SEVEN CENTURIES PASSED from the days of the first Tana until the time of the last Amora. This is a long time in the history of any people. No matter how conservative one may be, it would still be impossible to assume that all these years passed without noting profound changes in Jewish life. As was the case with other peoples, these centuries also marked the birth and development of new ideas and concepts among the Jews. Some of these vanished and gave rise to others. These centuries marked far going changes in the political position of the people. Now they were free in their own land, and then they were involved in wars; exile was succeeded by periods of peace and welfare in foreign lands.
After the return from Babylonia, where they lived in an entirely strange environment, the Jews developed new ideas and concepts. The situation in Babylonia itself changed when that country came under the sway of the Persians who possessed an original culture. Later the Jews fell under the domination of the Syrian Greeks and of others. It was quite natural for the Jews to be influenced by these peoples even when they did not imitate them and when they sought to avoid the ways of the pagans. When the conquering nations tried to undermine their belief in one God they did not succeed. The Jews remained steadfast in their faith and were ready to sacrifice their lives for the observance of the Sabbath and of circumcision. The outside influence expressed itself in some modifications in the ceremonial rituals, but the fundamentals of religion were not affected.
As soon as the repatriates from Babylonia were entrenched in the country—after the days of Ezra and Nehemiah—there developed a new attitude toward the Torah. They were convinced that the destruction of the Temple and the exile was a direct result of their negligence in the observance of the commandments of the Torah. They therefore determined to observe scrupulously all the regulations of the Torah. The first measure in this direction was the establishment of a rule that “many students should be maintained”. To achieve this end, many schools were established in all the comers of the land. Whereas the majority of the people had heretofore been farmers and shepherds, it was now sought to transform them into a nation of scholars. The leaders of the schools were called “Soferim”, scribes, whose duty it was to explain the Scriptures and to interpret its teachings. Later the “Soferim” were known as “Chachamim”, wise men. They thus performed a dual function of interpreting and also adapting the Torah to the needs of the time.
The religious and secular life of the people was then governed by two institutions: the Great Court and the Academy, which worked hand in hand and supplemented each other. The entire content of Jewish life centered about these institutions which laid the foundation for the spiritual life of the people. The “Great Court”, later known as the “Sanhedrin”, issued all the decrees and, together with the academies, it became the law giving body which regulated the moral and religious conduct of the people and strengthened its ethical concepts. One of the first activities of the Sanhedrin was the establishment of a “protective fence” (סײג) about the Torah. It was the function of this “fence” to prevent the people from doing any thing which might lead them astray from the commandments of the Torah even when the particular deed had not been prohibited in itself.
Concerned with the moral conduct of the people the scholars sought to prevent any possible lapses by prohibiting men to remain alone with married women in secluded places. In addition to the forms of adultery which the Bible prohibited they also listed 26 types of relatives whom one may not marry.1)יבמות כ״א א׳, ירושלמי יבמות פרק ב׳ הלכה ג׳.
In the days preceding Ezra and Nehemiah the Sabbath was not strictly observed. The Soferim therefore warned the people concerning its observance and surrounded it with protective barriers. The concept of work was defined in order that people should know what may and what may not be done on the Sabbath. 39 primary occupations were listed the performance of which on the Sabbath was punishable by death. Among these were plowing, sowing, harvesting, threshing, baking, cooking, lighting and putting out fire, hunting, slaughtering animals, writing and erasing, building and destroying, sewing and tearing, carrying objects out of a house and into it.2)שבת ע״ג א׳.
In addition to these occupations the Soferim prohibited many other activities which did not constitute work in themselves but which lent a weekday atmosphere such as climbing trees, riding on animals, swimming, judging, buying and selling, marriage and others. All of these were forbidden in the interests of complete rest and were also not allowed on the holidays.3)ביצה ל״ו ב׳.
Tools and vessels which were used during the performance of occupations that were forbidden on the Sabbath, could not be carried out on that day. As a further safeguard the Soferim ruled that the Sabbath was to be observed from sunset on Friday until the sunset on Saturday. Blessings to be pronounced over a glass of wine at the incoming and at the departure of the Sabbath were instituted.4)ברכות ל״ג א׳. A man was likewise appointed to blow the ram’s horn as a signal to the people to cease working. The first blast signalled the field workers to cease their labors; the second one announced to the city workers to close their shops and the third one was a sign to stop all work at home. One more blast was then blown to indicate that the Sabbath had begun.5)שבת ל״ה ב׳, קי״ד א׳, סוכה נ״ז ב׳.
The first evening of the Passover was consecrated in the same manner as the Sabbath. It partook of the nature of a family celebration and all members of the family gathered to eat of the Paschal lamb, to relate the miracles of the redemption from Egypt and to sing praises. Every Jew, even the poorest, was obliged to drink four glasses of wine on that evening.
In addition to the sacrifices in the Temple, prayers were introduced at that time. It appears that prayer among Jews originated during the Babylonian captivity, when the people had no opportunity to offer sacrifices. Although the forms of the prayers were not yet defined, the idea of praying took root, but it did not supplant the offering of sacrifices which were expressly commanded in the Torah.
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The number of Jews who returned to Palestine from the exile in Babylonia was much smaller than the number exiled. But those who remained in Babylonia were no less religious than the ones who returned. The great national struggles which characterized the return to Palestine have never been sufficiently described. We possess inadequate information concerning the time that elapsed from the coming of Ezra and Nehemiah until the rebellion of the Hasmoneans, a period of nearly two centuries. The fate of Zerubabel, who was appointed to govern the Jews of Jerusalem is also unknown.
There exists a tradition, which is not substantiated by any historical evidence, that Zerubabel returned to Babylonia after he became convinced that he could achieve nothing in Palestine. Others claim that he was killed during one of the turbulent periods.
It is certain, however, that a large number of Jews refused to return to Palestine even after the second temple was built and a Hasmonean ruler governed the land. These did not consider their liberation as the expected redemption. They hoped for miracles like those which accompanied the deliverance from Egypt and they awaited a wondrous Messiah from the House of David. They also disapproved of the new temple which lacked the “Urim” and “Thumim”, the Holy Ark and the Cherubim and the “sacred fire”. But the lack of authentic historical information makes it impossible to give a clear description of that time. The writings of Josephus are not entirely clear and the Talmud concerned itself more with describing the customs of the time and interpreting the verses of the Bible rather than with chronicling historical events.
It is therefore impossible to determine how learning began to develop in Babylonia. But we do know that Jewish life developed in that country at the same time that it was making rapid forward strides in Palestine. When the second temple was destroyed, large numbers of Jews sought refuge in Babylonia where the Romans had no control. As often as the political circumstances allowed, there was interchange of scholars between the two countries. Thus we find Rabbi Chiya Raba sending his son, Nathan, to continue his studies in Palestine while Palestinian scholars sent their children to Babylonia. But despite this interchange, the Jews of Palestine nevertheless did not respect the Babylonian Jews. Even Babylonian scholars were ridiculed until their worth was established.
Most of the Jews of Babylonia lived in Nehardea and its environs because it was closest to Palestine. Some even believed that the city was once a part of Palestine and they sought to prove that the surrounding towns were included in the conquests of Joshua. Because of this doubt, the inhabitants of Nehardea celebrated Purim for two days.
The exact location of Nehardea has not been ascertained to this day. All we know is that it was located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and that the lands to the East were settled by non-Jews. Later the Babylonian Jews were compelled to wander farther inland. The persecutions in Palestine forced many scholars to settle in Babylonia and the social and economic conditions in Babylonia also contributed to the establishment of academies in different cities.
Enjoying complete autonomy, the Babylonian Jews were governed by an “Exilarch” who represented them before the government. Like the Nasi in Palestine, the Exilarch also traced his descent from the house of David. At times the Exilarchs were held in even greater respect than the Nasi because they were descended from king David through the male line. At the time that Rabbi Jehudah was Nasi in Palestine, Rav Huna was Exilarch in Babylonia. Rabbi Jehudah once remarked that were Rav Huna to come to Palestine, he would accord him greater honor than he received himself.
When the conditions in Palestine took a turn for the worse, Rabbi Nathan of Babylonia declared that the verse “to those who love me and observe my commandments” (Exodus, 2:6), referred to the Jews of Palestine, who were ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the observance of the commandments and who were indifferent to death when they were caught.
These conditions are best illustrated in a Talmudic story which relates that when a Jew, who was condemned to death, would be asked, “Why are you being led to execution?” he would reply, “Because I have circumcised my son.” Another would say, “Because I have studied the Torah.” One led to crucifixion would explain that he was being punished for eating Matzoth, another one that was to be flogged would explain that he incurred his punishment for holding a “Lulav”.6)מכילתא דבחודש פּרשה ו׳, ילקוט יתרו רצ״ב. Under such circumstances, the academies in Palestine were deserted. Those who wanted their sons to gain learning sent them to Babylonia. During such times the scholars of Babylonia would also determine the beginning of the months and the leap years, although this was traditionally the prerogative of the scholars of Palestine.
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Judging by the structure of the Babylonian Talmud one might conclude that it is obscure and that its editors compiled its contents without considering sequence. But such a conclusion would be erroneous since every word was carefully weighed and measured before it was included in the Talmud. The Talmud as we have it is a wonderful structure carefully reared from its component parts. The editors of the Talmud followed the system of Rabbi Jehudah in editing the Mishna and not merely did they gather the material but they also sought to integrate it into an organic unit. Rav Ashi and Ravina, the compilers of the Babylonian Talmud, sought to link the subjects treated in the Talmud in a logical sequence. For this purpose they employed a technical terminology which served as a binding cement.
After the period of the “Tanaim” the language of the Talmudic literature was not preserved in its original purity. The early Amoraim still used a language closely resembling that of the Mishna and even some of the latter ones sought to achieve this end. But the majority of their sayings were in Aramaic, which was the ordinary language of the Jews of Babylonia, interspersed with some Hebrew elements. The resulting language did not resemble the language of the Mishna.
The two Talmuds, the Babylonian and the Jerusalem, differ in the language employed and also in their styles. The cause of this is that the methods of interpretation employed in the two countries differed. This is not surprising when we consider the manner in which the interchange of ideas between the two countries occurred. The constant interchange of scholars between the two lands resulted in many errors and quotations were frequently interpreted in a manner foreign to the author. Some scholars even ascribed their opinions to their predecessors in order to lend weight to their words. At other times the authors of various statements were forgotten. Considerable confusion was thus engendered in establishing the authorship of numerous decisions. At times the statements quoted were in direct contradictions to the opinions of the authors. This was especially true of the opinions ascribed to Rav (Aba Arecha). We thus find that when Rabbi Jehuda bar Ezekiel quoted Rav, his brother Rami remarked: “You should not listen to him when he speaks in the name of Rav.”7)כתובות כ׳׳א א׳, חולין מ״ד א׳. Another Amora likewise said: “Whatever Rabbi Jehudah bar Ezekiel says in the name of Rav is incorrect, for Rav had never said it.”8)חולין ע״ד א׳.
Even the compilers of the Talmud at times erred in this respect and they would describe a dispute between two Amoraim in contradicting versions on different occasions. There are several instances of such contradictions.9)תוספות מנחות כ״ח ב׳.
Some subjects occur both in the Jerusalem and in the Babylonian Talmud with this difference that the Jerusalem Talmud quotes conflicting opinions while the Babylonian Talmud quotes only one opinion.10)בבא קמא ו׳ ב׳, ירושלמי גטין פרק ה׳ הלכה א׳.
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One should not assume that the Talmud is a unified work. The teachings of seven centuries do not readily fuse into a unit. This is particularly true since so many different men of differing tastes shared in its creation. But the Talmud does possess a homogeneous character and it constitutes an integrated work.
In the prefaces to our first two volumes we sought to acquaint the reader with the ideas of the scholars concerning the various problems of life. We shall now supplement those remarks in order to provide a complete picture of their mode of thought. The ideas of our scholars concerning God were original and differed from those accepted among the surrounding peoples. Greek culture which was then highly developed still clung to polytheism. The same was true of the Romans, the Parthians and the Persians. One therefore marvels at the endurance of the scholars and at their success in resisting all attempts to introduce polytheism.
The representation of God in corporeal form such as the phrases “the hand of God” or “the mouth of God” might have indicated, the scholars interpreted as being merely a form of speech used to convey the idea of God to the common people. But they expressly warned against accepting these terms in their literal meaning.11)מכילתא פּ׳ יתרו. They then referred to God in terms which would indicate his superhuman nature. He was called “Shechinah”, (Glory). On other occasions he was referred to as “Gevurah” (Strength) and “Makom” (Place), because He is omnipresent. He was also called “Shamayim” (Heaven), because of the belief that God lived in heaven. The creation of the world they explained to be a process of creation out of nothing. Its aim was the creation of man who was made in the image of God, walking erect and facing heaven. Man is imbued by a soul and possesses a free will to do as he chooses. Of all men the Jews are the chosen ones; the outstanding men among the Jews are the just men.12)יומא ל״ח ב׳.
The concept of God’s unity the scholars held to be of the greatest significance. They believed it to be an honor that the Jews followed the only God and that He chose them as His people. The reason why man was created last was explained by them to indicate that man did not share with God in any work of creation.13)סנהדרין ל״ח ב׳.
God is merciful even when man does not deserve it and His very anger is an expression of his kindness.14)פּסחים פּ״ו ב׳. It is the duty of the Jew to fear God and the life of a Jew should be based on three foundations: study of the Torah; serving God with prayers and charitable deeds.15)אבות פרק א׳ משנה ב׳.
While studying the Torah one should bear in mind that its purpose is to observe the commandments. But the worth of the observance is conditioned by the belief in God who gave the commandments. A Jew must therefore do everything for the sake of God and not merely out of a feeling of duty.16)יבמות ק״ט ב׳.
Faith implies the assumption of the burden of the kingdom of heavens. This implies gratitude to God for the good as well as for the evil and acceptance of his rule presupposes obedience to the rule of God and a conviction that whatever He does is for the best. God should be served with love and one should strive to make His name beloved among all. This will lead to the elevation of the conduct of man to the level of God. Even as God is merciful so also should man strive to be merciful.
Before the introduction of prayers, sacrifices were offered. The purpose of sacrifices was not merely slaughter of animals but elevation of human thought. After the destruction of the Temple one could only assume the vow of a “Nazarite”, not to drink wine and not to cut his hair, or one could undertake fasts to torment his body with lack of food and drink.
Charitable deeds, whether by offering money or through personal effort to aid another, was considered to be the noblest deed possible. This was based on the principle of love for one’s neighbor which was enunciated by Hillel in his rule when he said, “Do not unto others what you would not have done unto yourself.”
Moralizing others on their faults the scholars held to be of great importance and they said that it should be continued until the person corrected becomes angry and is ready to beat his moralist. Such moralizing helps people to avoid gossip, hatred and envy and encourages peace.
One must also believe that God sees all deeds of man, that he knows the needs of the world and that he aids all Jews because of their justice and their faith in Him.
God’s messengers are angels, prophets and saints. The piety of the saint may lead him to become inspired by the holy spirit and he would thus be capable of interceding for the Jews with his prayers. Repentance has a similar effect and protects the penitent from evil.17)ירושלמי פּאה פרק א׳ משנה ב׳.
However, the most fascinating element of the faith was the belief in reward and punishment after death. God also credits offspring with the good deeds of their parents. Like the individual, the group also awaits a collective compensation which takes the form of the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection. These matters the scholars discussed tersely when they spoke of the wars of Gog and Magog, the return of the House of David and “the future that is to come” which would compensate the whole nation for their sufferings of the present.
Throughout the years there were numerous sects among the Jews who questioned the authority of the oral law. But none of these doubted the value of the moral teachings of the scholars.
The scholars also believed that God had previously created worlds which he destroyed and when He created the present world He said: “This one finds favor in my eyes while the others did not.”18)בראשית רבה פּרשה ט׳ פּיסקא ב׳.
When God decided to create Adam, the scholars said, He realized that both just and wicked men would be descended from him. Because of the just descendants he wished to create man at once but the prospect of the wicked descendants urged him to annihilate man before he was even created. God thereupon overlooked the future and proceeded to create man.
At first God considered creating man out of heavenly stuff. But realizing that such a creature would incur the envy of the angels who might attempt to harm him, He created man out of a mixture of heavenly and earthly materials.19)בראשית רבה פּרשה י״ב פּיסקא ז׳. He then endowed man with a free will to do as he chose. He implanted in him good and evil desires and He gave him the power to control his desires. The scholars were convinced that there was much heroism in subduing one’s evil desires since these are with man since his birth while his good desires manifest themselves only after he reaches the age of thirteen.20)סנהדרין צ״א ב׳.
But they did not consider the Torah as the only means against human passions. Piety was held to be a necessary supplement and one who possessed learning without piety was compared to an overseer of a palace who was given the inside but not the outer keys.21)שבת ל״א ב׳.
The scholars strongly stressed the significance of justice. One who passes just sentence they compared to a partner to God and they interpreted the Biblical verse (Deut. 12:28) to show that good fortune would attend him who practices deeds that are good in the eyes of man and that also find favor in the eyes of God.
If a poor man and a rich man will come to trial, the poor man should not be given preference. He must not be declared just, if he had been unjust, on the ground that the rich man would have to support him anyway. Such judgment would be tantamount to accepting a bribe which blinds even the wisest man. It was also held that bribes could be offered in words as well as in money.22)כתובות ק״ה ב׳.
Truth is the signature of God.23)שבת נ״ה א׳. Man must therefore make sure that all his utterances should be true. He who is honest is considered to have observed the whole Torah.24)מכילתא מסכתא דיוסע א׳ כ״ז.
Just as God punished the generation of the flood He would also punish anyone who does not abide by his word. One who departs from his word may be compared to one worshipping idols.25)סנהדרין צ״ב א׳. For deceit with words is worse than deceit with money26)בבא מציעא נ״ח ב׳. and God abhors the man who speaks otherwise than he thinks.27)פּסחים קי״ג ב׳. But gossip was held to be even worse than deceit and those guilty of it were considered to be fit to be fed to the dogs.28)פּסחים קי״ח א׳. Slander, they said, is capable of annihilating all three parties concerned; the one who utters the slander, the one who heeds it and the one who was slandered. Its power extends over long distances and the only reason that the Jews who left Egypt were condemned to perish in the desert was that they heeded slander.29)ערכין ט״ז א׳.
Four types of people never merit seeing the “Shechinah”: the scornful, those who ridicule others, liars and slanderers.30)סוטה מ״ב א׳. There are also numerous types of thieves and the worst of these is the one who deceives people with words; another is the type that invites one to come to his house without really wishing him to do so; the third offers gifts when he is certain that they will not be accepted; the fourth shows merchandise to a customer after that merchandise had already been sold. All of these are compared to swindlers who give false weights and measurements.31)מכילתא מסכתא נזיקין י״ג ג׳.
The blessings of the Torah, the scholars said, can only be fulfilled when people follow in the ways of God. What are the ways of God? God is gracious to all and he feeds all creatures without exception. People should likewise be kind to each other. God grants health and life to those who believe in him as well as to those who reject Him. People should also forgive acquaintances and strangers.32)תנא דבי אליהו פרק כ״ו.
All of these moral teachings which originated with the explanations of the essence of God ended by scrutinizing social relations. It grew out of the recognition that man is the flower of creation and that God wished man to act justly and kindly. As time went on these teachings expanded in depth and profundity.
Charity was also viewed by the scholars as of great importance. The entire world is provided with food because of charity.33)ברכות י״ז ב׳. One who contributes to charity is worthier than one who offers sacrifices.34)סוכה מ״ט ב׳. Charity is the greatest of all commandments35)בבא בתרא ט׳ ב׳. and even the poor man who receives charity should offer some of it.36)גטין ז׳ ב׳. But the scholars also stressed that offering a loan was at times more important than giving charity and aid which one extends with his body may be better than financial aid.37)שבת ס״ג א׳. Scholars were also warned against living in cities which did not have a fund for the poor to which at least two people attended.38)סנהדרין י״ז ב׳.
One must also love to be preached to for so long as there will be moralizing there will be joy and blessings in the world and evil will depart. The scholars nevertheless warned that one must improve his own ways before he begins to preach to others39)בבא מציעא ק״ז ב׳. and just as it is a good deed to suggest something which will be obeyed even so is it a good deed not to make a suggestion which is sure to be disobeyed.40)חגיגה ד׳ ב׳.
The sin of hatred equals in magnitude the commandment to love one’s neighbor. One must not say: “I will love scholars but I will hate their disciples” or “I will love disciples but I will hate rude people”. One may show hatred only to those who deny God and who incite to sin. Thus king David said: “Your enemies I will hate and I will contend with those who rise up against you.”41)אבות דר׳ נתן ט״ז ה׳. One must also bear in mind what the consequences of hatred will be. Why was the first temple destroyed? Because there existed idol worshiping, immorality and violence. But during the time of the second temple the people observed the Torah and its commandments, why then was it destroyed? It was destroyed because hatred prevailed. We may therefore conclude that hatred is the equivalent of idol worshipping, immorality and bloodshed.42)יומא ס׳ ב׳.
Speaking of the significance of peace the scholars declared that blessings are of no avail if they are not accompanied by peace.43)במדבר רבה פּרשה י״א פּיסקא ט״ז. Even in time of war one should think of peace. It is therefore permissible to alter the words of another, when quoting him, in the interests of peace.44)יבמות ס״ה ב׳. The stones of which the altar was built and whose function it was to cause peace between Jews and their father in heaven, could not be hewn by any iron implement. It was therefore concluded that one who brings about peace between man and wife, between one city and another, between one nation and another or between one family and another, would not meet with any harm. One must therefore heed the command to preserve peace and not to engage in quarrels. Such great significance was attached to peace that it was believed that even when people worship idols they could not be harmed by enemies if they lived in peace among themselves.45)ספרי נשא פּרשה מ״ב.
Marriage was held to be the most important event in the life of any man. It was considered to be the duty of every Jewish man to participate in the increase of the people. This conviction, together with the natural fertility of the Jewish women, contributed to the survival of the people throughout the period of persecution. No man even thought of avoiding this responsibility toward his people. Thus Rabbi Akiba once asked, “Who may be considered a rich man?” and he replied that a rich man is one “who has a wife noted for her good deeds.”46)שבת כ״ה ב׳. Ben Sira was also quoted as saying that “a good woman is the best gift. Happy is the husband of such a woman; the days of his life are doubled.”47)יבמות ס״ג ב׳. The verse which declared that the days of the poor were evil, the scholars interpreted as referring to a man who has a wicked wife.48)בבא בתרא קמ״ח ב׳. Man was also commanded to honor his wife for the blessing of one’s house was entirely dependent upon the wife,49)בבא מציעא נ״ט א׳. and he who honored his wife more than himself and loved her even as he loved himself would be blessed with peace and plenty.
Amicable relations between man and wife caused the “Shechinah” to dwell in the house and when discord prevails, they are both consumed as by a fire.50)סוטה י״ז א׳. Another scholar explained the significance of peace in a still different manner. He said: The Hebrew words ״איש״ and ״אשה״ (man and woman) contain two of the letters of the name of God and God would preserve them from all evil. But this is true only so long as they live in peace. As soon as they leave the ways of peace, these two letters are withdrawn and only the letters ״אש״ remain. These signify fire which would consume them.51)פרקי דרבי אליעזר פּרשה י״ב.
The education of the children naturally occupied a prominent place under the circumstances. Study of the Torah was the central theme of this training. One of the scholars declared that as soon as a child learns to talk his father should teach him the Hebrew language and the Torah and any father who does not do so may be compared to a father who kills his child.52)ספרי פּרשת עקב פּיסקא מ״ו. But one who obeys this commandment is credited with teaching his descendants to the end of all generations.53)קדושין ל׳ ב׳.
Speaking in the same vein the Tana Rabbi Jochanan declared that of the three types of people who deserve a share in the world to come one is the father who raises his children in the ways of the Torah.54)פּסחים קי״ג א׳. The entire world exists because of the breath of children at study and they must therefore not be disturbed from their studies even when the temple is to be rebuilt. Any city in which the voices of children at study is not heard will certainly be destroyed in the end.55)שבת קי״ט ב׳. It was thus related that every child which had a father would be taught by him, but fatherless children remained uneducated. It was therefore ordered that schools be established in every city and every province where children were brought at the age of six or seven years. No children began their studies before they reached the age of six.56)בבא בתרא כ״א ב׳.
Rabbi Jose declared that every man is obligated to study and none should assume that he will inherit his learning. Another scholar therefore said that one should beware of the children of the poor for they might grow to be great students.57)נדרים פּ״א א׳. The same attitude should be maintained toward the children of the Ame Aratzim for they too might become scholars.58)סנהדרין צ״ו ב׳. Parents were also enjoined to teach their children trades and any parent who did not do so was considered on par with one who taught his son to be a robber.59)קדושין כ״ט א׳.
Learning a trade was held to be of great importance. Not only did a trade provide one with a livelihood but it also brought him honor. The importance of a man who lived off the practice of a trade was held to be equal to that of a pious man.60)ברכות ח׳ א׳. In the opinion of Rabbi Gamliel, the son of Rabbi Jehudah, that knowledge of the Torah which was not accompanied by the practice of a trade was of no value and was sure to lead to sin.61)אבות פרק ב׳ משנה ב׳.
Both parents as well as God share in the creation of a human being. As long as one honors his father and mother God therefore considers it as He had been honored.62)קדושין ל׳ ב׳. Another time the scholars declared that it is more important to honor one’s father and mother than it is to honor God. Man is thus obligated to fulfill the commandments concerning a Succa, a Shofar, feeding the poor and others only if he can afford to do so; but the commandment to honor one’s parents must be fulfilled under all circumstances.63)ירושלמי פּאה פרק א׳ הלכה א׳. When the question arose how one should honor his parents and whether one could do so by word of mouth only the scholars invoked the verse “Honor God from your wealth” and they declared that one must honor his parents with all his possessions, with food and with garments. The honor due to one’s father they further explained by saying that one might not stand in the place of his father nor sit in his seat nor contradict his words nor side with his opponents.64)קדושין ל״א ב׳.
The scholars also interpreted the Biblical commandment to prove that one is obligated to honor his step-mother in the same measure as he would honor his own mother; his step-father in the same measure as he would honor his own father and also his older brothers and his father in law.65)מכילתא מסכתא דוישמע יתרו פּרשה מ׳ פּיסקא ז׳.
But not only parents were to be accorded honor. Scholars were to be granted the same respect66)פּסחים כ״ב ב׳. and greeting a scholar was equivalent to greeting the Shechinah.67)מכילתא יתרו פּרשה א׳ פּיסקא י״ב. The honor due to the Torah was so great that a bastard who was a scholar was ranked higher than a High Priest who was an Am Haaretz.68)הוריות י״ג ב׳.
Modesty was also a virtue which the sages praised highly and Rabbi Levitas of Jabneh said: “One should be very humble for there is no real reason for pride considering that in the end all men will be consumed by worms.”69)אבות פרק ד׳ משנה ד׳. One who is humble, other scholars declared, will be raised by God and one who is proud will be put to shame. It is likewise with one who seeks greatness that greatness eludes him but one who avoids it will certainly achieve greatness.70)ערובין י״ג ב׳.
Modesty is a quality of God. When He appeared to Moses the first time He did not appear in the form of a proud cedar tree but in the form of a lowly bush. When He gave the Torah to the Jews He did so from Sinai which is small compared to the great mountains.71)סוטה ה׳ א׳. God therefore declares that He will avoid those who are proud and one who walks erect with pride crowds the feet of the Shechinah.72)ברכות מ״ג ב׳.
Satisfaction with one’s lot was equal in importance to modesty. “Who is a wealthy man?” asked the Tana Ben Zoma, “he who is satisfied with his share.”73)אבות פרק ד׳ משנה א׳. For one should be content with that which he has. Rabbi Akiba further clarified this idea when he said that “one should arrange his Sabbaths like week days in order to avoid being dependent on charity.”74)שבת קי״ח ב׳. One way of attaining such a state of contentedness is by avoiding gluttony.75)בבא מציעא צ״ב א׳. At the same time the scholars ruled that one should not deny himself the pleasures of life and Rav (Aba Arecha) declared that any man who denies himself joys which he can attain will have to account for it in the world to come.76)ירושלמי קדושין פרק ד׳ הלכה י״ב.
One must avoid mutilating his body.77)בבא קמא צ״א ב׳. There is also no action which may not be performed nor is there any food which may not be eaten in order to preserve an endangered life with the exception of idolatry, bloodshed and immorality for the avoidance of which one must be ready to sacrifice his life.78)יומא פּ״ב א׳. Regarding the observance of the Sabbath Rabban Simeon ben Gamliel said that it may be desecrated for the sake of a living day old child, but not for the sake of a dead king David.79)שבת קנ״א ב׳. Rabbi Menasia liekwise said that the Sabbath was given to people to observe but the people were not given to the Sabbath.80)מכילתא מסכתא דשבת פּרשה א׳.
Bashfulness and chastity were likewise held in great esteem, and these qualities were considered to be the outstanding merit of the Jews.81)נדרים כ׳ א׳. It was believed that shame leads to avoidance of sin while arrogance leads to transgression. Scholars were warned to heed their behavior.82)מסכת דרך ארץ זוטא פרק ו׳.
Regarding faith and dependence on God it was said that Jews deserve to have miracles performed for their sake because of their unbounded faith.83)מכילתא מסכתא דבשלח פּרשה ג׳. He who trusts in God would be protected by Him both in this and in the coming world.84)מנחות כ״ט ב׳. On another occasion it was declared that a penitent is credited with making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and offering sacrifices there. When Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus enjoined his disciples to repent one day before their death, they questioned how one may know when he would die and Rabbi Eliezer explained that one must repent daily for fear that he would die on the morrow.85)שבת קנ״ג א׳.
Prayer ranked close upon repentance and was held to be of greater value than sacrifices. Its significance was so great that at least half of one’s prayers were certain to be granted.86)דברים רבה פּרשה ה׳ פּיסקא א׳. Another sage said that even were a sword to be at one’s throat he should still feel confident in prayer.87)ברכות י׳ א׳.
Some Gentile pedagogues of that time declared that it is better for children to study at home, each one separately. Our scholars, on the other hand, believed that group study tended to develop the minds of children. We find no mention, however, that even the Gentile pedagogues should question the efficiency of schools for their usefulness was recognized by all. We may therefore assume that only a few held to this point of view. It was only a small number of wealthy Gentiles that could afford to maintain a private tutor for their children. Children of the poor largely remained without any education which was looked upon as a privilege of the rich.
The educational situation among the Jews was entirely different. Education was democratic and so organized that the whole people benefited from it. Classes were not always held indoors and frequently study would take place in the street. Thus we find that Rabbi Jehudah prohibited teaching in the street and when Rabbi Chiya taught his two sons outside the house he incurred the displeasure of Rabbi Jehudah.88)מועד קטן ט״ז ב׳. Such study as took place outside involved adult pupils mostly and was practiced during unusual circumstances. Otherwise all learning took place in the synagogues where prayers were also said. There were no convenient structures for schools at that time. Since the people were impoverished it was said that not much money should be spent even for synagogues.
At first all learning was engaged in while standing. Later it became customary to sit. The teacher would then be seated on a rock or on a bench while his pupils sat on the ground around him. The Talmud declared that since the days of Moses until the time of Rabban Gamliel the old people studied while standing but that after the death of Rabban Gamliel maladies afflicted the world and people were forced to sit while studying.89)מגלה כ״א א׳.
Special furniture for the adornment of the schools was not needed at that time. If the teacher sat on a couch his pupils also reclined on couches. Teachers were also prohibited from benefiting from the services of their pupils. Thus we find that Rabbi Jehudah was in the habit of carrying his own bench to the academy.
The seating of the pupils was ordered in such manner that the teacher should be able to see the faces of all; they were then seated in a semi-circle. Of the influence of facing one’s teacher while at study we learn from the remark of Rabbi Jehudah who complained that he could not always see the face of his master Rabbi Meir and that this fact hindered his proficiency in learning.90)ערובין י״ג ב׳. Another sage instructed his pupils to seat themselves in such a manner as to be able to see the mouth of their teacher when he was teaching them.91)הוריות י״ג א׳.
It was the accepted rule that children should start their schooling at the age of six. One Amora warned that study at an earlier age may affect the health of the child adversely. Others said that it would also affect his intellectual development. But the most common suggestion offered was that the physical development of each individual child should be considered.92)כתובות נ׳ א׳.
We find no record of the required qualifications for teachers but we may assume that they were required to be well acquainted with the subject of instruction. The qualities that were enumerated for scholars were probably also required of teachers.
A popular maxim of that time declared: “In my native city I am known by my name but in a strange city I am known by my clothes.”93)שבת קמ״ה ב׳. It was likewise said that a scholar who wears spotted clothes deserves to forfeit his life and that it is a shame for a scholar to wear patched shoes.94)שבת קי״ד א׳. Scholars were also warned to heed their habits of eating and drinking and one who arranged his feasts without choosing a proper place would forget his learning, he would cause quarrels and his words would not be heeded.95)פּסחים מ״ט א׳.
Not all teachers were considered capable of teaching as not all pupils were capable of learning. But the blame was mostly ascribed to the teachers and Rava once declared: “If you see a pupil having difficulties in learning, it is a proof that his teacher does not show him friendliness.”96)תענית ה׳ א׳.
Every scholar must consider it to be his duty to teach others without compensation. But since teachers were required to devote their whole time to their work some form was devised to provide for their needs. Thus the Talmud declares that he who studies without teaching others may be compared to a plant in the desert97)ראש השנה כ״ג א׳. and he who refrains from teaching a law to his pupil is like one who robs him.98)סנהדרין צ״א ב׳.
According honor to one’s teacher was therefore held to be of greater importance than honoring one’s father.99)הוריות י״ג א׳. Should one see his father and his teacher carrying loads, he was to help his teacher first. Likewise if one’s father and teacher are imprisoned he was to ransom his teacher first.100)100) בבא מציעא ל״ג א׳. One who contradicts his teacher may be compared to a man contradicting the Shechinah101)101) סנהדרין ק״י א׳. and walking on the right side of one’s teacher indicated rudeness.102)102) יומא ל״ז א׳.
Respect for one’s neighbor was likewise commanded and it was to equal the respect in which one holds himself.103)103) אבות פרק ב׳ משנה י״ג. A man who was known to be superior even in one respect deserved to be honored.104)104) פּסחים ק״ג ב׳. One’s position was entirely irrelevant in this respect, for a man brings honor to his position and not vice versa.105)105) תענית כ״א ב׳.