These French Jewish women felt excluded.
Although France is home to the third largest Jewish community in the world, Tali Trèves-Fitoussi, 29, and Myriam Ackerman Sommer, 25, had no place to seriously study Torah and Talmud with other women. They seek rigor, and the few programs organized for Jewish women in the past have been short-lived, or offer few opportunities for deepening.
So they built a school themselves.
They call it “Kol-Elles”, a play on the word kollel – in Hebrew, a school of advanced studies or Torah and rabbinic literature – and “elles” or the feminine version of “ils” in French. It embraces an orthodox perspective, but also a feminist one.
“I wanted to create a space where I could find women to talk to who love Torah as much as I do,” said Trèves-Fitoussi, who works in digital marketing.
Now one year old, Paris-based Kol-Elles recruits 200 women from across France. Of varying levels of Jewish observance, they range in age from 20 to 70. The teachers are both male and female and include Trèves-Fitoussi and Ackerman Sommer, who grew up in southern France and is the first French rabbinical student at the New York Yeshivat. Maharat, the pioneering training program for Orthodox female clergy.
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In 2017, she and her husband, Emile Ackerman, who is studying to become a rabbi in New York, founded Ayeka in Paris, a co-ed study group for young Jewish professionals. But Ackerman Sommer and Trèves-Fitoussi said they knew many Jewish women wanted to have their own school, one dedicated to teaching women.
“So many women have come to us and said thank you for creating a space where we can learn together and create a sense of community together,” Trèves-Fitoussi said.
Among the offerings in this year’s school calendar are a Daf Yomi class – a daily study of the Talmud – and classes on Jewish women’s leadership and the teachings of Maimonides.
Since its inception, the school has awarded scholarships to eight women. The prerequisite for all students: a solid training in ancient Hebrew.
Kol-Elles also teaches through social media, with nearly 2,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook. While its lectures and study sessions are serious, the program often takes a more light-hearted approach to Instagram. A quiz on part of the Torah, for example, includes cartoon characters and popular music.
Her goal is to grow the school, build a body of French Jewish teachers, and help students share their learning as widely as possible. Ackerman Sommer wants his students to publish articles in scholarly publications, but also create podcasts and Instagram posts.
She noted that traditional Jewish study halls are devoid of works by women. “That might have been the case in any library a century or two ago, most books would have been written by men, but secular society has since caught up and Orthodox Jewish women are left behind. account,” she said.
But that could change.
“The first Kol-Elles was supposed to be 10 of our friends on our couch and instead it became a movement,” Trèves-Fitoussi said.