SÉMINAIRE ISRAÉLITE DE FRANCE, institute of higher education of Jewish and secular learning; also known as École Rabbinique; founded in Metz in 1829 and transferred to Paris in 1859. The Séminaire Israélite de France has trained rabbis, ḥazzanim, and Hebrew teachers for France and French-speaking countries. It has followed the motto of Torah im derekh ereẓ ("Torah combined with general culture") to meet the needs of modern Judaism. During the German occupation the seminary went to Vichy, Chamallières, Lyons; officially suppressed in 1943, it maintained semi-secret activity until the end of the war. Its directors from 1919 were the chief rabbi J. Bauer (1919–32); M. Liber, the renowned scholar (1932–51); H. Schilli (1951–75); E. Gugenheim (1977); E. Chouchena (1977–91); M. Gugenheim (1992– ). Basic studies include: Talmud; Bible, with the ancient rabbinical and more recent commentaries; philosophy; ancient and modern Hebrew literature and Jewish history; homiletics and liturgy. The program of general studies consists of philosophy and French literature. Students can, or are encouraged to, follow a general academic course at the same time. Studies are spread over a period of one to five years according to a student's previous qualifications. During their program of study, students are encouraged to attend a yeshivah in Israel for one year. They undergo various terms of probation, namely as talmud torah teachers, at the bet din, and in the communities. Formerly a preparatory section, which admitted younger pupils who had not yet obtained the baccalaureate and which was known as the talmud torah, had been affiliated with the institution. Another branch, the École de Pédagogie et de Liturgie, previously trained ḥazzanim and Hebrew teachers. The central consistory assumes the administrative and financial responsibility of the institute, with increasing financial difficulties moving into the 21st century. The chief rabbi of France is the legal president of the administrative commission, and the institute provides boarding facilities for an average of 15 to 20 students. The final examination includes the preparation of a memorandum ("mémoire") and a rabbinical degree is awarded. Three degrees, on an average, are awarded each year. As the oldest institution of the seminary-type in the world and the last one existing in Western Europe, the SIF has recruited more than 400 students, more than 300 of whom obtained the degree of rabbi, ḥazzan or teacher. In the early 21st century it faces the new, contradictory aspirations concerning the role of the rabbis and suffers from a lack of prestige and even from some suspicion among that part of religious Judaism whose references are in the "world of the yeshivot." Its library, with some 60,000 volumes, is unique in Paris despite losses in previous decades; in certain fields it is complementary to that of the *Alliance Israélite Universelle. The library was restored in 2004 and scholars have access to it; its manuscripts are on deposit in the Alliance library.
J. Bauer, L'École Rabbinique de France 1830–1930 (1930); R. Berg, Histoire du Rabbinat français (16e–20e siècle), (1992). WEBSITE: www.viejuive.com/associations/sif.