SAFED (Hebrew, "Ẓefat"):

City of Upper Galilee (it has no connection with the Zephath of Judges i. 17). Its foundation dates from the second century of the common era (Yer. R. H. 58a). There is no further mention of the town for many centuries. In 1289 Moses b. Judah ha-Kohen, chief rabbi of Safed, accompanied by his assessors, went to Tiberias, and pronounced over the tomb of Maimonides an anathema on all who should condemn his writings (Grätz, "Gesch." vii. 171). In 1491 the chief rabbi was Perez Colobo, who was so poorly paid that he was obliged to carry on a grocery business; but in the following year the community was reorganized by Joseph Saragossi, a Spanish immigrant. He was succeeded in the office by Jacob Berab (1541); Joseph Caro (1575); Moses Galante the Elder (1580); Moses mi-Trani (1590); Joshua ben Nun (1592); Naphtali Ashkenazi (1600); Baruch Barzillai (1650), and Meïr Barzillai (1680).

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there was marked rabbinic activity in Safed. There Jacob Berab established a patriarchate, Isaac Luria and Ḥayyim Vital revived the Cabala in Palestine, and Joseph Caro wrote the Shulḥan 'Aruk. The eighteenth century, however, was a period of decline; for the plague of 1742 and the earthquake of 1769 caused the death of 140 Jews, and compelled the rest to emigrate to Damascus and elsewhere, so that only seven families remained, whereas in 1492 the Hebrew population had numbered 10,000. In 1776 Safed was repeopled by Russian Jews; and five years later two Russian rabbis, Löb Santower and Uriah of Wilna, brought there a number of families from Volhynia, Podolia, and the Ukraine, the consuls of Russia and Austria taking these foreign Jews under their protection.

Misfortunes of the Nineteenth Century.

The history of Safed during the first half of the nineteenth century is but a series of misfortunes. The plague of 1812 carried off four-fifths of the Jewish population; and seven years later Abdallah Pasha, the governor of Acre, imprisoned the remainder in his stronghold, and released them only on the payment of ransom. In 1833, at the approach of Ibrahim Pasha, the Jewish quarter was plundered by the Druses, although the inhabitants escaped to the suburbs; and the following year it was again pillaged, the persecution lasting thirty-three days, and causing damage to the amount of 135,250 piasters, according to Löwe's investigations. When Ibrahim Pasha returned, however, he imposed an indemnity on the surrounding villages, and repaid the Jews 7 per cent of their losses. On Jan. 1, 1837, more than 4,000 Jews were killed by an earthquake, the greater number of them being buried alive in their dwellings; and ten years later the plague again raged at Safed. In the second half of the nineteenth century Jews emigrated from Persia, Morocco, and Algeria to the city. Its houses and synagogues were rebuilt by Sir Moses Montefiore, who visited the city seven times between 1837 and 1875, and by Isaac Vita of Triest.

The chief rabbis of the Sephardim in the nineteenth century were: Reuben Behar Baruch (c, 1800), Abraham Kohen (c. 1820), Abraham Anhori (c. 1824), Ḥayyim Mizraḥi (c. 1846), Raphael Maman (c. 1870), Manasseh Sethon (c. 1874), Samuel Abbo (1874-79; also consular agent of France for thirty-three years), Solomon Hazan (1888), Joseph Ḥakim (1890), and Jacob Haï Abbo (1890-1900, also consular agent of France). Moses Maman is the present incumbent. Among the Ashkenazic chief rabbis may be mentioned Abraham Dob Beer (c. 1835) and Samuel Heller (c. 1880).

The position of French consular agent at Safed has been hereditary in the family of Abbo since the reign of Louis Philippe, and is now (1905) held by Isaac Abbo, whose authority extends over 4,000 Algerine Jews at Safed and Tiberias, while another Jew, Abraham Kohen 'Ajami, is consular agent of Persia.


In rabbinical literature Safed may be considered one of the richest of Oriental cities. In 1588 the printing-press of Abraham Askhenazi was established there, while that of Israel Back was active from 1833 to 1841, and that of Israel Dob Beer after 1864. Moreover, many writers of Safed profited by their travels throughout Europe, and had their works published at Pisa, Venice, Leghorn, and other cities. Among these authors may be mentioned: Bezaleel Ashkenazi, Jacob Berab, Joseph Caro, Joseph Benveniste, Elisha Gallico, Elijah de Vidas, Moses Galante the Elder, Ḥayyim Vital, Abraham b. Solomon Treves Ẓarfati, Moses Alshech, Eleazar Azikri, Joshua ben Nun, Abraham Galante, Samuel Uceda, David abi Zimra, Moses Mitrani, Moses Cordovero, Moses ben Machir, Ḥiyya Rofé, Abraham Ẓemaḥ, Abraham Lañado, Menahem de Lonzano, Moses Galante the Younger, Benjamin Cazès, Moses Chajes, Eleazar of Brody, Israel of Wilna, Abraham Dob Beer, Samuel Heller, Solomon Hazan, Isaac Vita, Raphael Maman, and Manasseh Sethon.

Repeated catastrophes have destroyed almost all the antiquities of Safed. Of those that remain the following may be mentioned: the tomb of the prophet Hosea, said to have been built by the Karaites of Damascus in the fifteenth century; the Torah scroll, called "Sefer Aboab," and attributed to Isaac Aboab, "the last gaon of Castile" (1492); the bath of the cabalist Isaac Luria (c. 1540); some heaps of stones, without inscriptions, in the vicinity of Safed, believed to mark the graves of Benaiah ben Joiadah, R. José dé Yoḳrat, and others.

View of the Jewish Quarter at Safed.(From a photograph by Bonfils.)

The synagogues of Safed have all been built since the earthquake of 1837. The Sephardim possess two midrashim and four synagogues, namely, those named after Aboab, Stam'buli or Joseph Caro, Rabbi José Banaï, and Rab ha-'Ari or Isaac Luria, while the Ashkenazim have two midrashim and two large synagogues. The Ashkenazim have also a library containing a large collection of modern Hebrewworks, while the Sephardic Jews possess two public libraries well supplied with rabbinical works, as well as a private library named after Ḥayyim Sethon.

Present Condition.

In 1904 the population of Safed, 21,000, included 7,000 Jews, comprising natives or Moriscos, Mograbins from the Barbary States, 'Ajamis from Persia, Bulgarians, and Ashkenazic Jews from Hungary, Russia, Poland, Austria, and other countries, the most of them subsisting by the Ḥaluḳḳah, although many were engaged in various trades or in commerce. The languages spoken by the Safed Jews are Judæo-German, Hebrew, and Arabic. The community has two well-organized schools supported by the Alliance Israélite Universelle and by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, with accommodations for 73 boys and 180 girls, in addition to about thirty small Ashkenazic schools having from 10 to 40 pupils each. There is also a Talmud Torah, or "kuttab," attended by 80 Sephardic children. The community likewise supports a Zionist society, a society for the aid of women ("Benot ha-Galil"), a lodge of the B'nai B'rith, a bakery, and a hospital.

The Jews of Safed have a few peculiar customs, consisting chiefly of the celebration of certain local religious festivals, notably that of Simeon ben YOḥai, which attracts many thousands of pilgrims. Three miles northwest of the city is Meron, noted for the mausoleum erected over Simeon's remains.

North of the town lies Biria, where a Hebrew congregation flourished from the Talmudic period until the beginning of the nineteenth century; and at the foot of the hill of Safed stands 'Ain Zaitun, an ancient Jewish village, in which an agricultural colony was established in 1891. An hour and a half from Safed are the ruins (covered with Hebrew inscriptions) of Nabartine, a Jewish community of Talmudic times, destroyed in the tenth century; and one hour east of the city is the agricultural colony of Rosh Pinnah.

  • Revue des Ecoles de l'Alliance Israélite, Paris, 1901-2;
  • Luncz, Jerusalem, 1899, p. 94; 1900, pp. 266-270; 1903, p. 214;
  • Missionary Herald, Nov., 1837;
  • Bulletin de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle, 1903.
D. M. Fr.
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