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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Shabbath

Folio 31a

made a wager with each other, saying, He who goes and makes Hillel angry shall receive four hundred zuz. Said one, 'I will go and incense him.' That day was the Sabbath eve, and Hillel was washing his head. He went, passed by the door of his house, and called out, 'Is Hillel here, is Hillel here?'1  Thereupon he robed and went out to him, saying, 'My son, what do you require?' 'I have a question to ask,' said he. 'Ask, my son,' he prompted. Thereupon he asked: 'Why are the heads of the Babylonians round?2  'My son, you have asked a great question,' replied he: 'because they have no skillful midwives.' He departed, tarried a while, returned, and called out, 'Is Hillel here; is Hillel here?' He robed and went out to him, saying, 'My son, what do you require?' 'I have a question to ask,' said he. 'Ask, my son,' he prompted. Thereupon he asked: 'Why are the eyes of the Palmyreans3  bleared?' 'My son, you have asked a great question, replied he: 'because they live in sandy places.' He departed, tarried a while, returned, and called out, 'Is Hillel here; is Hillel here?' He robed and went out to him, saying, 'My son, what do you require?' 'I have a question to ask,' said he. 'Ask, my son,' he prompted. He asked, 'Why are the feet of the Africans [negroes] wide?' 'My son, you have asked a great question,' said he; 'because they live in watery marshes.'4  'I have many questions to ask,' said he, 'but fear that you may become angry.' Thereupon he robed, sat before him and said, 'Ask all the questions you have to ask,' 'Are you the Hillel who is called the nasi5  of Israel?' 'Yes,' he replied. 'If that is you,' he retorted, may there not be many like you in Israel. 'Why, my son?' queried he. 'Because I have lost four hundred zuz through you,' complained he. 'Be careful of your moods,' he answered. 'Hillel is worth it that you should lose four hundred zuz and yet another four hundred zuz through him, yet Hillel shall not lose his temper.'

Our Rabbis taught: A certain heathen once came before Shammai and asked him, 'How many Toroth6  have you?' 'Two,' he replied: 'the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.'7  'I believe you with respect to the Written, but not with respect to the Oral Torah; make me a proselyte on condition that you teach me the Written Torah [only].8  [But] he scolded and repulsed him in anger. When he went before Hillel, he accepted him as a proselyte. On the first day, he taught him, Alef, beth, gimmel, daleth;9  the following day he reversed [them] to him. 'But yesterday you did not teach them to me thus,' he protested. 'Must you then not rely upon me?10  Then rely upon me with respect to the Oral [Torah] too.'11

On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, 'Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.' Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder's cubit which was in his hand.12  When he went before Hillel, he said to him, 'What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour:13  that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.'

On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen was passing behind a Beth Hamidrash, when he heard the voice of a teacher14  reciting, And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod.15  Said he, 'For whom are these?' 'For the High Priest,' he was told. Then said that heathen to himself, 'I will go and become a proselyte, that I may be appointed a High Priest.' So he went before Shammai and said to him, 'Make me a proselyte on condition that you appoint me a High Priest.' But he repulsed him with the builder's cubit which was in his hand. He then went before Hillel, who made him a proselyte. Said he to him, 'Can any man be made a king but he who knows the arts of government? Do you go and study the arts of government!'16  He went and read. When he came to, and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death,17  he asked him, 'To whom does this verse apply?' 'Even to David King, of Israel,' was the answer. Thereupon that proselyte reasoned within himself a fortiori: if Israel, who are called sons of the Omnipresent,18  and who in His love for them He designated them, Israel is my son, my firstborn,19  yet it is written of them, 'and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death': how much more so a mere proselyte, who comes with his staff and wallet! Then he went before Shammai and said to him. 'Am I then eligible to be a High Priest; is it not written in the Torah, 'and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death?' He went before Hillel and said to him, 'O gentle Hillel; blessings rest on thy head for bringing me under the wings of the Shechinah!'20  Some time later the three met in one place; said they, Shammai's impatience sought to drive us from the world, but Hillel's gentleness brought us under the wings of the Shechinah.21

Resh Lakish said, What is meant by the verse, and there shall be faith in thy times, strength, salvation, wisdom and knowledge?22  'Faith' refers to the Order of Seeds; thy times, the Order of Festivals; strength, the Order of Women; salvation, the Order of Nezikin;23  wisdom, the Order of Sacrifices; and knowledge, to the Order of Purity.24  Yet even so the fear of the Lord is his treasure.25

Raba said, When man is led in for Judgment26  he is asked, Did you deal faithfully [i.e., with integrity], did you fix times for learning, did you engage in procreation, did you hope for salvation, did you engage in the dialectics of wisdom, did you understand one thing from another.27  Yet even so, if 'the fear of the Lord is his treasure,' it is well: if not, [it is] not [well]. This may be compared to a man who instructed his agent, 'Take me up a kor of wheat in the loft,' and he went and did so. 'Did you mix in a kab of humton?'28  he asked him, 'No,' replied he. 'Then it were better that you had not carried it up,' he retorted. The School of R. Ishmael taught: A man may mix a kab of humton in a kor of grain, and have no fear.29

Rabbah b. R. Huna said: Every man who possesses learning without

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Insolently, without the courtesy of a title.
  2. Hillel himself was a Babylonian.
  3. V. p. 91, n. 8.
  4. Hence their feet must be wide to enable them to walk there, just as ducks' feet are webbed.
  5. Patriarch, the religious head of the people.
  6. Torah, pl. Toroth, is generally, though incorrectly, translated 'law'. It means rather a system of teaching; v. R.T. Herford, The Pharisees, pp. 53ff.
  7. The Written Torah is the Pentateuch; the Oral Torah is the whole body of Rabbinical and traditional teaching thereon. This was originally not committed to writing (for the reasons v. Weiss, Dor, 111, 24b; and Kaplan, Redaction of the Talmud, ch. XIX), and hence designated the Oral Torah. Weiss, op. cit. I, p. 1, n. 1. observes that Hillel was the first man to whom the use of the term [H], 'Oral Law' is found ascribed.
  8. Of teaching him.
  9. The first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
  10. As to what the letters are.
  11. There must be a certain reliance upon authority before anything can be learnt at all. Cf. M. Farbridge, Judaism and the Modern Mind, chs. VII and VIII.
  12. Rashi: a cubit to measure off the amount of work done by a builder.
  13. The golden Rule; cf. Lev. XIX, 18: but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.- V. Hertz, Leviticus, pp. 22 or 223, and cf. R. T. Herford, Talmud and Apocrypha, p. 148.
  14. Lit.,'a scribe'.
  15. Ex. XXVIII, 4.
  16. The laws appertaining to the functions of a High Priest.
  17. Num. I, 51.
  18. Deut. XIV, 11.
  19. Ex. IV, 22.
  20. V. Glos.
  21. From these stories it would appear that proselytes were eagerly accepted by Hillel; v. Kid., Sonc. ed., p. 313, n. 3.
  22. Isa. XXXIII, 6.
  23. V. n. 9.
  24. These are the six orders into which the Talmud is divided. Faith is applied to Seeds, because it requires faith in the Almighty to sow with the assurance of a crop (J.T.); 'times' as meaning Festivals is self-explanatory; hosen, here translated 'strength', is derived by Rashi from a root meaning to inherit, and thus identified with the Order of Women, because heirs are created through women; Nezikin treats of civil law, knowledge of which saves men (i.e., brings him 'salvation') from encroaching upon his neighbour's rights or allowing his own to be filched away; the last two Orders are very intricate and require deep understanding, and are therefore identified with wisdom and knowledge.
  25. Ibid. Learning without piety is valueless.
  26. In the next world.
  27. That is Raba's interpretation of the verse; he too translates 'hosen' as inheritance, and thus applies it to procreation (v. preceding note), and understands 'knowledge' as the process of inferring the unknown from the known.
  28. last.: a sandy soil containing salty substances and used for the preservation of wheat.
  29. Of dishonesty, when he sells the whole as grain, because that proportion is necessary for its preservation. One kab = one hundred and eightieth of a kor.
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Shabbath 31b

the fear of Heaven is like a treasurer who is entrusted with the inner keys but not with the outer: how is he to enter? R. Jannai proclaimed: Woe to him who has no courtyard yet makes a gate for same!1  Rab Judah said, The Holy One, blessed be He, created His world only that men should fear Him,2  for it is said, and God hath done it, that men should fear before Him.3

R. Simon and R. Eleazar4  were sitting, when R. Jacob b. Aha came walking past. Said one to his companion, 'Let us arise before him, because he is a sin-fearing man.' Said the other, 'Let us arise before him, because he is a man of learning.' 'I tell you that he is a sin-fearing man, and you tell me that he is a man of learning!' retorted he.5  It may be proved that it was R. Eleazar who observed that he was a sin-fearing man. For R. Johanan said in R. Eleazar's name:6  The Holy One, blessed be He, has nought else in His world but7  the fear of Heaven alone, for it is said, And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God requires of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God?8  and it is written, And unto man he said, Behold [hen], the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and in Greek one is hen.9  That proves it.10

R. 'Ulla expounded: Why Is it written, Be not much wicked?11  must one not be much wicked, yet he may be a little wicked! But if one has eaten garlic and his breath smells, shall he eat some more garlic that his breath may [continue to] smell?12

Raba son of R. 'Ulla expounded: What is meant by, For there are no pangs [harzuboth] in their death: but their strength is firm [bari] ulam]?13  The Holy One, blessed be He, said, it is not enough for the wicked that they do not tremble and are not grief-stricken before the day of death, but their hearts are as firm as an edifice.14  And that is what Raba said, What is meant by, This their way is their confidence [kesel]?15  The wicked know that their way is to death, but they have fat on their loins [kislam].16  But lest you think that it is their forgetfulness, therefore it is stated, and they approve their end with their own mouths.15

IF HE WOULD SPARE THE LAMP, etc. With whom does R. Jose agree? If with R. Judah,17  then one should be liable for the others too; and if with R. Simeon,18  he should be exempt even for[sparing] the wick? — Said 'Ulla, After all, he agrees with R. Judah; yet R. Jose holds that demolishing in order to rebuild on the same site is destroying, but if it is in order to rebuild elsewhere, it is not destroying.19  Said Rabbah to him, Consider; all forms of labour are derived from the Tabernacle,20  yet there it was taking down in order to rebuild elsewhere?21  It was different there, answered he; for since it is written, At the commandment of the Lord they encamped, [and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed],22  it was like demolishing in order to rebuild on the same site.

But R. Johanan maintained: After all, he agrees with R. Simeon, yet why is the case of a wick different? As R. Hamnuna-others state, R. Adda b. Ahabah-said: This refers to a wick which needs singeing,23  and in such a case even R. Simeon agrees since he renders an object fit.24  Raba said, This may be inferred too, for it is stated, BECAUSE HE MAKES CHARCOAL, and not, because a charcoal is formed.25  This proves it.


GEMARA. What is the reason of niddah? — Said R. Isaac: She transgressed through the chambers of her womb, therefore she is punished through the chambers of her womb. That is right of niddah, but what can be said of hallah and the kindling of lights? — As a certain Galilean lectured before R. Hisda: The Holy One, blessed be He, said: I put a rebi'ith of blood in you;28  therefore I commanded you concerning blood.29

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Learning is a gate whereby one enters the court of piety. Woe to him who prepares the entry without the court itself!
  2. By 'fear' not dread but awe and reverence is to be understood, proceeding out of man's realization of God's essential perfection. This reverence, and the attempt to attain something of that perfection which it inculcates, is man's highest aim in life, and that is probably the meaning of this dictum; cf. Maim. (Guide, III, 52.
  3. Eccl. III, 14.
  4. in the Yalkut, 'Ekeb, 855 the reading is: Rabbi and R. Eleazar b. Simeon.
  5. The former is a greater attribute.
  6. This would be R. Eleazar b. Pedath, R. Johanan's younger contemporary; he is hardly likely to have quoted him. Hence the Yalkut's version given in p. 142, n. 7 is preferable, and the reading is: R. Johanan in the name of R. Eleazar b. R. Simeon.
  7. i.e., cherishes nothing so highly.
  8. Deut. X, 12.
  9. Thus translating: the fear of the Lord is one, unique (in God's affections).
  10. Sc. R. Eleazar's (or, R. Eleazar b. Simeon's) view.
  11. Eccl. VII, 17.
  12. i.e., having sinned a little, do not think that you must go on sinning.
  13. Ps. LXXIII, 4.
  14. Regarding harzuboth as a combination of hared (trembling) and 'azeb (grief-stricken) and translating ulam, a hall, edifice.
  15. Ps. XLIX, 14.
  16. Which close their understanding. The loins (reins) were regarded as the seat of understanding.
  17. That one is liable for work not needed in itself, v. p. 131, n. 4
  18. V. supra 12a.
  19. One is not liable for desecrating the Sabbath when his work is destructive; but if he demolishes a house in order to rebuild, it is regarded as constructive. Now, extinguishing a wick, thereby destroying its light, is the equivalent of demolishing a house; if the purpose is to save the wick to be used again later, it is analogous to demolishing a house to build on the same site, since it is the wick which is extinguished and the wick which is to be relit. But if the purpose is to save the oil or the lamp, it is analogous to demolishing a house in order to rebuild elsewhere, for whereas the wick is extinguished, it is the oil or lamp that is saved for subsequent use.
  20. infra 49b.
  21. The Tabernacle was only taken down when they had to journey onwards, and it was re-erected on their new camping pitch.
  22. Num. IX, 23.
  23. In order to burn clearer.
  24. For its purpose, and thus it is a labour needed for itself, which involves liability.
  25. The text implies that by extinguishing it he intends making charcoal, i.e., to make it more ready for relighting, and thus must apply to a wick which needs singeing.
  26. On the terms v. Glos.
  27. [In time before Sabbath sets in, v. Strashun].
  28. Rebi'ith=one log=one fourth of a kab, and was held to be the smallest quantity of blood within a human being on which life in be supported.
  29. Not to shed it: Gen. IX. 5f.
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