Kafar Canna was a Jewish town for almost 3,000 years DR.Rivka Shpak Lissak

First settled during the First Temple Period; Fortified during the Great Revolt against the Romans; A rich Jewish existence that continued unbroken to the 17th century.

Today, Kafar Canna is an Arabic village. There were 260 Arabic families living there in 1945, growing to 600 in 1961. Today it is inhabited by 14,000 residents, most of whom are Muslim, with a Christian minority. There are 3 churches in the village: St. Bartholomew’s Church, a Greek-Orthodox Church, and a Catholic Church dedicated to the wedding miracle Christ performed by turning water into wine (John II, 1-11).

Kfar Canna was first mentioned in Egyptian documents (the Execration Texts) from the 20th century BCE and in the El-Amarna letters from the 14th century BCE. The village has been continuously inhabited since then.

The First Temple Period (around 1,000 BCE- 587 BCE)

The Hebrew connection to the village begins during the First Temple period, during which time Kfar Canna was an Israelite town. After the separation of the kingdom od David into 2 states: the kingdom of Judea in the south and the kingdom of Israel in the north, Kfar Canna was part of the kingdom of Israel. It is numbered among the towns conquered from the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser III towards the end of the 8th century BCE.

The Second Temple Period ( 538 BCE – 70 CE)

Excavations done in 1995 – 2005 show that Kfar Canna was a Jewish settlement during the Persian period (538 – 332 BCE). It was still Jewish when Josephus Flavius fortified Kfar Canna as part of the preparations for the Great Revolt of 66 CE. Refugees from Judea and Jerusalem, Priests from the Elyashiv clan, as well as Talmudic sages (Amoras) moved to Kfar Canna from Jerusalem following the suppression of the revolt. According to tradition, the Amoras Rabba and Rav Hunna are buried in one of the burial caves in Kfar Canna.

The Roman & Byzantine Periods (70 CE – 639 CE)

Kfar Canna was a large Jewish town throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods. Christians began to settle in the village as well. Archaeologists uncovered the remains of a church dating from the 6th century CE. A 4th century mosaic floor was discovered underneath the church floor, with an Aramaic inscription mentioning the name Yosseh Bar Tanhum. Foundations and columns remain, as well as a doorpost near the Northern wall and the women’s section in the synagogue’s Western gallery. Several Mezuzahs were found as well. Archaeologists determined these to be the remains of a 4th century synagogue.

The church was built during the Byzantine Christian rule. This was a difficult time for the Jews. The Byzantine government passed anti-Jewish legislation, Jews were persecuted and massacred by the Christian population, and their synagogues destroyed. Archaeological excavations show that during the late Roman period the village was divided into two separate neighborhoods, one for the Jews and one for the Christians.

The Mameluke Period (1260 – 1516)

During excavations in 2008 pottery remains from the Roman, Byzantine, Crusaders and Mameluke periods were found. Although no pottery was found from the Arabic- Muslim period, it seems that the Jewish village survived. Kfar Canna was still a large Jewish settlement during the Mameluke period. It was among the Jewish towns visited by a student of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon who arrived in Israel in the 14th century. A Jewish man from Kandia (Crete) toured the country in 1473 and found 80 Jewish families in Kfar Canna. Rabbi Yossef Demontagne from Italy who settled in Israel visited Kfar Canna in 1481. He was invited to settle there permanently by the Jews of the village, who promised to exempt him from taxes (other than the poll tax).

A student of Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenoura visited Kfar Canna in 1495. Rabbi Ovadia himself never visited the village, but relates a report from those who did, that the Jews of the village live in peace and are not troubled by Ismaelites. By this time, however, most of the village population was Christian.

The Ottoman Period (1516 – 1917)

During this time, Kfar Canna served as a trade stop on the way from Egypt to Damascus. The Jewish-Italian traveler Moshe Bassoula visited Israel in 1521 and found 40 Jewish families in Kfar Canna. According to the Ottoman census there were 50 families there. Bassoula had joined a large group of Jews from Saffed who were going to Kfar Canna’s Wednesday market day. He describes a wealthy community. Other travelers who visited Kfar Canna assert that a large Jewish community lived there until the 16th century. During the 16th century there were still 13 Jewish settlements in the Galilee, 3 towns and 10 villages. In Kfar Canna there was a textile dyeing industry.

The Ottomans carried out several censuses. The 1540 census shows there were 52 Jewish and 95 Christian families in the village. According to the 1555-1556 census Kfar Canna had 65 Jewish families and 10 Jewish bachelors, 375 Christian families and 49 Christian bachelors. According to the 1572-1573 census 77 Jewish families, 313 Christian families and 2 Christian bachelors lived in the village. A Franciscan monk from Spain who visited Kfar Canna in 1553-1555 reports that Jewish families of the Spanish exile had settled there. In 1596 there were still 96 Jewish families in the village according to an Ottoman source, but 475 Arabic families have already settled in the village.

Kfar Canna was apparently vacated of its Jewish inhabitants in the 17th century. During that time, some more Jewish Galilean settlements were abandoned as a result of the infiltration of Arab bedouins into the area. Personal safety deteriorated as Bedouins and Arabs committed murders, and the Ottoman taxation policy hurt the Jewish farmers and drove them off their lands.

A Franciscan church was built on the ruins of the 6th century church in 1879. A Greek Orthodox church was built in 1886. This proves that Christian large community was still living in the village in the 19th century.

End of the British Mandate Period ( 1947/8)

Arab gangs from Kfar Canna attacked Jewish settlements and attempted to impede Jewish transport. The village surrendered to the IDF during the Dekkel operation in July 1948. Today the village is mostly Muslim.

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