A National Heritage
Hi Rabbi, I’m Jewish but never had any formal Jewish education. I want to start studying but also need to work, so I’m wondering if Torah study is meant for someone like me or only for fulltime scholars. Thanks!
Yes, you and the Torah are definitely meant for each other!
One of the hallmarks of Jewish life throughout the ages has been a passion for study. This characteristic is so marked that for centuries we have been identified as the “People of the Book.” Unlike other religions and cultures, Judaism has never restricted academic learning to a particular cast, tribe or family. Torah study was and is the preoccupation not only of teachers and clergy, but of the entire nation. The renowned Jewish scholar of the 12th century, Maimonides, writes: “Among the great Sages of Israel were woodchoppers and water-bearers, and some who were blind. Nevertheless, they engaged in the study of Torah day and night, and they were part of the chain of transmission of the Torah, person to person, back to Moses our teacher.
Throughout history, Jews with widely varied backgrounds have been outstanding Torah scholars. Two of the greatest Talmudic Sages, Shmayah and Avtalyon, were descended from Sancheriv, the Assyrian ruler who invaded Israel and exiled 10 of the 12 tries. Onkelos, whose Aramaic translation of the Torah is printed in almost every Hebrew Bible, was a convert and nephew of the Roman emperor, Titus. Yehuda the Prince, editor of the mishna, was a fabulously wealthy businessman. Hillel, a revered leader and president of the Sanhedrin, was a pauper.
Among the great medieval commentators, Rashi was a vintner, Rabbi Yehudah Halevy was a professional poet; Maimonides and Nachmanides were both physicians. In short, the Torah is universal inheritance of the entire Jewish people.
In my neighborhood in Jerusalem, literally thousands of people spend much of their spare time studying. Classes are offered in Hebrew, English, Yiddish, Spanish, French and Russian. There are Talmud classes that meet before sunrise, women’s Bible study groups that meet every Shabbat afternoon and on weekday mornings, special programs in which parents and children study together at a synagogue, and public lectures attended by hundreds every Saturday night. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, refrigerator repairmen, storekeepers, university professors and police officers gather every evening to study Torah together. This scene is common in Jewish communities around the world, and was a widespread phenomenon in the lives of our ancestors, regardless of what was going on in the outside world.