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Discipleship


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The acceptance by a person of another as master, tutor, and spiritual guide. The two chief examples of discipleship in the Bible are those of Joshua and Moses (Exodus 33: 11; Numbers 12: 28; 27: 12–22; Deuteronomy 34: 9) and Elisha and Elijah (1 Kings 19: 19–21; 2 Kings 2). The ‘sons of the prophets’ mentioned in the biblical narrative of Elisha (2 Kings 2: 3–11; 4: 1; 38) appear to have been a guild of aspirants to prophecy who gathered around prophets to be instructed in the art. The word ‘son’ (ben) should be understood in the sense of a close pupil and the Hebrew is best translated as ‘disciples of the prophets’. Elisha's special disciple and retainer, Gehazi, is not viewed with complete favour in the narrative because of his interference in the master's affairs (2 Kings 4).

The Talmudic Rabbis, with the study of the Torah as their highest value, attached the greatest significance to discipleship. In the opening section of Ethics of the Fathers, the chain of tradition from Moses to Joshua and down to the Men of the Great Synagogue is first recorded and these are then quoted as advising: ‘Raise many disciples.’ The Talmud contains numerous admonitions to teachers to impart their knowledge of the Torah to their disciples and to disciples to pay great respect to their masters.

In Hasidism, in particular, discipleship is given the utmost priority. By definition, the Hasid is a follower of a particular Rebbe, the Zaddik, whose approach to Judaism he tries to follow in every detail. In the earlier period of the Hasidic movement, it was the disciple of the master, not, as later, the son, who became the master's successor in the leadership of a particular group. The story has often been told of the disciple of Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezhirech, who declared that he did not journey to the master in order to learn Torah from him but to witness how the master tied his shoelaces.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.


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