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A bit of history
The city of Tzfat began when the Crusaders built a huge fortress there in the 12th-13th centuries on top of a mountain, below which a small civilian population lived, including perhaps, a few Jews.
Tzfat remained a small town until the 16th century, when the Ottoman Turks conquered the country. Many Sephardic Jews came to live in Tzfat, amongst them many well-known scholars, such as Rabbi Yosef Caro, Moshe Kordovero and Shlomo Alkabetz. The city developed a great deal during the mid-1500’s. Spiritual life flourished and Kabbalah – Jewish mysticism – was developed to a great extent by Rabbi Itzhak Luria.
From the time of the 1570’s, Tzfat declined quite rapidly like the rest of the country, due to the government’s corruption. In addition to plagues, two major earthquakes destroyed the city completely, and killed thousands of people. Only after World War I, did the British Mandate push Tzfat forward, once again.
During the War of Independence in 1947-8, the Jewish quarter came under severe attack. Tzfat was about to fall, when the Palmach forces entered the city, and the entire Arab population fled.
After the war, the Arab quarter was settled with Israeli artists, who wanted to start an artists’ colony there. Until today, the artists’ colony is thriving, while the old Jewish quarter is still populated with Orthodox Jews. Today, Tzfat’s population numbers 30,000.
How can we enjoy Tzfat?
Absorbing the spiritual side of Tzfat is not achieved only by wandering through the beautiful old alleys, but also by meeting people. As we walk through the artists’ colony, we can enter artists’ homes and galleries, and speak with them, get on a roof to take in the amazing view, see and hear how life is in the old Jewish quarter, and also visit a couple of synagogues. We will not forget, of course, to hunt for gifts in the bazaar, or have a delicious lunch in the main square.
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