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The Abuhav Synagogue in Safed, Israel

This beautiful synagogue was named after Rabbi Yitzchak (Isaac) Abuhav of Portugal. There is a bit of ambiguity, though, behind the origins of the Abuhav Synagogue in the mystic city of Safed.

Many say that Abuhav's followers created the synagogue in Safed using the designs that he had made in Spain and with money that he sent over. A more interesting, though far out, legend has it that the synagogue was actually built in Spain, not Safed. When Abuhav's followers came to Safed they carried a Torah scroll written by Abuhav himself, which is still in the synagogue today. The area was then ruled by the Turks, who did not allow Jews to build synagogues. Thus there was no where to keep the Torah. One night the leader of the congregation had a nightmare in which he had to wander the Earth because the Torah had no home. He told everyone in his congregation to pray and fast. For 3 days they fasted, washed in the mikvah, ripped their clothing, and performed other holy rituals. Legend has it that in Europe a storm of unprecedented proportions arose and carried the Abuhav Synagogue from Spain to Safed.

The platform on which the Torah scroll is read stands in the middle of the synagogue with six stairs leading up to it. Large candelabrums hang from the ceiling, and the floor is made from huge stone slabs. The wall in which the Holy Ark stands is unique. Instead of one Holy Ark there are three Holy Arks. The middle one is used on a regular basis while the left one is used to store old, worn-out holy books. The one on the right is hardly every used. Inside it is a Sefer Torah that was written nearly five hundred years ago by the hand of the famous Rabbi of Portugal, Rabbi Isaac Abuhav. Tradition has it that in reverence to the depth of saintliness with which he wrote the Sefer Torah, its reading before the congregation should be reserved for special occasions. Therefore, throughout all these generations it was taken out and read on only three occasions: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Shavuos (Festival of Weeks).

The synagogue has been rebuilt twice since its creation, both times due to earthquakes. The first time was in 1759, when a large earthquake almost leveled Safed. Only the southern wall of the synagogue containing the Holy Arks remained intact. The second earthquake, in 1837, killed thousands of Jews and destroyed Safed. The synagogue was rebuilt again and dedicated in 1847.

Parts of this summary taken from an article by David Rossoff. For his complete work, and for more information, refer to his article.

A look at the interior of the Abuhav Synagogue.