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This is the most famous teaching of Hillel, one of the greatest rabbis of the Talmudic era. What makes it so extraordinary is that is was offered to a gentile seeking conversion. Joseph Telushkin feels that this Talmudic story has great relevance for us today. At a time when religiosity is equated with ritual observance alone, when few Jews seem concerned with bringing Jewish teachers into the world, and when more than 40 percent of Jews intermarry, Judaism is in need of more of the openness that Hillel possessed two thousand years ago.
Hillel’s teachings, stories, and legal rulings can be found throughout the Talmud; many of them share his emphasis on ethical and moral living as an essential element in Jewish religious practice, including his citing the concept of tikkun olam (repairing the world) as a basis for modifying Jewish law. Perhaps the most prominent rabbi and teacher in the Land of Israel during the reign of Herod, Hillel may well have influenced Jesus, his junior by several decades. In a provocative analysis of both Judaism and Christianity, Telushkin reveals why Hillel’s teachings about ethics as God’s central demand and his willingness to encourage the process of conversion began to be ignored in favor of the stricter and less inclusive teachings of his rabbinic adversary, Shammai.
Here is a bold new look at an iconic religious leader.
“Joseph Telushkin’s portrait of the ancient Jewish leader Hillel jumps off the page with its contemporary resonances. Hillel’s lessons and sayings as a Talmud scholar have universal application for anyone interested in bringing dignity and peace to the world. In Hillel we find a master educator and a person of profound learning, spiritual depth, humility, and tolerance.” —David Gregory, moderator, Meet the Press
“Here’s a book to start quite a little intra-Jewish conversation, and I, for one, will be eavesdropping with interest.” —Jack Miles, author of God: A Biography
“The venerable and much-quoted Rabbi Hillel has a lot to teach us twenty-first-century Jews. Thanks to Joseph Telushkin’s book, we experience Hillel at his most optimistic, succinct, and radical, insisting on the primacy of righteous behavior, an arms-wide welcome for converts, the challenge and blessing of lifelong Jewish learning, and the importance of Jewish educators who love their students and studies in equal measure.” —Anita Diamant, author of Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Families and Friends and president of Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh