Jewish Life in Medieval Spain

Tour Highlights: Madrid, Puerta de Alcala, the Prado, Toledo, El Greco Museum, Grand Toledo Cathedral, Cordoba, Seville, Alcazar Palace, Granada, Museum of Fine Arts, The Alhambra, Alhambra Palace and Generalife Gardens, Barcelona, Church of the Sagrada Familia, Picasso Museum and so much more!

Spain is as rich in Jewish history as it is beautiful.  Learning about the Golden Age of medieval Jewish life and its aftermath is critical to understanding and appreciating the unfolding of Jewish history until today.  The magnificent cities with their striking edifices like the Alhambra in Granada and Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona and the long stretches of olive trees in the countryside make Spain one of the world’s most popular destinations.

The primary focus of our study tour is Jewish Life in Medieval Spain.  Its secondary emphasis is on the world renown art collections found in museums sprinkled across the country, from the Prado in Madrid to the El Greco Museum in Toledo.

About JEWISH EXPLORATIONS

JEWISH EXPLORATIONS is a collaboration between the Philadelphia-based Gil Travel Group, a leader in travel to destinations around the world for over 40 years and Adults Jewish Learning Programs. JEWISH EXPLORATIONS study tours are led by outstanding Judaic Studies scholars whose depth and breadth of knowledge in their chosen fields of expertise is unparalleled. Our programs are designed to be intimate learning opportunities and are limited to no more than 25 participants.  From archaeological sites in Israel to world renowned manuscript collections in England and from the deep South in the United States to the winding alleyways in La Juderia in Spain, JEWISH EXPLORATIONS give you a deeper understanding of the sweep of Jewish civilization around the globe and throughout the span of history.

The People Before the Book: The Great Medieval Jewish Manuscript Collections of England

Tour highlights: London, British Library, British Museum, Cambridge, Cambridge University Library, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Sheldonian Theatre, Blenheim Palace and so much more! 

The Jews are the People of the Book.  “The Book” – that is, the Torah, the other books of the Bible, the Talmud, and much more – contain Judaism’s foundational stories, beliefs, and practices.  But what of the stories of the actual book itself – the manuscripts written on everything from papyrus to vellum, in scroll form and in codex form – contained in the great libraries of the world?  They tell a whole other set of stories of the Jewish people.  And the greatest concentration of these precious treasures are to be found in the library archives in London, Oxford, and Cambridge.

How and why is this the case?  In large part, we have Henry VIII to thank!  During the height of his break from the Church in Rome, King Henry established the Regius Professorship of Hebrew at Cambridge in 1540 and then the parallel chair at Oxford in 1546.  Hebrew studies has remained at the center of British academic life ever since.

The break from Rome also fostered a return to Old Testament roots, so that the English have had a singular obsession with the Bible ever since.  As witness thereto, note that the King James Version of the Bible (1611) is the only official Bible translation sponsored by royal privilege in the history of Europe.

The study of Hebrew, moreover, requires Hebrew books and manuscripts, and hence all three major libraries in England acquired extensive collections through the centuries.  Two shining examples of this development, relevant to Oxford in particular, are represented by the efforts of Thomas Bodley and Benjamin Kennicott.

In 1603, Bodley established the University library in Oxford, now named for him as the Bodleian, to which he bequeathed his sizable collection of Hebrew manuscripts.  In the 1760’s, Kennicott toured Europe in search of Bible manuscripts in particular, many of which he purchased and brought back to Oxford – including the crown jewel of all such volumes known today as simply the Kennicott Bible.

At a later time, and perhaps most famously, Solomon Schechter brought back approximately 193,000 medieval documents from the Cairo Genizah to Cambridge in 1896.  And all the while the British Library in London collected inestimable Hebrew manuscripts.

Join us for a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of these historical gems with expert scholar Gary Rendsburg, Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies and holder of the Blanche and Irving Laurie Chair in Jewish History at Rutgers University.  Gary’s main fields of expertise are the Bible, the world of ancient Israel, the history of the Hebrew language, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the medieval manuscript tradition.  He has spent significant periods of time living in England, writing, conducting research, and lecturing throughout the country.  He is passionate about expanding access to these treasures and helping people understand what we may learn from the manuscripts.

In Gary’s knowledgeable hands, we are thrilled to open up these archives to you, to thereby introduce you to a whole new way of looking at Jewish history.

In order to give you the rare opportunity to go behind the scenes and see librarians and conservationists at work, this study tour is limited to 18 participants.

About JEWISH EXPLORATIONS

JEWISH EXPLORATIONS is a collaboration between the Philadelphia-based Gil Travel Group, a leader in travel to destinations around the world for over 40 years and Adult Jewish Learning Programs. JEWISH EXPLORATIONS study tours are led by outstanding Judaic Studies scholars whose depth and breadth of knowledge in their chosen fields of expertise is unparalleled. Our programs are designed to be intimate learning opportunities and are limited to no more than 25 participants.  From archaeological sites in Israel to world renowned manuscript collections in England and from the deep South in the United States to the winding alleyways in La Juderia in Spain, JEWISH EXPLORATIONS give you a deeper understanding of the sweep of Jewish civilization around the globe and throughout the span of history.

Jewish Life in Italy

The story of Jews and Judaism in Italy spans more than two thousand years, beginning in the pre-Christian Roman Empire and continuing to today. It is a saga featuring protective inwardness, great Jewish creativity and a compelling mix of struggle and interconnection with wider Catholic society. Italy is famed for its rich culture. Our study tour will focus on Jews and Judaism in Italy, Jewish-Church relations past and present, and innovation in Arts and Letters at the height of Italy’s impact on Western Civilization. The tour sequence will be Venice, Florence and Rome, with side visits to Siena and Pitigliano. We will be visiting Venice during the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the formation of its Ghetto.

Shabbat will be spent with the Jewish community in Florence.

Our scholars, Eugene and Lila Korn, have rich backgrounds in history, art, Judaism and Jewish philosophy. Their overviews will serve to deepen understanding and expand our perspective for the many fascinating sites we will visit. Eugene has vast experience in Jewish thought and Jewish-Christian relations and will provide us with a unique insider’s view when we visit the Vatican and meet with Church officials. Lila has extensive background in European and Jewish History, and in Art History. She will guide our appreciation of masterpieces we will be seeing throughout the study tour.

Each day will feature a 30 – 40-minute Study Session led by our scholars, utilizing PowerPoint presentations and hand-outs. These may be at the hotel after breakfast or on site during the day’s touring.

 About JEWISH EXPLORATIONS

JEWISH EXPLORATIONS is a collaboration between the Philadelphia-based Gil Travel Group, a leader in travel to destinations around the world for over 40 years and Adults Jewish Learning Programs. JEWISH EXPLORATIONS study tours are led by outstanding Judaic Studies scholars whose depth and breadth of knowledge in their chosen field of expertise is unparalleled.

Our programs are designed to be intimate learning opportunities and are limited to up to 25 participants and some even less.  From archaeological sites in Israel to world renown manuscript collections in England and from the deep South in the United States to the winding alleyways in La Juderia in Spain, JEWISH EXPLORATIONS give you a deeper understanding of the sweep of Jewish civilization around the globe and throughout the span of history.

In the Footsteps of Rashi: Medieval French Jewry

Tour Highlights: Rouen, Old Town, Paris, St. Denis, Reims, Troyes, Central Square, Rammerupt, Orleans, Blois, Beaugency, Notre Dame Cathedral, and SO much more! 

Our journey takes us back nearly a thousand years, to the “250 yearlong” Renaissance of the 12th Century. This is not the famous Italian Renaissance that began somewhat later, but a revolution in thinking, technology and — in particular — reading that made the later one possible. Urban centers were growing in northern France, and many different types of political, social, economic and religious institutions were developing. The very small Jewish community lived alongside its Christian neighbors: while they typically lived in their own neighborhoods, there was no ghetto, and Jews and Christians spoke the same language (“Old French”), dressed alike, practiced many of the same professions — and drank the same beer, the typical daily beverage for everyone. They even mostly ate the same foods, for meat was, of course, a luxury. Not to overstate the picture, however, there was no little love lost between the two communities, and suspicion, particularly on anything that touched on religious practice or theology, was the rule.

Nonetheless, dialogue was frequent, not as religious disputation (this only occurred later on) and it took place informally on the road, in the taverns and in the workplace — and, occasionally, during excursions of a religious and intellectual nature. In particular, Christian clergy were interested in Hebraica Veritas, “the ‘true meaning’ of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Tanakh and, not knowing Hebrew, would turn to the local Jews for help in understanding the underlying Hebrew meaning of their own Latin Bibles.

About JEWISH EXPLORATIONS

JEWISH EXPLORATIONS is a collaboration between the Philadelphia-based Gil Travel Group, a leader in travel to destinations around the world for over 40 years and Adults Jewish Learning Programs. JEWISH EXPLORATIONS study tours are led by outstanding Judaic Studies scholars whose depth and breadth of knowledge in their chosen fields of expertise is unparalleled. Our programs are designed to be intimate learning opportunities and are limited to no more than 25 participants.  From archaeological sites in Israel to world renowned manuscript collections in England and from the deep South in the United States to the winding alleyways in La Juderia in Spain, JEWISH EXPLORATIONS give you a deeper understanding of the sweep of Jewish civilization around the globe and throughout the span of history.