The Education of Jews

The age of twelve was a critical age for a Jewish boy, the age when a boy in whatever rank was obliged, by the injunction of the Rabbis and the custom of his nation, to learn a trade for his own support. At twelve, he was so far emancipated from parental authority that his parents could no longer sell him as a slave. He became a ben hat-torah or son of the law. Up to this age he was called katon or little; henceforth he was gadol or grown up. and was treated more than a man. He could now wear the tephillin or phylacteries and was presented by his father in the synagogue on a Sabbath, which was called from this circumstance the shabbath tephillin. At five he was to study the scriptures, at 10 the Mishna, at 13 the Talmud, at 18 he was to marry, at 20 to acquire riches, at thirty strength, at 40 prudence, and so on to the end.

The prominent Rabbis of the time did not seek out their own disciples. A student would search out a well known master who might accept him if he had been already on the road to being a perfect observer. Jesus did not wait for them to come to him, he went out and made his own disciples, and chose them from among the kind of people whom the Pharisees would have considered the least likely to succeed. While Jesus went out to the sinners, the outcasts, the sick and the socially and religiously ostracized, the Pharisees carefully avoided them. Nevertheless Mary and Joseph saw to it that Jesus was strictly instructed in the stern school of Shammai. Sitting on the floor of the synagogue, Jesus was taught from the beginning the Scriptures and the prophets of his own people. He must be taught His lessons, his manners, his skills.

At age 6, the Jewish boys went to school. The class would be held in the synagogue, or outside, if the weather was good. The children would either stand or sit on the floor. Reading and writing was taught first. The teaching was almost entirely scriptural, no math to speak of no geography, no history save that of Israel, no science. For the first four or five years, they were taught the Torah, the five books of Moses. The Old Testament is convinced that beating is good for the boys. The teacher was to strictly fulfill all promises made to the child, to avoid bringing up disagreeable or indelicate thoughts, be patient, punish without excessive severity - with a strap, but never with a rod. The scriptures of the Old Testament formed the very staple of a boy's training in every genuine Israelitish family, learn them at five and continued to study until manhood, only adding to them the teaching of the scribes.

The boys of the villages liked to talk about deliverance of the nation from foreign tyranny. At heart they were all little revolutionists. Their games, like cowboys and Indians were of Zealots and Romans, patriots and tyrants. On the street corners, around fires in the fields, on the steps of the synagogue, peddler, shepherd, everybody talked of a king who was to come one day and free Israel by force of arms. They could hear every day of the crimes of government and Roman tyranny.

There exists a close relationship between teachers and pupils. A celebrated rabbi gathers pupils around him, who are introduced by him to the understanding of the Torah, who accompany him and are obliged to render him services. The story of Jesus questioning the scholars in the temple is not incredible, he had an alert and curious mind, and in the Near East a boy of twelve already touches maturity. Jesus probably did not have formal education. After the youth had learned the trade, he was received instruction in the local synagogue. Both boys and girls, in their earlier years were under the training of their mother, the daughters no doubt until their marriage. At the age of 5 years the boys were usually trained by their fathers, or if well to do by tutors.

Not only in reading and writing, but also in the law, its commandments and doctrines, and the deeds and revelations of Jehovah to his people. Gamaliel is said to have been the first who instituted schools for boys in cities. In later times the prophecies and comments on them, as well as on the earlier scriptures, together with other subjects, were studied. Parents were required to teach their children some trade. Moses - And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children.

All the Roman training was practical, and all of it was serious. Discipline was what made the difference between the Roman and any other man. "Obey the command, act as a Roman, and die to save Rome, our family, or your own honor." Nothing was studied because it was fun or just interesting. Philosophy and poetry were for the Greeks.
[309, 311, 325, 318, 330, 344, 345, 373, 15, 319, BD, Deuteronomy]

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