Natural Disasters in Safed History

Safed has certainly seen a great deal of tragedy in its long history. It has experienced Arab riots and murder, war, famine and more. One unusual natural disaster to add to this list is earthquakes. Safed has experienced two major earthquakes in the last two centuries.

The Safed Earthquake

The first earthquake, and Safed's largest earthquake, occurred on January 1, 1837. During this earthquake, Safed was completely destroyed and the Arab villages nearby were severely damaged. Estimates of the earthquake's intensity have been studied a great deal. Such estimates were made by Arieh in 1967, by Ben-Menahem et al in 1976 and by Vered and Striem in 1977. According to Vered and Striem, the epicenter was in the Jordan Rift Valley east of Safed and the magnitude was between 6.25 and 6.8.

The second earthquake, on November 7th, 1927, was smaller in Safed. While the Galilee was not terribly damaged, Nablus was heavy damaged.

Effects of the 1837 Quake

In Safed, the earthquake in 1837 caused extensive damage, most likely due to landslides or poor soil conditions. Vered and Striem report that eye witness accounts of the earthquake describe masses of rock that were rent and torn, huge cracks in the earth, and frightful convulsions in the earth. Heavy damage was also reported in Ein Zeitun, Tiberias, Lubya, Sejera, Reina and Lebanon.

Who Escaped Damage

Ironically, some places that are near to Safed escaped damage completely. Kafr Kanna, four kilometers from Reina, was completely undamaged. Nazareth, which is three kilometers from Reina, suffered only moderate damage. The dramatic contrast in the effects of the earthquake seem to indicate that ground conditions played a large role in the amount of damage a particular location suffered.

Who Didn't Escape Damage

This earthquake killed four thousand Jews in Safed and somewhere between 700 and 1000 Jews in Tiberias. Many of the survivors ended up moving to Hebron, where they helped to rejuvenate the Chabad community that was established ten years early by Rabbi DovBer of Luvavitch, the second Rebbe of Chabad.

Rebuilding Safed

It was very difficult for the Jews who remained in Safed after this major earthquake. There was no money to rebuild and there was constant danger from Arabs and from the elements. Fourteen synagogues in all had been destroyed by the earthquake. Most of them had been completely destroyed, with only three that were still partially intact. Restoration on these synagogues was very slow, both because of a lack of funds and because people were focusing on rebuilding their lives.

Luckily, an Italian scholar and philanthropist, Rav Yitzchak Goyatos, visited Safed and was saddened and horrified by what he saw of the city that had been so majestic. He decided to restore the synagogues with his own money. By 1847, most of the reconstruction had been finished and a new era would now begin in Safed.