How many different ways can you spell the name of a town? Obviously many ways, since this is a transliteration of a Hebrew word. You might thing there are many different Tzfat cheese factories but there is only one, though signs directing you there spell it many different ways. Tzfat is one of the four holiest cities in mystical Judaism. Tzfat represents air (high on the mountain), Tiberias represents water (Sea of Galilee), Jerusalem represents fire (the Temple), and Hebron represents earth (where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of Judaism are buried). There are few references to Tzfat in ancient sources until one gets to ancient Rome, when Tzfat was a garrison in the Jewish War against Rome in the 1st century. It is mentioned in the Talmud as one of the hilltop fire beacons (the first attempt at sending an email blast) where letting people know what the date was for the new month or a holiday was communicated by lighting a bonfire on the tops of mountains strung from north to south through the country.
The Crusaders were here because of the strategic location but Tzfat really began to develop as a mystical site in the 15th and 16th centuries after the Jews were expelled from Spain and some of the most brilliant scholars of the time came here. Tzfat has suffered from plague and several earthquakes, the last in the late 1800s. Today Tzfat suffers from some of the same problems as Nazareth, dependent on tourism but the visitors only stay a few hours mostly. The current mayor is trying to do something about that and there is a huge Klezmer festival now in late August and a newly established medical school. Recently the regional hospital has been sending in volunteers clandestinely to bring casualties out of Syria (only 20 miles away) to give them medical attention they obviously can’t get in Syria.
Having Shabbat in Tzfat was a magical experience and we truly got a rest. Everything shuts down at 2 pm on Friday and the tour buses are gone, the shops selling art that makes Carmel, CA. look cutting edge are closed, and the streets turn to pedestrian malls. We wandered and ate and napped and prayed. It was great and now we are off to the opposite- the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv as we begin our reentry into our lives.