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Four Holy Cities

Nineteenth century out-of scale map of Judaism's four holy cities, with Jerusalem occupying the upper right quadrant, Hebron beneath it, the Jordan River running top to bottom, Safed in the top left quadrant, and Tiberias beneath it. Each of the four cities includes representations of the sacred shrines, as well as the graves of sainted rabbis and holy men.

The Four Holy Cities (Hebrew: ארבע ערי הקודש‎) (Yiddish: פיר רוס שטעט), is the collective term in Jewish tradition applied to the cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and, later, Tiberias, the four main centers of Jewish life after the Ottoman conquest of Palestine.[1] The "holy cities" concept dates to the 1640s,[1] with Tiberias joining in 1740,[1] resulting from the creation of an association between the cities for the collection of halukka (funds for the needy).

According to the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia: "Since the sixteenth century the Holiness of Palestine, especially for burial, has been almost wholly transferred to four cities—Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and Safed."[2]

  • Jerusalem has been the holiest city in Judaism and the spiritual center of the Jewish people since the 10th century BC when the site was chosen during the lifetime of King David to be the location of the Holy Temple.[3] Jerusalem is associated with the element of fire (a reference to the continuous sacrificial fires kept burning in the Holy Temple.)
  • Hebron is the burial place of the Jewish patriarchs: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah (Cave of the Patriarchs). As such Hebron is the second holiest city to Jews, and is one of the three cities that were purchased on behalf of the Jewish people by Biblical figures (Abraham bought Hebron from the Hittites, King David bought Jerusalem from the Jebusites, and Jacob bought Nablus from the Shechemites). Historically, it is the first capital of King David. Hebron is associated with the element of earth (a reference to the Cave where the patriarchs and matriarchs were buried.)
  • Safed (Tz'fat) came to be regarded as a holy city after the influx of Jews following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and became known as a center of kabbalistic scholarship. Safed is associated with the element of air (a reference to the mystical/spiritual branch of Judaism that flourishes there.)
  • Tiberias was significant in Jewish history as the place where the Jerusalem Talmud was composed and as the home of the Masoretes, but its status as a holy city is due to the influx of rabbis who established the city as a center for Jewish learning in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to Jewish tradition, the redemption will begin in Tiberias and the Sanhedrin will be reconstituted there.[4] The Messiah will arise from the lake of Tiberias, enter into the city, and be enthroned at Safed on the summit of a lofty hill.[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Wigoder, Geoffrey, ed. (1989). The Encyclopedia of Judaism. Macmillan. p. 768. Term applied to the Erets Israel cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias. These were the four main centers of Jewish life after the Ottoman conquest of 1516. The concept of the holy cities dates only from the 1640s, when the Jewish communities of Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed organized an association to improve the system of fundraising in the Diaspora. Previously, such fundraising had been undertaken by individual institutions; now it was agreed that the emissaries would be sent on behalf of each urban Jewish community as a whole, with not more than one emissary per town. After Tiberias was refounded in 1740, it also joined the association. This arrangement did not last long, however, and by the mid-19th century there was no authority strong enough to enforce a centralized collection of ḥalukkah funds. The term "Four Holy Cities" became a convenient designation by historians rather than the title of an actual functioning body. In Jewish tradition, going back to ancient times, the only city regarded as holy is Jerusalem 
  2. ^ Palestine, Holiness Of by Joseph Jacobs, Judah David Eisenstein. Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 ed.
  3. ^ Why Do Jews Love Jerusalem? by Yeruchem Eilfort. Ideas & Beliefs/Questions & Answers/Mitzvot & Jewish Customs
  4. ^ Dov Noy; Dan Ben-Amos; Ellen Frankel; Arkhiyon ha-sipur ha-ʻamami be-Yiśraʼel (Haifa, Israel) (November 2006). Folktales of the Jews: Tales from the Sephardic dispersion. Jewish Publication Society. p. 66.  
  5. ^ Henry W. Bellows (2008). The Old World in Its New Face: Impressions of Europe in 1867-1868, Volume II. BiblioBazaar, LLC. p. 337.  
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