Study is an essential part of Jewish tradition. At the beginning of the daily service is this prayer— “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with commandments, and commanded us to study words of Torah.” Many of the foundational texts for the Jewish emphasis on study are found in Deuteronomy.
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV)
Have we, in the Christian tradition, fallen short in this area? Could the Jewish emphasis on study serve as a model that we could learn and benefit from?
(Inside a typical Beit Midrash— a “house of learning”. Photo by Rippeym3, Public Domain, Source at Wikimedia)
Among the points that Flavius Josephus wrote in his work defending Judaism— Against Apion— were these statements about the importance of education.
“Our principal care of all is this, to educate our children well; and we think it to be the most necessary business of our whole life to observe the laws that have been given us, and to keep those rules of piety that have been delivered down to us.” (Josephus; Against Apion 1.12)
“For there are two ways of coming at any sort of learning and a moral conduct of life; the one is by instruction in words, the other by practical exercises.” (Josephus; Against Apion 2.17)
“But for our legislator [Moses], he very carefully joined these two methods of instruction together; for he neither left these practical exercises to go on without verbal instruction, nor did he permit the hearing of the law to proceed without the exercises for practice; but beginning immediately from the earliest infancy, and the appointment of every one's diet, he left nothing of the very smallest consequence to be done at the pleasure and disposal of the person himself. Accordingly, he made a fixed rule of law what sorts of food they should abstain from, and what sorts they should make use of; as also, what communion they should have with others what great diligence they should use in their occupations, and what times of rest should be interposed, that, by living under that law as under a father and a master, we might be guilty of no sin, neither voluntary nor out of ignorance; for he did not suffer the guilt of ignorance to go on without punishment, but demonstrated the law to be the best and the most necessary instruction of all others, permitting the people to leave off their other employments, and to assemble together for the hearing of the law, and learning it exactly, and this not once or twice, or oftener, but every week; which thing all the other legislators seem to have neglected.” (Josephus; Against Apion 2.18)
“It also commands us to bring those children up in learning, and to exercise them in the laws, and make them acquainted with the acts of their predecessors, in order to their imitation of them, and that they might be nourished up in the laws from their infancy, and might neither transgress them, nor have any pretense for their ignorance of them.” (Josephus; Against Apion 2.26)
There are several scripture texts that discuss the importance of education— the teaching of children and continual study throughout life. Here are some important texts from Deuteronomy.
“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ (Deuteronomy 4:9-10 ESV)
“Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. (Deuteronomy 11:19-21 NRSV)
“Moses commanded them: “Every seventh year, in the scheduled year of remission, during the festival of booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people—men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns—so that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 31:10-13 NRSV)
There is interesting parallel language in these texts and the language found in the commandment to honor parents.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12 NKJV)
Compare this with the Deuteronomy 4 text— “all the days that they live on the earth” — and the Deuteronomy 11 text— “so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give them” and with the Deuteronomy 31 text— “as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess”. Are education of children and honor of parents two sides of the same coin? Can children honor their parents if they are not trained?
Study is not just for children. It is a life-long duty to study the Scriptures.
Ezra 7:10 Now Ezra had dedicated himself to the study of the law of the LORD, to its observance, and to teaching its statutes and judgments in Israel. (Ezra 7:10 ?)
“O how I love Your teaching! It is my study all day long.” (Psalms 119:97 JPS)
“Give instruction to the wise, and they will become wiser still; teach the righteous and they will gain in learning.” (Proverbs 9:9 NRSV)
“The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, so that one may avoid the snares of death.” (Proverbs 13:14 NRSV)
“The words of the wise: Incline your ear and hear my words, and apply your mind to my teaching; for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. (Proverbs 22:17-18 NRSV)