House of Shammai
The House of Shammai (or Beth Shammai, or in Modern Hebrew Beit Shammai. Beth is Hebrew for house of) was the school of thought of Judaism founded by Shammai, a Jewish scholar of the 1st century, BCE. A non-literal translation that perhaps gives a better flavour of the expression would be The Academy of Shammai.
The House of Shammai was the most eminent contemporary and the halachic opponent of the House of Hillel and is almost invariably mentioned along with him. Both Houses are mentioned in the Talmud, where all of the discussions between the houses are listed, including some stories. It is the eighth most frequently mentioned in the Mishnah.
In respect of their religious interpretations, it was said that the school of Shammai binds; the school of Hillel looses, but even though Hillel and Shammai had strong arguments, they respected each other. Indeed, the Talmud records that the two schools intermarried.
Modern day Rabbinic Judaism almost invariably follows the teachings of Hillel, but there are several notable exceptions in which the view of Shammai is followed to this day. The Mishna provides a list of 18 matters in which the halacha was decided in favor of Beit Shammai.
Specific examples of difference
Among the many bones of contention are the following:
Forgetting to say grace after meals
One dispute between Hillel and Shammai concerned a person who had forgotten to say Birkat Hamazon and had left the place where they ate. Hillel said that they may say the blessing anywhere, the important thing is to say the blessing; while Shammai argues that they must return to the place where they ate the meal and say the blessing there.
Beit Hillel states that on the first night of Hanukkah, one should light one candle (besides the shamash), and then increase that by one each night, culminating in eight flames on the last night of Hanukkah. Beit Hillel's rationale is that as a general rule in halacha, one increases holiness, rather than decreasing.
Beit Shammai held the opposite - that the menorah should begin with eight candles and gradually reduce to one. Their opinion was based on the halachic principle that allows one to derive law using similarities. The Sukkot Temple sacrifices involved 70 bullocks, reducing by one each day from 13 down to 7.
Beit Hillel holds that the new year for trees is on the 15th of the Jewish month of Shevat. Beit Shammai says it is on the 1st on Shevat. Beit Hillel's opinion is now accepted, so the new year is commonly called Tu Bishvat (literally "15th of Shevat").
- Drew Kaplan, "Rabbinic Popularity in the Mishnah VII: Top Ten Overall [Final Tally] Drew Kaplan's Blog (5 July 2011).
- This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "BINDING AND LOOSING", a publication now in the public domain.
- Mishna Shabbat 1:3
- Mishna Rosh Hashana 1:1