Moshe Cohen

Joined March 2008

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The image was shot in Abuhav Synagogue, Safed Israel.

The holy city of Safed, perched on a mountain top in the upper Galilee, conjures many images to all lovers of the city. The romantic flavor of narrow cobblestone lanes and ancient synagogues fills one’s lungs with a new spirit. The rusty old houses with there domed roofs clearly identifies the city with the mysterious past of the Holy Land.

The history of Safed, in real terms, dates back only five hundred years to the beginning of the 16th century. As if out of nowhere, Jews from near and far settled there – as if answering a divine call – and built the largest Jewish settlement in Palestine. Furthermore, great scholars and mystics opened yeshivos in Safed, being an added incentive to other young men of wisdom to settle there. In one sense, the last half of the 16th century was the pinnacle of Torah grandeur which the city experienced. The author of the Shulchan Aruch (Jewish Code of Laws), Rabbi Joseph Karo, sat at the head of the rabbinical court while compiling his compendium of Jewish Law. At the same time, another saintly man by the name of Rabbi Isaac Luria revealed the mystical side of the Torah, called Kabalah. Together these men and their disciples opened new pathways to the Torah which embedded an invisible holiness in the very rocks of the city.

Today everyone who strolls through the city is caught off guard by the hidden spirit of Safed which vibrates full of life after so many generations. Not only newcomers are surprised, but even weathered old comers as well.

Abuhav Synagogue was named after Rabbi Yitzchak (Isaac) Abuhav of Toledo (Spain). There is a bit of ambiguity, though, behind the origins of the Abuhav Synagogue in the mystic city of Safed.
The synagogue was first built in the sixteenth century and its southern wall in which the Holy Ark stands is unique. Instead of one Holy Ark there are three Holy Arks.
The middle one is used on a regular basis while the left one is used to store old, worn-out holy books. The one on the right is hardly ever used. Inside it is a Sefer Torah that was written nearly six hundred years ago by the hand of the famous Rabbi of Toledo (Spain), Rabbi Isaac Abuhav.
The scroll is the oldest in Safed and many traditions and legends are associated with it. During all these generations it was taken out and read on only three occasions: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Shavuot (Festival of Weeks).
Another Torah scroll in the Abuhav Synagogue is the scroll of Rabbi Solomon Ohana, a Kabbalist from Fez, Morocco, who moved to Safed in the sixteenth century.
The synagogue has been rebuilt twice since its creation, both times due to earthquakes.
The first time was in 1759, when a large earthquake almost leveled Safed. Only the southern wall of the synagogue containing the Holy Arks remained intact.
The second earthquake, in 1837, killed thousands of Jews and destroyed Safed. The synagogue was rebuilt again and dedicated in 1847.
The bima is in the center and the benches for the congregation are arranged around it, as was customary in ancient synagogues.
The interior of the synagogue dome is decorated with depictions of musical instruments that were used in the Temple in Jerusalem, symbols of the tribes of Israel, and four crowns, representing the Torah crown, the priestly crown, the royal crown, and a crown unique to Safed: “the crown of impending redemption.”
In keeping with the numerological tradition of Kabbalah, the design of the synagogue has numerical significance: one bima, two steps to it, three Arks, and so forth.

More images from Abuhav Synagogue:

Images from Safed:

Artwork Comments

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