The excavation was carried out in a small area (2×3 m) of the synagogue’s courtyard, next to the building’s northern façade (Fig. 1), so as to ascertain the reason for a crack that was discovered along the entire length of the side of the building.
According to local tradition, the Sephardic Synagogue of Rabbi Yzhaq Lurieh is the oldest of the synagogues in Zefat, and prior to the arrival of Rabbi Yzhaq Lurieh (the holy Ari) in Zefat in 1570, it was known as Eliyahu Ha-Navi Synagogue. The synagogue is mentioned in the writings of the Jewish traveler Rabbi Moshe Basola, who visited Zefat in 1522. The synagogue was probably renamed in memory of the holy Ari following his death in 1572.
The synagogue was built as a large rectangular hall without columns; cross-vaults in its ceiling are decorated with geometric patterns at the point of their intersection. A stone bench was built around the walls of the structure, as was customary in ancient synagogues. The synagogue was partially destroyed by the earthquakes that struck Zefat in 1759 and 1837. According to a dedicatory inscription above the doorway, it was renovated following these earthquakes; the work lasted twenty years and at this time the wall of the northern façade was built (E. Damati. 2003. Sites and Places in Zefat. Ariel. 157-158:141–182).
The excavation conducted in 2005 just to the northwest of the current excavation area revealed a vaulted structure preserved 3 m high, which was dated to the Mamluk period (fourteenth century CE; HA-ESI 121
The stone floor in the synagogue’s courtyard was removed in the excavation area, and fill consisting of soil, small and large stones and several potsherds was exposed. The bedrock was only reached on the eastern side of the excavation square, where it was hewn and the synagogue’s front wall was founded above it.
The ceramic finds from the excavation included a locally produced jar, a base of a glazed bowl that may be an import and an open cooking vessel, all dating to the Mamluk period (thirteenth–fourteenth centuries CE); a base of a locally produced bowl coated with a dark green glaze and a fragment of a bowl glazed turquoise and yellow with brown stripes, probably imported from Italy (Fig. 2), both dating to the Early Ottoman period (fifteenth–eighteenth centuries CE); and several fragments of Rashaya el-Fukhar pottery dating to the early twentieth century CE.
The ceramic finds recovered from the excavation indicate that the site was first occupied in the Mamluk period and habitation continued up to the Early Ottoman period. It seems that the potsherds from the twentieth century CE derive from the construction of the courtyard in front of the synagogue at this period.