Bet Hamidrash

TargumBet hamidrash is a Jewish concept meaning “house of study.” It denotes more than a physical location, however: it denotes a way of interacting with the study of Torah. I believe there is much in this idea that could helpfully inform how other traditions, particularly that of Christianity, approach the study of Scripture.

From The Rabbi from Burbank, Zwirn, Owen (Fort Worth, Texas, 1986):

My father wanted me to become a rabbi, just as his father had wanted him to be. For the past 2000 years or so, any Orthodox Jew who wanted his son to become a rabbi would send him to a Hebrew School called a yeshiva, also called a bet hamidrash, a “house of research.” The name comes from the words bet, meaning “house” and doresh which means “to seek, ask, question or research.”

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What hope for the future?

Surely we stand in a unique point in history with which to answer this question…

Following industrial and technological revolutions, two devastating world wars, the Holocaust, the Internet, a lurid profusion of information and education of all kinds, the progression of political causes and philosophies, the environmental movement… because of all of these, and so much more, we can say that man’s age of innocence is well and truly over.

We now understand — or at least, recognise — something of the dreadful extent of the evil of which mankind is capable, as well as it’s capacity for triumph over adversity and for unimaginable and extraordinary genius. We understand the tragedy of human suffering, but also the compassion or righting of injustice that may be ushered in its wake — think of the responses of people like Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, for example.

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Was Asian tsunami God’s judgement?

Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, reportedly pointedout that the tsunami “could well test people’s faith in God.” This theme was picked up by an interesting article in an online BBC Magazine, which represented the views of a Christian, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Muslim and an Atheist, (why not a Jewish viewpoint, however?) “coming to terms with events in SE Asia.”

Appropriately enough, in our supposedly postmodern, pluralistic age, the final and probably most balanced comment made upon the article was by a pagan, urging people of all faiths and beliefs to continue in them, as well as in the strength of the human spirit. Compelling though this argument is, however, the tsunami tragedy almost inevitably forces faith into a “position.”

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