The Middle Ages are nicknamed the Dark Ages for the loss of knowledge, but Rishonim were scholars in exactly that time fram. Just in the Lands of Sepharad, there were two Jewish academies in Spain, and others in Fez, Morocco; Algiers, Algeria; and Kairouan, Tunisia. (three books gave Kerwan three different spellings.) These academies had no feeder schools – children were taught at home, and if the local rabbi thought a young man was smart enough, he was sent to the nearest academy with a letter of recommendation to take the entrance exam.
In Europe, France and Germany are grouped as one geographic location with similar languages and customs, but Provence is its own place. Rabbis from France studied in German academies and vice versa, marrying across the border as well. Provence should be part of France, but it is its own section, with academies in Montpelier, Lunel, and Avignon. That’s a lot of scholars for a geographically small area. One rabbi from Lunel (moon) named his book “Maor” or “Luminary” in honor of his homeland. Italy had a large Jewish community during Julius Caesar’s time, and they had their own customs during the Middle Ages. The rabbis of their academies are quoted by rabbis many other lands.
Interesting tidbits from the book: