Mamluke Era of Safed 1266 to 1517

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Mamluke Era of Tzfat
Mamluke Era of Tzfat
צפת בתקופה ממלוקי
Other Names:
Post-Crusader Safed History
Development and history of Safed during the Mamluke period, years 1266 - 1517.

The Mamluke Sultan al-Zahir Baybars allowed Jews to remain in Tzfat and develop the Jewish community in the town following the Mamluke defeat of the Crusaders in 1266. The Sultan Baybars, who came from Egypt, expanded a great deal of energy to reinforce the city and its population due to its strategic position. Most Jews at the time worked in light trade or as shopkeepers. Towards the end of the Mamluke Era, Tzfat started absorbing many refugees from Spain, especially following the 1492 Explosion. A wool textile industry then started to develop in Tzfat, providing employment to many of its residents who used the streams of the nearby Wadi Amud valley to power their fulling mills. In 1517 the Mamlukes were defeated by the Ottomans.


[edit] Sultan al-Zahir Baybars

In 1266 the Sultan Baybars, who originated from Egypt defeat of the Crusaders starting the 'Mamluke Era of Tzfat'. Sultan al-Zahir Baybars called Safed the “Tzephed Empire,” and considered it to be the capitol of the Mamluke Empire. This “kingdom” included the Carmel mountain range, the Upper, Western, and Lower Galilee, the Jordan Valley, northern Samaria, and Southern Lebanon. Beybars rebuilt the Crusader fortress on Tzfat’s Citadel and added a 60-meter tower which could be seen in Acre. The Crusaders still held Acre at this point so this tower served two purposes -- as a defensive structure as well as a message to the Crusaders that their time in the land was coming to an end. In an exciting archaeological find, recent excavations of the Citadel uncovered the personal insignia of Sultan Beybars, a lion sculpture within a rock.

[edit] Institutions and Scholarship

The Sultan established two mosques in the city, al-Zahir inside the city and Jami‘ al-Qal‘a, within the fortress. The Sultan also allowed Jews to come back to Tzfat and encouraged them to rebuild their homes and institutions. A man who referred to himself as the head of the Gaon Ya’akov Yeshiva, Zadok Tzaddik, had returned to Safed in 1220 and many historians believe that he was one of the leaders of the Jewish community which resettled Tzfat in the later years of the Crusader period and during the beginning years of the Mamluke era. Some contemporary historians posit that he had returned from the exalted Academy Gaon Ya’akov in Egypt, said to have been a continuation of the Sanhedrin Jewish Court of Temple times, because he wanted to establish a renewed tradition of Jewish scholarship in Israel.

[edit] Economy

Spanish Jews brought fulling mills with them to Safed. This technology, called “batan” allowed the residents to use the streams of the nearby Wadi Amud valley to create a wool textile industry. The technology involved beating the cloth while it was stretched over running water to tighten the threads of the fabric and create a smooth cloth. Safed became known for producing this material which provided employment for many residents.

[edit] Community Life

During the Mamluke period Tzfat sprawled southward down the mountainside. Archaeological findings have demonstrated that people (it is unclear whether they were Jews or Arabs) lived as far as two kilometers south of the Old City. Coins and other relics were found, as well as evidence of an earthquake which hit the area sometime during the 14th century.

Estimates vary as to the number of people living in and around Safed during the Mamluke period but most historians accept that an estimated 300 Jewish families lived in the Safed area, protected by the Mamluke governors. Commerce consisted of light trade.

[edit] Existing Structures

Visitors to Safed today can see some of the remaining structures that were built during the Mamluke period. In addition to the additions that the Mamlukes built onto the Crusader fortress, they built the “Khan HaAdom” -- Red Inn -- which is located on the edge of the Artists Quarter and served as a mosque and an inn for “Wafk” --Moslem religious authority -- travelers. Next to the Khan is the Mamluke Mausoleum, built as a burial plot for a 14th century governor of Tzfat, Mutfur A-din Mussa Eben Haj Arokati. Today’s Khan of the White Donkey, on the opposite side of the Artists Quarter, served as a 14th century commercial center of the Arab part of the town.

[edit] Writings

Documents from the Cairo Genizah document the existence of a Jewish community during the Mamluke era. One reference notes that a Jewish youth from Safed purchased a shop in Tiberius. Rabbi Yitzhak Ben Alphara, a student of the Ramban, visited the nearby town of Eyn Zeytim in 1441 and noted that Eyn Zeytim was included in the Sabbath Bounds of Safed. Rabbi Isaac ben Moses Estori HaParhi, a Jew who moved to the Jordan Valley town of Beit Shean in 1306, wrote about the Jews of Tzfat when he mapped out the Land of Israel.

A 1495 letter written by a student of Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura, a Mishnaic commentator who lived in Jerusalem, described Safed as “a large town built on the side of a mountain. The houses are small and rundown. When rain falls, it is impossible to walk through the city, because of the dirt. The land is good and healthy, and the water excellent. I saw many very elderly people, aged sixty and seventy years. Among them was a man one hundred and thirty years old, still vigorous and healthy. The community consists of three hundred families. Most of the Jews are storekeepers selling spices, cheese, oil, legumes and fruits.”

[edit] New Immigrants

The worsening situation for Jews in Spain in the late 15th century brought increasing numbers of new Jewish immigrants to Israel. When Spain expelled the Jews in 1492, Spain’s Jews fled the country and many made their way to Tzfat. In particular, kabbalists were drawn to Tzfat due to its proximity to the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the foundation of Kabbalah, the Zohar.

As the Mamluke period drew to a close, the Golden Age of Safed was just beginning. The Mamlukes were defeated by the Ottomans in 1517 and the Ottoman rule of Safed began.

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