The Ari Sephardic Synagogue
HaAri's Favorite Place
The Ari Sephardic Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Safed. Historical sources refer to this building as early as 1522, and tell us that the synagogue was used by North African Jews and was known at the time as the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue. During his time in Safed during the 16th century, the Ari frequently prayed in this synagogue, preferring this location over others mainly due to the fact that its windows looked out onto Mt. Meron and the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai.
It is said that the Ari liked to sit in a little alcove on the eastern side of the synagogue, studying Kabbalah, and that while he was absorbed in his studies, the prophet Elijah, his personal Maggid, appeared. The synagogue was apparently given its present name in the seventeenth century in order to honor the Ari.
Despite its ancient, fortress-like appearance, not much of the original synagogue is left. Most of the structure was destroyed in the massive earthquakes that struck Safed in 1759 and 1837. In 1840, the Italian Jewish philanthropist Yitzhak Guetta donated money for the renovation of the synagogue and a plaque commemorating his efforts hangs above the entrance to the building.
The Synagogue's Role In The War Of Independence
As the last building situated on the edge of the Jewish quarter, facing out to one of Safed's Arab quarters, the synagogue was an important defensive position prior to and during Israel's War of Independence. During the siege of Safed in 1948, the defenders removed the Torah scrolls from the synagogue and bored holes in the walls for surveillance and shooting. Access to the synagogue was possible only via trenches that led down to the building from the Jewish quarter. The military position that was set up in the synagogue was one of the main obstacles to the Arab invasion of the Jewish quarter during the war.
In the years that followed the establishment of the State of Israel, the building fell into a state of neglect. In the 1980's and ‘90s, radical changes were made in the vicinity surround the synagogue when the large complex of the Braslav Hasidim was constructed. Today, the synagogue is finally being renovated as part of the Safed tourism development project. At present, this beautiful synagogue is open only a few hours daily for Torah lessons, but it has a regular Minyan on Shabbat.