Much of Safed’s history, tradition and customs are bound up in the tomb of Rabbi Pinhas Ben Yair, which has been mentioned in travelers’ accounts since the seventeenth century.
Rabbi Pinhas was the son-in-law of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, second-century CE sage, rebel against Rome and the traditional author of the seminal kabalistic work, the Zohar.
Prayer requests hang in plastic bags from a large fig tree at the tomb, which is located near the main entrance of the newer part of Safed’s cemetery.
Two elements of Rabbi Pinhas’ tomb come from his well-known humble nature. First, only a small, modern plaque identifies the tomb; Rabbi Pinhas himself requested that none be installed, as he said people should be “inscribed” by their deeds in this life. Second, Rabbi Pinhas instructed his disciples not to stand at his grave and pray. But they could not keep away from the tomb of their beloved teacher. Therefore, instead of standing still, they would walk around it seven times, reading Psalms and praying. This tradition is still observed at the tomb.