Hillel Hazaken - 'The Elder', President, The Sanhedrin

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Hillel HaZaken 'The Elder'

Hebrew: הלל הזקן, נשיא הסנהדרין
Also Known As: "Hillel the Elder", "Hillel the Great", "Hillel Hazaken Hanasi", "Hillel"
Birthplace: Babylon - בבל
Death: circa 10 (111-129)
Jerusalem, Israel
Immediate Family:

Son of Chizkiya ben Uzziah, descendant of King David or Benjamin and Mother of Hillel Hazaken from the Tribe of Judah
Father of wife, Shehnya ben Eliab and Raban Shimon ben Hillel HaNassi, President of the Sanhedrin
Brother of Shebna Brother of Hillel HaZaken

Occupation: Pathriach of the Great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, Nasi of the Sanhedrin, Rabbi and Woodcutter
Managed by: Yigal Burstein
Last Updated:

About Hillel Hazaken - 'The Elder', President, The Sanhedrin

Hillel the Elder הלל הזקן (author of "The Golden Rule") Hillel (הלל) (born Babylon traditionally c.110BCE-10CE in Jerusalem) was a famous Jewish religious leader, one of the most important figures in Jewish history. Hillel was born in Babylon and, according to the Iggeret of Rav Sherira Gaon (a comprehensive history of the composition of the Talmud from the 10th century CE). Josephus ("Vita," § 38) speaks of Hillel's great-grandson, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel I, as belonging to a very celebrated family.

  • Hillel descended from the Tribe of Benjamin on his father's side, and
  • from the family of David on his mother's side.

"Golden Rule" ( scroll to bottom of page for comparison to Jesus' similar words)

  • "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn." - Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 31:1 -


  • "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?" - Pirkey Avot 1:13
  • “He who wishes to raise his name lowers it,”
  • “My humiliation is my exaltation; my exaltation is my humiliation.”
  • Photos of grave

Hillel's Golden Rule Compared with Jesus'.

In light of the parallels between some of Hillel’s teachings and those of Jesus, it is interesting to speculate that when the young Jesus studied at the temple (Luke 2:41-52) he might have talked with Hillel’s son Simeon, who became head of Hillel’s rabbinical school after his father’s death.

But other links between Hillel’s teachings and Christianity are less speculative. Hillel’s grandson Gamaliel succeeded his grandfather as head of Hillel’s rabbinical school, also serving as head of the Sanhedrin in the decade following the death of Christ. When Peter and the apostles were on trial before the Sanhedrin for blasphemy, Gamaliel’s plea for tolerance — undoubtedly based in part on the teachings of his grandfather — saved their lives, perhaps preserving the early Christian movement as a whole (Acts 5:27-40). Ironically, at roughly the same time Gamaliel was teaching Paul, a young rabbinical student, who later became a leading Christian apostle and missionary (Acts 22:3).

Hillel is associated with the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud. Renowned within Judaism as a sage and scholar, he was the founder of the House of Hillel school for Tannaïm (Sages of the Mishnah) and the founder of a dynasty of Sages who stood at the head of the Jews living in the land of Israel until roughly the fifth century of the Christian Era.

Born in Babylon, Hillel studied with the leading scholars of the Exile, moving to Jerusalem in the late first century B.C. Hillel became the Patriarch of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish High Court) but his true fame came from teaching; he founded a school of biblical studies where, in the coming centuries, many of the greatest Jewish scholars would study.

Hillel lived in Jerusalem during the time of King Herod and the Roman Emperor Augustus.

In the Midrash compilation Sifre (Deut. 357) the periods of Hillel's life are made parallel to those in the life of Moses. Both are said to have lived for 120 years, and at the age of forty Hillel went to the Land of Israel; forty years he spent in study; and the last third of his life he was the spiritual head of the Jewish people. A biographical sketch can be constructed; that Hillel went to Jerusalem in the prime of his life and attained a great age. His activity of forty years likely covered the period of 30 BCE to 10 CE.


When Josephus ("Vita," § 38) speaks of Hillel's great-grandson, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel I, as belonging to a very celebrated family (γένους σφόδρα λαμπροῦ), he probably refers to the glory the family owed to the activity of Hillel and Rabban Gamliel Hazaken. Only Hillel's brother Shebna is mentioned; he was a merchant, whereas Hillel devoted himself to studying the Torah whilst also working as a woodcutter (Hertz 1936).

His position

According to the Mishnah Hillel went to Jerusalem with the intention of studying Biblical exposition and tradition at the age of 40 in 70BCE. The difficulties Hillel had to overcome to gain admittance to the school of Sh'maya and Abtalion, and the hardships he suffered while pursuing his aim, are told in a touching passage (Talmud, tractate Yoma 35b), the ultimate purpose of which is to show that poverty cannot be considered as an obstacle to the study of Torah.

Some time later, Hillel succeeded in settling a question concerning the sacrificial ritual in a manner that showed his superiority over the Benei Betheira (literally, sons of Betheira), who were at that time the heads of the Sanhedrin. On that occasion, it is narrated, they voluntarily resigned their position as Nasi (President) in favor of Hillel.

After the resignation of the Benei Betheira, Hillel was recognized as the highest authority among the Pharisees (predecessors to Rabbinic Judaism). Hillel was the head of the great school, at first associated with Menachem, a scholar mentioned in no other connection, afterward with Shammai, Hillel's peer in the teaching of Jewish Law.

Whatever Hillel's position, his authority was sufficient to introduce those decrees handed down in his name. The most famous of his enactments was the Pruzbul, (προσβολή), an institution that, in spite of the law concerning cancellation of debts in the Sabbatical year (Deut. xv) ensured the repayment of loans.

The motive for this institution was the "repair of the world", i.e., of the social order, because this legal innovation protected both the creditor against the loss of his property, and the needy against being refused the loan of money for fear of loss.

A likewise tendency is found in another of Hillel's institutions, having reference to the sale of houses. These two are the only institutions handed down in Hillel's name, although the words that introduce the pruzbul show that there were others. Hillel's judicial activity may be inferred from the decision by which he confirmed the legitimacy of some Alexandrians whose origin was disputed, by interpreting the marriage document (ketubah) of their mother in her favor (Tosef., Ket. iv 9; B. M. 104a). Of other official acts no mention is found in the sources.

Hillel and Shammai

In the memory of posterity Hillel lived, on the one hand, as the scholar who made the whole contents of the traditional law his own (Soferim xvi. 9), who, in opposition to his Judaean colleague, Shammai, generally advocated milder interpretations of Halakha (Jewish law and tradition) and whose disciples stood in like opposition to Shammai's disciples. It was in this time that the rabbinical tradition was recorded, with Hillel as its 'founder'. Modern-day Rabbinic tradition descends from this the law that Hillel recorded.

He was known as the saint and the sage who in his private life and in his dealings with people practiced the high virtues of morality and resignation; just as he taught them in his maxims with excelled brevity and earnestness. The traditions concerning Hillel's life harmonize completely with the sayings handed down in his name, and bear in themselves the proof of their genuineness. No wonder that the Babylonian Talmud is richer in traditions concerning Hillel than the Jerusalem Talmud, since the Babylonians were especially careful to preserve the recollection of their great countryman; and in the Babylonian schools of the third century was proudly quoted the saying of the Judean sage Simeon ben Lakish, in which he placed the activity of Hillel on a level with that of Ezra, who also went up from Babylon to Jerusalem.

The Golden Rule

The saying of Hillel that introduces the collection of his maxims in the Mishnaic treatise Pirkei Avoth mentions Aaron HaKohen (the high priest) as the great model to be imitated in his love of peace, in his love of man, and in his leading mankind to a knowledge of the Law (Pirkei Avoth 1:12).

In mentioning these characteristics, which the Haggadah attributes to Moses' brother, Hillel stated his own prominent virtues. He considered "love of man" the kernel of Jewish teaching.

The comparative response to the challenge of a Gentile who asked that the Torah be explained to him while he stood on one foot, illustrates the character differences between Shammai and Hillel. Shammai dismissed the man. Hillel said: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn" (Shab. 31a). Hillel recognized brotherly love as the fundamental principle of Jewish moral law. (Lev. xix. 18).

From the doctrine of man's likeness to God, Hillel deduced man's duty to care for his own body. According to Midrash Leviticus rabbah he said "As in a theater and circus the statues of the king must be kept clean by him to whom they have been entrusted, so the bathing of the body is a duty of man, who was created in the image of the almighty King of the world." In this work Hillel calls his soul a guest upon earth, toward which he must fulfill the duties of charity.

In Avot, Hillel stated "If I am not for myself, who will be? And when I am for myself, what am 'I'? And if not now, when?" The third part contains the admonition to postpone no duty, the same admonition he gave with reference to study (Avot 2:4): "Say not, 'When I have free time I shall study'; for you may perhaps never have any free time."

The precept that one should not separate oneself from the community, Hillel paraphrases, with reference to Eccl. iii. 4, in the following saying (Tosef., Ber. ii.): "Appear neither naked nor clothed, neither sitting nor standing, neither laughing nor weeping." Man should not appear different from others in his outward deportment; he should always regard himself as a part of the whole, thereby showing that love of man Hillel taught. The feeling of love for one's neighbor shows itself also in his exhortation (Avot ii. 4).

Hillel’s awareness of his own insufficiency is expressed in the following maxim: "Trust not thyself till the day of thy death." How far his love of man went may be seen from an example that shows that benevolence must be given with regard to the needs of the poor. Thus, Hillel provided to a man of good family who became poor, a riding horse, in order that he not be deprived of his customary physical exercise, and a slave, that he might be served (Tosef., Peah, iv. 10; Ket. 67b).

Love of peace

The exhortation to love peace emanated from Hillel's most characteristic traits—from that proverbial meekness and mildness—as in the saying: "Let a man be always humble and patient like Hillel, and not passionate like Shammai" (Shab. 31a; Ab. R. N. xv.). Hillel's gentleness and patience are illustrated in an anecdote that describes how two men made a wager on the question of whether Hillel could be made angry. Though they questioned him and made insulting allusions to his Babylonian origin, they were unsuccessful (ib.).

The study of Torah

The many anecdotes according to which Hillel made proselytes, correspond to the third part of his maxim: "Bring men to the Law." A later source (Ab. R. N.) gives the following explanation of the sentence: 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 to-day?" 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 said he to them: "Would you not rather come and make the Torah your possession, that you may possess both this and the future world?"

This narrative has the same points as the epigrammatic group of Hillel's sayings (Avot. 2:7) commencing: "The more flesh, the more worms," and closing with the words: "Whoever has acquired the words of the Law has acquired the life of the world to come." In an Aramaic saying Hillel sounds a warning against neglect of study or its abuse for selfish purposes: "Whoever would make a name (i.e. glory) loses the name; he who increases not [his knowledge] decreases; whoever learns not [in Ab. R. N. xii.: "who does not serve the wise and learn"] is worthy of death; whoever makes use of the crown perishes" (Avot. 1:13).

Hillel's influence: "House of Hillel" vs. "House of Shammai"

Hillel's disciples are generally called the "House of Hillel", in contrast to Shammai's disciples, the "House of Shammai". Their controversies concern all branches of the Jewish law. Only a few decisions have been handed down under Hillel's name; but there can be no doubt that much of the oldest anonymous traditional literature was due directly to him or to the teachings of his masters. The fixation of the norms of the Midrash and of halakhic Scripture exposition was first made by Hillel, in the "seven rules of Hillel," which, as is told in one source, he applied on the day on which he overcame the Benei Betheira (Tosef., Sanh. vii., toward the end; Sifra, Introduction, end; Ab. R. N. xxxvii.). On these seven rules rest the thirteen of R. Ishmael; they were epoch-making for the systematic development of the ancient Scripture exposition.


  • ** The Golden Rule in Judaism

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.

Hillel, Talmud, Shabbath 31a

As with so much else in Judaism, the Golden Rule comes with a story.

This story is recorded in the Talmud, the great compilation of Jewish law and lore completed about 500 CE, and concerns two of the leading rabbis of the first century BCE, Hillel and Shammai. The two were very different personalities: Shammai was strict and irascible, Hillel genial and tolerant. They also differed on many points of law, with Hillel's rulings being the more lenient. Jewish tradition honours both of them, but the law has generally followed Hillel's interpretation.

A non-Jew came to Shammai and asked the rabbi to teach him the whole Torah - the word can mean Jewish teaching as a whole or its primary source, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy) - while standing on one foot.

Shammai, angry at the man's impudence, chased him away with a builder's cubit. The man then went to Hillel and asked the same question. Hillel replied, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it."

There is much more in Hillel's statement than meets the eye. Let us look at it one piece at a time.

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour.

The Torah (in the sense of the Five Books) contains many commandments - 613 according to a rabbinic calculation - and they deal with a wide variety of subjects, from a law against murder to one against wearing clothes made of a mixture of flax and wool. But they are not all equally important. For Hillel, as for many other Jewish teachers before and since, the essence of the Torah has to do with how one treats other human beings.

One of these other Jewish teachers was Hillel's younger contemporary, Jesus of Nazareth, who expressed this point in a slightly different way:

"In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets." Over the centuries, many people have compared Jesus' statement with Hillel's. Some have regarded Jesus' formulation as more "positive," in contrast to Hillel's "negative" statement. Are they the same, or is there a significant distinction to be made?

There can be no doubt that, from a logical point of view, the two statements are not the same. Hillel's statement can be rephrased to read, "Do not do to others as you would not have them do to you." In other words, each statement is the converse of the other.

In practical effect, however, the two statements are virtually identical. After all, inaction can be as "hateful" as action. If I am starving and my neighbor passes by without offering me something to eat, or if I am homeless and my neighbor does not help me find shelter, that would be hateful to me. The Golden Rule implies a social obligation to provide help to those who need it. On that Hillel and Jesus, and the weight of Jewish tradition, are in wholehearted agreement.

This is the whole Torah.

The statement that in Hillel's view represents the "whole Torah" is not, in fact, in the Torah (the Five Books) at all! The words are Hillel's own. From this we learn that, for Jews, the Torah is not a closed book but a living document. There are new interpretations of the Torah in every generation. Not everyone can be a religious genius like Hillel, but all of us can add to the tapestry of Jewish tradition.

There is, however, a closely related declaration in the third book of the Torah, Leviticus: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Lev 19:18). Why did Hillel not simply quote this verse to the impudent stranger?

The difference between the biblical statement and Hillel's is that Hillel's is more action-oriented.

It is a practical application of the biblical verse. It tells us what we need to do to put our love of neighbor into effect. For Jews, action is paramount. Simply saying that we love God or love our neighbor does not count for much. It is through our actions that we show that we really mean it.

All the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.

This is not as dismissive as it sounds. Commentary holds an honored place in Jewish tradition. From ancient times to the present, scholars have written commentaries on the Torah, the other books of the Bible and the Talmud (which is itself a commentary of sorts). Study and interpretation of these texts constitute one of the primary ways in which Jews serve God.

Hence, absorbing Hillel's "standing-on-one-foot" teaching would be the beginning, not the end, of the impudent stranger's journey. A one-sentence formulation of the essence of the Torah only goes so far. To be truly faithful to the Torah, much intellectual effort as well as moral sensitivity is required.

Now go and learn!

by Robert Chodos is a founding director of Across Boundaries Multifaith Institute


As a poor young student, Hillel had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Once, when he could not afford the small admittance fee to a lecture, he climbed on the roof in a snowstorm to listen through a window. As a teacher he was an advocate of constant learning, proclaiming,

“Whoever does not increase his knowledge, decreases it,” and

“Do not say that when I shall have time, I shall study; perhaps you will never have time.”

Hillel was known as “a man of peace” and “the peacemaker.” In one of his most famous teachings he declared,

“love peace and pursue it; love all men and draw them close to the Torah.”

He is still remembered as one of the great Jewish scholars and teachers, whose school laid the foundation for Rabbinic Judaism, and whose ethical influence is still important in Judaism today.

Yitzhak Buxbaum, The Life and Teachings of Hillel, (1994)

according to the Iggeret of Rav Sherira Gaon (a comprehensive history of the composition of the Talmud from the 10th century CE), Hillel descended from the Tribe of Benjamin on his father's side, and from the family of David on his mother's side.


39 Generations from King David to Hillel Hazaken

Hillel Hazaken / הלל הזקן his father → Hezekiah Hazaken ( Descendant of Benjamin ) his father → Uzziah Hazaken his father → Solomon Hazaken his father → David . his father → Eliezer . his father → Jehoshaphat . his father → Joash . his father → Ephraim . his father → Baasha . his father → Abraham his father → Gideon . his father → Nathan . his father → Abimelech . his father → Ahithophel . his father → Solomon . his father → David . his father → Uriah . his father → Judah . his father → Elnathan Governor of Judea his father → Aminadab . his father → Melchi / Melchiah his father → Moche . his father → Ammon . his father → Simeon . his father → Tola / Tolam . his father → Ezram . his father → Jehorum . his father → Nathan . his father → Joshua . his father → Joash . his father → Gilhon . his father → Ephraim . his father → Manasseh . his father → Jedija . his father → Maacha . his father → Nathan . his father → Daniel his father --> Shepatiah his father --> King David (-1042 - 971BCE)

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About הלל הזקן נשיא הסנהדרין (עברית)

דעלך סני - לחברך לא תעביד, זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך פירושה הוא, זיל גמור

אם אין אני לי, מי לי; וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני; ואם לא עכשיו, אימתיי

רשימת נשיאי הסנהדרין בתקופת בית שני ואחריה

  • יוסי בן יועזר איש צרדה: 170 לפנה"ס - 140 לפנה"ס לערך
  • יהושע בן פרחיה: 140 לפנה"ס - 100 לפנה"ס לערך
  • יהודה בן טבאי, ויש אומרים שמעון בן שטח: 100 לפנה"ס - 60 לפנה"ס
  • שמעיה: 60 לפנה"ס - 30 לפנה"ס
  • הלל הזקן: 30 לפנה"ס - 10 לערך
  • שמעון (הראשון) בן הלל: 10 - 30 לערך
  • רבן גמליאל (הראשון) הזקן: 30 - 50 לערך
  • רבן שמעון (השני) בן גמליאל (הראשון) הזקן: 50 - 70 לערך - נהרג במרד הגדול
  • רבן יוחנן בן זכאי - שימש כנשיא זמני לאחר המרד הגדול וחורבן בית המקדש
  • רבן גמליאל (השני) דיבנה: 80 - 120 לערך. במקביל לו חלק מהזמן - רבי אלעזר בן עזריה
  • אינטררגנום בשל היעדר הסכמה בין החכמים על יורשו של רבן גמליאל ובשל מרד בר כוכבא
  • רבן שמעון (השלישי) בן גמליאל השני: 140 - 180 לערך
  • רבי יהודה הנשיא: 180 - 220 לערך - חותם המשנה
  • רבן גמליאל השלישי: 220 - 240 לערך
  • רבי יהודה נשיאה הראשון: 240 - 270 לערך
  • רבן גמליאל הרביעי: 270 - 300 לערך
  • רבי יהודה נשיאה השני: 300 - 330 לערך
  • הלל נשיאה: 330 - 365 לערך - תיקן את הלוח העברי
  • רבן גמליאל החמישי: 365 - 380 לערך
  • רבי יהודה נשיאה השלישי: 380 - 400 לערך
  • רבן גמליאל השישי: 400 לערך - 425. הודח בהוראת הקיסרים תאודוסיוס השני והונוריוס, 17 אוקט' 415
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