Hillel the Elder

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Do not say: "When I am free, I will study"; perhaps you will never be free.
That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation.

Hillel the Elder (c. 110 BCE–10 CE) was a Jewish religious leader who was born in Babylon and lived in Jerusalem during the time of King Herod; he is one of the most important figures in Judaic history, associated with the Mishnah and the Talmud. He was the ancestor of a long line of rabbis, including Judah haNasi, who compiled the Mishnah, and Judah's son, Hillel the Younger.


  • דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד. זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך פירושה הוא: זיל גמור
    • D'`alakh s'nai l'khavrekh la ta`avaid. Zo hi kol hatora kulahh, v'idakh peirusha hu: zil g'mor
      • That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation. Go and study it.
        • Babylonian Talmud, tractate Shabbat 31a

Pirkei Avot[edit]

  • Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and drawing them near to the Law.
    • 1:12
  • A name made great is a name destroyed. He who does not increase his knowledge decreases it.
    • 1:13
  • אם אין אני לי, מי לי? וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני? ואם לא עכשיו, אימתי?
    • Im ein ani li, mi li? U'kh'she'ani le'atzmi, mah ani? V'im lo 'akhshav, eimatai?
      • If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? But when I am for myself, then what am "I"? And if not now, when?
        • 1:14
  • Do not say "When I free myself of my concerns, I will study," for perhaps you will never free yourself.

    Do not say: "When I am free, I will study"; perhaps you will never be free.

    • 2:4
  • A boor cannot be sin-fearing, an ignoramus cannot be pious, a bashful one cannot learn, a short-tempered person cannot teach, nor does anyone who does much business grow wise.
    • 2:5
  • In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.
    • 2:5
  • One who increases flesh, increases worms; one who increases possessions, increases worry; one who increases wives, increases witchcraft; one who increases maidservants, increases promiscuity; one who increases man-servants, increases thievery; one who increases Torah, increases life; one who increases study, increases wisdom; one who increases counsel, increases understanding; one who increases charity, increases peace.
    • 2:7

Quotes about Hillel the Elder[edit]

  • Hillel stood in the gate of Jerusalem one day and saw the people on their way to work. "How much," he asked, "will you earn today?" One said: "A denarius"; the second: "Two denarii" "What will you do with the money?" he inquired. "We will provide for the necessities of life." Then he said to them: "Would you not rather come and make the Torah your possession, that you may possess both this world and the world to come?"
    • The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), Volume 6, p. 399
  • Just as Hillel's actions were not based (even in theory) on any reasoned ethical system, so his moral teaching did not take the form of a systematic treatise, but was expressed in aphorisms, which were, no doubt, occasioned by particular circumstances, but have none the less a universal value. This value, indeed, is not for the doubter, who must needs either find a rational basis for morality, or discard it. They appeal to those who accept, as Hillel accepted, the fundamental postulates of Judaism; and their claim to universality rests, therefore, on the extent to which those postulates are in accord with the root facts of human nature. They are interpretative, not speculative. The moral sayings of Hillel recorded in the Talmud are few in number, but they embody with sufficient fulness the point of view which was expressed no less fully in his conduct. They are contained almost exclusively in the first two chapters of the "Ethics of the Fathers."

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