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The Jewish Kingdom of Rouen

Les tossafistes de Rouen

Professors and sudents of a medieval rabbinic school.

Professors and sudents of a medieval rabbinic school.

In the Jewish Academies of the West the main subjects of study were Jewish Law, codified in the two Talmuds of Babylonia and Palestine, and the Biblical Scriptures. The glosses -tossafoth- of the Talmud of Babylonia (the primary source of Jewish usages and rituals) and of the Bible were many, especially between 1150 and 1270. They were written by several hundred masters from the north of France, England and western Germany. These tossafists held various opinions, which were often mutually contradictory. Their opinions were gathered in concise form as compendia which the students of the academies would use as their guides.

Normannic cities and towns whose names are associated with Talmudic masters and students of the School of Rouen.

The most important tossafist in Normandy at the beginning of the thirteenth century was Menahem Vardimas, son of Péretz ben Menahem. Educated by his father, he became the main Talmudic authority of Normandy from the end of the reign of the Plantagenets until his death in 1224 (when Judah Sire Leon, who officiated in Paris, also passed away). His decisions were respected on questions of the interpretation of the Law -theoretical as well as practical- and references to his opinions are numerous in the tossafoth of the printed volumes of the Babylonian Talmud. In the elegy written after his death by one of his students, his authority is alluded to by the phrase Judah’s scepter and he is there called the Saint of Jacob.

A session of the rabbinic students with their Talmudic master.

Around Menahem Vardimas gravitated eminent Talmudists like Isaac of Pont-Audemer, Aaron ben Isaac, Jacob of Provins, Abraham ben Samuel, Cresbia the Punctator, Samuel Sire Morel of Falaise, Solomon ben Judah (also called at times the Saint from Troyes or the Saint of Rouen), and the Grand Cohen, some of whom had found refuge in Rouen after the Jews had been expelled from Île-de-France in 1182. Many were Parisian Jews who had found refuge in Rouen until the king of France called them back in 1198.