The excerpt of the ancient text quoted below comes from a book entitled Avodah Zarah (foreign worship). It is one of the early rabbinic writings we have, probably composed at the end of the 2nd century CE and finalized at the beginning of the 3rd century CE. However, it speaks of the turbulent events of the 1st century. This text expresses an important Jewish value. Someone who only studies the Torah benefits himself alone. He is not as upstanding as one who studies Torah but is engaged in some other occupation and life activities. Charity or literally righteousness (צְדָקָה) are the “good deeds” which one contributes to the dark world around them. Being someone who lives out spiritual truths is better than someone who merely learns them for themselves. Compare this value to the teachings of Jesus: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house… let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matt 5:14-16 NRSV)

“The Sages taught: When Rabbi Elazar ben Perata and Rabbi Ḥanina ben Teradyon were arrested by the Romans during the time of the religious persecution of the Jewish people, Rabbi Elazar ben Perata said to Rabbi Ḥanina ben Teradyon: Fortunate are you, as you were arrested on one charge only, of teaching Torah publicly; woe is me, as I have been arrested on five charges.

Rabbi Ḥanina ben Teradyon said to him: Fortunate are you, as you were arrested on five charges but you will be saved; woe is me, as I have been arrested on one charge, but I will not be saved. You will be saved because you engaged in Torah study and in acts of charity, and I engaged in Torah study alone.

The Gemara comments: And this is in accordance with a statement of Rav Huna, as Rav Huna says: Anyone who occupies himself with Torah study alone is considered like one who does not have a God. As it is stated: “Now for long seasons Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without the Torah” (II Chronicles 15:3). What is meant by “without the true God”? This teaches that anyone who engages in Torah study alone is considered like one who does not have a true God. (Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 17b)




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