views updated Jun 11 2018


HILLEL (c. 50 bceearly first century ce), Jewish sage and teacher. Although several modern scholars claim that Hillel, known as "the Elder," had Alexandrian roots, there is no reason to doubt the Talmudic tradition that he was a native of Babylonia. Hillel was a disciple of Shemaʿyah and Avalyon, who preceded Hillel and his colleague Shammai as the two leading teachers, or "pairs" (zugot), in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem (Palestinian) Talmud reports (Pes. 6.1, 33a, where Hillel is called "the Babylonian") that Hillel was designated nasiʾ (patriarch, i.e., head of the court) in recognition for having been able to resolve a difficult question of Jewish law on the basis of a tradition he heard from Shemaʿyah and Avalyon. The later patriarchs were regarded as descendants of Hillel, who in turn was said to have been a scion of the house of David (J.T., Taʿan. 4.2, 68a). Most scholars do not take the latter claim seriously, as Davidic ancestry is also assigned to the Hasmonaeans, Herodians, Jesus, Yehuda ha-Nasiʾ, and the Babylonian exilarchs. It is possible that Hillel is to be identified with Pollio (Pollion), the Pharisee who appears in the Jewish Antiquities (15.3, 15.370) of Josephus Flavius (37/8c.100), but this may be a reference to Avalyon.

Talmudic tradition portrays Hillel as a great spiritual leader who embodied the qualities of humility, patience, peace, love of Torah, and social concern. Many of the well-known sayings attributed to Hillel in Mishnah Avot (chaps. 1 and 2) emphasize these ideals. For example: "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them near to the Torah." "A name made great is a name destroyed." "If I am not for myself who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now when?" "Do not separate yourself from the community." "Do not judge your fellow until you are in his position." A popular tradition (B.T., Shab. 31a) illustrates Hillel's forbearance and contrasts it with the impatience of Shammai, who often appears as his foil. Shammai is said to have rebuffed a heathen who demanded of him: "Make me a proselyte on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot." When approached by the same heathen Hillel responded, "What is hateful to you do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary. Go and learn it." This negative formulation of what eventually circulated as the Golden Rule, like many of Hillel's sayings, has parallels in ancient literature (e.g., Tb. 4:15), so the intention is not simply to relate the uniqueness or essence of Judaism. Here Hillel appears as the teacher par excellence; in one utterance he conveys that the central ideals of Judaism are easily delineated, but the path to their fulfillment can be discerned only through further study and commitment.

Several social taqqanot ("enactments") are associated with Hillel. The most important of these is the prozbul, a legal instrument that enabled creditors to claim their debts after the sabbatical year though biblical law (Dt. 15.2) prohibited it (Sheviʽit 10.3). The biblical law was intended to protect the poor in an agricultural society. In later times, when the economy depended upon the free flow of credit, people would refrain from lending as the sabbatical year drew near because they feared the money owed them would not be collectible. By means of the prozbul, creditors transferred their bonds to the court, thereby retaining the right to collect after the sabbatical year.

Hillel's interest in the intention of the biblical text and its practical application to daily life may be the reason he is credited (Tosefta San. 7.11) with the promulgation of seven exegetical principles (middot), several of which were known to have existed earlier. These principles were expanded to thirteen by the second century tanna Yishmaʿeʾl ben Elishaʿ (Sifraʾ, intro.). While there are very few instances where Hillel (or for that matter, Beit Hillel, the school of thought named after him) is reported to have employed these principles (see B.T., Pes. 66a; J.T., Pes. 6.1, 33a), their importance increased in the later tannaitic and amoraic periods.

Hillel's significance has been assessed in various ways, all of which acknowledge that he was a pivotal figure in Judaism during the late first century bce and the early first century ce. Joseph Klausner, Alexander Guttmann, and Judah Goldin have regarded the sage as responsible for establishing the importance of intellect and interpretation along with tradition. David Daube has suggested that Hillel created the basis for the development of Jewish law, narrowing the differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees by showing how the oral law is inherent in the written. Jacob Neusner has credited Hillel with the transformation of the Pharisees from a political party to a society of "pious sectarians" committed to "table-fellowship," that is, to the meticulous observance of tithing laws and the eating of everyday meals in a state of ritual purity.

See Also

Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai.


Life and Work

Nahum N. Glatzer's Hillel, the Elder: The Emergence of Classical Judaism (New York, 1956) is a popular account which suggests that Hillel was influenced by the early asidim (pietists). All of the traditions pertaining to Hillel (and Shammai) are critically evaluated in Jacob Neusner's The Rabbinic Traditions about the Pharisees before 70, 3 vols. (Leiden, 1971). Solomon Zeitlin has written several monographs on Hillel, which are summarized in volume 2 (pp. 100118) of his The Rise and Fall of the Judean State: A Political, Social, and Religious History of the Second Commonwealth (Philadelphia, 1967). For an interesting assessment of the "standing on one foot (Hebrew: regel) " theme in light of Latin, regula ("rule"), see R. Jospe, "Hillel's Rule," Jewish Quarterly Review 81 (1990), 4557. For recent discussions of the traditions and sayings of Hillel, see the separate articles by Chana Safrai and Shmuel Safrai in James H. Charlesworth and Loren L. Johns, eds., Hillel and Jesus, Comparisons of Two Major Religious Leaders (Minneapolis, 1997). Also of interest in this volume is Philip S. Alexander's "Jesus and the Golden Rule."

Exegetical Method

Hillel's exegetical principles and their relationship to Hellenistic rhetoric are discussed in David Daube's "Rabbinic Methods of Interpretation and Hellenistic Rhetoric," reprinted in Alan Corré's Understanding the Talmud (New York, 1975), pp. 275289. It should be noted that the similarities discerned by Daube and others do not necessarily prove that Hillel derived his principles from the Hellenistic schools. Also noteworthy is Judah Goldin's "Hillel the Elder," Journal of Religion 26 (October 1946): 263277. For Hillel's approach to the Oral Law and to biblical exegesis, see Daniel R. Schwartz, "Hillel and Scripture: From Authority to Exegesis" in Hillel and Jesus, Comparisons of Two Major Religious Leaders (Minneapolis, 1997; see above).

Stuart S. Miller (1987 and 2005)


views updated May 18 2018


HILLEL (the Elder ; end of first century b.c.e. and beginning of first century c.e.), considered one of the "fathers of the world" (Eduy. 1:4; Tosef. Eduy. 1:3) who laid the foundations for the spiritual and intellectual movement of the tannaitic period. Hillel was one of the last pair of *zugot. At first *Menahem was his colleague but when he withdrew *Shammai succeeded him (Ḥag. 2:2). After the period of the zugot, Hillel's descendants established a dynasty which was to dominate rabbinic circles in the land of Israel for more than 400 years. When dealing with rabbinic or proto-rabbinic figures of Hillel's stature, it is always important to distinguish between the earlier and more historically reliable tannaitic sources, and the later talmudic traditions which often have a more legendary character. In the case of Hillel, however, even the earliest extant rabbinic sources are highly legendary in nature. For example, a tannaitic midrash (Sifre Deut. 357) provides the following outline of Hillel's "biography": "'And Moses was 120 years old' – He was one of four who died at the age of 120, and they are Moses, Hillel the Elder, Rabban Joḥanan ben Zakkai, and Rabbi Akiva. Moses was in Egypt for 40 years; in Midian for forty years; served and lead Israel for 40 years. Hillel the Elder came up from Babylonia at the age of 40; studied under the sages for 40 years; served and lead Israel for 40 years. Rabban Joḥanan ben Zakkai engaged in business for 40 years; studied under the sages for 40 years; served and lead Israel for 40 years. Rabbi Akiva began to learn Torah at the age of 40; studied under the sages for 40 years; served and lead Israel for 40 years." Clearly the point of this midrash is to establish a typological connection between these three rabbinic heroes and their biblical model – Moses. Any attempt to glean concrete historical information from this tradition would therefore be misguided. The notion that Hillel came from Babyloniais attested elsewhere (Tosef. Neg. 1:16; Sifra Tazria 9:15), but beyond this we are on shaky ground. For evidence of Hillel's character we have the following tradition from Tosef. Sot. 13:3: "Once the sages were gathered together in the upper chamber of the house of Guria in Jericho, when a heavenly voice came out and said to them: 'There is one here among you who is worth of receiving the holy spirit (prophecy), but his generation does not deserve it'. They all looked at Hillel the Elder. When he died they said: So humble; so pious – a true disciple of Ezra." This aspect of Hillel's personality developed in later aggadot into a stereotypical feature, standing in equally stereotypical opposition to Shammai's presumably harsh and difficult personality. Thus in tb Shabbat (31a) we find the story of three candidates for conversion who were rejected by Shammai and accepted by Hillel because of his "humility," though the terms "patience" and "insight" would better characterize Hillel's behavior there. In this context Hillel is reported to have summarized the entire Torah, saying "What is hateful to you, don't do to your companion" (cf. The Book of Tobit 4:15, ed. F. Zimmerman, 70, 159ff.; Sifra Kedosh. ch. 4:12 and Gen. R. 24). Another late aggadah (Yoma 35b) tells of Hillel's "humble" origins, i.e., his devotion to the study of Torah despite his abject poverty, which nearly led to his freezing to death on the roof of the study hall when, on one occasion, he was unable to pay the entrance fee. The only obvious connection between this famous story and the earlier tannaitic traditions about Hillel is that the first three letters of the Hebrew word for "humble" also spell the Hebrew word for "poor."

The traditions surrounding Hillel's appointment to the office of Nasi deserve special attention. Tosefta Pes. 4:13 tells that on one occasion Passover fell on a Sabbath, and "they asked Hillel the Elder" if the offering of the paschal lamb overrode the Sabbath or not. According to the Tosefta, Hillel responded somewhat cryptically: "Is there only one paschal offering which overrides the Sabbath every year? Are there not more than three hundred "paschal offerings" each year which override the Sabbath?" We are then told that "all [those present in] the Temple courtyard descended upon him" (cf. Tosef. Ḥag. 2:11). Hillel apparently was referring to the daily sacrifice which regularly overrides the Sabbath. He then proceeded to present no fewer than four different legal justifications for his ruling. The first three justifications base the ruling in the case of the paschal offering on a legal precedent – the daily sacrifice. All three involve some form of legal reasoning, and the last two seem to use apparently standard tannaitic hermeneutical techniques for the exposition of scripture. The fourth justification consists of an appeal to accepted religious authority: "Moreover, I have received an explicit tradition from my teachers that the paschal offering overrides the Sabbath." After a brief side discussion the Tosefta concludes: "On that very day they appointed Hillel as Nasi, and he instructed them in the laws of the Passover." There are many points in this story which demand clarification. Who asked Hillel this question? Who were Hillel's teachers from whom he had heard this halakhah, and why was this tradition unknown to the rest of those present? If Hillel indeed had received such a tradition from his teachers, why did he at first respond cryptically and then offer three independent and presumably original derivations of this law? If Hillel in fact offered three independent derivations of the law that paschal offering overrides the Sabbath and backed it up with an explicit tradition from his teachers, why do three halakhic Midrashim (Mech. Pisḥa 5; Sifre Num. 65, 142) ascribe a very similar midrashic derivation of this very law to R. Josiah, a much later tanna? What is the relation of this tradition to another tannaitic tradition (Tosef. Sanh. 7:11; Sifra, Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael) which states that "Hillel used seven hermeneutical methods before the elders of Patera (Batera)"?

To all these questions the later talmudic tradition (tj Pes. 6:1, 33a; tb Pes. 66a) provides clear and unequivocal answers – though not always the same ones. First of all, later tradition identifies the events surrounding the paschal offering with the traditions concerning Hillel's use of seven hermeneutical methods before the Elders of Patera, who are apparently viewed as representing established authority in the Temple prior to Hillel's appointment (cf. tj Kil. 9:3, 32b; tb bm 85a). Moreover, Hillel's "teachers" are identified as Shemaiah and Avtalyon, who preceded Hillel and Shammai in the traditional list of zugot. Since an explicit tradition from Shemaiah and Avtalyon must have been known to anyone holding legitimate office in the Temple, the talmudic story begins by stating: "This halakhah was forgotten by the Elders of Batera" (tj; tb: Sons of *Bathyra). After being informed that a certain "Babylonian" named Hillel was present, who had studied under Shemaiah and Avtalyon, the Elders of Batera (apparently reluctantly) turned to Hillel to see if he had anything to offer on the subject. At this point the Babylonain and the Jerusalem Talmuds part ways in relating the story. According to the Jerusalem Talmud Hillel offered three interpretations in order to justify his position, but the Elders of Batera refuted every single one of them. Only when Hillel testified that he had received an explicit tradition on this matter from Shemaiah and Avtalyon, were the Elders of Batera willing to accept his view and to appoint him as Nasi. In the Babylonian Talmud, Hillel presents two original scriptural interpretations to justify his ruling, and on the basis of these original interpretations alone, they accepted his view and appointed him as Nasi. The difference between these two versions would seem to turn, therefore, on the question of the relative weight one should ascribe to original interpretation as opposed to accepted tradition in the deciding of this halakhic question. The talmudic versions of the story probably do not reflect ancient and reliable historical traditions, but are rather a result of later editorial elaboration and reworking of ancient literary sources. Even the earliest forms of these traditions (Tosef. Pes. 4:13; Tosef. Sanh. 7:11; Sifra, Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael) cannot be simply accepted as accurately representing actual historical events in Hillel's life. Nevertheless, even some of the greatest talmudic scholars have assumed that these traditions – in their latest and most highly elaborated talmudic versions – preserve ancient and reliable historical sources, and have used them as such (e.g. Epstein. itl. 510–511; Lieberman, Hellenism, 54, no. 58).

Relatively few halakhot are actually ascribed in tannaitic sources to Hillel himself. Most of these halakhot consist of brief statements of no more than two to five words (Eduy. 1:1–3, Sifra, Shemini 9:5; but see Sifre Zuta Num. 30). Other halakhot are indirectly attributed to Hillel (Tosef. Neg. 1:16, Sifra Tazria 9:15; Tosef. Ber. 2:22; Tosef.; cf. Tosef. Ketub. 7:9). Similarly two very important rabbinic decrees – takkanot – are attributed to him. These takkanot provide evidence of Hillel's interest in civil law and economic matters. The first was the *prosbul, designed to prevent the complete cancellation of debts during the sabbatical year, since with changing economic conditions it became difficult to carry out the biblical law, and the economy which was based upon credit and loans was thereby imperiled (Shev. 10:3; Git. 4:3; Sifre Deut. 113). The second takkanah was with regard to the houses of the walled cities which, according to biblical law (Lev. 25:29), could be redeemed by the seller only within the year of the sale. In Hillel's time the buyer who desired to acquire the house permanently would disappear until the last day of the year, so that the seller would be unable to redeem his house. Hillel's takkanah provided for the seller to deposit the proceeds of the sale in the Temple treasury, to enable him later to acquire the title to his house (Ar. 9:4; Sifra Behar 4:8).

Hillel's ethical-religious teachings have been preserved in a series of proverbs, some in Hebrew (Tosef. Ber. 2:24; 7:24) and some in Aramaic (Avot 1:13; 2:6), such as: "He who magnifies his name destroys it; he who does not increase his knowledge decreases it, and he who does not study deserves to die; and he who makes worldly use of the crown of Torah shall waste away." The belief in reward and punishment is expressed in the statement, "he saw a skull floating on the surface of the water, and said to it, 'Because you drowned someone, you will be drowned, and the end of those who drown you will be that they will be drowned'." Later sources present Hillel quoting scriptural verses which he used as proverbs. Thus on one occasion when he heard a loud cry on entering the city, he expressed his confidence that it did not proceed from his house by quoting, "He shall not fear an evil report" (Ps. 112:7; tj, Ber. 9:5, 14b); and once when he differed from his colleague Shammai, who was in the habit of making provision for the Sabbath from the beginning of the week, he quoted the verse: "Blessed be the Lord day by day" (Ps. 68:20; Bezah 16a). When he wished to explain to his disciples the importance of personal cleanliness, he resorted to the language of paradox interspersed with proverbs: "When he [Hillel] took leave of his students, he used to go off for a walk. His students asked him: 'Where are you walking to?' He answered: 'To perform a meritorious deed.' – They said to him: 'And what is this deed?' – And he said to them: 'To take a bath in the bathhouse.' – They said to him: 'And is this a meritorious deed?' – He answered: 'It is; if the statues erected to kings in the theaters and circuses are washed and scrubbed by those in charge of them… how much more should we, who have been created in His image and likeness, take care of our bodies, as it is written: For in the image of God made He man'" (Gen. 9:6). Another version of this story runs: "'Rabbi, where are you going to?' – To which he answered: 'To do a charitable deed for a guest in my house.' – They said to him: 'Does this guest stay with you every day?' – He answered: 'This poor soul – is it not a guest in the body, here today and gone tomorrow?'" (Lev. R. 24:3).

The personality of Hillel, in which wisdom was combined with righteousness, and humility with simplicity, became a model of conduct for subsequent generations. The changes that he brought about in his day with respect to the study of the Torah and the methods of promulgating legal decisions caused him to be compared with Ezra, who, like him, came from Babylonia and reestablished the Torah (Suk. 20a). Lavish praise was also showered on his disciples: "Hillel the Elder had 80 students: 30 of them were worthy that the Shekhinah should rest upon them, like Moses, our teacher; 30 that the sun should stand still for them, as it did for Joshua son of Nun; 20 were average; the greatest among them was Jonathan b. Uzziel and the least among them Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai" (Suk. 28a).


Hyman, Toledot, 362–73; Frankel, Mishnah (19232), 39–41; Derenbourg, Hist, 176–92; F. Delitzsch, Jesus and Hillel (18793); Graetz, Gesch, 3 (19055), 206–11; Schuerer, Gesch, 2 (19074), 424–8; Goitein, in: mgwj, 11 (1884), 1–16, 49–87; Halevy, Dorot, 1 pt. 3 (1923), 89 143, 668–72; Weiss, Dor, 1 (1924), 155–87; A. Buechler, in: Jahresbericht der Israelitisch-Theologischen Lehrenstalt in Wien, 9 (1902); Bacher, Tanna'im; P. Rieger, Hillel und Jesus (1904); Stein, in: jjlg, 12 (1918), 132–64; Katzenelson, in: Ha-Tekufah, 3 (1918), 267–301; Goldberger, in: hḤy, 10 (1926), 68–76; G.F. Moore, Judaism, 1 (1927), 72–82; N.N. Glatzer, Hillel the Elder (1956); Goldin, in: JR, 26 (1946), 263–77; Kaminka, in: jqr, 30 (1939/40), 107–22; idem, in: Zion, 4 (1939), 258–66; Karlin, ibid., 5 (1940), 170–5; Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 4 (19502), 125–52; E.A. Finkelstein, Ha-Perushim ve-Anshei Keneset ha-Gedolah (1950), 1–16; Neusner, Babylonia, 1 (1965), 36–38; I. Konovitz, Beit Shammai u-Veit Hillel (1965); E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal, Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969), index.

[Encyclopaedia Hebraica /

Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 23 2018


HILLEL , college-campus organization. Jews have been attracted to college and university life since the Haskalah and emancipation opened the doors to higher secular learning. Nowhere has this been more widespread than in the United States where the growth of public and private higher education coincided with expanding economic opportunity and massive European immigration. Colleges and universities in the U.S., reflecting agrarian values, often located in rural areas or small towns far from the major urban Jewish population centers. By the 1920s, more and more Jewish young adults left their homes, communities, and families to matriculate at land-grant public universities where basic Jewish social, educational, and religious needs went largely unmet and where Christian campus ministries and local churches welcomed opportunities to fill the void.

Hillel began as a classic campus ministry in 1923 at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Edward Chauncey Baldwin, a philo-Semitic Congregationalist English professor, concerned about the absence of organized Jewish life at Illinois, lobbied Jewish businessmen in Chicago to hire a rabbi and establish a Jewish campus ministry. The Chicago funders appointed Benjamin Frankel, a young, charismatic Reform rabbi, as the first director of the fledgling campus ministry who named the organization for the first-century sage, Hillel, a symbol of open inquiry, lifelong learning, and pluralistic values. The name also resonated with Christian clergy and academics who recognized Hillel as an influential teacher and near-contemporary of Jesus. Operating out of a rented room over a barbershop, Frankel framed key elements of the organization. Unlike the Menorah Society, an earlier student-run club founded at Harvard University in 1906, the University of Illinois Hillel created an infrastructure with a campus professional, dedicated space, and a community-supported budget. In order to sustain and expand Hillel, Frankel also sought national sponsorship. Rebuffed by the Reform movement, he convinced B'nai B'rith to adopt the organization in 1925, and then quickly launched a second Hillel at the University of Wisconsin, and a third at Ohio State University before suddenly and tragically passing away in 1927 at the age of 30.

The Reform movement's historic rejection and B'nai B'rith's timely embrace allowed Hillel to adopt a multi-denominational, pluralistic framework as the all-inclusive Jewish community on campus. Ideally positioned to grow, the campus organization, under the aegis of the largest Jewish fraternal organization in the United States, B'nai B'rith, had grassroots support, deep pockets for that time, a strong interest in Jewish youth, and a big-tent philosophy. Under the leadership of Abram *Sachar, a University of Illinois history instructor and Frankel intimate, who would become director of the B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundations prior to founding Brandeis University, Hillel expanded rapidly by hiring rabbis – rabbis attracted to academic life who in the late 20th century might go into Judaic Studies – to provide critical spiritual, cultural, educational, and social services to Jewish campus communities throughout the United States. Local B'nai B'rith lodges undertook efforts to provide Hillel Houses on or near universities enabling Hillel to serve as "the synagogue on campus," a place where Jewish students could celebrate Shabbat and other Jewish holidays, gain access to kosher food and pastoral counseling, participate in informal Jewish learning opportunities, and socialize with other Jews. In an era when young people typically married in their early twenties, Hillel played a significant role in Jewish dating and courtship. On residential campuses, especially, Hillel offered a "home away from home" and a refuge to Jewish students in an often Christian environment. Hillel professionals with strong Judaic backgrounds pioneered serious university-level Jewish learning in the decades before Jewish Studies earned academic acceptance. When Judaic Studies positions opened in the 1960s and 1970s, many moved seamlessly into the academic world. Hillel also partnered with other Jewish organizations to rescue and resettle Jewish academics and university students before, during, and after the Holocaust.

Sachar played a seminal role in shaping the organization through the Great Depression and World War ii. His emphasis on Jewish peoplehood, civilization, and diversity largely shielded Hillel from inter- and intra-denominational conflicts. His pluralistic vision and academic orientation drew like-minded rabbis and Jewish educators who eschewed denominationalism, embraced academic life, championed social activism and preferred informal interaction with young adults to more formal ministrations with multi-generational congregants.

Before the 1960s, the world of Jewish college students generally reflected a deeper Jewish connection. Parents or grandparents were likely to have immigrated to the United States from the centers of Jewish life in Europe. Living in or near urban Jewish communities, the majority of Jewish students shared a basic familiarity, if not a complete understanding, of Jewish ritual, language, and culture. Intermarriage rates were low. Affiliation rates were high. In addition, antisemitism reinforced group identity and limited other outlets and options. Admission quotas held down the number and percentage of Jews at many elite universities. Fraternities, sororities, honor societies, and other organizations openly or tacitly restricted their membership to white Christians. Hillel offered no such barriers to leadership, involvement or socialization as the number of Jewish college students grew as a result of the gi Bill of Rights and the entry of more and more Jewish families into the middle class.

Not surprisingly, the social changes of the 1960s had an immense impact on Jewish life on campus. Jewish men and women were among the beneficiaries of the civil rights revolution as barriers fell, new opportunities arose, and Jews increasingly participated in every aspect of campus life. Jewish students also disproportionately embraced and even led the culture wars of the 1960s, with their concomitant intergenerational conflict, sexual freedom, drug use, radical politics, and anti-institutional bias. Like other campus ministries, Hillel struggled to respond to the challenges of a new era and to be taken seriously in an age of diminished support for organized religious life. Although a number of individual Hillels and Hillel directors rose to the challenge and planted the seeds of organizational transformation, the movement as a whole became marginalized, maligned, and factionalized through the next two decades.

The social upheavals of the 1960s also affected B'nai B'rith, the parent organization, as fraternal organizations lost their primacy in America. Financial cutbacks by B'nai B'rith exacerbated Hillel's problems. Hillel lacked the ability to expand to new campuses with large Jewish enrollments; to recruit and retain quality Jewish professionals; and to attract large numbers of Jewish students. Although Jewish federations began to play an increasingly important role in the governance and funding of local and regional Hillels, they offered little organizational vision. Viewed as ineffective and inconsequential, Hillels were often dismissed for serving both too few students and too many of the wrong kind, the proverbial "Jewish geeks and nerds," who were unable to fit in and find a place within the larger campus community. Even the name "Hillel" became a questionable brand and a potential impediment to revitalizing Jewish campus life.

The decision of the B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation to hire Richard Joel in 1988 symbolized the desperate condition of the organization. Joel was not a rabbi, in an organization historically identified with the rabbinate. He was a Modern Orthodox Jew in an organization desperate to attract non-Orthodox and unaffiliated Jews. A former prosecuting attorney and law school administrator, he had no prior involvement with Hillel as a student, professional, or lay leader.

Joel dramatically transformed Hillel during his fourteen-year tenure. Articulating a vision of a revitalized Hillel able "to provoke" a Jewish renaissance in America, Joel jettisoned the synagogue model to promote a vision of campus communities supporting a wide range of Jewish organizations and interest groups. He eliminated rabbinic ordination as the sine qua non of Hillel employment by expanding and diversifying the ranks of Hillel professionals. He encouraged Hillels to eliminate student membership and dues and championed open-architecture participation over the more traditional affiliation model. He encouraged Hillels to become less building-centered, even as more and newer buildings opened each year, to connect with Jewish students in multiple campus and community settings. He attracted major financial support from key Jewish philanthropists and foundations. He engineered Hillel's independence from B'nai B'rith and deepened the partnership with a Jewish Federation system alarmed by the implications of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey (njps). Like Sachar, Joel would depart from Hillel to become the chief executive of a university with his appointment as Yeshiva University President in 2003.

Hillel entered the 21st century stronger and more vital than ever with a new national headquarters in Washington, d.c., a budget quadruple that of a decade earlier, affiliates at every major university in the U.S. with significant Jewish student populations (except ironically Yeshiva University), a growing presence globally in Israel, the former Soviet Union, and South America and signature programs and partnerships in the areas of Israel advocacy, community service, arts and culture, student engagement, Jewish learning and celebration, and global exchange. With approximately 250 affiliates in the U.S. and Canada serving college and university students on more than 500 campuses, an additional three dozen campus and community-based affiliates in other countries, and a global budget in excess of $60 million, Hillel is viewed widely as one of the early 21st century's major success stories in Jewish organizational life. Thirty-four percent of Jewish undergraduate students in the U.S. participate in Hillel activities, according to a market research study conducted in 2005. Although significantly higher than in prior eras and higher than other Jewish campus organizations, Hillel would face unending challenges in its efforts to double the percentage of Jewish university students searching for memory, meaning and connection in a dangerous and rapidly changing world.

[Jay Rubin (2nd ed.)]


views updated Jun 11 2018


Hillel (ca. 60 B.C.-A.D. ca. 10) was a Jewish scholar and founder of a dynasty of patriarchs who were the spiritual heads of Jewry until the 5th century.

Sources of information about Hillel are meager and must be sifted from many legends which subsequent generations have spun about him. Hillel, known as Hillel Hazaken, or Hillel the Elder, was born in Babylonia and was said to have descended from the house of David. Impelled by a thirst for learning, he migrated to Palestine at a mature age (ca. 40 B.C.) and arrived in Jerusalem only a few years before Herod the Great ascended to the Judean throne. In Jerusalem, Hillel studied at the academy of two highly reputed scholars, Shmaiah and Abtalion, while earning a meager livelihood as a manual laborer. Half of Hillel's wages went for the support of his family, while the remainder was used for tuition at the academy.

Hillel devoted himself to his studies with great zeal and skill and succeeded in attaining the rank of nasi, prince or president of the Bet Din Hagadol, the High Court of ordained scholars known as the Great Sanhedrin. This was the supreme legal and judicial body in Judea.

Hillel's Teachings

Hillel appears to have laid great stress on the practice of Babylonian schools to derive doctrine and law directly from the scriptural text rather than merely relying on established tradition, memorized and transmitted orally from one generation to another. This method of textual deduction, called midrash, or exposition, involved the use of Hillel's Seven Rules of Logic. These rules enabled the rabbis in Hillel's and subsequent generations to apply the law to new conditions on the theory that the new laws were implicit in the Mosaic law.

Hillel was a man of saintly and noble character and disposition. A popular anecdote tells of the heathen who asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah in the time he could stand on one foot. Unperturbed, Hillel answered, "What is hateful to thee, do not do unto your neighbor. This is the whole Torah and the rest is commentary; go and study it further!" This version of the golden rule is believed by many to be a less utopian and more practical precept than the affirmative one to love one's neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18).

The sayings attributed to Hillel in the tractate Abot (Fathers) reveal his humanity and virtue. Hillel was a great lover of peace who urged his followers to "be of the disciples of Aaron [who was famed as a peacemaker in rabbinic lore]; loving thy fellow creatures and drawing them nigh to Torah." "Judge not thy neighbor till thou art in his place, " he urged. "If I am not for myself, who will be for me, yet if I am only for myself, then what am I?" he taught. He also preached the social tenet, "Do not separate thyself from the community."

For 2 1/2 years the Hillelites and Shammaites are said to have debated the question of the worthwhileness of existence, the Hillelites characteristically taking a positive viewpoint and the Shammaites the negative. On this basic issue the two opposing schools agreed that theoretically the Shammaites may be correct, but practically, since existence is a fact, man should live constructively and effectively. Life-affirming Judaism permits of no other attitude.

Further Reading

Solomon Zeitlin, The Rise and Fall of the Judaean State, vol. 2 (1967), offers a good sketch of the life and work of Hillel. Nahum N. Glatzer, Hillel the Elder: The Emergence of Classical Judaism (1956), presents a well-written, popular account of Hillel's life, works, and ideas. Recommended for a brief historical survey of Hillel's times is Judah Goldin, "The Period of the Talmud, " in Louis Finkelstein, ed., The Jews: Their History, Culture, and Religion, vol. 1 (1946; 3d ed. 1960). Louis Ginzberg, On Jewish Law and Lore (1955), contains an essay "The Significance of the Halacha." Hillel's doctrines are expounded in George Foote Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, vol. 1 (1927).

Additional Sources

Blumenthal, Aaron H., If I am only for myself; the story of Hillel, New York United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education 1973.

Buxbaum, Yitzhak., The life and teachings of Hillel, Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1994.

Neusner, Jacob, Judaism in the beginning of Christianity, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. □


views updated Jun 08 2018


HILLEL (ii ; 330–365 c.e.), nasi, the son of *Judah Nesi'ah and a grandson of *Gamaliel iv. After the crushing of the revolt of the Jews against the emperor Gallus and his commander Ursicinus in 351–52 c.e., which resulted in the destruction of many Jewish communities (Sepphoris, Tiberias, Lydda), new decrees were issued against the internal authority of the communities, and also against the observance of Judaism. The Roman government aspired to limit the privileges of the nasi and the freedom of action of the Sanhedrin in Tiberias. Because of the serious condition of the communities of Ereẓ Israel and the deterioration of the Galilean center, Hillel ii agreed in principle to limit the authority of the nasi and his functions in connection with the proclamation of the New Moon, the fixing of the festivals, and the intercalation of the year. He thereupon published Sod ha-Ibbur ("The Secret of Intercalation") and Kevi'uta de-Yarha ("The Fixing of the New Month"). According to a tradition mentioned by Hai Gaon and quoted in the Sefer ha-Ibbur of Abraham bar Hiyya (ed. by H. Filipowski (1851), 97) this took place in 358 c.e. Important too is the testimony of Nahmanides in the Sefer ha-Zakkut (Git., ch. 4, Leghorn (1745), 43a): "From the time of Hillel… in the year 670 of the Seleucid era, 4118 a.m. [358 c.e.], the Sanhedrin in Erez Israel ceased and it ceased to have experts, and it was he who regulated the order of intercalation, reckoned the years, and fixed the months for generations to come." Some regard the year 344 as that in which the new *calendar was introduced, and it is possible that it was not immediately publicized to the same degree in all localities (Mahler). The opinion has been expressed that Hillel ii was not the original creator of the fixed calendar but that it was the result of centuries of development which aimed at achieving a perfected system of fixing the calendar.

In the well-known letter of *Julian the Apostate to the Jews (written in Antioch in 362) the emperor addressed "the patriach Julius" (Hillel), calling him "brother Julos the patriarch" informing him of the rescinding of the taxes imposed on the Jews in the time of the emperor Constantine, and requesting him to withhold and abrogate the apostoli (the payment to the nasi) collected by him from the Jews through his emissaries in order to ease their financial position, and at the same time increase their prayers for the welfare of his realm (I. Bidez and F. Cumont (eds.), Imperatori Juliani epistolae, leges, etc. (1922), 281).


Hyman, Toledot, 374f.; Graetz-Rabbinowitz, 2 (1893), 395, 398, 403–5, 423, 488, 490; Halevy, Dorot, 2 (1901), 393–8; Weiss, Dor, 3 (19044), 98–101; A. Schwarz, Der juedische Kalendar (1872), 37, 39, 45; Schuerer, Gesch, 1 (190134), 754; L. Lucas,Zur Geschichte der Juden im 4. Jahrhundert (1910), 3, 79–81; 85; E. Mahler, Handbuch der juedischen Chronologie (1916), 544–79; Schwab, in: Tarbiz, 1 no. 2 (1930), 85–110; 1 no. 3 (1930), 107–21; H. Levy, in: Zion, 6 (1941), 1–32.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]


views updated May 18 2018


HILLEL (third century c.e.), scholar. Hillel was the son of *Gamaliel iii and the grandson of *Judah ha-Nasi, to whom it would seem in his youth he put halakhic queries (bb 83b). He was the younger brother of *Judah Nesiah. He is mentioned as having paid visits, together with his brother, to Kabul in Lower Galilee and Biri in Upper Galilee, where they were mocked at by the local inhabitants for not acting in accordance with local custom (Tosef., mk 2:15; Pes. 51a). They undertook to conform with the local custom. When they visited R. Zakkai in Kabul "the citizens poured out wine and oil in profusion before them" (Tosef., Shab. 7:17). Hillel is mentioned in several places as a teacher of beraitot (Kid. 75a; Git. 37a; Naz. 44b), and he may have been one of the "tannaim of the house of Rabbi" (Judah ha-Nasi). Some of the sayings given in tractate Avot in the name of "Hillel" may be his. Some regard him as the author of the possibly anti-Christian saying in Sanhedrin 99a: "There shall be no Messiah for Israel, because they have already enjoyed him in the days of Hezekiah" (Graetz).


Graetz-Rabbinowitz, 2 (1893), 318–9, 325, 488; Graetz, in: mgwj, 30 (1881), 433–42; Krauss, in: jqr, 5 (1892/93), 139–40, 156; H. Albeck, Shisah Sidrei Mishnah: Nezikin (1959), 349–50, n. 12; Epstein, Mishnah, 1 (19642), 46–47; Hyman, Toledot, s.v.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]


views updated May 14 2018

Hillel (late 1st cent. BCE–early 1st cent. CE). Leading Jewish ḥakham (sage) of the second Temple period. He rapidly emerged as a prominent interpreter of Torah, developing his seven rules of hermeneutics. He became nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin, and, with Shammai, formed the last of the pairs (zugot) of scholars. In general, Hillel adopted the less rigorous interpretations of Torah, though B.Shab. 77a refers to six issues where Hillel was more rigorous.