heavens, and is supposed to protect against the evil eye.
On a tour, you will walk through narrow cobblestone paths in order to visit several synagogues of importance. The Joseph Caro Synagogue is named after Rabbi Caro, who fled the Spanish inquisition and resettled in Safed. Rabbi Caro is credited with writing the famous Beit Yosef book, an extremely compressive book dealing with Jewish law. The condensed version, Shulchan Aruch is still considered to be an important reference when laws are challenged or decided upon, in the Orthodox Jewish community.
Next you will visit the HaAri Synagogues. The Ashkenazi Ari Synagogue was built by Spanish exiles in the 16th century. It is associated with a great miracle that occurred during the 1948 War of Independence. While the city was getting shelled, worshippers were in the synagogue praying and hoping to avoid attack. In the middle of worship, shrapnel ripped through the synagogue. The Bema took a direct hit, leaving everyone untouched.
The Sephardic Ari synagogue built in the mid-1500s, is credited with being the oldest synagogue in Safed. The synagogue played an active role as a military stronghold in the 1948 War of Independence. It was destroyed, and later abandoned around the time of the Israel’s founding. Only recently has it started to undergo major restoration.
You will also have an opportunity to walk around the city’s artist colony. In the mid-20th century, artists from all over the country started moving to Safed in large numbers, setting up an artist colony in the old Arab quarter. Today, it remains much like it was 50 years ago, with sculptors and painters, living in old stone buildings, perfecting their crafts.