Haunted Synagouge of Safed



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Sfad and the Haunted Synagogue

By by Dovid Rossoff

     Ghosts and demons are notorious at haunting ruins and old houses, especially attics and cellars. They thrive on decay, darkness, and any place void of holiness for their sustenance. What they hate most of all is a building which has been consecrated as a sanctuary. The Divine light of holiness blinds and repulses them. Therefore, they are always careful not to enter a synagogue or beis midrash.

     Safed is a city in the Galilean mountains which is famous for its synagogues. These ancient houses of prayer and study have been the central force behind the Jewish community of the city. Their walls are saturated with the tears and prayers of worshippers over the generations. Certainly, they are the last place in the world where one would expect to find demons hiding out. Yet the following true story is the tale of a haunted synagogue. Though it defies all rationality, the story is well documented and unmistakably authentic. Here is the story.

The Ari Sefardi Synagogue

     The Old City of Safed lies on the upper slope of a mountain. Below the city is the ancient cemetery where some of the most renowned Torah sages of all the ages are buried. The staircase leading out of the cemetery into the city brings one immediately to the Ari Sefardi Synagogue. This gigantic synagogue has a long history dating back over five hundred years. When Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Ari Zal, moved to Safed in 1570, the synagogue was already very old. He prayed there on an irregular basis, preferring to change his place for communion from one synagogue to another.
Click on small picture to see large picture of the Ari Synagogue

The reason the synagogue was called after him was due to a special meeting he had there. Once, (and maybe more than once), the Ari Zal met Elijah the Prophet in the shul. In those days, there was a small cave-like room over to the side, barely large enough for two or three people to stand in it. There the two of them would meet and discuss mysteries of the Torah. Surely, Elijah revealed many secrets to his beloved disciple at that spot. Today, that tiny room is kept sacred, with people lighting candles there throughout the day.

The Baba Sali Visits Safed

     In 1921, a member of the illustrious Abuchazera family of Morocco visited Israel. It was his first trip to the Land of our forefathers, and Rabbi Yisrael Abuchazera was especially excited about visiting the mystical city of Safed. Known as the Baba Sali, the young, thirty-year-old prince of Morocco, traveled with a personal attendant. When he reached the city, well-wishers, rabbis and children came to greet him. After settling down, he went to officially meet with the rabbis of the town, especially the saintly Rabbi Eliezer Shlomo Elfandari.

     We can image how the Baba Sali reacted to the report of the haunted Ari Sefardi Synagogue. "Impossible!" he uttered. "Demons in control of the holy synagogue in which the saintly Ari Zal prayed! Never!"

      But the facts were real. Anyone who entered there did not leave alive. After a few mysterious deaths of this type, the beadle of the synagogue had locked and bolted it closed indefinitely.

A Time to Act

     Rav Yisrael Abuchazera, fully aware of the danger which awaited anyone who dared to enter the synagogue, sent his personal aide straight away to the gatekeeper's house to implore him to open the synagogue for him. In the meantime, Rabbi Yisrael walked down to the Ari mikve (ritual immersion pool) and immersed in the cold spring water pool.

     The old gatekeeper flatly refused the aide's request. "Don't you know," he told the young man sternly, "how many corpses lie inside? It is impossible to remove them."

     With a sad look in his eyes, he concluded, "I cannot give the key to you or to anyone else. I will not be a party to certain death."

     The Baba Sali's personal attendant persisted, "My rebbe, the holy Rabbi Yisrael Abuchazera, is not an ordinary sightseer, nor is he foolish to endanger his life without due reason. Surely, he has a special mission to accomplish here in Safed by redeeming the holy synagogue from the grip of these demons. It is your duty to open the shul. Don't fear. My rebbe's blessing shall be upon you."

     Slowly, the beadle acquiesced to the Baba Sali's request. A time was set to meet in the courtyard of the synagogue an hour later that very afternoon.

     Standing by the huge doorway to the synagogue, the gatekeeper again reiterated his reluctance to open the door.

     "Therefore," he said with a heavy, nervous tone in his voice, "I must ask you to please tie this rope around your waist. If, Heaven forbid, you do not come out, I shall be able to pull....."

     "It is unnecessary, my dear friend," said the Baba Sali. "Fear not! In another few minutes you will be inside with me, alive and well."

The Doorway to Life or Death

     The gatekeeper unlocked the outer door with a long, bronze key, and pushed the door open. It squeaked loudly on its hinges.

     The Baba Sali took the key to the inner door some fifteen feet inside. As he stepped in, he turned to his aide. "Hold onto my coat and don't let go," he whispered. "And don't say a word."

     The gatekeeper watched them with great expectation. The Moroccan Jew wore his turban and long Sefardic coat which nearly touched the ground. His aide was obviously nervous and bent down as he followed his master inside.

     They stopped at the inner door long enough for Rabbi Abuchazera to unlock and open it. Outside, the sun was about to set, and a gray twilight mist darkened the sky.

     The Baba Sali boldly stepped into the main synagogue. Suddenly, a strange sight lay before them. The synagogue blazed full of light. It was so uncanny that the aide felt his heart pounding louder than the silence.

     Slowly, the two tiptoed across the hall to the Holy Ark at the front of the synagogue. Rabbi Yisrael Abuchazera opened the Ark, took out a Torah scroll, and carried it to the bimah. The young aide followed him holding tightly to his master's robe. There he opened the Torah scroll and read from it outloud. His voice danced across the hall in all directions, mingling with the strange rays of light that filled the room.

     When he finished, the Baba Sali closed the Torah scroll, and returned it to its place in the Holy Ark. Only then did he sit down.

     "You may release your hold on my garment now," he said. "The danger is over."

     In his melodious voice, the prince of Morocco began to chant the words of prayer recited before the afternoon service. His aide went and brought the gatekeeper, who waited by the inner door until after the Baba Sali concluded the Afternoon service.

     "Please, forgive me," begged the old man. "I didn't believe that...."

     "It is all right. You did just as any sensible person should do."

     The gatekeeper kissed the Baba Sali's hand in respect. The Baba Sali left with the personal attendant. At last, in the merit of the holy Rabbi Yisrael Abuchazera, the Ari Sefardi Synagogue was freed from the specter of death and was once again open to all.
Click on small picture to see large picture of the door

P.S. Rabbi Yisrael Abuchazera's yartzeit is 4 Shevat, which this year falls on 31 January.
Click on small picture to see the Baba Sali in his last years

The Jewish Magazine is the place for Israel and Jewish interest articles

by Dovid Rossoff
The author, Dovid Rossoff, resides in Jerusalem over twenty-five years. He has written Land of Our Heritage, Safed: The Mystical City, and The Tefillin Handbook, among others. He is currently writing a Jewish history of Jerusalem from the Crusader period until the present.

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