Tsfat (Safed), Israel

When the Kabbalah is a Victim of Itself

holy bookcase
Jewish religious books fill the shelves of the Abuhav synagogue.
Literary Compensation
Religious studies one of the sacred books of Judaism in the synagogue of Abuhav.
a central bimah
Six steps, allegedly equivalent to working days a week, lead to the top of the synagogue bimah.
jewish art
Yacoov Kaszemacher, one of the many artists who settled in the increasingly popular Tsfat.
Synagogue facade
Inevitable religious and decorative elements of Judaism in the Abuhav synagogue.
an ultra-orthodox resident
Hasidic Jew walks through a Tsfat-covered alley, also called Safed or Zafad.
Synagogue sign
Happy family
Meirav, Ronen and their son Nahman, together in their Tsfat bar and spice shop.
Symbolic curtains placed in front of the Torah ark of the Abuhav synagogue, one of several in Tsfat.
jewish woman
Jewish woman in one of Safed's many art stores.
Safed or Tsfat
Panel celebrates considering Tsfat, Safed, the world capital of Jewish spirituality and culture.
art mezuzah
Mezuzah posted on a city gate. Mezuzahs identify the Jewish ownership of a home and its connection to God.
In the 50s, Tsfat brought together the artistic life of the young Israeli nation and regained its secular mystique. But famous converts like Madonna have come to disturb the most elemental Kabbalist discretion.

It's still early morning when we leave Tiberias and the shores of the Sea of ​​Galilee, heading north.

We are relieved by the less active period of Hezbollah forces present in villages in southern Lebanon, so close there and estimated to have over 50.000 missiles aimed at Hebrew territory.

The first views of infra-surroundings village differ from what we expected to find.

we face each other with a huge service station. Just after, we penetrated in a somewhat uncharacteristic house, even if, in part, with a tone similar to that of the yellowish sandstone facades prevalent in this region. 

In the last meters of the course, we crossed with busy pedestrians, many of them Jews Hasidic, identifiable by their black robes. 

an ultra-orthodox resident

Hasidic Jew walks through a Tsfat-covered alley, also called Safed or Zafad.

The road climbs a steep slope. We finally realized that we've come to Tsfat, the highest of all the cities of Israel, located at 900 meters of altitude, on top of the third mountain of the country. 

Shortly after, the main road narrows. It flows into a small car park. stay there the Tsfat road.

From then on, we were left on our legs and in the vast labyrinth of cobbled and colorful alleys to which the village surrenders.

From Entering Safed to Discovering the Most Creative Judaism

At a glance, we find ourselves strolling among souvenir shops and often tiny art galleries, crammed with artefacts, paintings, illustrations and photographs of all kinds.

At the door of one of these galleries, wearing a black skullcap and suit and white hair that extends to a long beard that is also white, Yacoov Kaszemacher radiates well-being and sympathy.

jewish art

Yacoov Kaszemacher, one of the many artists who settled in the increasingly popular Tsfat.

His paintings and photographs of traditional and ultra-Orthodox Jewish life are so expressive that they keep us close to the author. “Come in! There are many more inside, I can see that they are sensitizing you.”

Yacoov ends up guiding us through the gallery. Instigated by the series of questions we ask him, he exposes part of his life to us.

Son of Polish parents, he was raised in a secular home in post-war Paris. In the city of light, he got used to going to nightclubs and socializing with musicians, artists and philosophers who were first disciples of the Beat Generation, later of the Flower Power generation.

He is proud of his long self-learning of painting and photography techniques. And the way his style evolved with bold colors, expressions of mystical themes, somewhat mathematical.

Yacoov takes up another of his life's choices: “in the late 60s I began to be interested in spirituality. I evolved from a hippie to a Torah student Hasidic Jew. And in 1971, I moved to Israel.

I added Jewish and Kabbalistic motifs to my work, which gradually became meditative.


Symbolic curtains placed in front of the Torah ark of the Abuhav synagogue, one of several in Tsfat.

A lot of what you are seeing are images that reflect Jewish feelings and life in Israel, Tsfat and Hasidism.”

The Military and Millennial Genesis of Safed

His determination to establish camps in Safed, or Zefad – as the city is also known – was shared by many other artists and religious. Even if, in an intermittent way, they had been coming from the four corners of the world for a long time.

Safed was founded in the XNUMXnd century BC as a lighthouse village (masu'of), part of a chain of places atop elevations with signal fires lit to mark the beginning of a new month or holy days.

This chain extended to Jerusalem. Later, the Crusaders built a citadel at the site that allowed them to control the route to Damascus.

In the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, Safed began to assume its mystical function.

Migration of Jews from Iberia to the Promised Land

By that time, thousands of Sephardic Jews had fled the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition.

Many of those who settled in the city were Kabbalists, a kind of seekers of occult truth, rational philosophers, also interested in science and medicine.

Rabbi Isaac Luria would later prove to be their leader. He founded Kabbalah (the word means tradition) based on Jewish texts from the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries generated in southern France and Spain.

art mezuzah

Mezuzah posted on a city gate. Mezuzahs identify the Jewish ownership of a home and its connection to God.

and the Mystic Development of Kabbalah

The reinterpretation of these texts sought to find answers to the questions that most intrigued the Jews including the true spiritual cause of their expulsion from Iberia.

Luria (aka Ari) left no writings. An assistant recorded the essence of his teachings. They professed that to create the World, the Infinite had been damaged in order to make room for Creation.

As a result, sparks of the Divine Light fell from their original position and were at risk of being used by Evil. The Jews could restore the Divine Light and repair the Infinite if they carried out 613 commandments.

holy bookcase

Jewish religious books fill the shelves of the Abuhav synagogue.

Moses' ten would be just a beginning.

This interpretation gave the Jews a way to understand, as part of Evil, the horrors of the Inquisition and its expulsion. He showed them that they should react by looking for a higher spiritual awareness that would allow them to repair the World.

It is obvious that, at this point in our own learning of Kabbalah, we are inclined to think that Evil has largely triumphed over the desired reparation.

This was the indictment of the most evil historical events ever recorded on the face of the Earth, those of the Holocaust.

The Abuhav Synagogue, the Temple at the Religious Core of Kabbalah

We enter the synagogue district of Tsfat. Of these, we give priority to the most important in the city, Abuhav.

It is estimated that it was erected by followers of the eponymous rabbi, in 1490, with a configuration based on Kabbalah: four central pillars representing the elements at the base of Creation, ten symbolic windows in the dome of the Commandments, images of the twelve tribes of Israel that enunciate the Jewish unity.

a central bimah

Six steps, allegedly equivalent to working days a week, lead to the top of the synagogue bimah.

And still paintings of pomegranate trees, a fruit that usually has 613 seeds.

The Jew in charge of guarding the temple welcomes us with a shalom effusive enough, limited by the concern to impose on us the use of a skullcap and a petticoat.

Let us investigate the temple and photograph at will. He returns to the depths of his Kabbalistic studies, his head practically buried in a huge aged book.

Literary Compensation

Religious studies one of the sacred books of Judaism in the synagogue of Abuhav.

Founder Isaac Luria was always against an excessive dissemination of Kabbalah, at first accessible only to married Jewish men over forty.

The Internationalization and Popularization of Kabbalah among the World's Famous

Against its will, the Jewish Diaspora ended up disseminating its precepts throughout the world and among personalities that, had they been its contemporaries, would certainly banish them.

In 2009 and 2012, the newly converted Madonna had concerts scheduled for Tel Aviv, none of them on Friday night, when the Jewish sabbatical begins.

He received a previous letter from Rabbi Samuel Eliyahu who asked him to perform in the Holy Land in modest clothing. In vain,

Instead, he started introducing Kabbalistic visual elements into his video clips.

Synagogue signThe singer visited Safed more than once and, in particular, Ari's grave where she sang a typical Sabbath song, “arrow Dodi”, in the most cabalistic tone possible.

In 2012, he arrived in town with family and some friends. Earlier, in 2009, she was accompanied by Jesus – her model Brazilian boyfriend at the time, not the Jewish Messiah who never convinced Jewish believers – and Rabbi Michael Berg, son of Philip Berg.

Philip Berg was the founder of the Los Angeles International Kabalah Center. From 1965 onwards, this became the main divulging institution of Kabbalah, responsible for the alleged adhesion of other stars of the American showbizz, such as Demi Moore, Britney Spears, Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ashton Kutcher, Naomi Campbell and many others.

Several of the new believers stopped attending the center, allegedly because they preferred the previous Christian faith, or no faith at all. Some others - like the ex-wife of Mick Jagger – because you were asked to donate 10% of your income.

From what we understand to the discovery of Safed, the media coverage achieved with the incursions of these stars is handy (and doesn't care much) for those who stuck to Kabbalah for mere commercial purposes.

As for true Kabbalists, the more of these withdrawals, the better.

jewish woman

Jewish woman in one of Safed's many art stores.

Rabbi Gavriel Hubbara of the Yemeni community of Safed did not shy away from declaring about the material girl.

“She only comes here to draw attention to herself…” and, by visiting that rabbi, she is only insulting her own alleged study of the Kabbalah”,

Without a doubt, a reference to the Kabalah Center and the late Philip Berg.

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