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What is Shemah?

Shemah was founded in 2017 and is based
on the dialogical concept of a Bet Midrash.

Shemah is the first institute in Italy dedicated to promoting Jewish culture through high-level academic studies. Since 2017, we have been offering high-level courses on the history of Jewish culture, covering a wide time-range from biblical antiquity until the present. In a world in which it is increasingly essential to value cultural plurality, the School Shemah stands as a point of reference for those who seek a systematic, dialogical and interdisciplinary approach to Jewish culture and its history, through direct readings of Jewish texts. 

Our program grants the possibility to acquire, over time, a consolidative knowledge of the history of Jewish culture in its various aspects: fundamental texts and documents and their historical contexts that enable to examine the development of Judaism throughout the centuries as well as the long established philosophical, theological, literary and liturgical concepts of a millenarian culture that is still poorly known in the Italian context.  

Moreover, the rising wave of a renewed antisemitism shows the importance of enhancing and spreading intercultural dialogue through knowledge of Jewish culture and its presence in the Mediterranean and in Europe, in an atmosphere of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

S.H. Margulies and Emmanuel Lévinas: our key figures.

Shemah is inspired by the works of leading modern Jewish thinkers, who have contributed to the renewal of Jewish thought in modern Italy. In particular, a key figure of our institution is Samuel Hirsch Margulies, chief rabbi of Florence and head of the only rabbinical seminary in Italy (the Collegio Rabbinico Italiano) from 1899 to 1922. Rav Margulies revived the study of Jewish texts in Italy (starting with the Talmud) by linking them to 19th and 20th century Italian-Jewish conceptions. Similarly, Shemah carries on his thought by underlining the importance of the written text as a tool for an ethical and cultural renewal.

Another key figure for the school is Emmanuel Lévinas. As Martin Buber, Rav Kook and other modern thinkers, Lévinas believes that the understanding of Judaism in modern times must take into account a psycho-social context, focusing on the human person – in particular, the face-to-face encounter with the Other. In this sense, special value is given to the specificity of the human individual, in a Jewish and humanistic approach.

Our connection to Florence

Shemah was founded by Rav Joseph Levi, former chief rabbi (from 1996 to 2017) of Florence (Italy), a city that is historically linked to Italian and international Judaism. As it considers itself an integral part of the city’s cultural life, our school works together with various local organizations, among which a long-lasting partnership with ISI Florence, and holds lectures and conferences in some of the city’s historical and magnificent structures.

In only six years we already welcomed more than 200 students, held 28+ first-class courses on Jewish culture and history, and hosted dozens of guest experts from all around the world.

In collaboration with

You don’t need to be a student in order to be a part of Shemah.

During autumn 2023, we launched our first fundraising campaign with the goal of opening a new chapter for the School, together with all our Supporters. Please, consider joining Shemah’s Donors Program: you will receive our dedicated Donors newsletter, gain access to exclusive content in advance, and much more.