Our ultimate Jewish tour of the Galilee will start in Tiberias. So the city was founded in 20 CE by Herod Antipas and was named after the Roman emperor Tiberius. Furthermore, in Jewish history, Tiberias is considered one of the four holy cities; along with Jerusalem; Hebron, and Safed; where most of the Jewish population in Israel was concentrated from the end of the Middle Ages until the 19th century.
Furthermore, between the 2nd and 10th centuries, Tiberias had a sizeable Jewish population, a center for all the Jews of the Land of Israel. Renowned Jewish sages operated in the city and were buried within its boundaries: Yohanan ben Zakkai; Rabbi Akiva, and Isaiah Horowitz, and the remains of Maimonides; who died in Egypt and was buried in Tiberias according to his will; were also brought to Tiberias. These tombs are today’s places of pilgrimage. And there will be our first stop!
Ultimate Jewish Tour of the Galilee: Tomb of Maimonides
According to Jewish tradition, the Tomb of Maimonides is in Tiberias. Moses ben Maimon, commonly known as Maimonides and referred to by the acronym Rambam, was a medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. Maimonides died in Fustat, Egypt, on 12 December 1204, where it is believed that he was briefly buried before being reinterred in Tiberias. The Tomb of Maimonides is one of the most important Jewish pilgrimage sites in Israel and one of Tiberias’ most visited tourist attractions. The tomb of Maimonides is also the burial place of Rabbis Yochanan ben Zakai and Isaiah Horowitz.
Ultimate Jewish Tour of the Galilee: Hammat Tiberias
Hamat Tiberias is an archeological site and national park located on the Sea of Galilee’s shores at the Tiberias entrance. The place is known mainly for the remains of the discovered synagogue. The 17 springs of Hamat Tiberias have been known since antiquity for their curative properties. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, a village once rested upon the site and was distinct from Tiberias. The site was rediscovered in 1920 when the Tiberias-Samakh road was being constructed.
The natural hot springs are located on the grounds of the park. According to the sages of the Talmud, the springs were heated when they streamed past the entrance of Hell. Archaeologists have concluded it was built on the ruins of the biblical city of Hammath. (Joshua 19:35) However, the finds of the excavations are limited to the 1st-8th centuries CE. The small town eventually merged with Tiberias.
Our tours continue to another famous city in Judaism; of course, I am talking about the Holy City of Safed. The city in the 16th was a unique phenomenon in the Land of Israel. That era was also called the “Golden Age” of Safed when under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, the city developed a prosperous community and economic life and stood out in creating a unique Kabbalistic spiritual life, which significantly influenced Jewish Kabbalah.
The city’s prosperity is related to the immigration of many Jews deported from Spain, Portugal, and Sicily to Safed. Some were Anusim who wanted to return to Judaism. However, many Jews also came. In Safed, the situation between Jews and Muslims and the Turkish authorities was better than in Jerusalem. Safed was also considered sacred due to its proximity to the tomb of R. Shimon Bar Yochai (considered by Spanish Kabbalists to be the author of the Book of Zohar) and is conveniently located for trade and cultural ties with the communities of Damascus, Aleppo, and the Mediterranean cities.
A large number of immigrants created a cosmopolitan atmosphere in the city, the various communities managed to maintain unity thanks to the voluntary organization of most of the sages; the highlight being the “groups” established for prayer, study, mutual help, and exploring the surroundings. Also, there is ample evidence of people coming from distant places and passing through Safed on their way to other distant places like Sidon; Beirut, Egypt; Venice, and more. The city had a rich spiritual life and high moral values, expressed in the protection of the rights of the weak (poor, widowed, and orphans).