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BIRIYYAH (Berai) (Heb. בֵּרָי; בִּירִיָּה), in the talmudic period an important Jewish town in Upper Galilee, 1 mi. (1½ km.) N. of Safed. After Safed's importance decreased in the first century c.e. as an outcome of the Jewish war against Rome, Biriyyah took over its role as a regional center and became an important place of learning. Both in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds (Er. 45a, Git. 34a, tj Meg. 2:3, 73b et al.) six sages who were residents of Biriyyah are mentioned. The Talmud also relates several episodes from the life of "Benei Berai," i.e., Biriyyah's inhabitants. In Biriyyah, R. Abba Sha'ul, one of the important sages of the Mishnah, is assumedly buried together with his wife, a fact mentioned by a number of travelers as late as 1876. According to kabbalist tradition, the tomb of Benaiah son of Jehoiada, one of the commanders of King David, is also to be found near Biriyyah. The genizah literature testifies that Jews lived at Biriyyah also between the 11th and 13th centuries c.e., and it is possible that their descendants continued to be inhabitants of the village until the 16th century, when Biriyyah entered a new phase of ascendancy as many Jews expelled from Spain settled in Safed and its vicinity. It was then that Joseph *Caro completed at Biriyyah the first part of the *Shulḥan Arukh on the 2nd of Elul 5315 (1555 c.e.). The local Jews of that time were farmers and tradesmen, as were the Jewish inhabitants of neighboring villages. At the beginning of the 17th century, there were no longer any Jews living at Biriyyah, but the local synagogue existed until the 18th century, serving the Jewish community of Safed in case of need; its keys were kept by local Arabs who showed great reverence for the synagogue.

After the 1837 earthquake that destroyed Safed, a Hebrew printing press was temporarily brought to Biriyyah before being transferred to Jerusalem. It was the site of an Arab village Bīryā. In January 1945 a group from *Bnei Akiva founded a kibbutz on top of Mt. Biriyyah at an elevation of 3,135 ft. (1950 m.) above sea level, working principally on land reclamation. On March 5, 1946, British Mandatory authorities carried out an arms search and, after discovering weapons, arrested the settlers and occupied the village. Ten days later 3,000 youths went up the mountain, set up a tent camp near the village, and started clearing stones. The British moved up strong military forces and drove the settlers away, but they returned the following night, setting up a new camp. The whole yishuv supported the settlers, and the British gave in, first permitting the camp to remain, then releasing the imprisoned settlers, and finally (June 7, 1946) evacuating the village buildings. In September 1948, a new religious kibbutz took over the site and was replaced in 1949 by a moshav founded by immigrants from Tripolitania (Libya). The moshav supported some hill farming, but most of its inhabitants worked in Safed and elsewhere. In the mid-1990s the population was approximately 550, rising to 771 in 2002. A large forest (with nearly 6 million trees in 1968) was planted on Mt. Biriyyah.

[Efraim Orni]