Hillel

HILLEL (hĭl'ĕl, he has praised). The father of Abdon, who judged Israel. He was from Pirathon, a hill village of Ephraim.


HILLEL hīl’ əl (הִלֵּ֣ל, LXX Ελληλ, he has praised). 1. A Jewish scholar (c. 60 b.c.-a.d. 20), reputed by some to have been the founder of rabbinical Judaism, who played a significant role in the development of the oral law. According to tradition, he was head of the Sanhedrin during part of the reign of King Herod. Hillel was a native of Babylon who desired earnestly to study Torah in Jerusalem under the famed teachers there. He went to Jerusalem, but because of his extreme poverty, he was not able to pay for such study. It is said that he sat upon the window to hear the words of the learned teachers, Shema’iah and Abtalion. One Sabbath eve as he sat on the window, the snow fell, covering him three cubits deep. In the morning Shema’iah asked Abtalion why the house was so dark. They then spied Hillel in the window and brought him in. Any man thinking himself too poor to study Torah was often referred to Hillel’s example: “Wast thou poorer than Hillel?”

The legends that are told of Hillel magnify his kindness and gentleness and contrast him with his colleague, Shammai, a native Judaean, who was of a harsher disposition, impatient and irascible. The personalities of Hillel and Shammai are also reflected in their interpretation of the law; Hillel being more humanitarian and liberal, Shammai more stringent and conservative. These tendencies were later reflected in the two schools, the progressive school of Hillel later becoming pre-eminent, thus giving direction to the course of classical Judaism.

The best known anecdote concerning Hillel and Shammai is the story about a heathen who stated that he would embrace Judaism provided it could be explained to him while he stood on one foot. After Shammai had failed to satisfy the request, Hillel answered: “Do not unto thy fellows what is hateful unto you; this is the whole law; the rest is commentary.” The heathen did give serious consideration to Hillel’s “Golden Rule” and later became a convert. Such moral and ethical aphorisms characterize Hillel’s contribution to Pharisaic and Talmudic Judaism.

Hillel developed seven rules for interpreting Scripture and drawing logically valid principles from the written law which could be applied juridically. His most famous enactment was the Prosbul (πρὸς βουλή), concerning the cancellation of debts in the sabbatical year (Deut 15:2). A creditor could make the court his agent and assign his claims to the court before the sabbatical year to collect after the sabbatical year.

To many, Hillel was a second Ezra from Babylonia, one who came to establish the law and its interpretation among the people.

2. The father of Abdon, a judge in Israel; a native of Pirathon in Ephraim (Judg 12:13, 15).

Bibliography

G. F. Moore, Judaism (1927), Vol. I, 72-82; A. Kaminka, “Hillel’s Life and Work,” JQR, 30 (1939-1940), 107-122; J. Goldin, “Hillel the Elder,” JR, 26 (1946), 263-277; N. N. Glatzer, Hillel the Elder: The Emergence of Classical Judaism (1956).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

An inhabitant of Pirathon in the hill country of Ephraim, and father of Abdon, one of the judges of Israel (Jud 12:13,15).