Located along the Sea of Galilee, the city of Tiberias stands as a living testament to…
The city of Tzfat (also spelled Safed or Zefat) is located high in the mountains of northern Israel, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Tzfat holds a unique and significant place in the tapestry of Israel’s heritage. The city has a vibrant Jewish history, mystical traditions, and breathtaking landscapes.
Tzfat’s history dates back thousands of years. In biblical times, it was one of the Canaanite cities allotted to the tribe of Naphtali. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that Tzfat truly gained prominence as a center of Jewish learning and spirituality.
The 16th Century
During the 16th century, the city became a haven for Jewish scholars, mystics, and Kabbalists. This period marked the beginning of Tzfat’s golden age. Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism, flourished in the city, attracting scholars and seekers from across the Jewish world. Prominent figures like Rabbi Isaac Luria, also known as the Arizal, and Rabbi Joseph Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch (a comprehensive code of Jewish law), were among the luminaries who resided in Tzfat during this time.
Rabbi Isaac Luria’s teachings revolutionized Kabbalah and deeply influenced Jewish thought. His synthesis of Kabbalistic ideas, known as Lurianic Kabbalah, had a profound impact on Jewish spirituality. Tzfat’s unique spiritual atmosphere, coupled with the teachings of these great scholars, turned the city into a center of spiritual enlightenment and introspection.
Challenges in Tzfat
Tzfat’s Jewish community faced external challenges. Ottoman rule, and later, British rule, influenced the city’s demographics and dynamics. Waves of immigrants, including Jews from North Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, added to the city’s diversity. This melting pot of Jewish identities and traditions further enriched Tzfat’s cultural fabric.
The establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948 brought both hope and complexity to Tzfat. The city’s ancient synagogues and buildings, with their distinctive architecture and spiritual significance, attracted artists and visionaries who sought to revitalize the city’s cultural and creative scene. Tzfat’s Old City became a haven for painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers, giving rise to a vibrant artistic community that endures to this day.
5 Things To Do in the Old City
- Visit Ancient Synagogues: Tzfat’s Old City is home to a plethora of historic synagogues. Must-see synagogues are The Ari Synagogue and The Abuhav Synagogue.
- Stroll Through Artist Quarters: Tzfat has long been a haven for artists, and its Old City is brimming with galleries and workshops.
- Explore the Mystical Heritage: Delve into Tzfat’s rich mystical heritage by visiting Kabbalistic study centers and institutions.
- Shop for Unique Souvenirs: Tzfat’s Old City is a treasure trove of one-of-a-kind souvenirs and Judaica items. Explore charming boutiques offering handmade jewelry, pottery, textiles, and religious articles.
- Indulge in Culinary Delights: From traditional Middle Eastern cuisine to contemporary fusion dishes, you can savor a mix of flavors. Make sure to try local delicacies like falafel, hummus, and freshly baked goods from local bakeries.
Tzfat: A Modern Israeli City
Today, the city is renowned for its rich Jewish history, mysticism, and artistic spirit. The city’s cobblestone streets wind through ancient synagogues, art galleries, and Kabbalistic study centers. The city’s annual Klezmer Festival celebrates Jewish music and culture, attracting artists and enthusiasts from around the world.
Tzfat’s spirituality and history continue to draw pilgrims, tourists, and tens of thousands of Birthright Israel participants each year. The city’s breathtaking vistas and the serene atmosphere atop its mountain perch offer a retreat-like experience for those seeking spiritual renewal or creative inspiration. Whether it’s the whisper of centuries-old prayers in its synagogues, the vibrant strokes of paint on canvas in its galleries, or the echoes of mysticism in its narrow alleyways, Tzfat remains a place where the past and the present merge, creating a unique and enduring Jewish legacy.
Birthright Israel’s Connection to the City of Kabbalah
One of the key vehicles for understanding Israel is through its cultural aspects: music, poetry, art, dance, and architecture are several elements that reflect expressions of the language, lore, feelings, and values of daily life in Israeli society. Many Birthright Israel groups will use Tzfat as the educational backdrop for exploring arts and culture—a core theme of each trip.
And, if you cannot make it to Tzfat, you can recreate a delicious treat from one of the markets. Birthright Israel participant Susana Szegedi fell in love with a different take on the traditional blintze while there. The Tzfat featured in her recipe uses cumin, spinach and watercress for a savory take on the traditional treat.