Yossi Bana'a Synagogue
The Yossi Bana'a Synagogue is the oldest of the Sephardic synagogues in Safed and was built at the end of the 15th century by Jews who emigrated from Aragon in Spain in the wake of their expulsion from that country. The synagogue was originally located at the edge of the "Mista'arvim" (Arabic-speaking native Jews) sector before the massive expansion of the Sephardic quarter in the early 16th century.
A Talmudic Tomb
The Yossi Bana'a Synagogue is most famous for a Talmudic era tomb, which sits within the building. At one end of the synagogue visitors can find a small chamber containing the tomb of this 3rd century Talmudic sage ("Amora"), known as Rabbi Yossi Bena'a. It is for him the synagogue is named. He was renowned for his ability to locate and restore the burial caves of "Zaddikim" (righteous persons). The Jews of Safed knew him by his epithet "The White Zaddik", relating to a miracle he had performed - the whitening of black chickens imposed upon the Jews, to be used in the "Kapparot" atonement ritual on the eve of Yom Kippur.
A Bit Of History
The synagogue structure, like those of all buildings in Safed, was partially destroyed in the two major earthquakes that rained destruction upon Safed in the 18th and 19th centuries. The reconstruction work carried out on the building is apparent in the flat wooden ceiling of the main prayer hall as opposed to the original vaults in the women's section and in the burial chamber.
An ancient Torah scroll, donated in the 19th century by the Sephardic community in honor of Rabbi Shmuel Abbo, is kept in the Holy Ark and is taken once a year from Safed to Mount Meron in the traditional procession on the eve of "Lag Ba'Omer". This Lag Ba'Omer procession is a time honored tradition and hundreds of thousands of religious Jews descend upon the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who, according to legend, is the author of the mystical book of the Zohar, the origins of Kabbalah.