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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Shammai of Shammai

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was the colleague of Hillel the Great (q.v.), with whom he is as closely associated in Jewish history as are the names of Castor and Pollux in Greek and Roman mythology. But comparatively little is known of him. Though one of his maxims was "Let the study of the law be fixed, say little and do much, and receive every one with the aspect of a fair countenance" (Aboth, 1, 15), yet he is said to have been a man of a forbidding and uncompromising temper, and in this respect, as in others, the counterpart of his illustrious companion, of whom, both in their dispositions and divisions on a multitude of Rabbinical questions, he was, as we may say, the antithesis. This antithesis is especially shown in the famous controversy carried on between Hillel and Sham'mai concerning the egg laid on the Sabbath, and which lent its title, Beza, i.e. the egg, to a whole Talmudic treatise of 79 pages.

Very graphically does dean Stanley describe the. disputes of both these sages. in the following words: "The disputes between Hillel and Shammai turn, for the most part, on points so infinitely little that the small controversies of ritual and dogma which have vexed the soul of Christendom seem great in comparison. They are worth recording only as accounting for the obscurity into which they have fallen, and also because churches of all ages and creeds may be instructed by the reflection that questions of the modes of eating and cooking and walking and sitting seemed as important to the teachers of Israel on the eve of their nation's destruction. and of the greatest religious revolution that the world has seen as the questions of dress or posture, or modes of appointment, or verbal formulas have seemed to contending schools of Christian theology" (Jewish Church, 3, 501). Though each gave often a decision the reverse of the other, yet, by a sort of fiction in the practice of schools, these contrary decisions were held to be coordinate in authority, and, if we may believe the Talmud, were confirmed as of like authority by a Bath-Kol (or voice from heaven); or, at least, while a certain conclusion of Hillel's was affirmed, it was revealed that the opposite one of Shammai was not to be denied as heretical. חיי ם אלו ואלו אומרי ם דברי אלהי ם, "Both these and these speak the words of the living God."

This saying passed for law, and the contradictory sayings of both these rabbins are perpetuated in the Talmud to this day. And although both were rabbinically one, yet their disciples formed two irreconcilable parties, like the Scotists and Thomists of the Middle Ages, whose mutual dissidence manifested itself not only in the strife of words, but also in that of blows, and in some cases in that of bloodshed. So great was the antagonism between them that it was said that "Elijah the Tishbite would never be able to reconcile the disciples of Shammai and Hillel." Even in Jerome's times this antagonism between these two schools lasted, for he reports (Comment. in Esaiam, 8, 14) that the Jews regarded them with little favor, for Shammai's school they called the "Scatterer," and Hillel's the "Profane," because they deteriorated and corrupted the law with their inventions. See Jost, Gesch. des Judenthuns, 1, 259 sq.; Gratz, Gesch. d. Juden, 3, 178, 186, 205; Edersheim, Hist. of the Jewish Nation, p. 137; Rule, Hist. of the Karaite Jews, p. 33 sq.; Bartolocci, Biblioth. Magna Rabbinica, s.v. הלל ; Pick, The Scribes Before and in the Time of Christ (Lutheran Quarterly, Gettysburg, 1878), p. 272. (B.P.)


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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Shammai of Shammai'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/s/shammai-of-shammai.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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