Shammai

February 5, 2014

“Shammai HaZaken,” Shammai, the Elder; one of the great early Tannaim, Sages of the Mishnah. Known best as the Colleague and “Bar-Plugta,” the one who frequently disagreed with, in matters of Torah, the great Hillel; founder of “Beit Shammai,” the Academy of Shammai.

Associated in Jewish Tradition with the reputation of being somewhat intolerant (He was the one who immediately had the person who came to scoff at the Torah by asking Shammai to teach it to him while the student would stand on one foot, thrown out), yet his very first teaching in Pirkei Avot includes the admonition “Receive everyone with a cheerful face.” (Avot 1:15)

His disputes with Hillel, and the later disputes between the Academy of Shammai and the Academy of Hillel are cited in Pirkei Avot as being arguments for “the sake of Heaven; (Avot 5:20)” that is, arguments whose sole purpose was determining the truth. This is contrasted with the argument of Korach with Moshe, which Korach initiated for reasons of personal honor. Also, although their disputes in matters of Torah Law were pursued with great vehemence, they never became feuds as in the “ol South,” where arguments were settled with rifles; on the contrary these academies rejoiced at each others’ “simchot,” “happy occasions,” and readily “intermarried” with each other.

The decision was made by the Sages of the Talmud to decide the “Halachah,” Jewish Law, in accord with the opinion of Beit Hillel, because his opinions are easier for people to understand. But in the time of the “Mashiach,” the “Psak-Halachah,” the “determination of the Halachah,” will revert to the opinion of Beit Shammai, when people will be able to understand and appreciate the greater insight which underlie his opinions in matters of Torah.