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Title: Safad  
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Subject: Saladin, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, Gaza, Nabil Shaath, Ayyubid dynasty, Nablus, Amka, Al-Ruways, Arab al-Samniyya, Al-Bassa
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Hebrew transcription(s)
 • Hebrew צְפַת
 • ISO 259 Çpat
 • Translit. Tz'fat
 • Also spelled Tsfat, Tzefat, Zfat, Ẕefat (official)
Arabic transcription(s)
 • Arabic صفد


Coordinates: 32°57′57″N 35°29′54″E / 32.96583°N 35.49833°E / 32.96583; 35.49833Coordinates: 32°57′57″N 35°29′54″E / 32.96583°N 35.49833°E / 32.96583; 35.49833

District North
Founded Canaanite age
 • Type City
 • Mayor Ilan Shohat
Elevation 900 m (3,000 ft)
Population (2010)[1]
 • Total 30,100

Safed (Hebrew: צְפַת, Tzfat; Arabic: صفد‎, Ṣafad, Ashkenazi: Tzfas; Biblical: Ṣ'fath, ISO 259-3: ) is a city in the Northern District of Israel. Located at an elevation of 900 metres (2,953 ft), Safed is the highest city in the Galilee and in Israel.[2] Due to its high elevation, Safed experiences warm summers and cold, often snowy, winters.[3] Since the 16th century, Safed has been considered one of Judaism's Four Holy Cities, along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Tiberias;[4] since that time, the city has remained a center of Kabbalah, also known as Jewish mysticism.

Due to its mild climate and scenic views, Safed is a popular holiday resort frequented by Israelis and foreign visitors.[5]


Ancient history

According to the Book of Judges, the area where Safed is located was assigned to the Tribe of Naphtali.[6] Legend has it that Safed was founded by a son of Noah after the Great Flood.[3]

Classic antiquity

Safed has been identified with Sepph, a fortified Jewish town in the Upper Galilee mentioned in the writings of the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus (Wars 2:573).[7]

It is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud as one of five elevated spots where fires were lit to announce the New Moon and festivals during the Second Temple period.[8]

Crusader Kingdom

The city appears in Jewish sources in the late Middle Ages.[3] In the 12th century, Safed was a fortified city in the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem known as Saphet.[3] The Knights Hospitaller built a castle there. In 1240, Theobald I of Navarre, on his own Crusade to the Holy Land, negotiated with the Muslim Ayyubids of Damascus and Egypt and finalised a treaty with the former against the latter whereby the Kingdom of Jerusalem regained Jerusalem itself, plus Bethlehem, Nazareth, and most of the region of Galilee with many Templar castles, such as Saphet.[9]

Mamluk Sultanate

In 1260, the Mamluk sultan Baybars declared the treaty invalid due to the Christians working in concert with the Mongol Empire against the Muslims, and launched a series of attacks on castles in the area, including on Saphet. In 1266 he wiped out the Christian Templar population and turned it into a Muslim town called Safed or Safat. Samuel ben Samson who visited the town in the 13th-century mentions the existence of a Jewish community of at least fifty there.[10] According to al-Dimashqi (who died in Safed in 1327), writing around 1300, Baybars, after levelling the old fortress, built a "round tower and called it Kullah..".The tower is built in three stories. It is provided with provisions, and halls, and magazines. Under the place is a cistern for rain-water, sufficient to supply the garrison of the fortress from year's end to year's end.[11] According to Abu al-Fida, Safed "was a town of medium size". It has a very strongly built castle, which dominates the Lake of Tabariyyah. There are underground watercourses, which bring drinking-water up to the castle-gate...Its suburbs cover three hills... Since the place was conquered by Al Malik Adh Dhahir from the Franks, it has been made the central station for the troops who guard all the coast-towns of that district."[12]

Ottoman period

Old Yishuv
Jewish life in the Land of Israel before Modern Zionism
Key events
Hebron massacre (1517) • Revival of Tiberias (1563) • Sack of Tiberias (1660) • Sabattai Zevi movement • 1759 earthquake • Egyptian–Ottoman War (1831–33) • Hebron (1834) • Galilee earthquake of 1837 • Safed (1838) • Establishment of Mishkenot Sha'ananim (1860) • Establishment of Petach Tikva (1878)
Key figures
Joseph Nasi • Levi ibn Habib • Jacob Berab • Haim Abulafia
Yehuda he-Hasid • Haim Farhi • Menachem Mendel • Jacob Saphir
Kollel • Halukka • Etrog
Philanthropy (Montefiore • Judah Touro)

Jerusalem (Mishkenot Sha'ananim) • HebronSafedTiberias
JaffaHaifaPeki'inAccoNablusGazaKafr YasifShefa-'AmrPetach Tikva

RambanAriHurvaShomrei HaChomosYochanan ben Zakai
Related articles
History of the Jews in the Land of IsraelHistory of Zionism (Timeline) • Haredim and ZionismEdah HaChareidisShaDaRYishuvThree Oaths

Safed rose to fame in the 16th century as a center of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism.[13] Under the Ottomans, Safed was the capital of the sanjak of Safed, which encompassed much of the Galillee and extended to the Mediterranean coast. This sanjak was part of the Eyalet of Damascus until 1660, when it was united with the sanjak of Sidon into a separate eyalet, of which it was briefly the capital. Finally, from the mid-19th century it was part of the vilayet of Sidon. The orthodox Sunni courts arbitrated over cases in 'Akbara, Ein al-Zeitun and as far away as Mejdel Islim.[14] In 1553-4, the population consisted of 1,121 Muslim households, 222 Muslim bachelors, 54 Muslim religious leaders, 716 Jewish households, 56 Jewish bachelors, and 9 disabled persons.[15] A Hebrew printing press was established in Safed in 1577 by Eliezer Ashkenazi and his son, Isaac of Prague.[8] It was the first press in the whole of the Ottoman Empire.[16] In 1584, there were 32 synagogues registered in the town.[17]

After the expulsion of all the Jews from Spain in 1492, many prominent rabbis found their way to Safed, among them the Kabbalists Isaac Luria and Moshe Kordovero; Joseph Caro, the author of the Shulchan Aruch and Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz, composer of the Sabbath hymn "Lecha Dodi". The influx of Sephardi Jews—reaching its peak under the rule of Sultans Suleiman I and Selim II —made Safed a global center for Jewish learning and a regional center for trade throughout 15th and 16th centuries.[13][18] The Kurdish quarter was established in the Middle Ages and continued through to the 19th century.[14] The transition from Egyptian to Ottoman-Turkish rule in 1517 saw the Jews of Safed subjected to a violent pogrom committed by the sidelined local sheikhs to reassert their control after being removed from power by the incoming Turks.

Over the course of the 17th century, Jewish settlements of Galilee had declined economically and demographically, with Safed being no exception. In around 1625, Quaresmius spoke of the town being inhabited "chiefly by Hebrews, who had their synagogues and schools, and for whose sustenance contributions were made by the Jews in other parts of the world." [19] In 1628, the city fell to the Druze and five years later was retaken by Ottomans. In 1660, in the turmoil following the death of Mulhim Ma'an, the Druze destroyed Safed and Tiberias, with only a few of the former Jewish residents returning to Safed by 1662. As nearby Tiberias remained desolate for several decades, Safed gained the key position among Galilean Jewish communities. In 1665, the Sabbatai Sevi movement is said to have arrived in the town.

An outbreak of plague decimated the population in 1742 and the Near East earthquake of 1759 left the city in ruins, killing 200 town residents.[20] An influx Russian Jews in 1776 and 1781, and of Lithuanian Jews of the Perushim in 1809 and 1810, reinvigorated the community.[21]

In 1812, another plague killed 80% of the Jewish population, and in 1819 the remaining Jewish residents were held for ransom by Abdullah Pasha, the governor of Acre. During the period of Egyptian domination, the city experienced a severe decline, with the Jewish community hit particularly hard. In the 1834 Safed Great Plunder, much of the Jewish quarter was destroyed by rebel Arabs, who plundered the city for many weeks.

In 1837 there were around 4,000 Jews in Safed.[22] The Galilee earthquake of 1837 was particularly catastrophic for the Jewish population, as the Jewish quarter was located on the hillside. About half their number perished, resulting in around 2,000 deaths.[22] Of the 2,158 inhabitants killed, 1507 were Ottoman subjects. The southern, Moslem section of the town suffered far less damage.[23]

In 1838, the Druze rebels robbed the city over the course of three days, killing many among the Jews.

In 1840, Ottoman rule was restored. In 1847, plague struck Safed again. The Jewish population increased in the last half of the 19th century by immigration from Persia, Morocco, and Algeria. Moses Montefiore visited Safed seven times and financed rebuilding of much of the town. However, virtually all the antiquities of Safed were destroyed by earthquakes.

The Kaddoura family was a major political force in Safed. At the end of Ottoman rule the family owned 50,000 dunums. This included eight villages around Safed.[24]

British Mandate

Safed remained a mixed city during the British Mandate for Palestine and ethnic tensions between Jews and Arabs rose during the 1920s. With the eruption of the 1929 Palestine riots, Safed and Hebron became major clash points. In the Safed massacre 20 Jewish residents were killed by local Arabs.[25]

By 1948, the city was home to around 1,700 Jews, mostly religious and elderly, as well as some 12,000 Arabs.[3] In February 1948, during the civil war, Muslim Arabs attacked a Jewish bus attempting to reach Safed, and the Jewish quarter of the town came under siege by the Muslims. British forces that were present did not intervene. According to Martin Gilbert, food supplies ran short. "Even water and flour were in desperately short supply. Each day, the Arab attackers drew closer to the heart of the Jewish quarter, systematically blowing up Jewish houses as they pressed in on the central area."[26]

On April 16, the same day that British forces evacuated Safed, 200 local Arab militiamen, supported by over 200 Arab Liberation Army soldiers, tried to take over the city's Jewish Quarter. They were repelled by the Jewish garrison, consisting of some 200 Haganah fighters, men and women, boosted by a Palmach platoon.[27]

The Palmach ground attack on the Arab section of Safed took place on 6 May, as a part of Operation Yiftah. The first phase of the Palmach plan to capture Safed, was to secure a corridor through the mountains by capturing the Arab village of Birya.[28] The Arab Liberation Army had plans to take over the whole city on May 10, and in the meantime placed artillery pieces on a hill adjacent to the Jewish quarter and started its shelling.[29] The Third Battalion failed to take the main objective, the "citadel", but "terrified" the Arab population sufficiently to prompt further flight, as well as urgent appeals for outside help and an effort to obtain a truce.[30]

Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam stated that the goal of Plan Dalet was to drive out the inhabitants of Arab villages along the Syrian and Lebanese frontiers, particularly places on the roads by which Arab regular forces could enter the country. He noted that Acre and Safed were in particular danger.[31] However, the appeals for help were ignored, and the British, now less than a week away from the end of the British Mandate of Palestine, also did not intervene against the second – and final – Haganah attack, which began on the evening of 9 May, with a mortar barrage on key sites in Safed. Following the barrage, Palmach infantry, in bitter fighting, took the citadel, Beit Shalva and the police fort, Safed's three dominant buildings. Through 10 May, Haganah mortars continued to pound the Arab neighbourhoods, causing fires in the marked area and in the fuel dumps, which exploded. "The Palmah 'intentionally left open the exit routes for the population to "facilitate" their exodus...' "[32] According to Gilbert, "The Arabs of Safed began to leave, including the commander of the Arab forces, Adib Shishakli (later Prime Minister of Syria). With the police fort on Mount Canaan isolated, its defenders withdrew without fighting. The fall of Safed was a blow to Arab morale throughout the region... With the invasion of Palestine by regular Arab armies believed to be imminent – once the British had finally left in eleven or twelve days' time – many Arabs felt that prudence dictated their departure until the Jews had been defeated and they could return to their homes.[33]

Some 12,000 (some estimate 15,000) fled Safed and were a "heavy burden on the Arab war effort".[34] Among them was the family of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.[35] The city was fully under the control of Jewish paramilitary forces by May 11, 1948.[3]

State of Israel

In 1974, 102 Israeli Jewish school children from Safed on a school trip were taken hostage by a Palestinian militant group Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) while sleeping in a school in Maalot. In what became known as the Ma'alot massacre, 22 of these school children were among those killed by the hostage takers.

Over 1990s and early 2000s, the town accepted thousands of Russian Jewish immigrants and Ethiopian Beta Israel.[36]

In July 2006, Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah from Southern Lebanon hit Safed, killing one man and injuring others. Many residents fled the town.[37] On July 22, four people were injured in a rocket attack.

The town has retained its unique status as a Jewish studies center, incorporating numerous facilities.[36] It is currently a predominantly Jewish town, with a mixed religious and secular communities; with small number of Russian Christians and Maronites.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was born in Safed and left with his family when tensions arose in 1948. In 2012, he publicly stated, "I visited Safed before once. I want to see Safed. It's my right to see it, but not to live there." [38]


In 2008, the population of Safed was 32,000.[1] According to CBS figures in 2001, the ethnic makeup of the city was 99.2% Jewish and non-Arab, with no significant Arab population. 43.2% of the residents were 19 years of age or younger, 13.5% between 20 and 29, 17.1% between 30 and 44, 12.5% from 45 to 59, 3.1% from 60 to 64, and 10.5% 65 years of age or older.


Safed has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and cold, rainy and occasionally snowy winters. The city receives 682 mm (27 in) of precipitation per year. Summers are rainless and hot with an average high temperature of 29 °C (84 °F) and an average low temperature of 18 °C (64 °F). Winters are cold and wet, and precipitation is occasionally in the form of snow. Winters have an average high temperature of 10 °C (50 °F) and an average low temperature of 5 °C (41 °F).

Climate data for Safed
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 21.7
Average high °C (°F) 9.4
Average low °C (°F) 4.5
Record low °C (°F) −3.6
Precipitation mm (inches) 158.8
Avg. precipitation days 15 13.1 11.7 5.9 2.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.5 4.5 9.0 13.1 75.5
Source: Israel Meteorological Service[39][40]


According to CBS, the city has 25 schools and 6,292 students. There are 18 elementary schools with a student population of 3,965, and 11 high schools with a student population of 2,327. 40.8% of Safed's 12th graders were eligible for a matriculation (bagrut) certificate in 2001. In October 2011, Israel's fifth medical school opened in Safed. It is housed in a renovated historic building in the center of town that was once a branch of Hadassah Hospital.[41]

The Livnot U'Lehibanot program in Safed provides an open, non-denominational atmosphere for young Jewish adults that combines volunteering, hiking and study with exploring Jewish heritage.


In the 1950s and 1960s, Safed was known as Israel's art capital. The artists colony established in Safed's Old City was a hub of creativity that drew leading artists from around the country, among them Yosl Bergner, Moshe Castel and Menachem Shemi. Some of Israel's leading art galleries were located there. In honor of the opening of the Glitzenstein Art Museum in 1953, the artist Mane Katz donated eight of his paintings to the city. During this period, Safed was home to the country's top nightclubs, hosting the debut performances of Naomi Shemer, Aris San, and other acclaimed singers.[42]

Safed is home to a large Kabalistic community, and prompted a visit by

Travelers will find an extensive Tourist Information Center[45] in the Old Jewish Quarter on Alkabetz Street. The Center provides assistance to tourists who drop in to access information about the center, and for travelers who are planning a trip.[46] Visitors can explore the places of interest,[47] activities[48] and historical sites[49] when visiting Safed. Tourists may find the stories of legends[50] of Safed to expand their understanding of the town and its history. Accommodations[51] provide boarding opportunities for people of all ages and incomes and the list of eateries[52] is extensive in the city.

Notable residents

Twin towns — Sister cities

Safed is twinned with:

See also



External links

  • (English) (Hebrew)
  • Experience Tsfat Resource Guide (English)
  • Walking around Safed (English)
  • 8 days forecast in Safed (English)
  • Israel Experience Program in Tzfat
  • Tourist Information Center, guides
  • Listing of Safed Accommodations
  • Kabbalah Resources in Safed
  • English Map of Safed's Old City
  • video interviews and contact listings
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