This city's name is spelled so many different ways -- Tzefiya (in the Talmud), Safed, Zefat, Sefad - it's easy to get confused and think they are entirely different places. At an altitude of 2,790 feet, Tzfat is Israel's highest town and probably its coldest. Tzfat did not become an important center of Jewish life until the late 15th and early 16th centuries. It is not mentioned in the Torah
and was apparently not settled until Roman
Jews began to come in large numbers to Tzfat after they were expelled from Spain
in 1492 (while Columbus
was sailing the ocean blue). The city is most closely associated with Jewish mysticism, the kabbalah
, whose foremost exponent, Rabbi Isaac Luria
, lived and taught there. Known as "Ha'Ari" (the lion), Luria had come from Tzfat to Egypt in 1569 and died just three years later. The "bible" of the kabbalists, the Zohar, was attributed to the second-century talmudist Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who believed each word and line of the Torah
had a higher meaning. The author of the main part of the Zohar was Moses de Leon (12th century) in Spain.
Besides the kabbalists, Tzfat also attracted numerous other Jewish scholars and spirtualists, including Joseph Caro
, the author of the Shulchan Aruch
, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero and Solomon Alkabetz
, composer of the Sabbath
hymn Lecha Dodi.
The Jewish community thrived in Tzfat for more than 400 years before the outbreaks of violence in Palestine provoked many residents to leave. The 1929 Arab riots
stimulated a gradual decline that resulted in the Arabs becoming the majority in the city. When the British withdrew from Palestine in 1948
and handed the Citadel over to the Arabs, the remaining Jewish residents, backed by reinforcements from the Haganah
, held off the Arab forces and kept the city a part of the new state of Israel.
Learn more about Tzfat
Virtual Tour content provided by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise(AICE). To find more information about the sites on our trip and general facts about Israel visit the Virtual Israel Experience
at AICE's Web site.