Zefat (zĕfˈät) [key], town (1994 pop. 21,600), NE Israel. One of Israel's four holy cities, it has a thriving artists' colony and many museums and ancient synagogues. Ceramics, diamonds, and handicrafts are produced in the town, which has a large Orthodox Jewish population. Founded c.A.D. 70, Zefat is referred to as Tzefiya in the Talmud. Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian and soldier, built fortifications that later formed the foundations of a 12th-century Crusader castle built by the Knights Templars; its ruins still stand. After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, many learned Jews moved to Zefat and made the town an important center of rabbinical and kabbalistic (see kabbalah) studies, which it remained through the 17th cent. Joseph Caro, the last great codifier of rabbinic law, lived in Zefat from 1536 to 1575 and wrote the Shulhan Aruk there. In 1563 the first Hebrew printing press in the Holy Land was established in Zefat; its books were much in demand worldwide. Largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1769, Zefat was repopulated by Russian Hasidim in 1776. The Arabs forced most Jews to leave Zefat in 1929, but Jews returned after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The name also appears as Safad and Safed.
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