The Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue, located in Safed, Israel, is thought to be the oldest synagogue still in use today in Israel. The unassuming Synagogue was built in honor of Rabbi Isaac Luria and dated back to the 16th century. Sadly, during the 1837 earthquake of Galilee, the temple was destroyed, and it wasn’t until 20 years later that it was rebuilt.
Luckily, that temple is still standing today. Even though the synagogue is known as “Ashkenazi,” which is associated with Eastern European Jews, it serves as a place of worship for a variety of people. Today, you will find Hasidic; Sephardic; and other affiliations of worshippers sharing the synagogue. I highly suggest that you take a private tour with me of this historic synagogue so that you can revel in the delights of the past and the beauty of the present.
Visiting the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue
In the 16th century, the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue was built on the edges of the Old City of Safed, an area settled by Spanish exiles who had settled in Greece and ended up immigrating to Safed. The people of the congregation were primarily Kabbalists who followed Rabbi Moshe Cordovero. So, who is Ari? “Ari” was the nickname given to the famous Rabbi Isaac Luria, who had joined the synagogue in 1570.
He was known for praying in the synagogue on the Eve of Sabbath before walking to a nearby field with his disciplines. Within the field, they would welcome the Sabbath and sing. The popular Shabbat melody, Lecha Dodi, was created here! To this day, worshippers of Judaism still sing Lecha Dodi toward the synagogue entrance to “greet” the Sabbath.
A Stunning Interior Awaits You!
Within the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue, there is stunning and complex artwork that is a feast for the eyes to behold. The Bima and the Ark in the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue hold fascinating stories themselves. The Bima, the platform in the middle for reading the Torah; has a peculiar notch in it.
During the War of Independence, a bomb fell in the courtyard, and shrapnel flew in every direction. It should have caused mass injuries. However, the congregation; unknowing of the impending threat; was bowing when the bomb landed. The shrapnel flew over the head of the worshipper, hitting the Bima instead!
The Holy Ark was carved by a craftsman from Galicia from olive wood in the style of Eastern European synagogues. The artist himself was a non-Jew and was unaccustomed to their religious practices. One such practice is never depicting human figures in the synagogue. Unaware of this, he carved a face at the top of the ark. Since this couldn’t be allowed into the synagogue, they modified it to look like an anthropomorphic lion as a nod to “Ari,” which means “lion.”
On my guided tours of Safed, I don’t skip this beautiful synagogue. Although it is not big, or better said because it is not big; the synagogue gives this intimate peek into what is Jewish life and tradition. If you want we can also sing his famous poem for the Jewish Sabbath. There are various ways to sing it but I have one that I found recently that I think is just perfect. So don’t think about it too much and get in touch with me and let’s go touring Israel! I promise you, it is gonna be pure magic.