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Mausoleum with two loculus graves at Khirbet Shema' on Mount Meron,[1] dated to the Late Roman and Early Byzantine periods, and identified by a medieval tradition as the tomb of Shammai.[2]

Shammai (c. 50 BCE – c. 30 CE, Hebrew: שַׁמַּאי, Šammaʾy) was a Jewish scholar of the 1st century, and an important figure in Judaism's core work of rabbinic literature, the Mishnah.

Shammai was the most eminent contemporary of Hillel. His teachings mostly agree with those of Hillel, except on three issues.[3] Both were divided over an earlier rabbinic dispute, regarding the actual laying on of hands upon a sacrificial animal on a Festival Day, which Hillel permitted.[4] Their disciples, who had differing views to their masters, disputed many other halakhic matters.[4] The School of Shammai, founded by Shammai, is almost invariably mentioned along with the School of Hillel, founded by Hillel. They differed fundamentally from each other. Although they were contemporaries, Hillel was nearly sixty years old at the time of Shammai's birth.

Hillel and Shammai were leaders of two opposing schools of thought, known as the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai. While the terms "liberal" and "conservative" may not perfectly capture the nuances of their positions, Hillel is generally considered to have been more lenient or flexible in his interpretations of Jewish law compared to Shammai. For instance, in matters such as divorce and Sabbath observance, Hillel often took a more permissive approach, emphasizing compassion and practicality. On the other hand, Shammai tended to be more stringent in his interpretations, prioritizing strict adherence to the law.


Shammai, along with Hillel his contemporary, took on oversight of the Sanhedrin sometime after Abtalion and Shemayah relinquished power.[5]

Shammai's school of thought became known as the House of Shammai (Hebrew: בית שמאי, Beit Shammai), as Hillel's was known as the House of Hillel (Beit Hillel). After Menahem resigned from the office of Av Beit Din (or vice-president) of the Sanhedrin, Shammai was elected to it, Hillel being at the time president. After Hillel died, circa 10 CE, Shammai took his place as president but no vice-president from the minority was elected so that the school of Shammai attained complete ascendancy. During this time Shammai passed "18 ordinances" in conformity with his ideas. The Talmud states that when he passed one of the ordinances, contrary to the opinion of Hillel, the day "was as grievous to Israel as the day when the [golden] calf was made".[6] According to most opinions, the ordinances, which are listed in an appendix to the ArtScroll edition of the Mishnah of tractate Shabbos, dealt with ritual purity of the Terumah and increased separation between Jews and Gentiles.


Hillel's grandson Gamaliel succeeded to the position of president after Shammai in 30 CE, but the Sanhedrin would remain dominated by the house of Shammai until around 70 CE (see Council of Jamnia). A "voice from heaven" was said to have nullified the legality of the rulings of the house of Shammai,[7] which is why Rabbinical Judaism has followed Hillel.

Shammai took an active part in the political and religious complications of his native land. Of a stern temperament, he cultivated the characteristic of firmness and strictness in law in contrast to the tireless patience which is said to have distinguished Hillel's approach.[citation needed] Once, when a gentile came to him and asked to be converted to Judaism (or Noahide monotheism as H. Falk argues) upon the condition of extreme brevity ("on one foot") which Shammai held to be impossible, he drove the brazen applicant away; whereas Hillel rebuked him gently by saying, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole Torah. The rest is the explanation. Go and learn." The gentile subsequently converted.[8]

Religious views[edit]

Shammai recommended a friendly attitude toward all. His motto was: "Make your study of the Torah a permanent endeavour; speak little, but accomplish much; and receive every man with a cheerful disposition".[9] He was modest even toward his pupils.

At a personal level, Shammai's religious views were known to be strict. He wished to make his son, while still a child, conform to the law regarding fasting on Yom Kippur; he was dissuaded from his purpose only through the insistence of his friends.[10] Once, when his daughter-in-law gave birth to a boy on Sukkot he broke through the roof of the chamber in which she lay in order to make a sukkah of it, so that his new-born grandchild might fulfil the religious obligation of the festival.[11]

In the Sifre[12] it is said that Shammai commented exegetically upon three passages of Scripture: (1) the interpretation of Deuteronomy 20:20;[13] (2) that of II Samuel 12:9;[14] and (3) either the interpretation of Leviticus 11:34 (which is given anonymously in Sifra on the passage, but which is the basis for Shammai's halakha transmitted in Orlah 2:5), or else the interpretation of Exodus 20:8 ("Remember the Sabbath") (which is given in the Mekhilta[15] in the name of Eleazar ben Hananiah, but which must have originated with Shammai, with whose custom of preparing for the Sabbath it accords).

Preceded by Av Beit Din
10 BCE – 30 CE
Succeeded by

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Virtual World Project (Creighton University)". Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  2. ^ Eric Meyers (2014). Steven Fine; Aaron Koller (eds.). The Use of Archaeology in Understanding Rabbinic Materials: An Archaeological Perspective. Studia Judaica (Book 73). Walter de Gruyter. pp. 312–313. ISBN 9781614514855. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  3. ^ Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 15a), where it says that they disputed only in three matters: a) the amount of flour needed to constitute the separation of the dough-portion; b) the amount of drawn water that would disqualify a ritual bath (mikveh); c) whether or not a woman who had her natural purgation is able to defile foods through touch retrospectively.
  4. ^ a b Jerusalem Talmud (Hagigah 2:2 [10b; 12a])
  5. ^ Max Radin, "Roman Knowledge of Jewish Literature", The Classical Journal, vol. 13, no. 3 (Dec., 1917), p. 164 (note 2) concludes: "From the combination Pollio and Sameas, in the passage quoted, it is evident that Josephus had in mind the pair Abtalyon and Shemayah, who preceded Hillel and Shammai as heads of the Sanhedrin (Mishnah Avot 1:10)."
  6. ^ Shabbat, 17a
  7. ^ Yerushalmi Berakhot, 1:4
  8. ^ Shabbat, 31a
  9. ^ Avoth, 1:15
  10. ^ Yoma, 77b
  11. ^ Sukkah, 28a
  12. ^ Sifre Deuteronomy, §203
  13. ^ Tosefta, Eruvin, 3:7
  14. ^ Kiddushin, 43a
  15. ^ Mekhilta, Yitro, 7 (ed. Weiss, p. 76b)

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. {{cite encyclopedia}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)