30 of us will leave tomorrow for Israel. We have a strange route from Omaha to Phoenix to Philadelphia to Tel Aviv. When we land at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, we’ll make our way up the Highway by the Sea to the Dan Caesarea Hotel for the night. We’ll pass by Bene Berak, one of the more interesting suburbs of Tel Aviv. It’s the only large city (150,000) whose inhabitants are mainly ultra-Orthodox Jews. It’s small area & large population make it one of the most densely populated city in Israel. It’s birthrate is one of the highest in the Country as well. Since the establishment of Israel as a state, many of the “Grand Rabbis” moved their courts to Bene Barak. The city’s religious character gives it a special charm. It has no modish fashion shops, yuppie coffee houses, or posh restaurants, but it has an extraordinary simplicity, modesty and uniqueness. It sounds like an exceptionally large Amish community.

There are many Yeshivas, Institutes for learning Sacred Jewish Texts. There are a number of “schools of interpretation” in the community, one of which is the school associated with Rabbi Akiba who lived between 50 and 150 CE. He’s been a towering figure in the history of Jewish interpretation. Christian Scholars attribute an entire hermeneutical system to him. We owe a great debt to him with respect to the preservation of the Hebrew Scriptures. After the destruction of the temple in AD 70, Jews focused more than ever on the study of Scripture. A school arose that focused on the smallest details of the Hebrew manuscripts, and enforced a strict adherence by the scribes to the approved texts. It was Akiba who became the principal spokesman of this concern for textual minutiae. For him the sanctity of Scripture meant that each letter, syllable, and word of the Torah was important. Even the tittle was the inspiration for a multiplicity of interpretative rules.

Many more modern scholars suggest that Akiba is responsible for establishing one standard text from which all other Hebrew texts were copied. I’m not certain the evidence supports all that, but it’s undeniable that the focus on the details of Old Testament Texts that he maintained greatly contributed to the standardization and stabilization of the Old Testament that we hold in our hands today.

“For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Matthew 5:18