Illustration by Rachel Lwk for Ta Shma (c)

Gabriel Abensour, together with Rabbi Bitya Rozen-Goldberg, is the creator of the independent Beit Hamidrash Ta Shma in Jerusalem. We asked about his background and approach towards study, as well as what the Ta Shma project represents.

Faustine Goldberg-Sigal: What made you decide to found Beit Hamidrash Ta-Shma with Rabbi Bitya Rozen-Goldberg?

Gabriel Abensour: I was born into an observant family in Strasbourg, and in my childhood I discovered a passion for Judaism and its study. At eighteen, moved by a sense that something was missing, I left the city for a yeshiva in Israel. With hindsight, and years of studying in Talmudic institutions and the department of Jewish studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I can say that what I sought was a demanding Judaism, both intellectually and morally, a Judaism where the study of text is central, but where the tradition is also inclusive and allows for critical questioning, with a polyphonic approach in which the study combines traditional and university tools. I was fortunate to have met Bitya Rozen-Golberg, who had just received her smicha (to this day the only French woman to have received Orthodox rabbinical ordination!) and who shared a personal journey that was both close to mine yet different. We both already taught elsewhere, but we dreamed of a place to study in French, something that would fill what we felt we had missed when we ourselves had started out on our respective paths.

FGS: How is Ta Shma different from what the French-speaking public already knows?

GA: Ta Shma is, to my knowledge, the only French-speaking place to offer serious study of texts with a methodology combining university and traditional tools, all in a non-dogmatic atmosphere, led by both women and men from a variety of Jewish backgrounds.

Ta Shma is above all a platform, which we make available to students. We work to ensure that the content is always precise, stimulating and varied, but we let everyone choose the way in which they wish to translate this content into their own life. Beyond studying, Ta Shma is about building a dynamic community that gathers people from different backgrounds around text as well as multiple social activities. Specifically, this can help olim hadashim (new immigrants to Israel) to access more easily the diversity of Israel.

FGS: What among what you offer is currently available in France?

GA: Unfortunately not enough, as our activities are mainly in Jerusalem. That being said, speakers from Ta Shma regularly travel to Paris to teach (click here to follow our Facebook page and stay informed), we write regularly in Jewish magazines available throughout France, such as Tenou’a and l’Éclaireur, and some videos of Ta Shma teachers are available on Akadem (including several videos of Noémie Benchimol and some of myself). We hope to soon set up a one-time study seminar in France and may also offer online courses.

FGS: Ta Shma in 20 years, where will it be…

GA: A place for full-time study running all year round? I think the demand is there and it can even increase. French-speaking Jews are thirsty for knowledge, but do not always find themselves in places with a very monolithic vision of what Judaism is and what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century.

Anyway, there is no shortage of projects and, for the moment, the demand is there. Bitya and I are sorely lacking the time to take on additional projects ourselves. We are going step by step and activities are increasing from year to year.

FGS: Why should everyone register for the summer seminar in Jerusalem?

GA: Because everyone should take a moment in their life to question their Jewish identity and deepen their knowledge of Jewish texts. Because Jewish tradition is a river with multiple tributaries that can enrich many people. Because this seminar is done in collaboration with the Pardes Institute, which allows Francophones to meet Jews from around the world, to open up to this diversity that makes us rich and to bring a “French touch” to Jews of the English-speaking world. We are lucky to be hosted and supported by the Pardes Institute, which enables us to benefit from their vast experience and reach. And also, because it is an opportunity to spend three weeks in Jerusalem and discover this city that is so beautiful and so central to the Jewish world and humanity.

FGS: If someone wants to start an independent text study, how would you advise they begin?

GA: You have to start with the basics, first with Hebrew, then Aramaic. It is almost impossible to acquire autonomy in a self-taught way and it is therefore necessary to take courses, giving priority to those that will allow you to acquire tools. Drop the non-text-based courses, and favor those where the emphasis is on concepts and keywords. At the same time, having a fellow student (chavruta) remains the best way to progress quickly. The ideal is to have a fellow student with whom to review the text in a course you are taking. As soon as you feel more comfortable, try a continuous study of a book/text that you like.

Many tools exist today in French, Hebrew and English to get started with studying. The fact remains, however, that nothing can replace working with the full body texts and the possibility of devoting yourself to full-time study for a few weeks. This is precisely why the Ta Shma & Pardes study seminar exists!

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