Introduction to Primary Jewish Education, Sefer ha-Rokeah


A scriptural indication that the boy should be covered so that he will not see a gentile or a dog on the day he is instructed in the holy letters is- “No one else shall come up with you and no one else shall be seen anywhere on the mountain; neither shall the flocks and the herds graze at the foot of this mountain” (Exodus 34-3). The boys are brought in Shavuot morning at sunrise, according to the verse- “On the third day, as morning dawned, there was thunder and lightning” (Exodus, 19-16). He is covered with a cloak on the way from his house to the synagogue or the teacher’s house, according to the verse- “And they took their places at the foot of the mountain” (Exodus 19-17).

The child is placed on the lap of the teacher, who sits him down to study, according to the verse- “And Moses said to the Lord- ‘Did I conceive all this people, did I bear them, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries an infant”’” (Num. 11-12) and according to the verse- “I have pampered Ephraim, taking him in my arms” (Hos. 11-3).

They bring over the tablet on which is written the alphabet written forwards— alef, bet,gimel,dalet—and the alphabet backwards—tav, shin, resh, kof—and the verse “When Moses charged us with the Torah as the heritage of the congregation of Jacob” (Deut. 33-4) as well as the phrase “ May the Torah be my occupation,” and the first verse in Leviticus beginning “The Lord called Moses…” (Lev. 1-1)

The teacher recites aloud each letter of the alphabet [forwards] and the child recites after him, then each word oftav, shin,resh, qof and the child does so too. Similarly, they both recite the verse beginning “When Moses charged us with the Torah” and the phrase beginning “May the Torah be…” and likewise the verse “The Lord called Moses…”

Then the teacher puts a little honey on the tablet, and with his tongue the child licks the honey that is on the letters. After this, they bring over cake kneaded with honey on which is written “The Lord God gave me a skilled tongue to know how to speak timely words to the weary. Morning by morning, he rouses, he rouses my ear to give heed like disciples. The Lord God opened my ears and I did not disobey, I did not run away” (Isa. 50-4-5). The teacher recites aloud each word of these verses, and the child does so after him.

After this, they bring over a cooked egg which had been peeled and on which is written “As he said to me, ‘Mortal, feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll that I give you.’ I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey to me” (Ezek. 3-3). The teacher recites aloud each word, and the boy does so after him. They feed the boy the cake and the egg because it is good for the opening of the heart.

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