Shabbat Ekev 5773

It’s easy to forget amid the noise surrounding some of the candidates, but the New York mayoral race also includes some serious questions about the city’s future. As always, education reform is one of these questions.

There’s a passage in the Talmud that addresses education reform that I’d like us to ponder this Shabbat, since it’s based on a verse in this week’s parshahEkev. On Shabbat morning, we’ll dissect this passage and see if some of the ideas behind ancient policy moves can inform today’s education policy. Read on, discuss over Shabbat dinner, and we’ll explore more in shul.

Said Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav: Let’s indeed remember that man for blessings–Yehoshu’a ben Gamla is his name; for without him, Torah would have been forgotten among the Jewish people. 

For at first, one who had a father, the father would teach him Torah; but one who had no father would not learn Torah.

What was the Biblical basis for this policy? “You will teach them to your children to speak of them” (Deuteronomy 11:19). [The word otam is spelled without a vav, so that without vowels it could also be read atem–you. That is, you teach your children, but no one else may teach them.]

They decreed that they would appoint teachers for children in Jerusalem.

What was the Biblical basis for this policy? “Torah shall come from Zion” (Isaiah 2:3).

Still, though, if one had a father, the father would bring him up to Jerusalem and educate him; one who did not have a father would not go up and learn.

So they decreed to appoint a teacher to every region, encompassing several counties, and bring them to learn at age 16 or 17. But whenever the teacher would get angry at the student, the student would rebel and leave.

Finally, along came Yehoshu’a ben Gamla and decreed to appoint teachers in every county and every town, and that students would begin at ages 6 or 7. (Bava Batra 21a

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi David Wise