Hillel: If Not Now, When? (Jewish Encounters Series)
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Part of the Jewish Encounter series
“What is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary. Now, go and study.”
This is the most famous teaching of Hillel, one of the greatest rabbis of the Talmudic era. What makes it so extraordinary is that it was offered to a gentile seeking conversion. Joseph Telushkin feels that this Talmudic story has great relevance for us today. At a time when religiosity is equated with ritual observance alone, when few Jews seem concerned with bringing Jewish teachings into the world, and when more than 40 percent of Jews intermarry, Judaism is in need of more of the openness that Hillel possessed two thousand years ago.
Hillel’s teachings, stories, and legal rulings can be found throughout the Talmud; many of them share his emphasis on ethical and moral living as an essential element in Jewish religious practice, including his citing the concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) as a basis for modifying Jewish law. Perhaps the most prominent rabbi and teacher in the Land of Israel during the reign of Herod, Hillel may well have influenced Jesus, his junior by several decades. In a provocative analysis of both Judaism and Christianity, Telushkin reveals why Hillel’s teachings about ethics as God’s central demand and his willingness to encourage the process of conversion began to be ignored in favor of the stricter and less inclusive teachings of his rabbinic adversary, Shammai.
Here is a bold new look at an iconic religious leader.
students not to judge the characters whom they are playing; he regards this as one of the most common mistakes actors make. When an actor is asked to portray a character who has done evil things, Howard tells the actor that if he wishes to give a credible performance, he should not look at the character’s behavior and say, “I would never do this.” Rather, “The operative question for actors [should be] … ‘What would make me do this? What would make me do what the character is doing?’ ” (see Howard
converted three non-Jewish men who came to him with highly unusual conditions for becoming Jews, and Rabbi Chiyya converted a woman who had fallen in love with one of his students, and in love with Judaism as well. A Final, Brief Teaching: Hillel, the Man of God The Talmud reports that the rabbis were gathered in the house of Gurya in Jericho when a heavenly voice declared, “ ‘There is one among you who is worthy that the Divine Presence rest upon him, but his generation is not worthy.’
dish. The School of Shammai consequently maintained that even cooked foods were not included in a benediction over bread” (Louis Ginzberg, On Jewish Law and Lore, p. 104; the discussion of the impact of economic factors in the variant rulings between the two schools is found on pp. 102–18). What strikes me as a counterargument to that offered by Ginzberg is the Mishnah in Gittin 4:5, in which the School of Hillel favors slave owners, while the School of Shammai favors the slaves (see this page).
Hillel and Shammai are referred to as “a dispute for the sake of heaven” because the disputants were motivated by the desire to find truth; no personal benefit accrued to them if their position was accepted (that is why it was easier for the disputants to generally remain on friendly terms). In contrast, Korach, as depicted in the Torah, was driven by the desire for personal gain, in his case, power. As regards those few instances in which the law does not follow the teachings of either Hillel or
Shammai, the Mishnah asks why their opinions are therefore cited, since they will not be followed. The answer? “So as to teach generations to come that a person should not hold stubbornly to his opinions, for the fathers of the world (that is, Hillel and Shammai) did not hold stubbornly to their opinions” (Eduyot 1:4). 6. See Safrai, Literature of the Sages, p. 196. 12. The Jewish Sage and the Christian Messiah 1. This was a decision that paved the way for large-scale conversions to