Israeli Jewish education group reaches 1,000 students in France

(JTA) – An Israel-based Jewish educational group, Dirshu, has enrolled its 1,000th student in France into classes devoted to studying the Talmud, a central text of Orthodox Jewish tradition.

The current level of enrollment was reached two years after Dirshu, which was founded in 1997, began its current cycle of study in France, Rabbi Naftali Levy, Dirshu’s head of operations in France, told JTA Wednesday.

The organization, which is active in the United States, Canada, Israel and beyond, facilitates group and online learning sessions of segments from the Talmud as a means of reinforcing Jewish identity and knowledge among Jewish communities. The annual budget of its operations in France is roughly $4000,000, a spokesperson for the group said.

France has 500,000 Jews and a network of Chabad-affiliated educational institutions that are among the country’s best schools. Non-religious Jewish organizations provide a host of study programs on secular aspects of Judaism. In March, the Paris-based Digital European Library of Jewish Studies launched a new course on the life and writings of the philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas.

However, Levy said, whereas France has thousands of young men who attend yeshivas, or religious seminaries, with intensive curricula, and a vibrant Jewish cultural scene, there is a “gap of knowledge among ordinary Jews with traditional or Orthodox backgrounds. We give them the means to deepen their knowledge,” he told JTA.

Many students of the classes, which are held in Jewish community centers and synagogues in Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg and several other municipalities, are young professionals. Others are retired. Dirshu’s staff of roughly 20 rabbis gives the lessons in the evenings at varying frequency, ranging from four times a week to only once.

The threats facing French Jewry — hundreds of anti-Semitic attacks and incidents annually that watchdog groups believe are perpetrated mostly by Muslims and a rising far right — have generated growing interest in Jewish sources and identity, said Levy, who last week hosted in France the founder of Dirshu, Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter.

“At times of crisis, a community such as the French one, which has deep roots in the Jewish tradition regardless of their familiarity with the Talmud, tends to stick together,” he said. “There is a desire to draw strength from our sources.”

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