| Rabbi Yosef Caro, born in 1488 in Spain, saw the great centers
of Jewish learning in Europe systematically decimated and destroyed by expulsions,
forced baptisms and inquisitions. By writing the Beit Yosef, Rabbi Caro
sought to preserve Jewish scholarship and strengthen the unity of the Jewish people
in the face of these hardships. This book, which took 32 years to write, cites
opinions on halachic issues drawn from diverse traditions, and from them determines
an authoritative interpretation of the law. A condensed version of the book, Shulchan
Aruch (The Set Table), is one of the important books governing orthodox Jewish
life today. |
The plaque above the entrance is
a dedication to the man responsible for rebuilding the synagogue after the earthquake
of 1837, Yitzchak Guetta. Guetta, an Italian Jew, was distressed to hear
of the destruction caused by the earthquake in Safed. He resolved to rebuild the
city and restored four of its synagogues. Like the Abuhav and Ari Ashkenazi synagogues,
the Yosef Caro Synagogue has an imported Italian marble floor. Legend tells that
Guetta used half of his budget in the reconstruction. The other half he buried,
intending to complete the restoration when the messiah comes.
According to Jewish law, a synagogue's entrance should be on the side
far from Jerusalem, so that one enters already facing the direction
of prayer (i.e. Safed's synagogues should face south and be entered
from the north). The entrance to this synagogue is on the wrong (south)
side. Also, half of the floor is a step higher than the other half.
The synagogue was built not as a house of worship but as a house of
study - a beit midrash, which can be entered from any direction.
The elevated side was used by the Sephardi rabbinic court on the occasions
when the court convened in the beit midrash. In recent years the building
was converted into a synagogue, a small women's section added, and is
in current use.
There are three Torah scrolls in the ark. One is from Persia
and is about 200 years old; one is from Iraq and is about 300 years old; and one
is said to be from Spain and is over 500 years old.
According to halachah a synagogue's windows should be near the top of the wall,
with the heavens visible outside, to remind those inside of G-d. Also, if the
windows are lower, people in the street might distract the congregation. Rabbi
Avraham-Yitzchak Kook, the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, explained that
the purpose of the windows is to bring to mind the people outside, and that prayer
should also bring one close to mankind.
Buy books about Safed and the ancient masters of
Kabbalah at the Kabbala
from: Safed: Six Self-Guided Tours, by Yisrael Shalem of blessed memory.
This book is available from Ascent, Box 296,
Safed, Israel; email: ascent@AscentOfSafed.com
longer article on the Caro Shul, with photos]