The first thing that any child would learn, usually taught by the mother, was the Shema, which was taught as soon as the child learned to speak. In all probability these were the first words that the child learned. Tehillim 128 (Psalm 128) reads, “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your house; your children like olive shoots around your table.” According to the rabbis, the Tehillim (Psalms) teaches that “if a mother watches over, guides, and tends her children like one would to a fruitful vine, with constant pruning, nurturing, and caring, it is guaranteed that her children will be like the blessed and desired olive” (Prero, para. 9). It was the responsibility of the mother to care for, love and nurture the children to prepare their hearts for learning and the walking out of Torah. Harvey Lutske stated, “It has long been recognized in scripture that it is the woman who makes a house into a home, who raises the children and hence molds and develops the family. As one sociologist has remarked that in the Jewish home, where woman reigns supreme, that Jews are made and nurtured. Without such a home behind it, the congregation will remain an empty fortress” (Lutske p. 257). The primary purpose of education in biblical times was:
“The children of Abraham were to ‘keep the way of the Lord’ (Genesis 18:19), and Torah was given to keep them on that path (Psalm 119:105). The aim of learning was holiness in living to be set apart unto God in every distinction of life. This holiness required a knowledge of God’s acts in history and a commitment to observe His mitzvoth (commandments), which instructed one how to live. Israel was to acknowledge the Lord’s authority in every circumstance and in every turn of the way (Psalm 16:8; Proverbs 3:5-6). Thus the ultimate prophetic vision was that ‘all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and there is no other (I Kings 8:60)’” (Wilson, p. 279).
This then is the purpose of the עדה, to be a witnessing community. “Edah is related to the word עד meaning ‘witness.’ Hence an Edah is a group or community of people that bears witness” (Sinclair, para. 3). While it was the responsibility of the mother to prepare the heart for learning, the Jewish father was responsible for four things: first, to teach the son Torah; second, to teach the son to swim; third, to teach the son a trade; and, fourth, to select a wife for the son. It seems interesting to us that the father was responsible to teach the child to swim. Why in the world would a father teach his son to swim in a land so sparse of water? This was an attempt to teach the son how to survive in a world that is interested in nothing less than their total destruction. The purpose of the father teaching the son Torah was to not just teach Torah, but to teach how Torah was to be walked out in community. It was their belief that how parents reared their children would have a tremendous impact on the community. Each Jew could affect community in one of two ways. He would bring respect and honor to the name of God (ברך השם) or disrespect or dishonor to the name of God (הלול השם). It was not enough to know Torah, but how to walk it out in community in a way that brought honor to the Name of God. Walking out Torah meant to conduct business, relationships and involvement in community by the standards and principle of Torah. Wilson (1989) also stated:
“Education is a matter of which rests primarily with the parent, with the father. The teacher is but a representative of the father, according to Jewish tradition. Thou shalt teach them diligently, not vicariously. Now parents act as they please, commercialism and vulgarity blare from the loudspeakers, and little children are expected to listen to the voice of the spirit. Religious instruction, like charity, begins at home” (Wilson, p.279).
Education was not considered complete until the son was prepared by a rabbi to become a Bar Mitzvah; a son of the commandment. So the process of education was mother, father, and then rabbi. Paul walks out this process in the Book of I Thessalonians 2 where he says, “We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because you were dear to us” (I Thessalonians 2:7-8). The word translated nurse in this verse is the word τροφός (trophos), and it can mean, “nurse,” but it is clear here that the context is referring to a nursing mother (מ׳נקת) who cherishes her young. A τροφός is one who “cherishes with tender love and fosters with tender care” (Thayer, p. 282). Paul acted as a nursing mother to the Church of Thessalonica. Next, Paul acts as the father to the Church.
“You are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe; as you know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory” (I Thessalonians 2:10-12).
The goal of education was to walk in holiness before the Lord and community, and to be a light unto the nations. Because holiness (קדש) was the goal, how a young man or woman walked out Torah in community affected that goal. Next, we see Paul turning his spiritual sons and daughters over to Rabbi Yeshua.
“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when you received the word of God which ye heard of us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectively worketh also in you that believe. For you, brethren became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus: for you also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews” (I Thessalonians 2:13-14).
In this passage we see Paul employs the principles of Jewish education. Mother prepared the children’s hearts for the study of Torah by her love, care, compassion, and guidance. The father then began the primary task of teaching Torah and how to walk Torah out in community. The rabbi then helped to prepare the son for the Bar Mitzvah. We see the joy in Paul’s heart when his children, the Church at Thessalonica, realized that the ultimate teacher was Rabbi Yeshua. It was not the word as came by men, but by God himself. The Babylonian Talmud in Qiddushin 30b states that, “There are three partners in a man: The Holy One, blessed be He, the father, and the mother” (Vol. 13, p. 239). Continue Reading