A saying of Hillel’s

December 13, 2007

הוא היה אמור, אם אין אני לי מי לי. וכשאני לעצמי מה אני. ואם לא עכשו אימתי

“He used to say,

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But, in being for my own self, what am I?
And if not now, when?”

Pirke Avoth (The Sayings of the Fathers), I.14.

One Response to “A saying of Hillel’s”

  1. bekkos Says:

    Solomon Schechter’s article on Hillel in The Jewish Encyclopedia is worth reading; among other things, it briefly discusses Hillel’s relationship to Jesus and early Christianity. The URL is: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=730&letter=H

    Here is part of it:

    The saying of Hillel which introduces the collection of his maxims in the Mishnaic treatise Abot mentions Aaron as the great model to be imitated in his love of peace, in his love of man, and in his leading mankind to a knowledge of the Law (Ab. i. 12). In mentioning these characteristics, which the Haggadah then already ascribed to Moses’ brother, Hillel mentions his own most prominent virtues. Love of man was considered by Hillel as the kernel of the entire Jewish teaching. When a heathen who wished to become a Jew asked him for a summary of the Jewish religion in the most concise terms, Hillel said: “What is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellow man: this is the whole Law; the rest is mere commentary” (Shab. 31a). With these words Hillel recognized as the fundamental principle of the Jewish moral law the Biblical precept of brotherly love (Lev. xix. 18). Almost the same thing was taught by Paul, a pupil of Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel (Gal. v. 14; comp. Rom. xiii. 8); and more broadly by Jesus when he declared the love of one’s neighbor to be the second great commandment beside the love of God, the first (Matt. xxii. 39; Mark xii. 31; Luke x. 27). It may be assumed without argument that Hillel’s answer to the proselyte, which is extant in a narrative in the Babylonian Talmud (comp. also Ab. R. N., recension B., cxxvi. [ed. Schechter, p. 53]), was generally known in Palestine, and that it was not without its effect on the founder of Christianity.

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