Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue

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Ari Ashkenazi Shul
Ari Ashkenazi Shul
בית כנסת האר"י האשכנזי
Arei, Hari, Ashkanazi
Other Names
Arizal Shul
Old Synagogue in Safed, Israel named after Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, the holy Ari.

The Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue is one of the older shuls in Safed. Originally built by Spanish Maronoes, the Shul was renamed after the Arizal who used to pray the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer in the field adjacent to the Synagogue. After being destroyed in the 1837 earthquake, the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue was rebuilt 20 years later in the same location. In later years an additional Bais Medrash was built across from the original. Minyonim take place in both buildings. Childless couples often come to sit in the Shul's Chair of Eliyahu as a segula to give birth.


[edit] Gerigos Synagogue

The ARI Ashkanazi synagogue was originally called the “Gerigos Synagogue” because it was built by Jewish refugees who arrived in Tzfat from the Greek island of Gerigos. These people were descendants of Jews who had converted to Christianity under duress during the Spanish Inquisition. They fled to Grigoros, renounced Christianity and immigrated to Israel.

Many people in Tzfat refused to accept these refugees as Jews when they arrived. They argued that, by converting, the Jews had forfeited their identity as Jews, for themselves as well as their descendants. This argument mirrored a similar dispute raging within the Jewish World of that time.

The Jews from Grigoros established their own synagogue, the Grigoros synagogue, along the eastern border of the existing Tzfat community.

[edit] Chakal Tapuchim

The Aaron and Bimah
When Rabbi Isaac Luria, the ARI, came to Tzfat in 1534, he instituted the custom of welcoming the Sabbath in the field next to the Grigoros synagogue which at the time stood at the city's edge. Even today the courtyard is only a few dozen meters from the end of the city. Together with his students, the ARI would watch the sun set over the Meron mountain range as the Sabbath began. They would dance and sing the psalms and songs that today comprise the “Kabbalat Shabbat” service. This field was known by the students of the Ari as the 'Chakal Tapuchim' -- 'apple orchard' -- a reference to a realm in the spiritual dimensions.

Today the courtyard infront of the Ari Ashkenazi is marked as the location of the 'Chakal Tapuchim'. Management of the synagogue forbids the creation of minyanim in the courtyard while their minyan is still active. Occasionally their rule is ignored as hasidic tourists create minyonim for Kabbalas Shabbos at the location. On the average Shabbos night the 'Chakal Tapuchim' is empty aside from lone Nanachs doing hisbodedute meditation.

[edit] Renamed the Ari Shul

The Grigoros synagogue served the expanding Tzfat community as the original immigrants became integrated into the community. Residents renamed the synagogue the “ARI Ashkanazi” when Hassidic immigrants began to arrive in Tzfat in the late 1700's and established their own “minyan” -- prayer quorum -- there. It was named the Ari Ashkenazi to differentiate it from the already existing Ari Sephardi Synagogue.

[edit] Destruction and Resurection

The ARI Ashkanazi Synagogue that exists today was built in 1857. It sits on the site of the original ARI Ashkanazi synagogue which was completely destroyed in the 1837 earthquake.

[edit] Construction and Style

[edit] No Mezuzza

Visitors may notice that the ARI Ashkanazi synagogue does not have a “mezuzza” -- the traditional marking on the doorpost of a Jewish building. Jewish law states that a building must have a mezuzza if people intend to eat or sleep in the building. Since the ARI Ashkanazi does not have facilities for either eating or sleeping, no mezuzza exists on the doorframe.

[edit] The Bima

The “bima,”, the area where the person leading the services stands, is elevated in the center of the synagogue. Although the synagogue follows the “Nusach Sepharad”/Hassidic prayer service, the placement of the bima follows the tradition of many Sepharadi synagogues, allowing the (male) congregants to sit in a circular fashion surrounding the bima. (The women’s galley is upstairs). The pockmark in the wooden bima stand is a remnant of a piece of shrapnel that flew into the synagogue during the War of Independence. At the moment that the shrapnel flew in, the congregant sitting closest to the door was bowing in prayer and the shrapnel flew over his head.

[edit] Torah Ark

The Ark where the Torah scroll rests is decorated with an intricate wooden carving, created over 100 years ago by a local craftsman. The carving depicts a crown, reminding congregants of the ARI’s teaching that the Torah’s crown comes to all who study and follow the Torah’s teachings.

Originally the top of the Torah Ark contained engraved images of lions, birds and other animals. This caused a lot of Halachic controversy, regarding the laws of having pictures and images in a permanent place of prayer. Although the images were removed for many years, the top of the Torah Ark currently contains an image of a lion, a reference to the holy ARI.

[edit] Chair of Eliyaho

Couple struggling with infertility come to the ARI Ashkanazi synagogue to sit in the shul’s Elijah’s Chair. During a circumcision the “Sandak,” the person holding the baby, sits in a designated Elijah’s chair. The ARI Ashkanazi’s Elijah’s Chair serves, when not being used for a circumcision, as a “segula” -- a good luck charm -- for infertile couples. Many couples report that after struggling for years with infertility, one visit to the Elijah’s chair in the ARI Ashkanazi produced the hoped-for baby.

[edit] Bais Medrash

Right across form the original Ari Shul a second Beit Medrash was built, both are referred to as the Ari Ashkenazi.

[edit] Location

The Ari Ashkenazi is located along the Ma’alot Gur Aryeh stairway that descends from the main public square of [Old City], “Kikar HaMeginim.

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