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Serving Jesus through discipleship

Archive for the tag “Judaism”

Practicing Faith in Community


They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one having authority, not as the teachers of the law. – Mark 1:21-22

Originally the synagogue was not a specific building but a place where God‘s people gathered in His presence around His Living Word. It was sometimes called a place of prayer, because in the Jewish mind the verb translated pray means worship as well as prayer. Synagogue began before Solomon’s temple was destroyed, but the practice became essential to the Jewish faithduring the exile.

Ruins of the ancient synagogue in Kibbutz Bar'...

Ruins of the ancient synagogue in Kibbutz Bar’am in Northern Israel. The ruins are located within the site of the ancient village of Kfar Bar’am, about three kilometers from the Lebanese border. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As exiled Jews returned to the land of Israel, they brought synagogue – the practice of coming together as a community to study and worship in God’s presence – with them. by the first century in Israel, larger community buildings were built to serve as meeting places for synagogue. Soon the name synagogue was applied to the buildings where community study and worship of the Scriptures took place. So, during Jesus’ time, the synagogue was both a place and a group of people engaged in seeking God through the study of Scripture and prayer.

Synagogues played an important role in the lives of religious Jews who lived along the north and northwestern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Although the Jews traveled to the temple in Jerusalem to worship three times a year, they worshipped regularly with family, friends and neighbors in the local synagogue. The Torah scrolls were kept in the synagogue, so people went there to read and study the scriptures and listen to the rabbis proclaim their interpretations of the text. Their children attended synagogue schools where they learned to read, write and memorize the text. Thus the community worship, expressed in a handful of small synagogues in Galilee, contributed greatly to the disciples’ preparation to follow Jesus, their Rabbi and become like Him in every way.

Christians today tend to think that the theology and teaching of the Pharisees was all wrong, but it was not. The Pharisees were faithful Jews who worked hard to obey God in all they did. That’s why they had so many applications of Bible texts: they were trying to obey God! Jesus called some of the Pharisees hypocrites because they didn’t practice their own teaching (and some of their own writings criticize this as well). Some other Pharisees were so set in their interpretations of the Scriptures that they refused to consider the interpretations of others – including the interpretations of Jesus. Despite their imperfections, the Pharisees made knowledge of the Scriptures and obedience to God top priorities in life.

Although many Christians today think that Jesus called His disciples away from the Jewish faith and community, that is not the case. Jesus and His disciples continued to participate in community life, including synagogue worship, throughout His ministry. Even when His disciples went out into the world beyond Israel, they sought out and continues to be a part of the faith community of the synagogue. This is not to suggest that you must join a synagogue to follow Jesus, but active involvement in a faith community is necessary.

Profile of a Rabbi


English: Rabbis Brown and Mayer talking with R...

English: Rabbis Brown and Mayer talking with Rabbi Aharon Feldman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Jesus day, a rabbi was not the head of a formal religious community or a synagogue as we think of a rabbi today. Instead, rabbi was an honored termof respect given to one who interpreted and taught the Hebrew Bible. Rabbi meant “my superior” or “my master” and came from a Hebrew root meaning “great” or “many”. Disciples and others used this term to refer to great scholars and teachers of the Scriptures who were also known as “sages”. After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, rabbi became a formal title for sage.

Rabbis played an important role in the Jewish spiritual culture because there were no formal seminaries at the time of Jesus. Each rabbi taught his disciples how the Torah should be interpreted and obeyed, and his disciples willingly submitted to that interpretation. A rabbi then was an honored teacher who was well versed in the text of the Hebrew Scriptures. He was highly respected for his knowledge, interpretation, and teaching of Scripture as well as for his personal righteousness. Following a rabbi required a deep commitment on the part of the disciple who would live with and follow the rabbi day in and day out for years in order to learn to be like him and live in obedience to God as the rabbi did.

For the Galileans, walking with God took priority over everything. So a rabbi and his disciples were highly respected by others in the community. A family or extended family group usually provided housing and food for a rabbi and his disciples. Because of the high respect for the study of the Torah, and the fact that the rabbi was leading other people to the kingdom of heaven and the life to come, each disciple was expected to honor his rabbi even more than his own father. It is difficult for Christians today to imagine such love and commitment to a human teacher, but that was the norm in Galilee.

All teaching by the early rabbis attempted to explain, interpret, and apply some portion of the Hebrew Bible. To the audience, the validity of the teaching depended on the rabbis ability to use a variety of passages in new and creative ways to illustrate the teaching with parable or metaphor, and to ground the teaching in text. whether they wanted to or not, people who heard Jesus teach recognized that He taught with authority.

In fact, Jesus best fit the type of rabbi believed to have s’mikhah, the authority to make new interpretations of the Torah. Most of the teachers of the law could only teach accepted interpretations. Teachers with authority, however, could make new interpretations and pass legal judgments.

Educated as a Rabbi

The Mishnah describes the educational process for a young Jewish boy during Jesus time.

At five years old [one is fit] for the Scripture, at ten years the Mishnah [oral Torah interpretations], at thirteen for [the fulfilling of the commandments], at fifteen the Talmud [making rabbinic interpretations], at eighteen the bride chamber, at twenty pursuing a vocation, at thirty for authority [able to teach others].

This passage clearly describes the education of a n exceptional student, because few students became teachers. It also indicates the centrality of the Hebrew text in the education of Jews in Galilee. A comparison of this description to Jesus’ life shows that He closely followed the customs of his time and place.

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