History of education in ancient Israel and Judah

History of education in ancient Israel and Judah

Education is defined as, "teaching and learning specific skills, and also something less tangible, but more profound: the imparting of knowledge, positive judgement and well-developed wisdom. Education has as one of its fundamental aspects the imparting of culture from generation to generation (see socialization)", then first formal education can be attributed to the nation of Israel c.1300 BCE, that is c.3300 before present, with adoption of the Torah which means "teaching", "instruction", "scribe", or "law" in Hebrew. Three positive Torah commandments, numbered ten, eleven and seventeen command provision of education in general society:
Number 10 - To read the Shema` twice daily, as it is written "and thou shalt talk of them . . . when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deuteronomy 6,7).
Number 11 - To learn Torah and to teach it, as it is written "thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children" (Deuteronomy 6,7).
Number 17 - For every man to write a Torah scroll for himself, as it is written "write ye this song for you" (Deuteronomy 31,19).
Thus the father was obligated as the sole teacher of his children in Jewish history (Deut. xi. 19).

In other contemporary ancient civilisations such as Dynastic Egypt, Babylon and later Ancient Greece and the Roman Republic the provision of education was restricted to the wealthy elite, or to professional scribal guilds.

The institution known as the "be rav" or "bet rabban" (house of the teacher), or as the "be safra" or "bet sefer" (house of the book), is said to have been originated by Ezra' (459 BCE) and his Great Assembly, who provided a public school in Jerusalem to secure the education of fatherless boys of the age of sixteen years and upward. However, the school system did not develop until Joshua ben Gamla (64 CE) the high priest caused public schools to be opened in every town and hamlet for all children above six or seven years of age (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 21a).

The expense was borne by the community, and strict discipline was observed. However, Rav ordered Samuel ben Shilat to deal tenderly with the pupils, to refrain from corporal punishment, or at most to use a shoe-strap in correcting pupils for inattention. A stupid pupil was made monitor until able to grasp the art of learning. Raba fixed the number of pupils at twenty-five for one teacher; if the number was between twenty-five and forty an assistant teacher ("resh dukana") was necessary; and for over forty, two teachers were required.

Only married men were engaged as teachers, but there is a difference of opinion regarding the qualification of the "melammed" (teacher). Raba preferred one who taught his pupils much, even though somewhat carelessly. Rav Dimi of Nehardea, preferred one who taught his pupils little, but correctly, as an error in reading once adopted is hard to correct (ib.). It is, of course, assumed that both qualifications were rarely found in one person.
Current research suggests that if class size is reduced from substantially more than 20 students per class to below 20 students, the related student achievement somewhat increases. For disadvantaged and minority students, the effects are somewhat larger.

The standard education texts were the Mishna and later the Talmud and Gemora, all hand-written until invention of printing. However significant, emphasis was placed on developing good memory skills in addition to comprehension by practice of oral repetition.

Basic education today is considered those skills that are necessary to function in society. Hence, in Ancient Israel, the child would be taught from the six broad subject areas into which the Mishna is divided, including:
Zeraim ("Seeds"), dealing with agricultural laws and prayers

Moed ("Festival"), pertaining to the laws of the Shabbat and the Festivals

Nashim ("Women"), concerning marriage and divorce

Nezikin ("Damages"), dealing with civil and criminal law

Kodashim ("Holy things"), regarding sacrificial rites, the Temple, and the dietary laws

Tohorot ("Purities"), pertaining to the laws of purity and impurity, including the impurity of the dead, the laws of ritual purity for the priests (Kohanim), the laws of "family purity" (the menstrual laws).
To understand the subject areas the student was required to learn counting, basic chemistry, physics and astronomy, writing, geography, agriculture and animal biology, history, accounting and economy, social and cultural role differences, basic medicine and pharmacology, and many others.
This is broadly known as Kol Torah, or Cul'Tura in the Jewish communities of the pre-Revolutionary Russian Empire.

Education begun at the age of six or seven and continued throughout life, although full time basic education was completed before marriage at the age of about 18 years old. In general, this ensured almost universal literacy for most of Jewish history.

Although girls were not provided with formal education in the yeshivah, they were required to know a large part of the subject areas to prepare them to maintain the home after marriage, and to educate the children before the age of seven, today considered the harder of the periods of education.

In ancient Israel women did know how to read and write (despite popular belief to the contrary), and did participate in commerce independently, although not when married. This required them to be knowledgeable in all the laws of Nezikin not normally taught to girls.

ee also

History of ancient Israel and Judah


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