Hezser Catherine

Education in Roman Palestine. Part 2. The contents and procedures of jewish elementary education

Hezser Catherine (2019) "Education in Roman Palestine. Part 2. The contents and procedures of jewish elementary education ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia IV : Pedagogika. Psihologiia, 2019, vol. 53, pp. 28-58 (in Russian).

DOI of the paper: 10.15382/sturIV201953.28-58


In this part of her book “Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine”, Catherine Hezser deals with the question of what and how Jewish children were taught by teachers in primary education. She demonstrates how the data from Rabbinic texts is combined with information from other written sources, and how, in general, it accords with the Graeco-Roman educational practice. Hezser claims that the image of Torah-centricity of Jewish education was not a Pharisaic-Rabbinic feature. The notion that the Torah made up the national Jewish heritage was probably shared by wider circles in ancient Jewish society. Just as the reading of Homer in Graeco-Roman schools, the focus on the Torah in Jewish education had a fuction of both integrating and diff erentiating the Jewish educated population. The Rabbinic image of Jewish primary education, which focused on the reading of Hebrew letters and fragments of the Torah, may have had some basis in reality. Its goal was to create a community of men with a basic religious education who could serve as Torah readers in synagogues. But this type of education did not have any practical advantages. The loud reading and reciting in Graeco-Roman schools is very reminiscent of the Rabbinic lore which tell of people who were walking past synagogues and other places in which children were taught and who heard that they or their teacher were reciting or repeating texts in Hebrew, i.e. a non-living language. As for teaching how to write, it was, in all likelihood, off ered to laypeople only there, then and to that extent, where and when it was really necessary for practical aims, rather than being considered part of standard elementary education. In the Tannaitic period, instruction in writing was basically limited to scribes, but it probably became more available for all children in Amoraic times. However, this argumentation is not based on any evidence and is therefore not very persuasive.


Roman Palestine, Jewish literacy, Torah, primary education, Rabbinic texts


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Information about the author

Hezser Catherine

Academic Degree: Candidate of Sciences* in History;
Academic Rank: Associate Professor;
Place of work: School of History, Religions and Philosophies; SOAS University of London;
Post: Professor in Department of Religions and Philosophies;
Email: grigerm@yandex.ru.

*According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) 2011, the degree of Candidate of Sciences (Cand.Sc.) belongs to ISCED level 8 — "doctoral or equivalent", together with PhD, DPhil, D.Lit, D.Sc, LL.D, Doctorate or similar.