The "School (literally, "house") of Hillel" and the "School of Shammai" are names by which are designated the most famous antagonistic schools that flourished in Palestine during the first century (first tannaitic generation), and which more than others contributed to the development of the oral law.

Down to the advent of Hillel and Shammai, who were the founders of the great schools bearing their names, there were but few casuistic differences among the schools. Between Hillel and Shammai themselves three (or, according to some authorities, five) disputes are mentioned in the Talmud (Shab. 15a; Ḥag. ii. 2; 'Eduy. i. 2, 3; Niddah i. 1); but with the increase of their disciples disputations increased to such an extent as to give rise to the saying, "The one Law has become two laws" (Tosef., Ḥag. ii. 9; Sanh. 88b; Soṭah 47b).

Discussions Between the Schools.

The prevailing characteristics of the disputes are the restrictive tendency of the Shammaites and the moderation of the Hillelites. Three hundred and sixteen controversies between these two schools are preserved in the pages of the Talmud, affecting 221 Halakot, 29 halakic interpretations, and 66 guard-laws ("gezerot"); and out of the whole number only 55 (or about one-sixth) present the Shammaites on the side of leniency. Moreover, even where the characteristic tendencies appear to have changed masters, the practical result remains the same; being the logical and consistent resultants of some opinions expressed elsewhere, and in line with the natural tendencies of the respective schools; and some of their restrictive views the Hillelites subsequently rejected, adopting what were exceptionally the more moderate views of the Shammaites ('Eduy. i. 12 et seq.; compare Weiss, "Dor," i. 179 et seq.). That the latter, as a school, ever receded from their stand-point to join the ranks of their more moderate antagonists is nowhere indicated; though individuals of that school, like Baba ben Buṭa, sometimes acknowledged the unreasonableness of their party by deserting its standard for that of Bet Hillel (Beẓah 20a; Yer. Ḥag. ii. 78a). Hence it is that the Mishnah introduces some of their controversies with the remark, "These are of the lenient views of Bet Shammai and the restrictive views of Bet Hillel" ('Eduy. iv. 1; Tosef., 'Eduy. ii. 2).


The reason assigned for their respective tendencies is a psychological one. The Hillelites were, like the founder of their school (Ber. 60a; Shab. 31a; Ab. i. 12 et seq.), quiet, peace-loving men, accommodating themselves to circumstances and times, and being determined only upon fostering the Law and bringing man nearer to his God and to his neighbor. The Shammaites, on the other hand, stern and unbending like the originator of their school, emulated and even exceeded his severity. To them it seemed impossible to be sufficiently stringent in religious prohibitions. The disciples of Hillel, "the pious and gentle follower of Ezra" (Sanh. 11a), evinced in all their public dealings the peacefulness, gentleness, and conciliatory spirit which had distinguished their great master; and by the same characteristic qualities they were guided during the political storms which convulsed their country. The Shammaites, on the contrary, were intensely patriotic, and would not bow to foreign rule. They advocated the interdiction of any and all intercourse with those who either were Romans or in any way contributed toward the furtherance of Roman power or influences. Dispositions so heterogeneous and antagonistic can not usually endure side by side without provoking serious misunderstandings and feuds; and it was owing solely to the Hillelites' forbearance that the parties did not come to blows, and that even friendly relations continued between them (Tosef., Yeb. i. 10; Yeb. 14b; Yer. Yeb. i. 3b), for a time at least. But the vicissitudes of the period exerted a baneful influence also in that direction.

When, after the banishment of Archelaus (6 C.E.), the Roman procurator Coponius attempted to tax the Jews, and ordered a strict census to be taken for that purpose, both schools protested, and the new measure was stigmatized as so outrageous as to justify all schemes by which it might be evaded. The general abhorrence for the system of Roman taxation manifested itself in looking with distrust upon every Jew who was officially concerned in carrying it out, whether as tax-collector ("gabbai") or as customs-collector ("mokes"); these were shunned by the higher ranks of the community, and their testimony before Jewish courts had no weight (B. Ḳ. x. 1; ib. 113a; Sanh. iii. 3; ib. 25b). About this time the malcontents held the ascendency. Under the guidance of Judas the Gaulonite (or Galilean) and of Zadok, a Shammaite (Tosef., 'Eduy. ii. 2; Yeb. 15b), a political league was called into existence, whose object was to oppose by all means the practise of the Roman laws. Adopting as their organic principle the exhortation of the father of theMaccabees (I Macc. ii. 50), "Be ye zealous for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of your fathers," these patriots called themselves "Ḳanna'im," Zealots (Josephus, "B. J." iv. 3, § 9, and vii. 8, § 1; Raphall, "Post-Biblical History," ii. 364); and the Shammaites, whose principles were akin to those of the Zealots, found support among them. Their religious austerity, combined with their hatred of the heathen Romans, naturally aroused the sympathies of the fanatic league, and as the Hillelites became powerless to stem the public indignation, the Shammaites gained the upper hand in all disputes affecting their country's oppressors. Bitter feelings were consequently engendered between the schools; and it appears that even in public worship they would no longer unite under one roof (Jost, "Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten," i. 261; Tosef., R. H., end). These feelings grew apace, until toward the last days of Jerusalem's struggle they broke out with great fury.

Relation to External World.

As all the nations around Judea made common cause with the Romans, the Zealots were naturally inflamed against every one of them; and therefore the Shammaites proposed to prevent all communication between Jew and Gentile, by prohibiting the Jews from buying any article of food or drink from their heathen neighbors. The Hillelites, still moderate in their religious and political views, would not agree to such sharply defined exclusiveness; but when the Sanhedrin was called together to consider the propriety of such measures, the Shammaites, with the aid of the Zealots, gained the day. Eleazar ben Ananias invited the disciples of both schools to meet at his house. Armed men were stationed at the door, and instructed to permit every one to enter, but no one to leave. During the discussions that were carried on under these circumstances, many Hillelites are said to have been killed; and there and then the remainder adopted the restrictive propositions of the Shammaites, known in the Talmud as "The Eighteen Articles." On account of the violence which attended those enactments, and because of the radicalism of the enactments themselves, the day on which the Shammaites thus triumphed over the Hillelites was thereafter regarded as a day of misfortune (Tosef., Shab. i. 16 et seq.; Shab. 13a, 17a; Yer. Shab. i. 3c).

Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel continued their disputes—probably interrupted during the war times—after the destruction of the Temple, or until after the reorganization of the Sanhedrin under the presidency of Gamaliel II. (80 C.E.). By that time all political schemes and plans for the recovery of the lost liberty had become altogether foreign to the ideas of the spiritual leaders; and the characteristies of the Hillelites once more gained the ascendency. All disputed points were brought up for review (see 'Akabia); and in nearly every case the opinion of the Hillelites prevailed (Tosef., Yeb. i. 13; Yer. Ber. i. 3b; Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," 2d ed., iv. 424, note 4). Thenceforth it was said: "Where Bet Shammai is opposed to Bet Hillel, the opinion of Bet Shammai is considered as if not incorporated in the Mishnah" ("Bet Shammai bimeḳom Bet Hillel enah Mishnah"—Ber. 36b; Beẓah 11b; Yeb. 9a); that is, null and void.

Constituent Members.

Of the personnel of these schools there is no record, they being invariably cited collectively as "Bet Shammai" or "Bet Hillel." Nor can their number be stated with exactitude. In round figures, the Babylonian Talmud (Suk. 28a; B. B. 134a) gives the number of Hillel's disciples as eighty, while the Palestinian Talmud (Yer. Ned. v. 39b) makes of them as many pairs. Both sources mention two of them by name, Jonathan ben Uzziel and Johanan ben Zakkai; and it is added that Jonathan was the greatest and Johanan the least among the whole number. No such traditions are recorded of the Shammaites. Of their school three are mentioned by name; viz., Baba ben Buṭa (Beẓah 20a), Dositai of Kefar Yetma ('Orlah ii. 5), and Zadok (Tosef., 'Eduy. ii. 2); but they are mentioned simply because, though Shammaites, they sometimes upheld the views of the Hillelites. See Hillel and Shammai.

  • Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, 3d ed., iii. 275-278, 500 et seq., ib. notes 23, 26;
  • Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, i. 261-270;
  • Frankel, Darke ha-Mishnah, pp. 45-55;
  • Weiss, Dor Dor we-Dorshaw, i. 177-187;
  • idem, Introd. to Mek. v. et seq.;
  • Brüll, Mebo ha-Mishnah, pp. 43-49;
  • Bacher, Agada der Tannaiten, i. 14-25;
  • Schwarz, Die Controversen der Shammaiten und Hilleliten, Carlsruhe, 1893.
J. Sr. S. M.
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