What are Some Jewish Traditions that Originated in Safed?
There are many traditions and customs which are, today, observed throughout the Jewish world, which have their origins in Tzfat and explain why is Safed important to Judaism.
The Kabbalat Shabbat service, sung at the beginning of Shabbat, was instituted by the ARI and his students. They would go to an apple orchard outside of the city and sing hymns and psalms and R' Alkabetz's L'cha Dodi, as they watched the sun set over Mt. Meron and "brought in" the Sabbath.
A kabbalistic tradition exists of leaving a little boy's hair uncut until age 3, as the child "ripens", in the same way that a fruit tree's fruit is only picked after the third year. At age 3, many people take their young boys to the tomb of R' Shimon Bar Yochai (believed to have written the Zohar, basis of Kabbalah) at Mt. Meron to have their hair snipped, often by great rabbis and rebbes. This was begun by the ARI as a blessing to the boys and their families for long lives of health and happiness.
Tu B'Shevat Seder
Mentioned in the Talmud, the "New Year of the Trees" (when the sap begins to run in the trees in late winter) is a time when Jews recognize their dependence on nature and appreciation of the environment. The ARI and his students instituted a "Seder", modeled on the Passover Seder, where, in order, each of the Land of Israel's seven species is discussed, and thanks given for what that species gives us. There are many other discussions during the Seder about the different meanings of various fruits and wines.
Tikkun Leil Shavouth
One Shavouth night as R' Shlomo Alkebetz and R' Yosef Caro sat studying Torah, R' Caro's maggid, his heavenly messenger, related to him that from this holiday onward, Jews should make it their custom to do exactly that....spend Shavouth night awake, studying Torah. Till today, Jews do this, known as the Tikkun of Shavouth.
Lag B'Omer Procession to Mt. Meron
In the 16th century, the ARI initiated the traditional Lag B'Omer procession from Tzfat to the gravesite of R' Shimon Bar Yochai at Mt. Meron. R' Bar Yochai was the first recognized scholar of Kabbalah, and the author of the Zohar, the book of Kabbalah. In the 19th century, the Abu family added the tradition of bringing the Torah scroll from their house which would accompany the pilgrims to Mt. Meron with singing and dancing....this ceremony is the official opening ceremony of Lag B'Omer today.
The custom of Tashlich, casting ones sins, metaphorically, into the waters on Rosh Hashana seems to have begun in Germany in the 16th century, but become widely accepted after the ARI began to adopt it in Tzfat.
Honey on the Book
Honey on the book when beginning to learn - in both Sepharadi and Ashkanazi communities, little boys have traditionally begun their learning with honey smeared on the pages of the primers which they would learn their aleph bet. The boys were encouraged to lick the honey from the book, with the explanation that their learning would be as sweet as honey. The ARI instituted this custom in Tzfat, and from Tzfat, it spread throughout the Jewish world.
The tradition of inviting honored guests, the Ushpizin, into the Succa on Succot began with the ARI in Tzfat. Once, during Succot, he summoned the Patriarchs into his succa, and they appeared, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aharon and King David. Since then, Jews througout the world have a small ceremony in their succas when they invite in these guests, the Ushpizin.
Hakafot of Simhat Torah
Throughout the world, Jewish congregations dance with the Torah on the holiday of Simhat Torah. There are seven "rounds", both at night and during the daytime, and each "round" or Hakafa, if accompanied by joyous dancing and singing. The custom of doing seven "Hakafot" originated in Tzfat with the ARI and his students.