High school; literally, "house of study," or place where the students of the Law gather to listen to the Midrash, the discourse or exposition of the Law. It is used in contradistinction to the Bet ha-Sefer, the primary school which children under thirteen attended to learn the Scriptures. Thus it is said in Gen. R. lxiii. 10: "Esau and Jacob went together to the bet ha-sefer until they had finished their thirteenth year, when they parted; the former entering the houses of idols, and the latter the batte ha-midrashot." Elsewhere it is stated, "There were 480 synagogues (batte kenesiot) in Jerusalem, each containing a bet ha-sefer, (primary school for the Scriptures), and a bet Talmud (same as bet ha-midrash), for the study of the Law and the tradition; and Vespasian destroyed them all" (Yer. Meg. iii. 73d; Lam. R., Introduction 12, ii. 2; Pesiḳ. xiv. 121b; Yer. Ket. xiii. 35c, where "460" is a clerical error). The same tradition is given somewhat differently in Bab. Ket. 105a: Three hundred and ninety-four courts of justice were in Jerusalem and as many synagogues, "batte ha-midrashot" (high schools), and "batte soferim" (primary schools). According to Yer. Ta'anit iv. 7, p. 69a; Lam. R. ii. 2, iii. 51, there were 500 primary schools in Betar, the smallest of which had no less than 300 pupils (compare Soṭah 49b, Giṭ. 58a, which speak of 400 schools, each with 400 pupils). The number of schools (480) in Jerusalem besides the one in the Temple is derived by gemaṭria from the word = 481 (Lam. R. l.c.).

Its History.

The bet ha-midrash in the Temple hall (Luke ii. 46, xx. 1, xxi. 37; Matt. xxi. 23, xxvi. 55; John xviii. 20) is called the "bet ha-midrash ha-gadol," the great high school (Tanna debe Eliyahu R. ix. [x.], xvi., and elsewhere). It formed the center of learning,and was, of course, the oldest one, standing in close relation to the "Bet Din ha-Gadol," the high court of justice in the Temple. Its history can not well be traced. A "bet wa'ad," meeting-place of scholars, existed as early as the days of Jose ben Joezer of Zereda, the martyr of the Maccabean time, who teaches: "Let thy house be a bet wa'ad for the wise" (Ab. i. 4). The name "bet wa'ad "is met with also in Soṭah ix. 15; Yer. Ber. iv. 7c; Yer. Ta'anit iv. 67d, and elsewhere. The hearers or disciples were seated on the ground at the feet of their teachers (Ab. l.c.; Luke x. 39; Acts xxii. 3). In the first century, schools existed everywhere at the side of the synagogues (Acts. xix. 9, "the school of one Tyrannus"). The primary school, bet hasefer, was, however, instituted at a later time, first by Simeon ben Shetaḥ, about 100 B.C. at Jerusalem (Yer. Ket. viii. 32c), and later introduced generally, for the benefit of all children, by Joshua b. Gamla in the first century (B. B. 21a; see Education). The Haggadah reflects a later mode of life when speaking of a bet ha-midrash of Shem and Eber which was attended by Isaac, occasionally also by Rebekah, and regularly by Jacob (Targ. Yer. to Gen. xxii. 19, xxiv. 62, xxv. 22; Gen. R. lxiii.; Tanna debe Eliyahu R. v.); of that of Jacob at Sukkot, which Joseph frequented (Targ. Yer. to Gen. xxxiii. 17, xxxvii. 2; Num. xxiv. 5); of that which Judah was sent to build for Jacob in Egypt (Gen. R. xcv.; Tan., Wayiggush, xi.); or of that of Moses, where Moses and Aaron and his sons taught the Law (Targ. Yer. to Ex. xxxix. 33; compare Num. R. xxi.: "Joshua arranged the chairs for the scholars attending the bet wa'ad of Moses"). Similarly the prophet Samuel had his "bet ulphana" (Aramaic for "bet ha-midrash") in Ramah (Targ. to I Sam. xix. 19). Solomon built synagogues and schoolhouses (Eccl. R. ii. 4). King Hezekiah furnished the oil for lamps to burn in the synagogues and schools, and threatened to have killed by the sword any one who would not study the Law; so that soon there was no 'Amha-Areẓ to be found in the land, nor a child or woman unfamiliar with all the precepts on Levitical purity (Sanh. 94b). Especially those of the tribe of Issachar devoted their time to the study of the Law in the bet ha-midrash, Zebulun the merchant furnishing them the means of support (I Chron. xii. 33; Deut. xxxiii. 18; Gen. R. lii., xcix.; Targ. Yer. l.c.).

Jethro was promised that his descendants would never see the schoolhouses (batte ha-midrashot) disappear from among them (Tanna debe Eliyahu R. v.; compare Mek., Yitro, 'Amaleḳ, 2).

In Mishnaic times (Shab. xvi. 1) it appears that public discourses were held in the bet ha-midrash; but Targ. Yer. on Judges v. 9 indicates that it was used later for the study of the Law, and the popular discourses were delivered at the synagogue.

Earliest Forms.

The first bet ha-midrash of which there is authentic record is the one in which Shemaiah (Sameas) and Abtalion (Pollion) taught, and which Hillel, when a youth, could attend only after having paid admission-fee to the janitor (Yoma 35b). Whether or not this charge of a fee, so contradictory to the maxim of the men of the Great Synagogue (Abot i. 1), "Raise many disciples," was a political measure of the time, it seemingly stands in connection with a principle pronounced by the Shammaites (Ab. R. N., A, iii.; B, iv., ed. Schechter, p. 14), that "only those who are wise, humble, and of goodly, well-to-do parentage should be taught the Law." On the other hand, the Hillelites insisted that "all, without exception, should partake of the privilege, inasmuch as many transgressors in Israel, when brought nigh to the Law, brought forth righteous, pious, and perfect men." Against the Hillelite principle, R. Gamaliel wanted to exclude all those who had not stood the test of inner fitness. He was outvoted, with the result that 400 (or, according to some authorities, 700) chairs were necessarily added in order to seat the newcomers (Ber. 28a). The customary seating of the pupils on chairs marks an improvement, and this new feature gave to the schoolhouse the name "yeshibah" (Abot ii. 7) or "metibta" (B. M., 85a, b).

The bet ha-midrash of Jabneh was called "vine-yard," either because it stood in a vineyard (Schürer, "Gesch." 3d ed., ii. 325, note 49) or, as rabbinical tradition asserts, because it was built in semicircular shape, thus resembling a vineyard (Ket. iv. 6; 'Eduy. ii. 4; Yer. Ber. iv. 7d). At all events the name "vineyard" became the usual appellation for the bet ha-midrash; hence Song of Songs vii. 13 (A. V. 12), "Let us get up early to the vineyards," was applied to the bet ha-midrash (Er. 21b).

It is frequently recommended as highly meritorious to be one of the first to come to the bet ha-midrash and the last to leave (Shab. 127a; Giṭ. 7a; Meg. 15b; Suk. 28a; Sanh. 3b).

Rules of the Bet ha-Midrash.

It was believed to bring misfortune to sit at meals during the time that the discourse was being held in the bet ha-midrash (Giṭ. 38b). It was forbidden to sleep in the bet ha-midrash (Tanna debe Eliyahu R. xiii., xiv.). In Babylonia, where scholars spent their whole time in the school, exception was made to this rule (Ber. 25a; Meg. 28a). Mothers won special merit by training their children to go to the bet ha-sefer, and wives by waiting for the return of their husbands from the bet ha-midrash (Ber. 17a). Every session at the bet ha-midrash was expected to offer some new idea to the student; hence the frequent question: "What new thing was offered at the bet ha-midrash to-day?" (Tosef., Soṭah, vii. 9; Ḥag. 3a; Yer. Giṭ. v. 47d; and elsewhere).

Importance of the Bet ha-Midrash.

The bet ha-midrash ranks higher than the synagogue; consequently a synagogue may be transformed into a bet ha-midrash; but the latter can not be changed into a house of worship (Meg. 26b, 27a). "He who goeth from the synagogue to the bet ha-midrash—that is, from the divine service to the study of the Law—will be privileged to greet the majesty of God; for so says Ps. lxxxiv. 8 [A. V. 7]. 'They go from strength to strength, every one of them appeareth before God in Zion'" (Ber. 64a). To the bet ha-keneset (synagogue) and the bet ha-midrash in Babylonia are referred the words of Ezek. xi. 16, Hebr.: "I will be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where theyshall come" (Meg. 29a). The Haggadah finds allusions to the bet ha-midrash in Ps. xc. 1: "Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations"; and Ps. lxxxii. 1, Hebr.: "God standeth in the midst of the congregation of [those who seek] God" (ib.; Gen. R. xlviii.); and also in Balaam's words (Num. xxiv. 5): "How lovely are thy tents, O Jacob, thy tabernacles, O Israel" (Targ. Yer. to Num. l.c.; Sanh. 105b); likewise in Cant. viii. 10: "I am a wall and my breasts like towers" (Pes. 87a), and Cant. ii. 8, 9, refer to the synagogue and the schoolhouse: "The voice of my beloved! behold he cometh leaping . . . ; my beloved is like a roe," meaning that God proceeds from one synagogue to the other, and from one bet ha-midrash to the other, to bless Israel (Pesiḳ. v. 48b).

The Heavenly Bet ha-Midrash.

God also has His bet ha-midrash in heaven, and teaches the Law to the righteous (Tanna debe Eliyahu R. i., iii., iv., v., viii., ix.); it is called the "upper yeshibah" or "metibta" (B. M. 86a; Ber. 18b; Ta'anit 21b). "He who accustoms himself to go to the bet ha-keneset and bet ha-midrash in this world shall also be admitted into the bet ha-kene-set and bet ha-midrash of the world to come "(Joshua b. Levi, in Deut. R. vii.; Midr. Teh. to Ps. lxxxiv. 5 [A. V. 4]).

The name "bet ha-midrash" recurs in the Arabic "madrasah," for school; and Jews under the influence of Arabic life called the bet ha-midrash also midrash (Güdemann, "Gesch. des Erziehungswesens und der Kultur der Juden in Frankreich und Deutschland," i. 92 et seq., 265; "Quellenschriften zur Gesch. des Unterrichts," p. 99). A systematic plan of education of the thirteenth century, published and translated by Güdemann, l.c., proposes to impose on each member of a congregation in the whole country or district the old halfshekel tax for the maintenance of the great bet ha-midrash or high school to be built in the capital near the synagogue, and for primary schools to be in each town, where the disciples, together with the teachers, should live during the week, separated from their parents and removed from all contact with the outside world. During the Middle Ages the bet ha-midrash was open day and night for both public discourses and private studies. It contained usually a large library for the use of the students, and became an attractive center and meeting-place also for scholars of other cities. Inevitably this privilege was frequently abused, and the bet hamidrash often became the resort of idlers and poor homeless strangers who spent their time in gossip rather than in study. The official name given by non-Jews to the bet ha-midrash in Nuremberg (1406) is "Judenschule" (see Güdemann, "Gesch. d. Erziehungswesens und der Kultur d. Abendländ. Juden," p. 67, note 10). Whether the same name, "Judenschule," for the synagogue, given to it by the Christian population (Güdemann, l.c. p. 94, note 2), originated from the use of the bet ha-midrash also as a place of worship by the students, customary as early as Talmudical times (Ber. 8a), or from other causes, the proverbial "noise of the Judenschule" seems to refer to the lively discussions which took place in the bet ha-midrash (though at times the synagogue was used also for learned disputations), and not to any disorder in connection with the divine service.

The number of hearers or disciples at the bet ha-midrash was not limited as was the case in the Ḥeder, or primary school (Abrahams, "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages," p. 349). The rabbis or ordained teachers, as a rule engaged by the community to take charge of the studies in the bet ha-midrash, often dwelt in the same house; thus in Germany where the bet ha-midrash received the Latin name Clausa (Claus = cloister), also called "Claus Rabbis" or "Clausner." The synagogue and bet ha-midrash were often in the same building or adjoining each other. For the course of studies and other regulations concerning the bet ha-midrash, see the articles Education; also Academies, Baḥur, Ḥeder, and Yeshibah.

  • Güdemann, Jüdisches Unterrichtswesen Während der Spanisch-Arabischen Periode, 1873, p. 791;
  • idem, Gesch. des Erziehungswesens und der Kultur der Abendländ. Juden, I. 1880, III. 1888 (see Index);
  • idem, Quellenschriften zur Gesch. des Unterrichts und der Erziehung bei den Deutschen Juden, 1891 (see Index);
  • Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, 1896, pp. 34, 349 et seq.;
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. ii., s.v. Lehrhaus;
  • Weber, System der Altsynagogalen Theologie, 1880, pp. 34, 127-360;
  • Schürer, l.c.;
  • Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England, pp. 243-251, 343-344.
J. Sr. K.
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