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.

The Jews of Morocco: From Ancient Times to the Present

Morocco has long been perceived as exotic, mysterious and beautiful by Western eyes.   This journey, will meet these perceptions with an intimate gaze on the socio-cultural and historical encounters, offered by an anthropologist, and a local Jewish tour guide.

Historical sources show Jewish presence begun probably during the First Temple times, and certainly Jews have had a presence there since fall of Jerusalem’s Second Temple when it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE during the Siege of Jerusalem.

A major wave of Jewish immigration to Morocco was spurred by the events of medieval Europe, following the 15th Century Reconquista and the expulsion of the Jews (and Muslims) from Spain (1492) and shortly afterwards from Portugal (1497).

Immigrants and sojourners discovered that the area had coastal enclaves, villages hidden in the mountains and vast stretches of desert. Morocco has seen its share of conquering civilizations because its location has such strategic importance as a gateway to Northern Africa from the Middle East and Europe. Nevertheless, unlike the land of Israel, it was never fully conquered (until French colonialism in modern times), because of a key historical player: The impenetrable Atlas Mountains.

The various aspects of Jewish past were tightly enmeshed in Moroccan history.  Language was one, as it played an important role in their history.  Dating back 2,500 years to the Carthaginian state, the Hebrew and Aramaic languages used by the Jews closely related to the Punic languages of the Carthaginians and many Jews settled among the Amazigh (“Berbers”) and adopted their languages as well. Today, most of the Jews speak French in the Arabic-dominated country.

Our study tour will give you an opportunity to discover this fascinating country and the rich history and culture of the Jewish community there through the eyes of Professor André Levy, an Israeli anthropologist who was born in Morocco and was among the 200,000 Jews who emigrated to Israel in the aftermath of the 1948 War of Independence.

By the time of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, most Morocco’s Jewish population had emigrated to Israel as well as France, Canada, and even the United States. André is on the faculty of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and is spending a sabbatical at Brandeis University. His latest book in English, Return to Casablanca: Jews, Muslims, and an Israeli Anthropologist, was published in late 2015 by the University of Chicago Press.

There are about 2,000 to 2,500 Jews living in Morocco today, most of whom dwell in Casablanca.  However, an exodus among young men establishing their lives in Israel and France jeopardizes the future of this once-great Jewish community, the largest in the Arab world.

Our itinerary includes visits to the four Imperial Cities — Rabat, Fes, Meknes, Marrakesh – along with Casablanca, Essaouira, Safi, El Jadida, Azamour, and the Ourika Valley. It will also introduce us in an intimate way, some aspects of current Jewish lives.

Our guide for the study tour is Rafi Elmaleh, a Moroccan Jewish tour guide specializing in the 2000-year-old history of Morocco’s Jews. Rafi is at the forefront of an effort to preserve Morocco’s Jewish heritage and keep the memory of former Jewish Moroccan communities alive.

André and Rafi have been close friends for over 20 years and their combined expertise in the ebb and flow of Jewish life in Morocco will give you a unique perspective for understanding and appreciating what you will be seeing as you travel through this fascinating country and learn about the Jewish presence there dating back to ancient times.

As Rafi and André help us discover Jewish life in Morocco, a clear picture of both flourishing communities and chaotic and dangerous times will reveal itself.

Along with providing ongoing commentary, Professor Levy will conduct six Study Sessions during the program.

 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 and Casablanca in Morocco, 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.