Hillel the Elder

(1st century BC–1st century AD)
   Sage and nasi (patriarch) from? 30 BC to AD 10. Hillel ha-Zaken (The Elder) was probably born in Babylonia and rose to eminence as a rabbi in Jerusalem during the reign of Herod the Great
   He belonged to the religious party of the Pharisees that extolled learning and piety and appealed to the common people. It was the work of Hillel and his colleagues in developing the Oral Law that paved the way for Judaism to survive as the faith of a dispersed people. About 30 BC, or somewhat later, Hillel succeeded to the high office of nasi, or patriarch, who presided over the Sanhedrin, the supreme religious council. His authority in matters of religion and law was shared with his great contemporary and co-president, SHAMMAI, and there were celebrated debates between them and their schools on disputed questions. In general, Hillel was more flexible in adapting the Law to the changing conditions of practical life. He expounded seven basic rules or principles of biblical interpretation. One of the major differences between the two schools lay in Hillel’s willingness to accept pagan converts to the Jewish faith. When a would-be convert challenged him to expound the basis of Judaism while standing on one leg, Hillel replied, ‘What is hateful to you, do not unto your neighbour; this is the entire Torah; all the rest is commentary.’
   Hillel’s influence as an exponent of the law continued to grow after his death, and he came to be regarded as the wisest sage of the Second Temple period. He is best remembered for his personal virtues. More than anyone else in Jewish history, he exemplifies gentleness of character, patience and humility of spirit, and goodwill towards his fellow men. His disciples cherished and passed on many of the pithy sayings and anecdotes of their beloved master. For instance, when questioned about the frequent baths he took, Hillel wryly pointed out that if the statues of Roman emperors in public places were washed regularly, how much more important it was to keep clean the human body created in the image of God.
   Hillel’s teachings were echoed a generation later in the life and sayings of Jesus.
   For several centuries after the destruction of the Temple, the patriarchs were direct descendants of Hillel, until the office was abolished by the Romans in the 4 century AD.
   The dialectic between the two schools, Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel, continued until the early 2nd century AD. Their accumulated opinions and rulings were eventually merged into the Mishnah.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

Look at other dictionaries:

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