Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai
BET HILLEL AND BET SHAMMAI
BET HILLEL AND BET SHAMMAI , two schools of exposition of the Oral Law, named after *Hillel and *Shammai who lived at the end of the first century b.c.e. and the beginning of the first century c.e. These two schools existed from the time of these two sages, their founders, until the second generation after the destruction of the Second Temple, i.e., until the beginning of the second century c.e. Tannaitic literature, the halakhah, the halakhic Midrashim, and the aggadah record the numerous controversies which took place between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel. These debates comprise the principal content of the Oral Law in the last two to three generations of the Second Temple period. Very little is extant of the teachings of individual scholars as they are frequently cited as part of the overall teachings of Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel. Many of the halakhot and tannaitic controversies dating from the generation of Jabneh (c. 70 c.e.) are probably, and a large number are explicitly, based on the views of Bet Hillel which were adopted as the halakhah in opposition to those of Bet Shammai (see below), while numerous anonymous halakhot are extant which may once have been the subject of dispute between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel.
Their controversies are concerned with four areas.
(1) Halakhic decisions based on judgment and on logical reasoning. For example, in discussing the order of the blessings in the Kiddush for Sabbaths and festivals, Bet Shammai declares that the blessing is to be said first over the day (i.e., the Sabbath or festival) and then over the wine; whereas Bet Hillel maintains that the blessing is to be said first over the wine and then over the day (Ber. 8:1). Again, Bet Shammai contends that a woman may not remarry on the evidence of a "mere voice" (i.e., the voice of someone who, testifying to the death of the husband, cannot be identified), while Bet Hillel holds that she may remarry on the basis of such evidence (Yev. 122a).
(2) Determining the "fences" around prohibitions, and the extent to which a prohibition is to be applied. For example, with regard to spiced oil, Bet Shammai declares it liable to tithing by one who buys it from an *am ha-areẓ (a person who in his ignorance is not scrupulous in observing the laws concerning priestly and levitical dues), whereas Bet Hillel exempts it (Dem. 1:3). If one slaughters with a scythe with a forward movement (i.e., not against the serrated edge), Bet Shammai maintains that the slaughtering is invalid, while Bet Hillel declares it valid (Ḥul. 1:2).
(3) Halakhic Midrashim. For example, Bet Shammai maintains that in the evening a man should recline (on his side) and recite the Shema, and in the morning he should stand, according to the verse (Deut. 6:7), "When thou liest down, and when thou risest up." Bet Hillel, however, declares that a man should recite it as it suits him, since it states (ibid.), "When thou walkest by the way." Why then does the biblical verse state, "When thou liest down, and when thou risest up?" This means at the times when people customarily lie down and at the time they rise up (Ber. 1:3). Again, Bet Shammai states: "A man should not divorce his wife unless he finds some unchastity in her, since it says: 'because he hath found some unseemly thing in her" (Deut. 24:1), but Bet Hillel states: even if she has merely spoilt his food, since it says: "because he hath found something unseemly in her" (i.e., anything the husband personally finds unfitting) (Git. 9:10).
(4) Aggadah, religious philosophy, and ethics. For example, Bet Shammai asserts that it were better if man had not been created at all, whereas Bet Hillel maintains that it is better for man to have been created than not (Er. 13b).
Only three controversies between Hillel and Shammai themselves have been preserved, but more than 350 are reported between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai, most of which are in the Zera'im, Mo'ed, Nashim, and Tohorot sections of the Mishnah. They deal with personal life, with blessings and prayers, the separation of priestly dues and tithes, marriage and divorce, levitical cleanness and abstinence, and in a very few instances with sacrifices and the priestly service, and with civil and capital cases. In some of these controversies Shammai himself disputes the opinions of both Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel (Eduy. 1:7, 8, 10, 11). In several instances where the view opposed to that of Bet Shammai is quoted anonymously (tanna kamma) or in the name of the sages (Ber. 6:5; Dem. 3:1), the version is late as this is how the opinion of Bet Hillel was recorded after it had been adopted as the definitive ruling. Proof of this is found in a number of cases where the view of the tanna kamma or of the sages quoted in a Mishnah occurs in a baraita as that of Bet Hillel (cf. Ter. 4:3, with Tosef., Ter. 5:3, et al.). Generally, Bet Shammai is mentioned before Bet Hillel, and tradition sees in this an expression of the latter's humility (Er. 13b).
Many of the controversies between the two schools took place in Second Temple times. There is, for example, the argument whether on a festival hands could be laid on burnt and peace offerings, a subject on which Hillel and Shammai themselves held conflicting views (*Semikhah on Sacrifices). A dispute concerning this halakhah took place in the forecourt of the Temple between Hillel and the pupils of Bet Shammai, and between them and those of Bet Hillel. On this question, the halakhah was decided during the existence of the Second Temple (Ḥag. 2:3; Tosef., Ḥag. 2:10–12; and parallel passages). During this period Bet Shammai once achieved ascendancy over Bet Hillel in the Temple Chamber of Hananiah b. Hezekiah b. Garon with the adoption of the "Eighteen Measures" – restrictive decrees that increased the barrier between Jews and non-Jews (tj, Shab. 1:7, 3c; and parallel passages). This event is believed by several scholars to have taken place shortly before the destruction of the Second Temple. The early date of other controversies is evident from the conflicting views of tannaim living in the period of the destruction of the Second Temple in formulating the disputes between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel (Tosef., Pe'ah 3:2). There are, however, controversies about problems raised by the destruction of the Temple, e.g., procedure at the time of removal of *ma'aser sheni (Ma'as. Sh. 5:7).
Very little is known about the identity of the pupils of Hillel and Shammai. A baraita states that "Hillel the Elder had eighty disciples… the greatest of them was *Jonathan b. Uzziel, the least *Johanan b. Zakkai" (Suk. 28a). None of the teachings of Jonathan b. Uzziel has been preserved, and while Johanan b. Zakkai's statements reflect the outlook of Bet Hillel, it is difficult, as a matter of chronology, to assume that he studied under Hillel himself. Several of Shammai's pupils are known, most of them from the period of the Second Temple, their connection with Bet Shammai being stressed in tannaitic literature. They are Bava b. Buta, a contemporary of Hillel (Tosef., Ḥag. 2:11; and parallel passages); Dostai of Kefar Yatmah who transmitted a tradition he had heard from Shammai (Or. 2:5); Joezer, master of the Temple, who once put a question to Gamaliel the Elder in the Temple court (Or. 2:12); and Johanan b. ha-Ḥoranit of the generation of the destruction of the Temple (Tosef., Suk. 2:3). Sometimes "the elders of" Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel are mentioned (Suk. 2:7; Tosef. rh 4:11; Men. 41b et al.). According to a genizah fragment of Sifrei Zuta on Ḥukkat (Tarbiz, 1 (1930), 52), Bet Shammai had Idumean pupils, their halakhic statements corresponding to those of R. Judah who taught the view of Eliezer b. Hyrcanus "ha-Shammuti" (Men. 18a). According to Rashi, Nid. 7b, this refers to the fact that R. Eliezer was excommunicated, but this interpretation is inacceptable. As Tos. in loc points out, it means "a Shammaite" (cf. also Rashi to Shab. 132b, where he gives this as an alternative). Eleazar b. Hananiah, the general for Idumea in the Jewish War against the Romans (Jos., Wars, 2:566), also followed the line of Shammai (cf. Mekh., Ba-Ḥodesh, 7 with Beẓah 16a).
The circumstance that gave rise to the two schools is given in a tannaitic tradition: "At first there were no controversies in Israel…. When anyone had need of a halakhah he went to the Great Sanhedrin…. If they had heard (such a halakhah), they informed him of it, but if not, they decided the matter by taking a vote…. From there the halakhah would spread in Israel. With the increase in the pupils of Shammai and Hillel who had not sufficiently 'ministered to sages' (i.e., inadequately studied the Torah), controversy increased in Israel" (Tosef., Sanh. 7:1; and parallel passages). Even if the deficient learning of the pupils of Shammai and Hillel is ascribed to various historical factors, such as the dissolution of the Sanhedrin under Herod, or the Sadducean majority in the Sanhedrin which precluded any halakhic decisions being submitted to it by the sages, it is doubtful whether this tannaitic tradition adequately explains the numerous controversies which spanned almost a century. A more likely explanation is in terms of the expansion and crystallization of the halakhah involving a clash between different opinions and approaches in interpreting earlier traditions and in creating new halakhot. Tannaitic tradition presumably saw in the two views a legitimate expression of conflicting opinions: "Both of them are the words of the living God" (tj, Ber. 1:7, 3b). It was reasonably permitted to follow the views either of Bet Shammai or of Bet Hillel but "a man who wishes to impose additional restrictions upon himself by adopting the stricter practices of Bet Shammai as well as the stricter practices of Bet Hillel, can be characterized by the verse 'the fool walketh in darkness'" (Eccles. 2:14; Tosef., Eduy. 2:3). It was furthermore stated that "although one school prohibited what the other permitted, or forbade what the other declared eligible, nonetheless Bet Shammai did not refrain from marrying women from [the families of] Bet Hillel, nor Bet Hillel from [the families of] Bet Shammai…. Nor did either refrain from borrowing the utensils of the other for the preparation of food under conditions of levitical cleanness" (Yev. 1:4). In all this there is no indication that the controversies originated from "insufficiently ministering to sages," but rather have their basis in the process whereby the halakhah was created.
Tannaitic tradition emphasizes that Bet Shammai adopted the stricter, Bet Hillel the more lenient view. The Mishnah (Eduy. 4) enumerates 23 (or 24) of their controversies that differ from the others in that they are "instances of Bet Shammai's lenient and of Bet Hillel's restrictive rulings." To these, various sages added a further 17 examples (ibid.). There are others concerning which the Talmud and the commentators try to find an explanation as to why they too were not similarly cited. The total of all of these is about 50. Of Bet Shammai's restrictive rulings the bulk extends the application of a prohibition, Bet Shammai, adopting the stricter view (i.e., the wider application of the prohibition). Bet Hillel usually adopts the more lenient approach.
Many scholars have sought to define the basic principles underlying the divergences between the two schools. Some have explained this divergence by claiming that they reflect the individual traits of their founders, of Hillel who was gentle and kind, and of Shammai who was stern and short-tempered. But this is inadequate, particularly since only a few controversies took place between Hillel and Shammai personally. Another interpretation regards their disputes as a social and economic conflict, holding that Bet Shammai belonged to the upper or middle landed classes, whereas the sages of Bet Hillel were from the lower strata of society with their respective views reflecting the needs and life of these strata. However, this point of view has been attacked by some scholars on the grounds that there is scanty proof that Bet Shammai belonged to the wealthy middle class. It is moreover difficult to accept the interpretation given to the halakhot listed by these scholars. It is similarly difficult to accept theories such as that which attributes the difference to the divergent halakhic outlook, conception, and apprehension of the two schools, with Bet Shammai adopting a uniform, systematic approach to the halakhah, as against the particularized, heterogeneous viewpoint of Bet Hillel. It has also been suggested that Bet Shammai represented the continuation of an early halakhic tradition which was strict in its interpretation of the law. Some have even suggested that the differences between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai can be found in the political tensions that existed towards the end of the Second Temple period. Bet Shammi represented a more extreme political position, possibly tracing its origins back to the Hasmoneon rebellion and even serving as the inspiration for some of the more extreme elements in the rebellion against Rome, while Bet Hillel was representative of a more realistic and moderate approach which might have sought some sort of accommodation with Rome. A difficulty for all of the above mentioned theories is that many of the traditions of Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai were themselves subject to editorial revision and products of different time periods; therefore each source must be examined individually and critically before any attempted conclusions are made. Various factors and traditions, as well as different approaches and tendencies, probably combined to produce the divergent views. Difficult though it is to find the social or conceptual bases for the rise of the two schools, a certain line is evident in their homiletical exegesis of biblical passages and in their discussions of many halakhot. Bet Shammai tends in the former to the plain and sometimes even to the narrow, literal interpretation of a verse, as opposed to the wider significance assigned by Bet Hillel. Because of the limited number of controversies involving the exegesis of biblical verses it is impossible to ascertain what relation their disputes bear to the seven exegetical principles laid down or formulated by Hillel (Tosef., Sanh. 7:11). Insofar as the halakhah is concerned it is evident in many cases that the view of Bet Hillel is characteristic of theoretical halakhah which differentiates between principles of jurisprudence and that they decided in halakhah in accordance with such principles, in contrast to the view of Bet Shammai which is characteristic of the literal and even the conservative approach, conservative not in the sociological sense but in creativity and in halakhic innovation (cf. Pe'ah 6:1; Eduy. 4:1 and 5; Er. 1:2; Beẓah 1:2). With the publication of the halakhic works from the Dead Sea Scrolls, some scholars have claimed that there can sometimes be found a similar approach to halakhic sources and reasoning in both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the halakhah of Bet Shammai. It is thus possible that the reasons for the gradual triumph of the halakhah of Bet Hillel over that of Bet Shammai is similar to those reasons for the ascendance of Rabbinic halakhah over that found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Mishnah reports several instances in which Bet Hillel retracted its opinion and agreed with that of Bet Shammai (Yev. 15:3; Eduy. 1:12, et al.) But there is only a single instance in which Bet Shammai retracted and agreed with Bet Hillel (Ter. 5:4), when it is stated "after they agreed," i.e., Bet Shammai with Bet Hillel. In matters relating to the Temple the halakhah was decided according to the opinion of Bet Hillel on only one occasion (Tosef., Ḥag, 2:11, cf. Pes. 8:8; Tosef., ibid., 7:13, et al.). At Jabneh, in the generation after the destruction of the Temple, Bet Hillel gained the ascendancy (first–second century), whereupon the halakhah was laid down according to Bet Hillel. It was then stated that the possibility of making a choice between the two schools applied only "before a *bat kol [heavenly voice] went forth, but once a bat kol went forth, the halakhah was always according to Bet Hillel, and whoever acted contrary to the views of Bet Hillel deserved death. It was taught: A bat kol went forth and declared, 'The halakhah is according to the words of Bet Hillel.' Where did the bat kol go forth?… At Jabneh" (tj, Ber. 1:7, 3b; and parallel passages). The determination of the halakhah according to Bet Hillel was probably not accomplished in a single act but was rather a process that continued during the entire Jabneh period, commencing with Johanan b. Zakkai, soon after the destruction of the Temple (70) and ending with the death of Rabban Gamaliel before the Bar Kokhba war (c. 135). This process was strongly opposed by the last adherents of Bet Shammai (Tosef., Eduy. 1:1; Tosef., Yev. 1:9–10; tj, Shev. 4:5, 35b). In the amoraic period the halakhah of Bet Hillel was accepted in the schools of the amoraim who declared: "The opinion of Bet Shammai when it conflicts with that of Bet Hillel is no Mishnah" (Ber. 36b, et al.). Several halakhot were, however, decided according to Bet Shammai (see Ber. 51bff.; Tos. to Suk. 3a, s.v.de-amar), and traces of the decision of Bet Shammai are to be found in various passages in tannaitic and even amoraic literature. The Kabbalah and following it Ḥasidism explained the differences between the two schools in terms of their philosophies: Bet Shammai has its origin in gevurah ("might") and Bet Hillel in ḥesed ("mercy"); in the future (i.e., the world to come) the halakhah will be according to Bet Shammai (Zohar, Ra'aya Meheimna 3:245a; Moses b. Menahem (Graft) Sefer va-Yakhel Moshe 2 (1699)).
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