Thirty years ago, the oldest Jewish monument in France was discovered, by pure chance, beneath the courtyard of the Palace of Justice.
The Jewish monument is situated in part beneath the monumental stair-case of the Court of Appeals, which occupies the eastern wing of the Palace of Justice. The purpose of this magnificent romanesque edifice built around the year 1100, perhaps by the same architect as Saint-Georges’ Abbey in Saint-Martin de Boscherville, has long been wreathed in mystery : did it serve as a synagogue, a rabbinic school, or a private dwelling ? The question re-mained unanswered for a long time.
Jacques-Sylvain Klein, a former deputy mayor of Rouen with a passion for the history of his city, has carefully analyzed the wealth of documentation published on the subject.
It now appears that the academic purpose of the monument is indubitably established. Before the actual discovery of the monument, Professor Norman Golb of the University of Chicago -world-famous for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls- had already stated that an Academy for Advanced Rabbinic Studies had existed in the Middle Ages exactly where the Palace of Justice was built at the end of the fifteenth century. The area, called the clos aux Juifs (the Close of the Jews), was located within the parish of Saint-Lô, just north of the Rue aux Juifs (Street of the Jews). The school attracted the best students coming from throughout Normandy, as well as the most reputed teachers, such as Rashbam and Menahem Vardimas, and eminent foreign scholars -for example the learned Andalusian Abraham Ibn Ezra, who played such an important role in the spread of knowledge of Arabic culture in medieval Europe.
The great theologian Maimonides (1135-1204) emphasized that a rabbinic school is more sacred than a synagogue, because it is the place where the Law is commented upon and transmitted -which gives an idea of the considerable importance of the archeological discovery made in Rouen in 1976. The School of Rouen was not only one of the oldest Jewish monuments in Europe but also, and more importantly, the only medieval rabbinic school throughout the world retaining excavated archeological vestiges. As such, it obviously merits inclusion in the global patrimony of UNESCO.
This essential discovery therefore throws light on the history of our city, on the history of Judaism, and on the history of our nation. The more so as Norman Golb’s research work teaches us that the settlement of the Jewish community in Rouen goes back to the Gallo-Roman era, that the Jewish Kingdom of Rouen exerted its authority over all the communities of the north of France, and that William the Conqueror transferred Jewish representatives from Rouen to England to establish a Sister-House there.
Peace among men begins with the knowledge and respect of one another’s culture. This is a truth we have to meditate upon at a time when communitarian tensions are weakening the Republic, when Europe is endeavoring to anchor itself in the ethos of respect for its own diversity, and when History tells us not to forget what horrors men are capable of when they are possessed by hatred of the other.
That is the reason why, beyond all our differences, we are determined to contribute to the enhancement of all the cul-tures making up our regional heritage, with respect for each and every one in its own specificity. To honor this principle, we now unite our efforts to secure the permanent opening of the prestigious rabbinic School of Rouen to the public and to install an exhibition in situ, which will enable visitors coming from all over the world to discover the bimillenarian history of the Jews of Normandy.
We invite all men of peace to join us in our efforts. Let those be thanked here in advance who, through their initiatives, will fulfill this collective duty to history and memory and who will consequently contribute to bringing all of us closer together.