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The Bet Midrash of the Second Temple

What if there was a building located in your town where you go and find God – and it was the only place like that on the Earth? What if it was literally the place where Heaven and Earth met? How would that affect your life?  How would that affect your town? That was how Yeshua and the Jewish people of his time viewed the Jerusalem Temple.

The Temple’s domination of Jewish thought was so powerful, that when the Mishnah (Oral Law) was written down in 200 CE, over two-thirds of which is related to the operation of a Temple that had not existed for over a century. The more we can learn about the Second Temple the better we can understand the world of Yeshua and his teachings. This is the first in a series of blogs about what Yeshua’s experience at the Temple would have been like.

Not only did religious Jews have access to the Temple Mount, it was open to ritually unclean Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. It is important to understand that none of the Temple ritual was performed on the Temple Mount; they took place within the Temple itself. The colonnades served as a gathering place for the people before and after worship, as well as those who ascended the Temple Mount to hear the words of the Torah.

Now it was the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Yeshua walked in the Temple, in Solomon’s porch. (John 10:22-23)

A bet midrash (house of study) was located on the Temple Mount, along with the Sanhedrin (highest court in the land). On the Shabbat and feast days, the Sanhedrin convened as an academic, rather than as a judicial body, and met in the bet midrash on the Temple Mount. For those wishing to hearing the greatest scholars of the Temple teach the Torah, the Temple’s bet midrash was the place to be.

Yeshua’s parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the boy Yeshua lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and his mother did not know it; but supposing him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. Now so it was that after three days they found him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. (Luke 2:41-46)

We now know where Yeshua would have been at the Temple and probably who those teachers were. In the two quotes above reveal that at the beginning of Yeshua’s adulthood and just before his crucifixion he was at the Temple. There is no doubt that between those two visits he made many other trips to the Temple and its bet midrash. It probably played a major role in his Torah education.

The bet midrash on the Temple Mount is also called the "Bet Ha-Midrash Ha-Gadol," the Great House of Study. It formed the center of learning, and was one of the oldest institutions, standing in close relation to the "Bet Din ha-Gadol," the High Court of Justice (Sanhedrin) in the Temple. There were many other houses of study located throughout the land in synagogues. Everyone knew that a synagogue could be transformed into a bet midrash. They also understood that no synagogue could be changed into a House of Worship (Meg. 26b, 27a) as long as the Temple stood.

Always keep in mind that Yeshua’s followers were call “talmidim” (students [disciples]), not “believers.” It is very clear that Yeshua was not only a great teacher of the Torah – he was also a great “talmid” (student) of the Torah too.

Jim Myers

(1) The Jewish People in the First Century Volume Two: Historical Geography, Political History, Social Culture and Religious Life and Institutions; Edited by S. Safrai and M. Stern in co-operation with D. Flusser and E. C. van Unnik; © 1976 By Stichting Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum Testamentum; Fprtress Press, Philadelphia, PA; 865-866.

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