First Century Congregational Structure-Part 7

We are going to begin to discuss other congregational functionaries beginning with the Shaliach Tzebur, which means an “apostle (sent one) of the congregation.” He officiates as a leader in prayer and stood before the people to represent those who did not understand the importance of the prayer. He was an unsalaried official.

The Gabbai Tzedekah or “treasurer of the charities” was a person who was involved with the education of the children, took care of the expenses of the congregation and was in charges of the charities and alms. The word “tzedekah” means righteousness and charity. He took care of all in need and the word “need” was defined as one who is not able to work, there is no other person to take care of them, orphans who were too small to work and had no family and others is dire need like victims of a disaster, persecution or accidents. Judas was the Gabbai Tzedekah of Yeshua’s group (John 12.6) and in 1 Cor 16.1-4 Paul was acting as one. The people would get paid daily, so they began to set aside money for Paul at the beginning of the week.

Now, you can have a permanent Gabbai Tzedekah or a temporary one (like Ezra in Ezra 8.24-30). Obviously, he cannot be paid. He was also involved in distribution of the charities, but the shammashim handle it (at least three of them). They also had the same qualifications as a zekan, and he could even be a zekan. Now, how much you gave was determined by you. The term “good eye” (ein tov) is a Hebrew idiom for “generous” (Matt 6.22; Prov 22.9) and an “evil eye” (ein ra) is an idiom meaning “stingy” (Matt 6.23). According to the School of Shammai, if you gave 60% you had a “good eye”; if you gave 50% you were average; and if you gave 40% you had an “evil eye.” According to the School of Hillel, if you gave 50% you had a “good eye”; if you gave 40% you were average and if you gave 30% you had an “evil eye.”

The emphasis in the synagogue from the time of Ezra to the destruction of the Temple was the reading of the Torah (1 Tim 4.13) and the study of the commandments, because of Hos 4.6. The second thing was to take care of the people. Prayer was not the main emphasis or the foremost thing in a synagogue, but study was. In later times, there was set times for prayer in the synagogue and they coincided with the prayer times in the Temple after it was destroyed because prayer was the main purpose for gathering in the Temple.

A synagogue building was functional and multi-purpose for studying the Scriptures, for meetings, for services, eating and courts. It was usually in two main sections, with one side (called the Beit Knesset) used for the services, with a bema in the middle, and the other side (called the Beit ha Midrash) for study, meeting, eating and courts. As you can see, this is not even close to what we have today in churches.

The synagogue was not a salvation center and centered on our own convenience nor was it a place where you didn’t study. We have had the experience of church trained individuals who say that a service cannot go over an hour, or “don’t talk for more than twenty minutes.” Teachings are “too deep” and “I’m lost” has been heard. This is because all their lives they have been given milk and babied (Heb 5.12-14). If only one person ever said that, it would be a commentary on that person. But, when many say it is a commentary on the religious systems they were involved with and it is set up that way in seminaries. They are taught tree-point sermons for thirty minutes, then out.

Churches are hardly the first century model of a house of study. Paul taught for hours at a time (Acts 20.7). Children need to learn how to study and learn terms like tikkun; pilpul; gematria; peshat; remez; drash; sowd and nigun. The synagogue did not meet once or twice a week, but every day because it was a community center for everyone. Every aspect of the synagogue centered around the Lord, study and the Torah. They had prayer seven days a week, several times a day. In the first century, delegations from all 24 districts in Israel were called the “ma’amad” or standing men. They would go from each synagogue to represent the people in prayer in the Temple. We see them in Luke 1.10 at the Tamid service at approximately 9 am. At 3 pm they would have the evening Tamid service.

Some of the prayers that were prayed are still done today, like the Shemoneh Esrai or “Amidah” (“standing prayer” and also called THE prayer, with 18 Benedictions-p 130, Hertz Siddur). At the same time in every synagogue in Israel and the world (the Galut or “diaspora”) the people were standing and praying the same prayers. Most of the prayer that went into the synagogue prayer service before the destruction of the Temple was the Amidah.

In Acts 16.13 Paul seeks a synagogue on the Sabbath and goes to a riverside. This is because immersions were so important and a synagogue would be built in an open space near water. In the first century, a zekan or chazzan or even someone else could lead the prayer, and it is the same today. However, after the destruction of the Temple, the chazzan becomes the cantor and it is more formally done. Only 7 of the 18 benedictions are done on the Sabbath because you did not pray for your own needs, based on Isa 58.13.

Now, if you asked a Christian what day is the day of worship, they will say Sunday. But, the Jewish understanding is the Sabbath is not the day of worship, but the day of rest. Everyday is a day of worship and that is why they met everyday in the Temple and the synagogues in the first century. The Sabbath was set apart to God, and it had services.

There were two services daily. The Shacharit (morning) service is around 9 am and the Minchah (afternoon) service is around 3 pm. Daniel had these services in mind when he prayed three times a day toward Jerusalem in Dan 6.10. On the Sabbath, there were four services. Ma’erev is Friday night after sundown. On Saturday morning there is the Shacharit service around 9 am, the Mussaf (additional, corresponding to the additional sacrifices and service given on the Sabbath in the Temple-Num 28 and 29). Then came the Minchah in the afternoon around 3 pm.

The services were sung and the Hebrew Bible has “trope” or “cantillation” markings which tell the person how to sing the Scriptures. Teachings were sung, but you were not to be a showboat, but pleasant. Each teacher had his own “nigun” or song. It helped you remember the words, like learning any song. So you could tell who the teacher was among certain talmidim by what “nigun” (song or tune) they were singing (Rev 14.3). When the Temple was destroyed, the services changed. Most of the service was done in the Temple, now there was no role for the priest. Ancient Temple services now transferred to the synagogue (except sacrifices of course) but they will have a “zekor” or a remembrance of them by reading and discussing them and what was done. Now the synagogue became center stage for the first time.

In the conclusion of this series, we will begin to talk about the Avodah (service) in the synagogue and tell you what is basically done and conclude with many other concepts associated with the first century congregational structure and how it applies today.

Posted in All Teachings, Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Questions, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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