SHAMMAI


SHAMMAI
SHAMMAI (Ha-Zaken, i.e., The Elder; c. 50 B.C.E.–c. 30 C.E.), one of the zugot , the leaders of the Sanhedrin. Hillel's first colleague was menahem the Essene and Shammai was appointed to succeed him as av bet din when he retired. Nothing is known of the early life of Shammai except for the statement that he was a builder by occupation (Shab. 31a). Shammai was the founder of the great school which, called after him, was known as Bet Shammai. In general Bet Shammai took up a stringent attitude as compared with the lenient one of its counterpart bet hillel . Shammai himself, however, did not always adopt a stringent line, and of some 20 halakhot transmitted in his name, he adopts a stringent view in about two-thirds of the cases, while in the other third he takes the lenient view. Other Halakhot On five topics, most of which deal with levitical cleanness and uncleanness, Shammai, adopting a more stringent approach, disagreed with both Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai (Eduy. 1, 7–8, 10–11), but in one detail of the halakhot of cleanness and uncleanness he took a lenient view contrary to the opinion of Bet Shammai and in accordance with that of Bet Hillel (Or. ii, 12). Against the view of the other sages, Shammai held that he who appoints an agent to kill a person is himself liable (Kid. 43a citing in the name of the prophet Haggai, a tradition based on Nathan holding David responsible for the death of Uriah). Shammai wished to insist on his minor son fasting on the Day of Atonement "but they ordered him to feed him with his own hand" (Tosef. Yoma 4 (5):2). He also acted against the view of the sages when, his daughter-in-law having on Sukkot given birth to a male child, "he broke away the roof plastering and put a sukkah-covering over the bed for the sake of the child" (Suk. 2:8). On the other hand he adopted a lenient view on two cases: in his opinion an offensive war and a siege begun three days before the Sabbath were not to be interrupted on that day, and though one was forbidden to set out on a long voyage in the Mediterranean Sea less than three days before the Sabbath, a short one could be undertaken even on the eve of the Sabbath. Shammai wanted to declare that a field improved during the Sabbatical Year was not to be sown in its eighth year, but he did not do so because "the times were not free" (or poor) and "only a bet din after him issued a decree about it" (Tosef. Shev. 3, 10). Many of Shammai's halakhot appear to be based on the literal interpretation of the biblical text, yet it is difficult to detect a consistent line in his halakhot, most of which deal with the laws of levitical cleanness and uncleanness. Despite his reputation for irascibility, Shammai's dictum was "Make your study of the Torah a matter of established regularity, say little and do much, and receive all men with a friendly countenance" (Avot, 1, 15). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Weiss, Dor, 1 (19044), 145–76; L. Ginzberg, On Jewish Law and Lore (1955), 77–124; Derenbourg, Hist, 116–8, 149ff., 176–92, 463ff.; Schuerer, Gesch, index; Graetz, Gesch, 3 (19055) 212f.; G.F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of Christian Era, The Age of Tannaim, 1 (1927), 72–82. (Moshe David Herr)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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  • Shammai — (fl. 1st cent BCE)    Palestinian rabbi. He was a contemporary of Hillel, and together they were the last of the zugot. He adopted a rigorous standpoint in moral and religious matters. The School of Shammai later disputed legal issues with the… …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

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