Sunday, May 13, 2012

And then what happened to Safed?

Anyone who is Jewishly literate has heard of the Safed Kabbalists. In the 16th and 17th centuries Safed became, perhaps, the intellectual capital of the Jewish world and was able to boast of Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch; Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, the author of Lecha Dodi; the Arizal, and other Torah-greats. We might ask, however, what happened then? Why didn't the Torah greats of the 18th century live in Safed/Tsfas? Here is part of the Wikipedia account of the subsequent history of Safed:
[...] Over the course of the seventeenth 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 to 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.[citation needed] 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 3 days, killing many among the Jews.
Starting to notice a pattern here?

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