House of Shammai

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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.[1]

In respect of their religious interpretations, it was said that the school of Shammai binds; the school of Hillel looses,[2] 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 several notable exceptions in which the view of Shammai is followed to this day.

Specific examples of difference[edit]

Among the many bones of contention are the following:

Forgetting to say grace after meals[edit]

One of the discussions that Hillel and Shammai had was about the grace after the meals (Birkat Hamazon, Hebrew: בירכתּ המזון). The question was: "What happens when you forget to say the blessing after you finished your meal and you left the place where you ate?" Hillel said that you can say the blessing anywhere, the important thing is to say the blessing while Shammai argues that you have to go back to the place where you ate the meal and say the blessing there.

The Hanukkah candles[edit]

Lighting the Hanukkah candles.

One of the well-known differences between the houses is their insight on setting up the Menorah (candelabrum) for Hanukkah.

Hillel states that on the first night of Hanukkah, one should use one candle, and then increase that by one each night, culminating in eight flames on the last night of the festival.The stated rationale for this was as a general rule in halacha (Jewish religious law), one may increase in holiness, but not decrease.

Beit Shammai held the opposite opinion - 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 (Tabernacles) offerings in the Temple in Jerusalem involved 70 bullocks, reducing by one each day from 13 down to 7.

Tu Bishvat[edit]

Tu Bishvat is the "new year for trees" for the Jews. According to the Mishnah, the House of Hillel holds that the new year for trees is on the 15th of the Jewish month of Shevat. The House of Shammai said that it should be on the 1st on Shevat.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Drew Kaplan, "Rabbinic Popularity in the Mishnah VII: Top Ten Overall [Final Tally] Drew Kaplan's Blog (5 July 2011).
  2. ^ This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "BINDING AND LOOSING", a publication now in the public domain.

External links[edit]