Monday, May 21, 2012

Supportive Community

There is a Jewish holiday Lag BaOmer, known variously as a scholar's holiday, a mystical holiday about the revelation of the Zohar, a remembrance of the Bar Kochba Rebellion - lots of stuff.  I had never heard of it.

Yevamot 62b in the Babylonian Talmud directs us to treat each other with respect.  A man should love his wife as himself and honor her more than himself. 
The following tale is included.
It was said that Rabbi Akiva had 12,000 pairs of disciples from Gabbatha to Antipatris; and all of them died at the same time because they did not treat each other with respect. The world remained desolate until Rabbi Akiva came to our Masters in the South and taught the Torah to them. These were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua; and it was they who revived the Torah at that time. A Tanna taught: "All of them died between Passover and Shavuot". Rabbi Hama ben Abba or, it might be said, Rabbi Hiyya ben Abin said: "All of them died a cruel death."
The Talmud speaks of 12,000 "pairs" of students and not of 24,000, ostensibly in order to stress the lack of unity of which they were guilty. Discussion of other understandings here.

I note the story, about events in roughly the time of Jesus, is about a community which was founded in order to save the world by its example of caring for each other.  It is has been much on my mind in the last year, and I have mentioned recently, that this concept is far more present in the teaching of Jesus than we usually give credit for in America.  In the west we focus more on getting doctrine or practice correct, or getting people saved, or doing individual good works out in the world, or influencing culture. 

I first wondered if this were an idea very much in the air in that culture and that time, with different manifestations showing up among the Jews and the early Christians.  But it took very little thinking about history, especially church history, to realise that this belief in the example community is the rule, and our individualistic ideas the exception.


james said...

That's an interesting discussion, and the take on how they all died seems plausible. I know extremely little of the Bar Kochba revolt itself, and how they comported themselves internally. (and only a little more about the aftermath) Suggestions on references?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

No suggestions. What you would see on bing would be the same as what I see. I will say that that Jewish Christian and purely Jewish sites are both valuable for this sort of thing, but different.

karrde said...


I've known churches that cared about building a community of faith. I've known churches that appeared to care about building up individuals as believers.

I hadn't put the difference in that way before. Now that I do see individual-emphasis/community-emphasis distinction, I notice that most churches I remember can be easily categorized that way.

The other things (doctrinal correctness, good works, etc) do come along on one or the other side of that divide. But that divide is sharp, and colors how the church members behave towards those other elements.

Disturbing thought. I was about to say that a church which doesn't build a community of faith will have a hard time doing anything else well. But I'm not sure that's true...