France / Aube

Troyes

Rashi Institute

2 Rue Brunneval, 10000 Troyes, France

Rashi Synagogue

5 Rue Brunneval, 10000 Troyes, France

Jacques Chirac Media Library

7 Rue des Filles Dieu, 10000 Troyes, France

Rashi Memorial

Rashi Memorial, Rue Louis Mony, Troyes, France

Saint Frobert neighborhood

Rue Saint-Frobert, Troyes, France

Rashi Memorial in front of the Champagne Theatre
Rashi Memorial. Photo by Steve Krief

During the Middle Ages, the Aube Region in France hosts many Jewish communities including Villenauxe-la-Grande, Saint-Mards-en-Othe, Plancy-l’Abbaye, Ervy-le-Chätel, Lhuître, Mussy-sur-Seine, Ramerupt, Dampierre , Brienne-le-Chäteau, Bar-sur-Aube and especially Troyes.

The Jewish presence in the city of Troyes probably dates from the XIth century, a fact which can be verified from documented archives. Probably a few hundred people. But among whom the great scholar Rashi.

By opening the five books of the Torah, the Talmud or many other religious works, a word, rather a name accompanies the approach of these texts: Rashi. If comments from texts shared for millennia shed light on such a point, such a situation, such a character, Rashi is unanimous as a leading commentator.

By his capacity to make the link between the biblical texts and all the comments which he has selected, confronting the most relevant approaches to the most complicated questions. He facilitates its reading, by finding the literal meaning of reading, the Pshat.

Street in the former jewish neighborhood in Troyes
Rue Saint-Frobert. Photo by Olybrius – Wikipedia

National pride, Rabbi Shlomo Itshaqi, better known by the name of Rashi, was born in the French city of Troyes in 1040. Having benefited from an excellent rabbinical training with the rabbis Jacob b. Yakar, Isaac b. Judah in Mainz and Isaac b. Eleazar Ha-Levi in ​​Worms, he resettles in Troyes and opens his institute. Between the East of France and the West of Germany a region was prospering economically and intellectually, encouraging the exchanges on the two plans.

Rashi also represents the junction of traditional and modern excellence. A primary reference in text comments but also in its investment in the City, he also highlights the French language in its comments. Rabbi Claude Sultan, who directed the Rashi Institute, said that French linguists were studying his biblical commentaries to find French words from the Middle Ages, Rashi not in fact hesitating to use the language of Molière and the regional language of Champagne to clarify a comment when there was no equivalent in Hebrew. Christian religious texts, like those of Nicolas de Lyre, also refer to him.

Heritage funds at the Media Library. Photo courtesy of the Jacques Chirac Media Library

The exchanges between Jewish and Christian thinkers are moreover regular and warm. At the time of Rashi but also of his descendants.

Descendants who perpetuated his teaching by creating the school of the Tossafists. Among them are the rabbis Rashbam, Ribam and Rabenou Tam. This school shines in the region in Ramerupt, Dampierre and Sens.

Jewish life in Troyes gradually experienced economic prosperity but also persecution, both material and physical, particularly in the XIIIth century with the reign of Louis IX. The following century saw expulsions under Philippe le Bel and Charles VI and timid returns of Jews to the city.

Rachi Memorial. Photo by Steve Krief

The  old Jewish quarter was located near the Saint-Frobert church and the Jewish cemetery at the entrance to the suburb of Preize. The cemetery having been destroyed to enlarge the city, the tomb of Rashi has disappeared. Near the rue de Preize, an esplanade in front of the Jacques Chirac Media Library was named in memory of Rashi. The Media library possesses vast heritage funds, mainly from the XVIth and XVIIth centuries, among them the ones held at the Clairvaux Abbey library.

In the Middle Ages, the Saint Frobert district, around rue Hennequin, was nicknamed “la Juiverie” or “Brosse aux juifs”. At the time of Rashi, many Jews lived in this neighborhood.

It was only in the XIXth century that the Jewish community settled permanently in Troyes. On the eve of the Holocaust, some 200 Jews lived in Troyes. Today, a few hundred Jews live in the department of Aube.

Rashi House. Photo by Steve Krief

1990 marked the 950th anniversary of Rashi’s birth. Therefore, two major events during that year honored Rashi’s influence. The latter one was the presentation of the  Rashi Memorial, created by the sculptor Raymond Moretti. It was inaugurated before an emotional audience. Among them, Robert Galley, the former mayor of Troyes and Elie Wiesel. The latter recalled the importance of Rashi: “His comment has become my companion. Rashi was there, guiding me, telling me that everything is simple despite appearances. I began to love him so much that I could not do without him because, from then on, I found him to be different, radiant with friendship. “

The memorial is located in front of the Champagne theater. Consisting of a metal sphere of almost 3 meters, the artist was inspired by the Cabbala and we see the acronym of Rashi in Hebrew.

Nowadays, two places centralize the cultural and religious activity. The Rashi Synagogue and the European University Institute Rashi, one opposite the other, are located in the old town of Troyes.

Rashi Institute. Photo by Steve Krief

In 1960, the  Rashi Synagogue was installed in the old town. Wood is much used in the architecture of building, in harmony with the antiquity of the district. Interior renovations have been carried out in recent years with the installation of a beautiful glass roof, combining eras. There is also a beautiful stained glass window inspired by Rashi’s family tree. The Rashi House, created there in 2017, offers a permanent exhibition about Rashi. The building also holds a library, movies and numerical tools presenting precious manuscripts.

In 1990, in the same spirit as the inauguration of the Memorial, and preceding it, the  Rashi Institute opened its doors that year. Today, Since then, it has occupied an important place in Jewish studies but also in intercultural sharing. By studying the Hebrew language, other Semitic languages as well as compared thoughts and civilisations. And by asking the question of the cultural and scientific approach to religion. The Town Hall of Troyes, as well as the Media Library and the University of Reims actively participate in sharing Rashi’s work and influence, precisely on biblical, linguistic and cultural studies.

Interview of Géraldine Roux, Director of the Rashi Institute

Géraldine Roux, director of the Rashi Institute
Géraldine Roux

Jguideeurope: What is the identity of the European University Institute Rashi?

Géraldine Roux: The Rashi Institute was founded in 1990 by Chief Rabbi Sirat and Robert Galley from a rather grim observation. Rashi, the world’s foremost Torah and Bible commentator, is a complete stranger in the city where he lived. Creating an institute allowed him to discover it. Not from a material memory but from its spirit: the opening of Judaism to the world, in its diversity. The vocation of the Institute then became twofold: to spread the Rashi spirit, in the space of Judaism, that is to say of Judaism in the city, that of the French Republic, through an education in culture for all; backing up its courses at the Troyes University Center, which itself had just been born, in order to train students and researchers in the singularity of Jewish thought where there is no single truth or one set in stone but a multiplicity of sparks of meaning.

Therefore, the Rashi Institute, non-denominational and not just a university, can appear as a non-place. A place of the threshold. Neither inside nor outside, but at the confluence of cultures. This situation is not always comfortable since if you come there looking for a space for prayer or the practice of rites, you can only be disappointed and if you consider it from a strict secularism, the proposed themes can be confusing. And this is the paradox of this unique place in the French cultural landscape that I find so rich and promising.

 

Conference at the Rashi Institute

What missions does the Rashi Institute have?

The Rashi Institute offers, during the day, courses for students, high school students and anyone interested in Jewish thought and culture with courses in medieval philosophy and literature, Rashi commentaries, languages ​​(literary Arabic, biblical Hebrew, modern Hebrew), Jewish and Muslim thoughts in the lands of Islam, Jewish philosophy and seminars including, new this year, a cycle of reflections “observations on the Dreyfus Affair”. These courses and seminars are built in partnership with universities in the Grand Est region, Paris and the European Institute Emmanuel Levinas of the AIU. And we also offer conferences for the general public and study days, on topical themes. Our missions? Linking specialized teaching and research with discoveries and reflections for the general public. And in the medium term, we are developing the project to become an observatory of monotheisms, based on scientific and university knowledge, in order to give everyone the keys to understanding what is often called vaguely the “Religious phenomenon” and to give keys to readings of this cultural heritage in order to get out and communitarianism which leads to intolerance and rejection which leads to violence.

 

Courses at the Rashi Institute

You were supposed to organize an event around Rashi’s birthday. Because of the confinement this could not be fully achieved. Do you anticipate a postponement?

Everything was ready in mid-March to celebrate the 980th anniversary of Rashi’s birth. A week of festivities with lectures, readings, an exhibition, “The School of Rashi: manuscripts and glossaries, between interpretation, languages ​​and stories”, a day of studies and a concert. Due to the epidemic of Coronavirus, the office of the Rashi Institute decided, a few days before the official announcement of containment, to postpone this anniversary week. This decision was certainly difficult, but we all saw it as a measure of common sense. The basic tenet of the Torah is to preserve life. The announcement of containment measures on March 16 by the President of the Republic confirmed this decision. We then quickly started to prepare the postponement, which will take place from Sunday 22 to Sunday 29 November 2020.

 

Max Klezmer Band concert

Will the themes addressed be the same as those originally planned?

Most of the participants agreed to speak in November and the themes of the anniversary week will be identical. This week will begin with an inaugural conference on the Rashi Bible, by the president of the Rashi University Institute, Armand Abécassis, followed by a reflection on the place of Rashi in Jewish studies until the 21st century, by Sylvie-Anne Goldberg. We will also discover Ariel Toledano’s new book on “The Medicine of Rashi” and a talk, by Rosine Cohen, on the Rashi man through his work. This week’s flagship days will be devoted to the exhibition “The School of Rashi”, from Tassafists to Christian Exegetes, to be held at the Counts of Champagne Campus. We are all the more pleased with this project as manuscripts, including Rashi commentaries, will be exhibited in the main hall of this university center, for the first time in its history. And that, in the city of Rashi! A day of studies on the influence of the Rashi school will follow. The week will end with a poetic and musical encounter of Jewish inspiration, with Odile Cohen and Philippe Mallard.

This anniversary week is about homelessness. Rashi was a citizen of Troyes, in openness and dialogue with the local and Champagne authorities of the time, as with the various trades and crafts he knew so well. His birthday will therefore be celebrated in emblematic places: the town hall of Troyes, the university campus, the Jacques-Chirac media library and the Rashi Institute, these places which continue to bring to life, each from their actions, the spirit of Rashi: one cannot live isolated. Otherwise, one lives on oneself, or rather one dies on oneself. Rashi has never been withdrawn. He was in contact with Christians, with the Counts of Champagne. He was an inverse figure of withdrawal, the image of an opening to dialogue.

 

Concert by Les Clés de Scène

How does the Institute continue its programs with confinement?

The strike movements and the transportation difficulties of January encouraged us to experiment with weekly videoconferencing with our Parisian teachers. We had therefore already used this type of tool and, from March 16, the diploma courses were continued by such means. After one month of use, we found that 90% of our listeners and students were connected and were able to benefit from these online and live courses. People without an internet connection have not been forgotten, and exercises and course sheets have been offered in other formats. And teachers don’t hesitate to make a phone call to hear from them.

In any case, with this experiment for our diploma courses – the most urgent so as not to make students lose their year – I take advantage of the spring break to reshape the full program of courses and conferences in order to propose a new one, entirely in line, for the months of May and June 2020. The pace will of course be different. The concentration as the hourly volume cannot be identical in time of confinement. The risk, in my opinion, would be to pretend that everything was the same as before, except that it would happen online. But, taking into account this consideration, we will offer, from May 11 our courses, alternating every 15 days, in order to offer three different courses each week. Online lectures will also be offered: “mythology of the lame and the fabulous foot”, by Karin Ueltschi (professor of Middle Ages Language and Literature at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne and administrator of the Rashi Institute) on Tuesday 12 May at 8 p.m. “The unknown”, by Anne Bazin and Danièle Lévy, psychoanalysts, on Monday May 15 at 8 p.m. and “Can idleness save the world? “, By Thomas Schauder (philosophy teacher and librarian of the Rashi Institute), on Thursday June 4 at 8 p.m. Courses like the three conferences we will offer will be completely free and open to everyone. It will be our modest way at the “virtual” Rashi Institute to contribute to the effort and solidarity by offering online cultural activities for all. By crossing your fingers so that the technique follows well!

 

Delphine Yagüe. Photo courtesy of CulturistiQ

Does the city of Troyes actively participate in sharing this heritage?

The City of Troyes fully participates in sharing this millennial heritage. The creation of the European University Institute Rashi, on the initiative of the then minister-mayor, Robert Galley, thirty years ago, and pursued by the current municipality, is one glaring testimony. Likewise, Troyes Champagne Métropole actively helps the development of the Rashi Institute with substantial grants to perpetuate and develop research and study in the field of Jewish and Hebrew thought in Troyes. An ambitious project is also being developed, led by the Aube en Champagne Departmental Tourist Committee, to include a Rashi route as part of the European Jewish Heritage routes (AEPJ). A very interesting project managed by Delphine Yagüe, founder of the cultural lab CulturistiQ. Living perspectives…