>  Top Jewish Tour Destinations in Israel   >  Yosef Karo Synagogue, Tsfat


Set in the heart of Tsfat’s old city, the Yosef Karo synagogue is said to have been built where, in the 16th century, Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote his monumental book, ‘Shulchan Aruch.’ Today, this humble synagogue, with its unique interior and old library, is a popular tourist attraction.

History of Yosef Karo Synagogue

safed yosef karo synagogueFollowing the Jewish expulsion from Spain, many Jews fled to the east. Some even settled in Israel despite its dilapidation under Ottoman rule. Yoseph Karo, born in Toledo (Spain), eventually settled in Safed/Tsfat in Israel’s Upper Galilee. Ordained as a Rabbi, he devoted 32 years to compiling all Jewish Laws (‘Halacha’). Fearing what the Spanish Inquisition and Jewish expulsion could do to Jewish tradition and faith, he set out to compile all ‘Halachot’ and conclude the best way to adhere to them. The shorter version of his monumental work, ‘Shulchan Aruch’ (from Hebrew: ‘Set Table’), was accepted by all Jewish communities.

The new codex enabled Jews to follow the ‘Halacha’ even in the absence of sufficient local Rabbinical scholarship, reuniting the Jewish world after the trauma of the Spanish expulsion. Furthermore, to this day, ‘Shulchan Aruch’ is the accepted text for Jewish law among all orthodox communities, with many commentaries written about it. Karo developed a high reputation and became Safed’s Chief Rabbi until his death in 1575 at 87.

Yoseph Karo’s Home and ‘Magid Meisharim’

By local tradition, Karo lived beneath a synagogue while compiling the Jewish law (‘Halachot’). Occasionally an angelic figure called ‘Hamagid’ visited him. Dialoguing with him in Aramaic, Karo published these visions in a separate book called ‘Magid Meisharim.’ This book alludes to Safed’s reputation as a Kabbalah center at that time.

Touring Yosef Karo Synagogue

The Yosef Karo synagogue and his single-room house are open for weekly visits. On Sabbath, the synagogue runs Sepharadic-style prayers, and it is primarily known for its kabbalat Sabbath in the summer. The current synagogue dates to 1839, completed two years after a significant earthquake. It has a Sephardic design, characterized by the seats set around the Bimah and the walls painted in color.  The Holy Ark presents 3 Torah scrolls. The oldest is said to be 500 years old and comes from Spain.  In the synagogue’s back wall is its old library, with some books that are centuries old. Tourists must dress modestly when visiting the synagogue; men are expected to cover their heads. Leaving a small donation in the synagogue’s charity box is also costumery.

A visit to Yoseph Karo synagogue and Safed can be combined with a day tour in the north.

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