In the Footsteps of Rashi: Medieval French Jewry

10 days / 8 nights

Stay tuned for upcoming dates.

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.


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.

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10 days | 8 nights | 8 touring days

Included features:

  • International Airfare (for those who purchased the complete package)
  • Group arrival and departure transfers
  • 7 Learning Sessions with Professor Harris
  • Comprehensive touring program, including entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
    • 8 days of sightseeing including entrance fees to all sights on itinerary, via a deluxe air conditioned motor coach with English speaking guide.
  • 8 nights accommodation in expertly selected hotels
  • Meals as indicated on the itinerary
  • Cultural events as indicated on the itinerary
  • Gil Travel document kit

Not included features:

  • Airfare (for those who purchased land only package)
  • Travel Insurance (strongly recommended)
  • Tips to guide/driver and hotel staff
  • Meals not included in itinerary and/or beverages
  • Items of a personal nature


Come to France With Us!

For Travel Questions and Registration:For Other Questions:
Lauren Yagoda
215.568.6655 x 366 OR 800.223.3855 X 366
[email protected]
Moshe Margolin, Director
Jewish Explorations
[email protected]

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Day 1 - Wednesday, June 28

Fly from Newark Liberty International Airport to Paris Orly International Airport.

Day 2 - Thursday, June 29
Arrive in Paris

ParisMorning: Arrive and check into the hotel.  Time to freshen-up and we will join together for an ORIENTATION where we’ll introduce ourselves and Professor Harris will review the itinerary and discuss the goals of the study tour.

Afternoon: After lunch on your own, there will be a brief City Tour.

Evening: Enjoy our first Study Session with Professor Harris: 12TH CENTURY RENAISSANCE IN MEDIEVAL FRANCE. We will gain insights about medieval Jews and Christians who read Scripture, introducing ourselves to such luminaries as Rashi and Rashbam among the rabbis, and Hugh and Andrew of St. Victor among the Christians.

This will be followed by a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

Overnight: Paris (D)

Day 3 - Friday, June 30
Rouen and Paris
Passage de la Synagogue

Synagogue Sign in Rouen

12th Century Jews closely associated with the Norman French (they of “William the Conqueror” fame), both in northern France and England. Most famous for its association with the famous “Joan of Arc, Rouen hosted a small but significant Jewish community, the remains of whose Bet Midrash we will visit on our tour of this city.

Morning: After breakfast we travel to Rouen.

Afternoon: We will tour the Old Town including the Bet Midrash.  A tour of Rouen would not be complete without a discussion about Joan of Arc.

There will be ample time to have lunch on your own at a local eatery. During out stay in Rouen, Dr. Harris will conduct our second Study Session on READING THE TORAH: FROM MIDRASH TO PESHAT.

One way of thinking about this is how Jewish reading of Torah changed from “midrash” into “peshat.”  For the purposes of this session, midrash is “authoritative, Rabbinic truth-seeking” and we will see how in the 12th century this developed into peshat, “independently derived, contextual reading.”  Our session will address what some might see as a conflict between the historical, contextual (“original”) meaning of Torah and the rabbinic practice (halakhah) and theology that emerged from the rabbis’ reading of the Bible.   In particular, we will consider what this all might mean for modern Jewish communities that are dedicated to critical thinking; animated by a desire for spiritual dimensions in their Torah study; and concerned about possible conflicts that emerge when historical-critical scholarship seems to conflict with Jewish tradition.

Rouen Synagogue

Rouen Synagogue

As it turns out, contemporary Christians were going through many of the same processes that Jews were experiencing — “throwing off the chains” of auctoritas = the authoritative reading envisioned and endorsed by the

Church fathers (“patristics” — roughly analogous  to midrash), to ad litteram (the so-called “literal” but really “contextual” reading developed by Christian schoolmen who had studied with Jews who had studied with Rashi, Rashbam et al — and perhaps even with the Rabbis themselves?).

We will the return to Paris and prepare for Shabbat.

Evening: There will be optional services at a nearby synagogue.  We welcome Shabbat together with a Erev Shabbat Dinner.

Overnight: Paris (B, D)

Day 4 - Saturday, July 1
Shabbat in Paris

Morning: After breakfast, we will go together to a local synagogue (optional).

Agoudas Hakehilos

Agoudas Hakehilos

Afternoon: We will take a Walking Tour of the Latin Quarter and the University of Paris. While Jews were not permitted to study in European universities until the 19th and 20th centuries, the Study and mutual influence between medieval Jews and Christians were most essential in establishing the type of Study developed in the nascent University of Paris, arguably the first university to be established in Europe. We will visit a classroom from one of the constituent institutions of the Parisian university, newly restored, as well as other medieval sites, on our walking tour of the famous Latin Quarter.

La Sorbonne - Paris

La Sorbonne

We will also visit the house where the famous Abelard and (his student!) Heloise — both of them brilliant scholars — began their tragic love affair, and we will read some of their later correspondence.

Evening: At leisure to enjoy the City of Light’s cultural and culinary delights.

Overnight: Paris (B)

Day 5 - Sunday, July 2
St. Denis, Reims, and Troyes
Reims, France


Today we will visit two impressive cathedrals, each with a significant connection to Jewish culture.

Morning: After breakfast you will enjoy the third Study Session: JEWS AND CHRISTIANS READ SCRIPTURE. As you know by now, Jews and Christians generally lived in close proximity to one another in the 12th century:  there were no ghettos yet established, and they dressed alike and spoke the same languages in day to day life.  But of course stark differences marked their interrelationships, as well!  This session examines the commonalities as well as the differences between Jews and Christians in medieval biblical study; the relationships and mutual influences that rabbis and churchmen had on one another (particularly in northern France) and, as well, the polemics through which they typically interacted.

Afterwards, we depart for a day of touring to St. Denis, Reims and Troyes.

The first of these is St. Denis, just to the north of the historic center of Paris. Most closely associated with the famed Abbot Suger, who maintained close business connections with French Jews, it is also important architecturally as the first true Gothic construction (though technically it only became a “cathedral” in the 20th century).

Reims Cathedral - France

Reims Cathedral

Afternoon: After lunch on your own, we head to Reims.  In contradistinction to the negative portrayals of Judaism in the Ecclesia/Synagoga imagery at other cathedrals we shall visit (including the famous Notre Dame in Paris and Reims Cathedral), St. Denis preserves a more positive representation of Judaism in the broader scheme of medieval Christian iconography.

Reims Cathedral’s main connection to Jewish culture, on the other hand, is modern: following the bombing of Reims during World War II, famed Jewish artist Marc Chagall was commissioned to create new stained-glass windows to replace those that had been destroyed.

Evening: In the late afternoon, we arrive to Troyes and have the time to explore on our own.

Overnight: Troyes (B)

Day 6 - Monday, July 3
Troyes and Ramerupt
Central Square in Troyes

Central Square in Troyes

Today, our study tour focuses on Troyes (Town of Rashi) and Ramerupt (Town of Rashbam).

Morning: After breakfast, we will enjoy the fourth Study Session with Professor Harris: IN THE BEGINNING…THERE WERE COMMENTARIES. This session looks at the various ways in which exegetes have understood the very beginning of the Torah, and how they dealt with its ambiguities.  It turns out that, because of certain intrinsic difficulties, no one can really read the beginning of the Bible successfully without doing “a little violence” to the text — and bending it, as it were, to the will of the interpreter.

We then begin the day of touring in Troyes, home of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, or Rashi (1040–1105), arguably the most influential Bible commentator of all time.

Since the time of its composition, Rashi’s commentary has certainly been the most-studied commentary by Jews, at least, although at least parts of it were translated into Latin already in the 13th century, and it formed the basis of the most influential Christian commentary, the so-called “literal” commentary by the 14th century Nicholas of Lyra. In any case Rashi’s commentary was the first printed Hebrew book (Rome, 1470) — printed even before the Bible itself! Although later commentators may have excelled beyond Rashi in the determination of the Bible’s literary and historical context, Rashi gets credit for “getting the ball rolling,” as it were, being the first Jew to comment on virtually the entire Bible in Hebrew.

Rashi's Synagogue

Rashi’s Synagogue

Afternoon: Also featured in today’s touring is the small town of Ramerupt, nearby to Troyes; this was the home of Rashi’ s grandson, Rabbi Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam). Both Rashi (as an old man) and Rashbam (as a young whippersnapper!) attest to their close relationship and intellectual sparring.

While it is safe to say that most modern Bible scholars prize the younger rabbi’s commentary over his grandfather’s, since it interprets strictly according to the peshat, or “context,” it is not nearly as well-known, having suffered the fate of many medieval works of rabbinic scholarship during the Christian attack on the Talmud in the 13th Century. In fact, Rashbam’s Torah commentary barely survived, in a single, partial manuscript that was not discovered until the 18th century (and then it was lost again during the Nazi destruction of European Jewry).

Ramerupt is the kind of small town that as one is entering the village, one exits at virtually the same time. We will visit the so-called “grave of the 12th century rabbis” (a modern construction), as we study more about these brilliant and insightful scholars.

Evening: At leisure.

Overnight: Troyes (B, L)

Day 7 - Tuesday, July 4

We leave Champagne country and travel to the Loire river valley.



Morning: After breakfast and our fifth Study Session: BEING IN A DAZE ABOUT BIBLICAL DAYS. This session contrasts the understanding of several of our exegetes concerning exactly what constitutes a “day” in the Bible.  It focuses on their readings of such texts as Genesis 1:5; Exodus 16:25; etc., and explores the ramifications of their readings for halakhic observance.  In a sense, while this subject did not rivet the attention of Christian expositors, it turns out to have been the source of a significant internal Jewish polemic during the Twelfth Century Renaissance – a controversy that still concerns many Jews today!

We then board our motor coach and travel to Orleans. It hosted a significant Jewish community during this period, and contemporary maps of the city still identify the town’s “Rue de la Juives,” or “Jews’ Street.” Our medieval guide to this community will be the famed “Joseph of Orleans,” or “Bekhor Shor,” a late-12th century student of the more famous Rabbenu Tam, himself one of Rashi’s grandsons.

Afternoon: The Jewish community of Orleans dates from the sixth century. The various councils which met at that time in the city enacted special laws against the Jews.  We remember this as we walk the streets and alleyways of this important town.

Evening: We have dinner together in a local restaurant and the rest of the evening is at leisure.

Overnight: Orleans (B, D)

Day 8 - Wednesday, July 5
Blois and Beaugency
Blois on the Loire River

Blois on the Loire River

Many Jews do not realize it, but one of the most prominent Jewish liturgical laments (still recited on Tisha B’Av) memorializes the Jews who were horrifically executed in Blois during the 13th Century attack on the Talmud.

Morning: After breakfast, Professor Harris will conduct our sixth Study Session: A SONG OF LOVE – AND ALLEGORY. This session explores the Song of Songs, and how medieval sages came to understand the book not only as an allegory of the love God has for the people of Israel, but also as a poetic narrative about the erotic love between a young couple in biblical days.  It also affords us an opportunity of exploring real contrasts between reading done by rabbis and Christian schoolmen:  whereas the rabbinic masters demonstrated willingness to apply contextual rules for reading even for the eroticism of the Song, Christians preferred to plunge deeper into allegorical readings.

Blois, a hillside city on the Loire River, is the capital of the Loir-et-Cher region in central France. The late Gothic Blois Cathedral towers over its cobbled city center. In 1171, Blois was the site of a blood libel against its Jewish community that led to 31 Jews (by some accounts 40) being burned to death.  We will learn about this important community and once again recite this lament — in the very place where this tragic event took place.

The Beaugency Bridge

The Beaugency Bridge

Afternoon: Turning to a happier (and slightly earlier) time, we will also tour the delightful little village of Beaugency.

While we do not know much about the Jewish community of this town, we do know that arguably the most insightful and original (and still mostly unknown) medieval Jewish Bible commentator called this town “home.” This was Rabbi Eliezer of Beaugency. His brilliant works suffered a similar fate to those of his master, Rashbam, and they likewise survived the ravages of the Middle Ages in only a single manuscript (housed today in Oxford’s famed Bodlian Library in England). In addition to strolling along some of the beautiful alleyways and canals, we will also walk across the only remaining 12th century bridge over the Loire River to have survived the Allied advance against the German army following D-Day in the summer of 1944.

In the late afternoon, we return Orleans.

Evening: At leisure to enjoy the town’s culinary delights.

Overnight: Orleans (B)

Day 9 - Thursday, July 6
Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

As we return to Paris, we will assess our journey through medieval France, a time when both Jews and Christians read Scripture, sometimes together, more often apart; sometimes inspired by the pure love of Study and other times scourged by the terrible blight of polemics, disputation and pogrom.

Morning: We will examine “Ecclesia and Synagoga” at the Notre Dame Cathedral, and we will pause to consider all of the lost potential that more fruitful exchanges between the two faith-communities may have engendered.

Afternoon: There will be free time to explore Paris on your own.

Evening: We will have a WRAP-UP SESSION with Professor Harris followed by a festive Farewell Dinner.

Overnight: Paris (B, D)

Day 10 - Friday, July 7
Return to the U.S.

After an early breakfast, we head to Paris Orly International Airport for our flight to Newark (early departure, arrive well before Shabbat).

Meal: Breakfast

Gil Travel is happy to arrange any pre-and-post study tour travel for you.


*Itinerary Subject to Change*

Jewish Explorations in Collaboration with Gil Travel

**Itinerary is subject to change due to timing and unforeseen circumstances.**

For Travel Questions and Registration:For Other Questions:
Lauren Yagoda
215.568.6655 x 366 OR 800.223.3855 X 366
[email protected]
Moshe Margolin, Director
Jewish Explorations
[email protected]


Come to France With Us!

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Dates: June 28- July 7, 2017


Come to France With Us!

AIR and LAND (from Newark)LAND ONLYAIR and LAND (from Newark)LAND ONLY



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Come to France With Us!

Rabbi Robert Harris, Ph.DRabbi Robert Harris, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Bible at The Jewish Theological Seminary. He holds degrees from the Joint Program of The Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia, Columbia University and The Jewish Theological Seminary. He was ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary. Robbie has taught at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow, and the Gregorian University in Rome. He has served as a pulpit rabbi in the United States and in Israel. He is widely published including books, articles and reviews. Robbie regularly performs with his rock band, SR2 (, and composes original rock ‘n roll.

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ParisMarriott Opera Ambassador HotelWith lush pillows and soft bedding, this hotel combines ritzy, modern design with the comforts of homeParis Hotel
TroyesMercure Troyes CentreThis refurbished factory building provides a chic and bold environment for guests to marvel at before resting peacefully in a cozy bedroom at nightTroyes hotel room
OrleansMercure Orleans CentrePosh rooms fill this contemporary hotel, which is also equipped with an outdoor pool and lounge area for guests to delight in at their leisureOrleans Hotel
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Group Flights

From Newark (Delta)

FlightDeparture DateFrom/ToDeparture TimeArrival Time
DL 020June 28Newark/Paris8:35 pm10:10 am (June 29)
DL 021July 7Paris / Newark1:15 pm3:51 pm
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