The growing value placed on charity in the first century C.E. cannot be overstated. As a new sensitivity developed within Judaism that challenged the compensatory “blessings and curses” paradigm of the Hebrew Bible (cf. Deut. 28) as a basis to serve God, so there was a shifting emphasis towards altruistic love embodied in the Levitical commandment, “…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי יי; Lev. 19:18).”
The more we know and understand the historical, cultural and linguistic background of the Bible, the more we are able to discern elements in the biblical text that heretofore have gone unnoticed. These can be elements that can greatly increase our understanding of the biblical text, reinforce our traditional conceptions, or at times radically transform our understanding by revealing totally unexpected information that affects how the texts would have been originally understood.
I would like to congratulate Professor Safrai on his award, and add a personal note: I have known Professor Safrai since 1965 when he was one of my instructors at the Hebrew University. I have spent literally hundreds of hours with him. Not only is Professor Safrai one of the greatest scholars that the Hebrew University has ever produced, he is also a mensch. Kind, well-mannered, and above all, patient, he has been a model of right living to his many students.
After reading Marvin Wilson’s “Jewish Laws of Purity in Jesus’ Day” (Jerusalem Perspective 37 [Mar.-Apr. 1992], 11, 17), I must admit to finding the reality of the situation of women (e.g., anyone touching anything she sits on during menstruation, to be also unclean) depressing. How did women express their spirituality? Did they have any power?
In the infancy narrative found in chapters one and two of Luke’s gospel, Luke has provided excellent character references for Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Jesus’ mother and father show piety far beyond the usual, and the young Jesus is eager to be in the temple studying Torah with the teachers of Israel.