In the heart of Aube the former County of Champagne contained prestigious Jewish communities dating from the 11th to 13th centuries. Rashi, Rabbi Solomon son of Isaac, immense commentator of the sacred texts of Judaism, was born in Troyes in 1040. He provided an unanticipated impetus to the intellectual creativity of the Jews of Champagne.
After him, many scholars who claim to be from his Champenois School influenced other Jewish communities in the interpretation of the Bible and the Talmud. Through them the name of the prestigious County of Champagne thus spread throughout the West. Their comments and legal decisions are the unique testimonies of this era and attest to intense intellectual activity and a local Jewish life that flourished.
The incredible destiny of Rashi in the small city of Troyes in Champagne
Rashi, Rabbi Solomon son of Isaac, an immense commentator on the sacred texts of Judaism, was born in Troyes in 1040. He left Troyes to complete his religious studies in the Rhineland. When he returned to his city of birth, he founded a study circle where he trained around twenty students in a revolutionary method of exegesis (interpretation of texts).
In Troyes he devoted his life to commenting on the Talmud and the Hebrew Bible. As an accomplished scholar, he was consulted by many communities. His three daughters provided him with numerous descendants. He died age 65 on July 13, 1105. Buried in Troyes with full honors, his grave disappeared in the 16th century when the Jewish cemetery of the Preize district was demolished to enlarge the city. Rashi is still read and studied today by Jews around the world who consider him the “commentator par excellence”.
Champagne, intellectual crossroads of the Middle Ages
In the eleventh century, Champagne was a territory run by the Counts of Cham- pagne and of Brie, power- ful vassals of the King of France. Jews had lived there for several centuries and enjoyed largely favorable living conditions. Numerous exchanges animated relations between Jewish and Christian communities, who spoke the same language, practiced the same trades, and lived in the same neighborhoods.
From the 12th century, Counts Thibaud II of Champagne and Henry I the Liberal fostered the intellectual vibrancy of the County. They shared the company of numerous scholars, including Bernard of Clairvaux, Chrétien of Troyes, Peter the Devourer (Petrus Comestor), and Abelard, and communicated with the Sages of the Jewish communities of Champagne with particular conviviality.
In the 13th century, the rich and powerful Champagne region included nearly 50 prosperous Jewish communities: Troyes, Ramerupt, Dampierre, Villenauxe-la-Grande, Lhuître, Ervy-le-Châtel, Chappes, St- Mards-in-Othe, Barsur-Aube, Mussy-sur-Seine, Brienne-le-Château, Plancy-l’Abbaye, Trannes… Beyond the current Department of Aube, the former County of Champagne and Brie contained other Jewish communities in Vitry, Provins, Joinville, Sens, and Chateau-Thierry…
Conditions changed under Louis IX, who drastically limited the rights of Jews. Then Philip the Fair and Charles VI expelled the Jews from the kingdom of France in 1306 and 1394 respectively, for a period of four centuries. The Champagne area gradually forgot this era of fruitful sharing with Jews, who had lived there for centuries.
The European Jewish Heritage Route of Aube
Since 2019, Champagne has been part of the Jewish Heritage Route, Cultural Route of the Council of Europe, as the cradle of a universally known and recognized intangible heritage. The mission of the Medieval Route of Rashi in Champagne is to promote the Jewish memory of the Department of Aube, a cultural heritage of inestimable value shared by Jews around the world and the historical heritage of a first-rate territory – the he former county of Champagne – with national and international influence.
To revitalize the territory, it will offer a diverse cultural and tourist offer based on the history of the former Jewish communities of Champagne.
Discover places in the territory linked to medieval Jewish history
Medieval synagogues no longer exist in Champagne. Since 1960 a synagogue has been installed on rue Brunneval in Troyes in an old noble building from the 17th century. The 2000m2 of buildings were magnificently restored in 2016. Since 2017, alongside worship, the synagogue has offered within its walls a daring museum tour to discover Rashi and his work thanks to an innovative immersive and digital scenography, “Rashi House”. Opposite, the Rashi European University Institute is a university open to all to study the texts and thinkers of Judaism.
The Rashi European University Institute is a higher education establishment, open to all, devoted to Jewish and Semitic studies and research on monotheisms. In the mind of the commentator Rashi, he opens Judaism to the world. The courses, evenings debates, conferences, given all year round, provide avenues for reflection on the dialogue between cultures and religions.
Come and experience a series of offbeat “Heritage Encounters”: walks, guided tours or workshops will make you discover Aube territory, its history and its natural, gastronomical, architectural or artistic heritage, through the writings of Rashi.
Unusual time trips to approach Rashi and Jewish heritage in a different way while promoting craftsmen, producers and cultural or touristic actors of the territory, who take part in this adventure.
Frescoes to enhance Jewish local heritage in Dampierre, Ramerupt and Lhuître
A project of creation of Frescoes carried by the Communauté de Communes Arcis Mailly Ramerupt, in the villages of Ramerupt, Dampierre and Lhuître has started in October 2021. This project tends to enhance the territory on the theme of Jewish Heritage in the frame of the Medieval Route of Rashi in Champagne.
From spring 2022, three frescoes will highlight the history of these villages that housed Jewish communities from the time of the Counts of Champagne. The red thread connecting each fresco will refer to the symbolism of the book and the writing. The frescoes will be made on external walls accessible from the municipal roads. The model of each fresco will be entrusted to an artist selected through a Call for Artistic Projects in last October. The frescoes will be realized in partnership with the Association des Passeurs de Fresques, to make more «alive» this intangible heritage!
In the long term, this set of frescoes will offer visitors and inhabitants, a real «Touristic and artistic stroll around frescoes » to discover in the Aube Department. This project should be transposable to about twenty other villages and cities of Aube region also concerned by this heritage!
Beyond the tourist and artistic aspect, this realization has a strong social component: the inhabitants are included in the artistic creation of each fresco, an original participation to make the general public and schools aware of this history that belongs to them.