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Is it Safed or Tzfat? or Tsfat?

by: Rena Goldzweig

So where do you live??

Our historic city - some claim that it dates all the way back to the Temple days - goes by many different names, some due to pronunciation differences, others dating from different bygone eras. Due to its high elevation, Safed experiences warm summers and cold, often snowy, winters.

Safed is considered one of Judaism's four Holy Cities, along with Jerusalem, Chevron/Hebron and Tiberias. Each of these cities corresponds to one of the four Kabbalistic elements of the world: Jerusalem relates to fire, as the fiery altar was placed there - ever since Adam first offered a sacrifice to G-d upon his creation at that very spot. Chevron, the burial place of our Forefathers, relates to earth; Tiberias, on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, to water; Safed corresponds to air and wind.

This is well experienced both in the physical windiness of our lovely city, along with its metaphysical attraction to artists, along with spiritual seekers.


Excepted from Wikipeida:

  • Legend has it that Safed was founded by a son of Noah after the Great Flood.
  • According to the Book of Judges, the area where Safed is located was assigned to the Tribe of Naphtali.
  • Safed has been identified with Sepph, a fortified Jewish town in the Upper Galilee mentioned in the writings of the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus.
  • It is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud as one of five elevated spots where fires were lit to announce the New Moon and festivals during the Second Temple period.
  • In the 12th century, Safed was a fortified city in the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem known as Saphet; Benjamin of Tudela who visited the town at that time, does not mention any Jews as living there. There are Crusader ruins in Safed and the Knights Hospitaller built a castle there.
  • In 1260, the Mamluk sultan Baybars and launched a series of attacks on castles in the area, including on Saphet. In 1266 he wiped out the Christian Templar population and turned it into a Muslim town called Safed or Safat.
  • Samuel ben Samson who visited the town in the 13th-century mentions the existence of a Jewish community of at least fifty there.
  • During the late Mamluk period from 1525-6 the population of Safed consisted of 633 Muslim families, 40 Muslim bachelors, 26 Muslim religious persons, 9 Muslim disabled, 232 Jewish families, and 60 Jundi families.
  • Under the Ottomans, Safed was the capital of the sanjak of Safed, which encompassed much of the Galilee and extended to the Mediterranean coast. This sanjak was part of the Eyalet of Damascus until 1660, when it was united with the sanjak of Sidon into a separate eyalet, of which it was briefly the capital.
  • Finally, from the mid-19th century it was part of the vilayet of Sidon.
  • A Hebrew printing press was established in Safed in 1577 by Eliezer Ashkenazi and his son, Isaac of Prague was the first press in the whole of the Ottoman Empire. In 1584, there were 32 synagogues registered in the town.
  • After the expulsion of all the Jews from Spain in 1492, many prominent rabbis found their way to Safed, among them the Kabbalists Isaac Luria and Moshe Kordovero; Joseph Caro, the author of the Shulchan Aruch and Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz, composer of the Sabbath hymn "Lecha Dodi". Since that time, the city has remained a center of Kabbalah, also known as Jewish mysticism.
  • The influx of Sephardi Jews—reaching its peak under the rule of Sultans Suleiman I and Selim II —made Safed a global center for Jewish learning and a regional center for trade throughout 15th and 16th centuries.
  • The Kurdish quarter was established in the Middle Ages and continued through to the 19th century.
  • The transition from Egyptian to Ottoman-Turkish rule in 1517 saw the Jews of Safed subjected to a violent pogrom committed by the sidelined local sheikhs to reassert their control after being removed from power by the incoming Turks.
  • Over the course of the 17th century, Jewish settlements of Galilee had declined economically and demographically, with Safed being no exception. In around 1625, Quaresmius spoke of the town being inhabited "chiefly by Hebrews, who had their synagogues and schools, and for whose sustenance contributions were made by the Jews in other parts of the world."
  • In 1628, the city fell to the Druze and five years later was retaken by Ottomans. In 1660, the Druze destroyed Safed and Tiberias, with only a few of the former Jewish residents returning to Safed by 1662. As nearby Tiberias remained desolate for several decades, Safed gained the key position among Galilean Jewish communities.
  • An outbreak of plague decimated the population in 1742 and the Near East earthquake of 1759 left the city in ruins, killing 200 town residents.
  • An influx Russian Jews in 1776 and 1781, and of Lithuanian Jews of the Perushim in 1809 and 1810, reinvigorated the community.
  • In 1812, another plague killed 80% of the Jewish population, and, in 1819, the remaining Jewish residents were held for ransom by Abdullah Pasha, the governor of Acre.
  • During the period of Egyptian domination, the city experienced a severe decline, with the Jewish community hit particularly hard. In the 1834 Safed Great Plunder, much of the Jewish quarter was destroyed by rebel Arabs, who plundered the city for many weeks.
  • In 1837 there were around 4,000 Jews in Safed. The Galilee earthquake of 1837 was particularly catastrophic for the Jewish population, as the Jewish quarter was located on the hillside. About half their number perished, resulting in around 2,000 deaths.
  • In 1838, the Druze rebels robbed the city over the course of three days, killing many among the Jews. In 1847, plague struck Safed again.
  • The Jewish population increased in the last half of the 19th century by immigration from Persia, Morocco, and Algeria. Moses Montefiore visited Safed seven times and financed rebuilding of much of the town.
  • Nowadays, Safed [a.k.a. Zefat] is a city in the Northern District of Israel. Located at an elevation of 900 meters (2,953 ft), Safed is the highest city in the Galilee and in Israel. Due to its scenic views, as well as having become a center of artistry and Kabbalah, Safed is a popular holiday resort frequented by Israelis and foreign visitors.