History of education in ancient Israel and Judah
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Education has been defined as, "teaching and learning specific skills, and also something less tangible, but more profound: the imparting of knowledge, positive judgement and well-developed wisdom. Education has as one of its fundamental aspects the imparting of culture from generation to generation (see socialization)". Formal education in this sense can be traced in Ancient Israel and Judah to some time after the 7th century BCE with adoption of the Torah, which means "teaching", "instruction", "scribe" or "law" in Hebrew.
Three Torah commandments (numbers 10, 11, 17) command provision of education in general society:
- Number 10 - To read the Shema twice daily, as it is written "and thou shalt talk of them . . . when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deuteronomy 6,7).
- Number 11 - To learn Torah and to teach it, as it is written "thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children" (Deuteronomy 6,7).
- Number 17 - For every man to write a Torah scroll for himself, as it is written "write ye this song for you" (Deuteronomy 31,19).
House of the teacher
The institution known as the "be rav" or "bet rabban" (house of the teacher), or as the "be safra" or "bet sefer" (house of the book), is said to have been originated by Ezra' (459 BCE) and his Great Assembly, who provided a public school in Jerusalem to secure the education of fatherless boys of the age of sixteen years and upward. However, the school system did not develop until Joshua ben Gamla (64 CE) the high priest caused public schools to be opened in every town and hamlet for all children above six or seven years of age (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 21a).
Expense and conduct
The expense was borne by the community, and strict discipline was observed. However, Rav ordered Samuel ben Shilat to deal tenderly with the pupils, to refrain from corporal punishment, or at most to use a shoe-strap in correcting pupils for inattention. A stupid pupil was made monitor until able to grasp the art of learning. Raba fixed the number of pupils at twenty-five for one teacher; if the number was between twenty-five and forty an assistant teacher ("resh dukana") was necessary; and for over forty, two teachers were required.
Only married men were engaged as teachers, but there is a difference of opinion regarding the qualification of the "melammed" (teacher). Raba preferred one who taught his pupils much, even though somewhat carelessly. Rav Dimi of Nehardea, preferred one who taught his pupils little, but correctly, as an error in reading once adopted is hard to correct (ib.). It is, of course, assumed that both qualifications were rarely found in one person.
Texts and subject areas
The standard education texts were the Mishna and later the Talmud and Gemora, all hand-written until invention of printing. However significant, emphasis was placed on developing good memory skills in addition to comprehension by practice of oral repetition.
Basic education today is considered those skills that are necessary to function in society. In Ancient Israel, the child would be taught from the six broad subject areas into which the Mishna is divided, including:
- Zeraim ("Seeds"), dealing with agricultural laws and prayers
- Moed ("Festival"), pertaining to the laws of the Shabbat and the Festivals
- Nashim ("Women"), concerning marriage and divorce
- Nezikin ("Damages"), dealing with civil and criminal law
- Kodashim ("Holy things"), regarding sacrificial rites, the Temple, and the dietary laws
- Tohorot ("Purities"), pertaining to the laws of purity and impurity, including the impurity of the dead, the laws of ritual purity for the priests (Kohanim), the laws of "family purity" (the menstrual laws).
Education for girls
As in the rest of the ancient world, girls were not provided with formal education.
Despite this schooling system, many children did not learn to read and write. It has been estimated that at least 90 percent of the Jewish population of Roman Palestine in the first centuries CE could merely write their own name or not write and read at all, or that the literacy rate was about 3 percent. Exact literacy rates among ancient Jews in Roman Palestine cannot be determined 
Notes and references
- Compayre, Gabriel; Payne, W. H., "History of Pedagogy (1899)", Translated by W. H. Payne, 2003, Kessinger Publishing; ISBN 0-7661-5486-6; at page 9.
- Hezser, Catherine "Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine", 2001, Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism; 81. Tuebingen: Mohr-Siebeck, at page 503.
- Bar-Ilan, M. "Illiteracy in the Land of Israel in the First Centuries C.E." in S. Fishbane, S. Schoenfeld and A. Goldschlaeger (eds.), "Essays in the Social Scientific Study of Judaism and Jewish Society", II, New York: Ktav, 1992, pp. 46-61.
- Hezser, Catherine "Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine", 2001, Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism; 81. Tuebingen: Mohr-Siebeck, at page 496.