Monday, November 14, 2011

House of Devotion

It is often said that the foundation of Jewish life is the home. This statement acknowledges the vital role of the family in bringing Judaism to life. If a love and passion for Judaism is expressed in the home, most often these feelings will be transmitted to the next generation.

The synagogue and the Beit Midrash (house of learning), however, are also crucial institutions for Jewish continuity. The synagogue (the Greek translation of Beit K'nesset, which in English means a “house of assembly”) is the place where Jews gather for communal prayers. The Beit Midrash is the place where the Torah and Talmud (and other works of Jewish thought) are studied. The word midrash comes from the root D-R-SH,, the infinitive of which, lid'rosh means to expound or interpret. While a Beit Midrash today may be lined with sacred books, initially, these houses of learning were headed by exceptional scholars who presented their lessons orally and taught their students how to understand the intricacies of Torah.

Institutions of education are found in every society, but one can learn much about Jewish values from the importance placed on the Beit Midrash:

So said Abaye: At first I used to study in my house and pray in the synagogue. Since I heard the saying of Rabbi Hiyya bar Ammi in the name of 'Ulla: Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One, blessed be He, has nothing in His world but the four cubits of halacha alone, I pray only in the place where I study. Rabbi Ammi and Rabbi Assi, though they had thirteen Synagogues in Tiberias, prayed only among the pillars where they used to study (Berachot 8a).

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