Ari Sephardi Synagogue

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Ari Sephardi Synagogue
Ari Sephardi Synagogue
בית כנסת האר״י ספרדי
Arei, Hari, Sephardic, Sephardik, Sefardic, Sefardi, Sepharadic, Sepharadi
Other Names:
Arizal Shul
Old Synagogue in Safed, Israel named after Rabbi Yitzhak Luria.

The ARI Sepharadi synagogue is located on HaARI Street just above the ancient Tzfat cemetery. The HaARI Sepharadi is the oldest synagogue in Tzfat, allowing visitors and locals to visit and pray in a spot that encompasses much of Tzfat’s history of the last eight hundred years. Originally named the Eliyahu HaNavi Shul it was later renamed after the Holy Kabbalist the Arizal who used to pray there. The ARI Sefaradi was destroyed and later rebuilt in both the 1759 and 1837 earthquakes.


[edit] History

Sign at the shul entrance.
The ARI Sepharadi was built in the 13th century above the ancient Tzfat cemetery. At that time, the small Jewish community of approximately a dozen families was rebuilding after the defeat of the Crusaders who had ruled the area for much of the previous two centuries. They named the synagogue the “Eliyahu HaNavi” -- Elijah the Prophet -- synagogue and the synagogue served as a center of Jewish life as the community grew.

[edit] Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, The ARI

Candles lit in the room.
Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as The ARI -- The Lion -- arrived in Tzfat in 1570. He was already recognized as a renowned Kabbalistic scholar. His presence in Tzfat, alongside that of his students, elevated the city to become the City of Kabbalah, one of Judaism’s four Holy Cities.

The ARI prayed in the Eliyahu HaNavi synagogue and he also studied Kabbalah in a sideroom of the synagogue. Although the Arizal was Ashkenazi and not Sepharadi, he preferred to pray with a Sephardi minyan since he held their nusach was closer to the original wording created by the Anshi Kneset Hagdola in their attempt to fuse all the 12 tribal variations of prayer. Eliyahu HaNavi himself would come to sit with the ARI and study with him. The prophet would reveal new insights into Jewish mysticism which allowed the ARI to develop and expand Kabbalistic study. His stream of Kabbalah became the “Luranic Kabbalah,” the focus of most of today’s Kabbalah study.

[edit] Renamed

After the ARI’s death the Tzfat community renamed the Eliyahu HaNavi synagogue after the ARI. Later, congregants of the Grecos Tzfat synagogue also wanted to name their synagogue the “ARI” synagogue The two synagogues differentiated by naming the older synagogue the “ARI Sepharadi”, and the second one the 'ARI Ashkanazi'.

[edit] Recent History

The Ari Sephardi Shul perched on top of the old cemetery.
The ARI Sepharadi synagogue was rebuilt twice, after both the 1759 and 1837 earthquakes. In the 19th century a fear arose that the ARI Sepharadi synagogue was haunted by spirits that would harm anyone unholy who entered. Local residents related that people had entered and never come out. The synagogue was locked and the key held by a caretaker. In 1921 Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, the Baba Sali, a saintly Moroccan rabbi, visited the synagogue. He persuaded the caretaker to open the synagogue. The caretaker protested but in the end allowed the Baba Sali and his aide to enter. The Baba Sali’s aide later related that the Baba Sali had removed the Torah scroll from its Ark and read aloud until he discerned that the danger had passed. After the Baba Sali’s departure the synagogue once again opened for public prayers.

[edit] Today

Ari Sephardi Shul directly above cemetery.
The ARI Sepharadi synagogue is open during the week. Visitors can see the artistically-decorated synagogue, including the room infront of where the ARI sat with Elijah the Prophet and learned Kabbalistic insights. The actual room used by the Arizal has been sealed up, to prevent unworthy people from entering. The synagogue is laid out in Sepharadi tradition with the “Bima” -- the center table -- raised six steps up in the center of the main floor. This custom is derived from Kabbalistic teachings that encourage creating a prayer area that replicates the manner in which the six days of the week lead to the Sabbath. Local artists have contributed their work to the synagogue’s intricate and detailed wall and Ark etchings and paintings. The Ari Sepharadi only has minyonim on Shabbos and holiday mornings.

[edit] More Pictures

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