The roots of the question-asking culture

The ability to ask the right questions is considered a sign of great wisdom and maturity in life, in business and in leadership in many cultures today. But it seems that the Jewish culture, already from antiquity was a question-asking culture.

Our Messiah grew up asking the rabbis questions at an early age. As a result the rabbis were asking him questions, too. Was this unusual? Not really.

Let’s find out more.

In rabbinical literature there is much written about the relationship between a talmidim (disciple) and his rabbi.

According to Brad Young, Professor of Biblical Literature in Judeo-Christian Studies at the Graduate Department of ORU, one of the world’s leading experts on the history of the rabbinate, the only way a talmidim was to approach his rabbi was by asking questions. Even when a talmidim had to come to gain some great knowledge, he wouldn’t come to his rabbi boasting about it or arguing. He was to show what he had learned by way of asking questions. This same ethos we see beautifully described in the Gospel record of Lukas.

But first let’s take a look at the educational process of the Jews in those days.

For Jews living in Jesus’ day, there were three separate educational venues.

Bet Sefer

The first was called Bet Sefer. At the ages of six through twelve, Jewish children began their formal education. Both boys and girls attended synagogue school and learned to read and write. The textbook was the Torah and the goal was not just to read but to memorize the sacred text.

Bet Midrash

For the best of the best, the next educational opportunity was called Bet Midrash. Boys who were deemed worthy to continue their educational pursuits went on to study (and memorize) the entire Tanach, as well as learning the family trade. Very few were selected for this pursuit.

The Mishnah says that the time that some began to attend the bet midrash which was a rabbi’s “school” or “study group” was about 15. Adults of all ages could come to listen in on the sessions (including women) when they had spare time, and there were quite a few who studied but never became teachers – they were still called “disciples” even at advanced ages. There were just a few who were dedicated enough to spend years of time in training to become rabbinic teachers themselves.

Even though marriage was strongly encouraged, some young men were so earnest in their studies that they would put it off until later so that they could study full time. Gamaliel II (the grandson of Paul’s teacher) already had disciples when he finally got married.

Bet Talmud

Of those who finished Bet Midrash, again only the best of the best were able to pursue the final educational leg, which was called Bet Talmud. This was the longest in duration; it went from the age of 15 to 30. To participate, he must be invited by a Rabbi and, if selected, he would begin a process of grooming that would lead to the potential of becoming a Rabbi at age 30. Those who were chosen were referred to as talmidim. They would literally follow in the dust of their rabbi – desiring to emulate him in all of his mannerisms. They would eat the same food in exactly the same way as their rabbi. They would go to sleep and awake the same way as their rabbi and, more importantly, they would learn to study Torah and understand God the exact same way as their rabbi.

It appears that Jesus Himself followed this model. At twelve we know that He attended His first Passover in Jerusalem and He began His formal ministry at 30. The Bible is silent as far as His mentors, but we do know that He selected His disciples and, just like those young fifteen year olds when invited to Bet Talmud, they left everything to follow after this Rabbi from Galilee. No doubt they walked in His dust, wanting to be just like their Rabbi!

How does our “church” culture measure up against the rabbinical ethos that existed back in the days when our Messiah dwelled amongst his people?

Can you find any similarities at all between their culture of respect and discipleship and the spirit of today’s youth? Do families today think it important to emphasize the study of Scripture? Do disciples today grow in an attitude of respect for their rabbi? Do we even foster a culture of asking questions, are we the inquiring minds whom God might consider worthy to reveal His mysteries to?

Seems like the culture of asking questions has deep Hebraic roots. Many believes today are rethinking their Christianity in light of these reformative truths and the consequence we are suffering due to neglecting them.

One Comment

  1. Jennifer Bakalov

    This is a great piece on the importance of asking questions. In today’s culture, the enemy has taken the word “tolerance” and used it to shut down this important process of asking questions to make people think. Tolerance = no questions asked. But Jesus wants us to help others think by posing questions to others and in turn answering others’ questions.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.