Three Days in the Temple

The Custom of examining the children at the Temple in Jerusalem.

[1.1] It was the habit and prescribed custom in the whole kingdom of the Jews that they had to take their children, once these had reached their twelfth year, to Jerusalem where they would be examined in the Temple by the elders, the Pharisees and scribes, about everything they had learned up to this age, especially about the teaching’s concerning God and the prophets.

[1.2] Naturally a small tax had to be paid for such an examination, after which those examined received, if they so wished, a certificate of ability on payment of a second small tax. If the children had done well in every way, they could also be received into the Schools of the Temple with the prospect of becoming later on, servants of the Temple.

[1.3] If the parents were able to prove that they were descended from the tribe of Levi, their admission into the schools of the Temple was easy; but if this could not be proved, the admission was less easy, and they had, as it were, to buy the right to belong to the tribe of Levi, and to make a considerable offering to the Temple.

[1.4] Daughters were exempt from this examination unless they, or rather their parents, wished them also to be examined so that they might be the more pleasing to God. In this case they were well examined by the elder matrons of the Temple in a special department, and also received a certificate as to all their capabilities and their knowledge acquired up to that time. Such girls could then become the wives of the priests and Levites.

[1.5] The examinations of the boys and still more those of the girls were only short. There were some leading questions already permanently settled, which every Jew had known by heart for a long time.

[1.6] The answers to these well known questions had been instilled into the children only too well, and thus the examiner had scarcely finished his question, when the boy under examination had also finished his answer.

[1.7] No examinee had more than ten questions put and therefore it can easily be understood that the examination of a boy scarcely lasted more than a minute; if he answered quite well and quickly the first questions, he frequently was excused from answering the rest.

[1.8] The short examination finished, the boy received a slip of paper, with which he had to go with his parents to the same tax-counter at which he had previously paid the examination tax, and where, on showing the examination-slip, he had again to pay a small tax if he wanted the Temple-certificate upon the said slip. The children of quite poor parents had to bring them a ‘Signum paupertatis’ (certificate of poverty), otherwise they were not admitted to the examination.

[1.9] The time for the examination was either at Easter, or at the time of the feast of tabernacles, and generally lasted for some five or six days. But before the examinations in the Temple began, servants of the Temple had been already sent to the roadside inns a few days in advance, to find out how many candidates for examination would be present.

[1.10] Whoever specially cared to have a ticket in advance could do so for a small tax, as thereby he would be examined sooner; but those who paid no tax had to be the last, generally; no great care was taken about their examination, and usually they received no certificate. These were of course promised to them for a later date, but generally nothing resulted from these promises.

[1.11] However it sometimes happened that boys of very great intelligence and much talent, put questions to the examiners, and asked them for explanations about one thing or another concerning the prophets. On such occasions there were then angry and ill-humored faces among the examiners; for they seldom knew more of he Scriptures and of the prophets than nowadays very meagerly-paid teachers. They knew only as much as they had to ask; further than this the outlook was generally very dark.

[1.12] At those examinations some elders and scribes were always present as a kind of examining-board. They however did not examine, but merely listened to the examination only in the above mentioned caddie, and if it seemed worth while, did they begin to move themselves; and at first they reprimanded such an inquiring lad for his stupid presumption in having dared to put an examiner into an unpleasant position, and for frittering away his time.

[1.13] If such a boy was not easily intimidated, and persisted in his intention and request, more for pretending before the people than for sake of any deeper truth, he was put aside for the time being, and had to wait until a certain hour in the evening for an illuminating answer to such critical questions; then only was he granted a special hearing.

[1.14] When the appointed hour came, such boys were always fetched from the place of retreat with a certain amount of displeasure, and had to repeat the questions they had already put; then one of the elders and scribes gave a very mystical answer to the questioner, and one that was as intricate as possible; through it the boy would evidently go away none the wiser, and the people beat their breasts and admired deeply, stupidly, dumbly, deafly and blindly the unfathomable depths of the Spirit of God through the mouth of an elder and scribe and finally reprimanded such a boy for his thoughtless impertinence.

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