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  • Writer's pictureGamliel Beyderman

Rashi Room Redesigned!

A NEW Escape Room Unveiled In Brooklyn – A Talmudic Adventure?

Once convinced het wanted to redesign the first iteration of the Rashi Escape Room, our owner set out to gamify a text, a process, an idea - the Talmud. Talmud is hard to define. For our purposes, it is an ancient Jewish legal text that to this day joins generations of teachers, students, commentators, jurists, and erudites in a flowing debate.

But how does one turn an ancient legal text into a game?

We at Peddlers and Parchment, developed a way that we have come back to again and again - by telling a story about the concept we would like to gamify. Stories bring concepts to life in a way that few mediums can.

At Peddlers and Parchment we grapple with Jewish history's defining stories to bring you an experience that will recreate the depth of those stories. Our design philosophy is to ground the scenario in historical events even as we must introduce fictional elements to celebrate the fun and wonder of escape rooms.

Two worlds collide to create our story: the world of Duke Godfrey of Bouillon (1060 – 1100) and the world of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (aka RASHI, 1040 – 1105).

World of Godfrey

Godfrey the Hunchback, died childless and named his nephew, Godfrey of Bouillon, as his heir and next in line to his Duchy (it included almost all of the modern Netherlands, central and eastern Belgium, Luxemburg, the northern part of the German Rhineland and the eastern parts of France's Nord-Pas de Calais). This duchy served as a buffer between the kingdom of France and the German lands. In fact, this land was so important to the Roman Empire that in 1076 Henry IV, then King of the Romans and future emperor, decided to place it in the hands of his own son.

Closer enemies tried to take away portions of Godfrey's land: his own aunt Matilda of Tuscany, cousin Count Albert III of Namur, and Count Theoderic of Veluwe. They were joined by Bishop Theoderic of Verdun. Matilda even enlisted support from her close ally Pope Gregory VII! It was Albert however, that claimed from Godfrey the castle of Bouillon itself! Albert even secretly repaired the Mirwart castle to wage war on Bouillon.

World of Rashi

With the church squarely backing his adversaries, Godfrey turns to the pre-eminent Jewish scholar of the realm - Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki also known as Rashi, to help resolve the case justly and fearlessly. 20 years Godfrey's senior and living in Troyes, Rashi almost completed his commentary on the most important legal text of the Jews, the Talmud. Almost a thousand years later, Rashi's work would still be unsurpassed making Talmud accessible even to teenagers.

While occupying the Castle of Bouillon Count Albert also took advantage of the area's fields and flocks. If Duke Godfrey protested within a year, can he also recover the produce taken from his ancestral land?

As the swords of the rivaling armies are raised against one another, and Godfrey's needing the money from the sale of Bouillon produce to finance his Crusades to Jerusalem, Rashi's ruling can change everything. Even as the Duchy changes hands, who can keep the money: Godfrey or Albert?!

Small Complication

Yet Rashi's life is slipping away. He is desperately trying to finish his monumental commentary on the Talmudic tractate of Bava Basra. Page 29 in our editions. The Sages Abaye and Rava argue: If the land is occupied yet is owned by another and it is returned to its rightful owner who protested, can the occupier at least keep the produce he consumed before the owner protested?

As Rashi is commenting on these lines, his soul is taken from him. His commentary is dramatically interrupted with words, "Here died Rashi." The enormity and the cosmic irony of not being allowed to finish one's life work is the essence of the story we wanted to bring out. The Father of all the commentators stopped here. We want to try to recreate the emotion and the power of this moment for everyone to share.

And by the way, what to do with Godfrey's castle and its produce? That's where the game begins - that's where we need you, escape room players! We teamed up with Kevin Hammonds, who is not only an immensely creative immersive experience designer but a published playwright to build the experience out.

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