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.

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