Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, known as "Rashi", the most important commentator on the Torah, was one of the giants of Jewish culture. But for some reason he was neglected by tourism aspects. He was living in the 11 century, during the Rambam (Maimonides) period. Today the Rambam has better PR, and many Jewish travelers are going to Cordoba in Spain to see Maimonides statue and to kiss it. But not so many come to visit Troyes, the city of Rashi, because until recently there was almost nothing to see here

It is strange that many are following Rashi to Worms, Ashkenaz, which were the world top center for Torah study. In Worms there is a building called "Rashi Synagogue", and the "Rashi's mikveh" attracts many travelers who are bathing in it. But this is a myth. Actually, Rashi stayed in Magence (Mainz) and later in Worms for about ten years only, from the age of 18, when he studied in the yeshiva of Rabbi Yaakov Ben Yakar. This Yeshiva was founded by Rabbi Gershom Meor HaGola ("The Light of the Diaspora"), who passed away exactly on the day Rashi was born

Apart from those few years, Rashi lived all his life in the town of Troyes, now in France. In Troyes he began serving as a Dayan at the age of 30, and he died there at the age of 65. There he was born, lived there, and his daughters were born there. In Troyes he established his yeshiva, and wrote his commentaries and books on the Torah and the Talmud

Until recently, Jewish travelers who came to visit Troyes due to Rashi, have been disappointed. There was hardly anything to see. Today it is changing. The municipality of Troyes organized a hiking trail following Rashi footsteps, and the Jewish community built a charming museum in his memory

The Jewish Quarter

The streets and houses of Troyes have special beauty and charm. Most of the streets in the ancient area are paved with square stones, not asphalt. Most houses are two stories high. Their walls are made of wooden beams standing at a fixed distance from each other, and in between there are clay and mud and concrete tiles. These houses have beauty as in painting or postcard. Rashi and his grandchildren, Rabeynu Tam and the Rashbam, were walking on these streets

In the morning when I was there, I put on 'Tefillin of Rashi' in my hotel room. I recalled friends from my synagogue who put two tefillin pairs, Rashi and also Rabeynu Tam. After Shacharit morning prayers, I leave the hotel, wander the beautiful alleys, and think about what Rashi and Rabeynu Tam were talking about right here, on their way to the synagogue or back home. Suddenly they seem closer and more tangible and real than ever

The former Jewish Quarter where Rashi and Rabeynu Tam were living, starts today at the corner of Bouchera street with the main street Rue de la Cite, and continuing northwest bound to the curve of the Seine River, intersecting Gonthier street with Danton Avenue, the size of the area looks like half of the Jewish Quarter in Old Jerusalem

In this district Rashi synagogue and his Yeshiva were located. Today, a residential building from the 10th century stands on the site of the synagogue. Address: Rue Probert 2. The place is known for sure. In Maschat Sukkah, page 4, Rashi quotes the Tosefta, and notes by the way that the Jews would meet at a "synagogue with a multitude of halls like a basilica". Most probably he meant this building

It has clear signs that it was once a prayer house. The front has signs of a large arch, which probably served as the main entrance. This gate was blocked with concrete and windows. On the west side are two gates with a bow. And above them are round windows that were customary only in synagogues and churches

       

It is very excited to see and to touch the place where Rashi was writing his commentaries. I wanted to get in to see the house from the inside. I knocked on a few doors, but no one was home

There are two versions on the history of this building. Some say a church was built there in the eighth century. The church was abandoned in favor of another larger and new one, and the Jewish community bought the structure. When Rashi was born, this building was already serving as a synagogue, and he and his parents prayed there. When he returned from studies in Worms, he established there his Yeshiva. According to another version, the Christians built this church in the 16th century, on the place of the synagogue where Rashi prayed

Rashi's own home was on the parallel street, as he himself describes and writes. Rashi's house was located on "the Jews street". Today it's called "Rue du Paon", where house 15 and part of house 13 are standing on the lot of Rashi's home

In 1524, many years after Rashi died, a huge fire broke out in the Old City that destroyed many houses made of wood. Among them was the Jewish quarter, including Rashi's old house. The city was rebuilt with new modern houses, but the streets remained exactly in place. Most of the paving stones we see on the streets remain in place until today. Apparently Rashi also stepped on these stones

It's exciting to follow him on those stones. I felt like the Pasuk "Take your sandals off of your feet, for the place you are standing on is holy ground" (Exodus 3/5). I took off my shoes in front of Rasi's home location, and walked barefoot back and forth on the stones that Rashi also stepped on. Very excited experience. Try it too

At the end of La Cite Street is the Seine River. Once, one of the four gates of the city wall was located there. This gate is called "Fort Girard", a word from the root of "Jew". This gate stood in the corner of the Jewish Quarter. Today there is only a small blue memorial plaque on the river wall

Jewish sites downtown

There are all kinds of local legends about Rashi in Troyes. At the beginning of The Cats alley, there is a dent on the outside wall of one of the houses

Legend says that Rashi's mother walked down this alley when she was pregnant, carried Rashi in her stomach. Suddenly a Christian horseman ride wildly into the narrow alley. She clung to the wall so she would not be crushed by the horse, and the wall sank for her, forming a niche into which the pregnant mother entered. To this day we can see a dent in the wall

The Poet Shaul Chernichovsky wrote about this legend the ballad "The Wonder Wall which is in Worms". But this is inaccurate, because Rashi's mother has never been in Worms, but lived only in Troyes

The house where Rashi was born and grew up was located at the edge of where today is the Alexander Israel Square, in front of the municipality facade. (It's named after a local Jew who was France's Deputy Foreign Minister and Senator at early 20th century).           i

After Rashi's parents moved out and sold their home, the buyer opened a butcher shop there. A local legend says that this store has never seen flies, probably due to Rashi's holiness. Today there is a huge carousel next to the exact location of the house

The main shopping street of the city during Rashi's days is now called "Emil Zola street". Most of the shops here were owned by Jewish merchants. The street intersects with "The Exchange street", which was the banking center during Rashi times. Most of the exchangers were also Jews

When we are currently studying issues of "Eruv Chatzerot" (courtyards mix), we rely on Rashi's detailed descriptions, which literally paint what the courtyards looked like, and what each railing or doorway or balcony that the Gemara speaks of were looked like. Rashi relied on his own eyes. In Troyes there were shared courtyards for several houses with a common entry. In many places in the Old City we can also see these yards today, and better understand what Rashi wrote about

Rashi died in 29th of Tamuz 1105, and was buried in the old Jewish cemetery, called "The Jewish Field." His tomb and his exact burial place are unknown. Legend says that when Rashi was writing his commentary to masechet Makot, he reached to page 19. After the words "He was pure bathtub and rose and eat Ma'aser," Rashi could only write the word "pure," and then his soul came out in purity. In this page in the Talmud printed the sentence: "Our Rabbi's body is pure, and its soul came out in purity, and didn't interpreted anymore". They say also that at the time of his death, a voice from sky came out and said, "All Israel will be your sons".         i

In the 14th century the Jews were expelled from Troyes, and after years the Gentiles demolished the "field of the Jews" for expanding the city. The headstones disappeared and on the grounds were built houses and a the "Champagne" theater building, and later a parking lot was paved on most of the Jewish cemetery. A memorial of Rashi was erected in 1990 In front of the theater. It is a nearly 3-meter-wide ball, which the Hebrew letters "RA-SH-I" are engraved throughout

Address: Gambetta Boulevard 1

It is designed in an ultra-modern style. But for us Rashi represents an old tradition, the opposite of the modernism. It just doesn't fit. Personally, I didn't like this monument

"Rashi's Synagogue"

The currently active synagogue in Troyes was established in 1960, on a location of a 17th century monastery. All the houses in this area are ancient, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. The synagogue was named after Rashi, although Rashi himself had never been to this synagogue, because during his times this area was rural, outside the city. There were many vineyards and apple orchards, and maybe Rashi's vineyard was nearby. We know that Rashi earned a living from growing vineyards and wine trade, and in his commentary he is proficient in vine varieties and wine-producing methods in wineries

In the 60s there were only 60 families in the local Jewish community, and in the 1960s many Jewish people from North Africa arrived in Troyes. Today, North Africans make up 80% of the Jewish community, and only 20% are original Alsatian. The synagogue has become narrower from containing all the worshipers, but it could not be expanded because it is located in a preservation building. The community leaders broke the eastern wall, extending the synagogue's area into the inner courtyard. It was paved, so that the exterior walls of the adjacent houses serve as internal walls of the synagogue. It was forbidden to build a roof, so they mounted a glass ceiling, as in a greenhouse. Above the Holy Ark is the verse "What good are your tents, Ya'akov", so under the glass roof an aluminum ceiling spread in the form of a fluttering tent in the wind. The result is beautiful

   

In the adjacent houses and in the courtyards between them, the Jewish community has opened "Rashi Visitors Center". Rashi's study room was restored there. The room and furniture look so authentic that it feels like Rashi himself really was in this room. The chair at the head of the table has a very high backrest. On the table in front of it is a small stand, with a Gemara open on it, as if Rashi is in the middle of learning

I looked at the Gemara and saw that it's opened in Masechet Sukkah. I flipped the pages backword to page 40, searched and found where Rashi wrote: "And I heard from many of my rabbis who were learnt… and I bothered from my youth on all sides of the Talmud method to solve it as they say, and I cannot". And here I am privileged to be exactly where Rashi testifies where he heard from his parents and bothered about his youth. Wow! This is where all the great enterprise of Rashi's interpretation began

I sat there and read slowly all the Rashi on both pages of the Gemara. That was my height of pleasure on this trip to France. When I was sitting there on "Rashi's chair", it occurred to me that if he had lived in our generation, he probably would have been a "settler" in Juddah and Shomron. He had a great affection for Eretz Israel, and he also drew several maps of the country. In Massechet Gittin (page 7) about the pasuk "the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem" (Judges 21/19), Rashi drow a map including Shiloh and Lebonah, settelments established in our generation too

In the next room they did a reconstruction of a "Rashi's prayer room". It is a kind of Schtibel with old style wooden benches and a small Holy Ark made of walnut wood, without Parochet. Both rooms have an atmosphere of holiness and uplifting. This is not only because of the authentic furniture, but also because of the lighting is a kind of darkness that arouses holy anguish. There are no visible projectors or electrical lighting. The dim light inside comes only through "windows." But these are not real windows that face out, these are opaque colored glass, with a window frame. The "windows" hang on the wall, and behind them are unnoticed electric lights

From there, we continue our tour to the conference room of the community, adjacent to the synagogue. One of the walls is made of a huge stained glass, in which Rashi's genealogy pedigree is painted, his daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and fatherhood. The pedigree ends in the 14th century, when the Jews were expelled from Troyes. The exhibition curator, Mrs. Yigwa Delphin, decided to put this technique on display, because Rashi writes in several places about stained glass and the art of glass. It was part of his childhood landscape. For example, in the Massechet Berachot (page 25) Rashi explains the differences between pottery and glassware. From this, we can understand how proficient he was in the glass industry

The next hall in the exhibition is the library. The curator wanted to describe not only his daily life, but also the scope of Rashi's work. On one of the walls of the library there are all the Talmud's books with Rashi's commentary. On the opposite wall are Bible books with Rashi commentary. In another area, all the Midrashic books that Rashi quotes. Also, more than 300 books have been written about Rashi in various languages, and many of them are on display in this library

Only one library wall has no bookshelves. One of the walls is a huge screen, with promotional videos. Most of the films were filmed so the bottom of the scene is as if a continuation of the floor of the library hall. This makes the viewers feel like part of the picture, as if they too roam the city of Troyes among the medieval houses, and can better identify with the messages in the videos

Address: 5 rue Brunneval. To schedule visits call: 01 53 73 25 3 33+         i

Opposite the synagogue across the street is the "Rashi Institute". It is an academic institution for research and study of Rashi and Judaism, with courses for learning Hebrew and Arabic

Near the synagogue there is a supermarket that sells kosher products, including meat products under the supervision of the Beit Din of Paris. The selection is unsatisfactory, so many local Jewish families make concentrated orders from a kosher supermarket in Strasbourg, and the shipment arrives at their homes once a week

Other local tourist sites

In Troyes we focus on the Rashi, but the city and its surroundings have other tourist attractions as well. The center of the Old City, near the Old Jewish Quarter, is a huge and impressive cathedral, where the Christians who abandoned the Probert Church, which was purchased by the Jewish community for the purpose of the synagogue, where Rashi prayed

There is also an interesting glass museum in the city. The city is crossed by the Seine River, along which we see all kinds of sculptures

Among them is a huge statue of heart. It's worth going to see it at night too, ecause it's lit by special heartbeat red lighting. On many bridges here are locks that hung loving couples

Those who visit Troyes for more than one day can also travel outside the city. Troyes is the capital of Champagne County, known for its excellent bubbly wine reputation, called "Champagne". On the sides of most roads we see vineyards. Almost every village in the area has several wineries

There is a winery that produces also kosher champagne. It is a prestigious winery called Drappier, which offer a visitor center. We can get tours of the wine preservation cellars and hear about the special production process of the champagne wines

We are particularly interested in kosher wine. I was taken to see two huge stainless steel containers that are containing 10,000 liters, in which the sparkling wine was aged under the supervision of OU, by Rabbi Mordechai Zakbach and Rabbi Gabi Zialushinsky

The taps of the kosher wine containers are closed with special stickers, plus the names of the overseers (Mashgiach) are signed, so that if anyone tries to open the stickers, it's noticed immediately that someone has touched and moved it

At the end of the tour, I was invited to taste the champagne in the guest room. One of the workers brought a closed bottle of champagne, and gave the winery manager. He handed me the bottle and said "You should open the bottle. I'm not allowed". I was pleased to see that the non-Jewish workers are also familiar with our Halacha and strictly observing it

Art lovers will be interested in visiting the home of the well-known painter Pierre Renoir in the village of Essauer. His home looks today exactly the same today as one of his famous paintings

     

There are no "Please Don't Touch" signs in the house, because they want visitors to feel Renoir's life. The house also has his study rooms. In one of the rooms there is also his chair with his original easel stand, and guests are allowed to sit on it. At the end of the street is the local cemetery where Renoir himself is also buried

Families who come with children will be happy to spend at least half a day in the Nigloland amusement park

Shopping enthusiasts will be pleased to know that in the vicinity of Troyes there are 4 shopping centers, including the outlet MacArthur Glenn, considered to be the largest in France. There are 30,000 square meters of stores, not including the parking and amusement areas. "This is our Eiffel Tower," says the manager of the complex, Pavio Sekyevetty. All famous brands, such as Hugo Boss, Nike, Ralph Lorraine, and the like operate their factory store in this open mall. Buyers are coming even from Paris or Belgium to this outlet

2 thoughts on “Troyes worthy trying to follow Rashi”
  1. ,Hi Jacob
    I loved this piece you did on Rashi and Troyes. There is so much detail and such great pictures. I am a teacher in the UK and I have a particular interest in Rashi. At the moment I am trying to put together a virtual tour of Rashi's world. I would love to include some of your photos and descriptions of Troyes and the Rashi shul. Would you be happy for me to do so? Of course I would attribute you. Please let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you.
    Best wishes, Michelle

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