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(ca. 1st century B.C.E.). Talmudic authority. Born in Babylonia, he came to Palestine to study Law. His fame as a brilliant scholar grew, and he became the leader of the Pharisees and head of the liberal school of interpretation of the Jewish law. Many legends are told about Hillel’s devotion to learning, simplicity, and modesty. In his youth, he was a laborer, spending a large portion of his earnings on his tuition. Once, when he lacked the price of admission to the house of study, he climbed onto the roof and through the skylight listened to the discussions of the rabbis. He became so absorbed that he did not mind the snow that covered him almost completely. Half-frozen, he was finally noticed by the scholars inside, taken down, and revived.

In his interpretation of the law, Hillel’s first consideration was the welfare of the people. He established regulations which were aimed at reconciling the ancient law with new conditions. One of these, the “prosbul,” made it possible for the poor to borrow money at the approach of the seventh, or sabbatical, year when people were reluctant to lend money, since all debts were canceled during that year.

There is a tradition that Hillel was a descendant of the House of David. His saintliness and scholarship earned him the love and respect of his countrymen. King Herod appointed him head of the Sanhedrin. He remained the spiritual leader of the Jews for a period of 40 years. His utterances reveal his nobility of character. His love of peace was great. He said, “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving thy fellow creatures, and drawing them close to the Torah.” His tolerance is illustrated by the story of the heathen who asked Hillel to teach him all of the principles of Judaism while he stood on one foot. Hillel replied, “Do not unto your neighbor what you would not have him do unto you. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary.” As contrasted with his great opponent Shammai, Hillel stands out as the liberal interpreter of Jewish law.

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