Disciples in Judaism

Rabbi Yeshua calls each of us individually to a life of discipleship to him. But what is a disciple? What does it mean to be a disciple?

Disciples in Judaism

Our image of a disciple maybe of a bearded man in a robe and sandals, or it may be simply an image of one of the Twelve that followed Yeshua. We tend to think of discipleship as a New Testament, Gospel phenomenon, perhaps something Yeshua introduced when he chose his 12 disciples. This is wrong.

Long before the days of the Master, discipleship was already a well-established institution within Jewish culture. All the great sages, the rabbis, the sages among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Torah had disciples.

The Hebrew word for disciple is talmid. Talmid means student. The plural is talmidim: students. We translate talmidim as disciples. A talmid was a student of one of the sages. A talmid’s job was to learn everything that his Master had to teach.

The disciples of First Century Judaism learned everything from their teacher, and they learned to be just like their teacher. They learned the stories that the teacher told. They learned the lessons that their teacher taught. They learned to eat the foods that their teacher ate, the way their teacher ate them. They learned to keep the Sabbath the way their teacher kept Sabbath and to give charity the way their teacher gave charity. They learned to pray the way their teacher prayed and to fast the way their teacher fasted. They learned how to keep God’s commands the way their teacher kept them. The disciples followed their teacher everywhere he went, and the teacher taught his disciples everything he could.

Then, after a disciple was fully trained, he would become a teacher and teach disciples of his own. A disciple’s job was to become like his or her teacher. So it written for us in the Gospel:

“Every disciple fully trained will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40).

So when the disciple is fully trained, he becomes the teacher, and raises up disciples of his own, who in turn, when fully trained become teachers and raise up disciples of their own.

The process of handing on teaching from generation to generation stretches back in time, a long continuous chain, all the way back to Mount Sinai. Through the teacher-disciple chain, the teaching of the Torah was passed on from generation to generation. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot begins with a description of how this transmission process carried the Torah from Moses to Ezra’s generation.

“Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua (his disciple) Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets, the prophets to the men of the Great Assembly. The Men of the Great Assembly said three things, ‘Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence for the Torah.” (Avot 1:1, 2)

The Disciple -Teacher Relationship

The teacher-disciple relationship was a powerful bond. Disciples regarded their teachers higher than their own fathers. It was a relationship over and above any student-teacher relationship that exists in our culture.

It was expressed as a servant to master relationship. (See Matthew 10:24) Thus the disciples of the First Century referred to their teachers as Rabbi meaning “Revered One” or as Master.

It was expressed as a son to father relationship. In Rabbinic literature, the Torah sage is the Father and his disciples are called his family, hence terms like Beit Hillel “The House of Hillel.” The collected words of the Torah Masters are called “Sayings of the Fathers.” The sages say that your Teacher is to be accorded higher honor than your birth father, because your birth father brought you into this world, but your teacher brings you into the next world. (Bava Metsi’a 2:11)


Excerpted from RabbiYeshua.com

Posted in Studies.

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