THE SEVEN RULES OF HILLEL
The Seven Rules of Hillel existed long before Rabbi Hillel (60 BCE – 20 CE?), but he was the first to write them down. The rules are so old we see them used in the Tenach (Old Testament).
Rabbis Hillel and Shamai were competitive leading figures in Judaism during the days of Yeshua’s youth. Hillel was known for teaching the Spirit of the Law and Shamai was known for teaching the letter of the Law. Yeshua’s teaching largely followed that of the School of Hillel rather than that of the School of Shamai (an exception being Yeshua agreeing with Shamai regarding divorce in Matthew 19:9).
For example, Yeshua’s famous “golden rule”: Whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even to them, for this is the Torah and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
This reads very closely with Hillel’s famous statement: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor that is the whole Torah … (b.Shabbat 31a)
Upon Hillel’s death the mantle of the School of Hillel was passed to his son Simeon. Upon Simon’s death the mantle of the school of Hillel passed to Gamliel. This Gamilel spoke in defense of the early Nazarenes (Acts 5:34-39). He was the teacher of Shaul/Paul (Acts 22:3).
In 2 Tim. 2:15, Paul speaks of “rightly dividing the word of truth.” What did Paul mean by this? Was he saying that there were right and wrong ways to interpret the scriptures? Did Paul believe there were actual rules to be followed when interpreting (understanding) the Scriptures? Was Paul speaking of the Seven Rules of Hillel?
Paul was certainly taught these rules in the School of Hillel by Hillel’s own grandson Gamliel. When we examine Paul’s writings we will see that they are filled with usages of Hillel’s Seven Rules (several examples appear below). It would appear then that the Seven Rules of Hillel are at least part of what Paul was speaking of when he spoke of “rightly dividing the Word of truth.”
The Seven Rules of Hillel are:
1. Kal Vahomer (Light and heavy)
The Kal vahomer rule says that what applies in a less important case will certainly apply in a more important case. A kal vahomer argument is often, but not always, signaled by a phrase like “how much more…”
The Rabbinical writers recognize two forms ok kal vahomer:
- kal vahomer meforash - In this form the kal vahomer argument appears explicitly.
- kal vahomer satum – In which the kal vahomer argument is only implied.
There are several examples of kal vahomer in the Tenach.
For example: Behold the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner. (Proverbs 11:31)
And: If you have run with footmen and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? (Jerermiah 12:5a)
Other Tenach examples to look at: Deuteronomy 31:27; 1 Samuel 23:3; Jerermiah 12:5b; Ezekiel 15:5; Esther 9:12
There are several examples of kal vahomer in the New Testament. Y’shua often uses this form of argument.
For example: If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the Law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? (Jn. 7:23)
And: What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. (Mt. 12:11-12)
Other examples of Y’shua’s usage of kal vahomer are: Matthew 6:26, 30 = Luke 12:24, 28; Mathhew 7:11 = Luke 11:13; Matthew 10:25 & John 15:18-20; Matthew 12:12 & John 7:23
Paul especially used kal vahomer. Examples include: Romans 5:8-9, 10, 15, 17; 11:12, 24; 1 Corinthians 9:11-12; 12:22; 2 Corinthians 3:7-9, 11; Philippians 2:12; Philemon 1:16; Hebrews 2:2-3; 9:13-14; 10:28-29; 12:9, 25.
2. G’zerah Shavah (Equivalence of expresions)
An analogy is made between two separate texts on the basis of a similar phrase, word or root – i.e., where the same words are applied to two separate cases, it follows that the same considerations apply to both.
Tenakh example: By comparing 1 Samuel 1:10 to Judges 13:5 using the phrase “no razor shall touch his head” we may conlude that Samuel, like Samson, was a nazarite.
“New Testament” example: In Hebrews 3:6-4:13 Paul compares Psalms 95:7-11 = Hebrews 3:7-11 to Genesis 2:2 = Hebrews 4:4 based on the words “works” and “day”/”today” (“today” in Hebrew is literally “the day”). Paul uses this exogesis to conclude that there will be 6,000 years of this world followed by a 1,000 year Shabbat.
3. Binyan ab mikathub echad (Building up a “family” from a single text)
A principle is found in several passages: A consideration found in one of them applies to all.
Hebrews 9:11-22 applies “blood” from Exodus 24:8=Hebrews 9:20 to Jerermiah 31:31-34
4. Binyab ab mishene kethubim (Building up a “family” from two or more texts)
A principle is established by relating two texts together: The principle can then be applied to other passages. i.e:
You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures of length, of weight, or quantity. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall you have; I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:35-36)
By use of the fourth rule of Hillel we can recognize that the provision of equals weights and measures applies also to how we judge others and their actions.
In Hebrews 1:5-14, Paul sites the following to build a rule that the Messiah is of a higher order than angels:
- Psalms 2:7 = Hebrews 1:5
- 2 Samuel 7:14 = Hebrews 1:5
- Deuteronomy 32:43/Psalms 97:7/(Neh. 9:6) = Hebrews 1:6
- Psalms 104:4 = Hebrews 1:7
- Psalms 45:6-7 = Hebrews 1:8-9
- Psalms 102:25-27 = Hebrews 1:10-12
- Psalms 110:1 = Hebrews 1:13
Binyan ab mikathub echad and Binyab ab mishene kethubim are especially useful in identifying biblical principles and applying them to real life situations. In this way Scripture is recontextualized so that it remains relevant for all generations.
5. Kelal uferat (The general and the particular)
A general principle may be restricted by a particularization of it in another verse – or, conversely, a particular rule may be extended into a general principle. A Tenach example: Genesis 1:27 makes the general statement that God created man. Genesis 2:7, 21 particularizes this by giving the details of the creation of Adam and Chava (Eve). Other examples would be verses detailing with how to perform sacrifices or how to keep the feasts. In the Gospels, the principle of divorce being allowed for “uncleanliness,” is particularized to mean for sexual immorality only.
6. Kayotze bo mimekom akhar (Analogy made from another passage)
Two passages may seem to conflict until compared with a third, which has points of general though not necessarily verbal similarity. Tenach examples:
- Leviticus 1:1 “out of the tent of meeting” and Exodus 25:22 “from above the ark of the covenant between the chrubim” seem to disagree until we examine Num. 7:89 where we learn that Moses entered the tent of meeting to hear YHWH speaking from between the cherubim.
- 1 Chronicles 27:1 explained the numerical disagreement between 2 Samuel 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5.
- Exodus 19:20 “YHWH came down upon Mount Sinai” seems to disagree with Deuteronomy 4:36, “Out of Heaven He let you hear His voice.” Exodus 20:19 (20:22 in some editions) reconciles the two by telling us that God brought the heavens down to the mount and spoke. (m.Sifra 1:7)
An example from Romans: Paul shows that the following Tenach passages SEEM to conflict:
The just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17 = Habakkuk 2:4) with There is none righteous, no, not one … (Romans 3:10 = Psalms 14:1-3= Psalms 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20). Paul does the same here: [G-d] will render to each one according to his deeds. (Romans 2:6 = Psalms 62:12; Proverbs 24:12) with Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man whom YHWH shall not impute sin. (Romans 4:7-8 = Psalms 32:1-2)
Paul resolves the apparent conflict by citing Genensis 15:6 (in Romans 4:3, 22): Abraham believed G-d, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Thus Paul resolves the apparent conflict by showing that under certain circumstances, belief/faith/trust (same word in Hebrew) can act as a substitute for righteousness/being just (same word in Hebrew).
7. Davar hilmad me’anino (Explanation obtained from context)
The total context, not just the isolated statement must be considered for an accurate exegesis. An example would be Romans 14:1, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Yeshua that nothing is unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” Paul is not abrogating the kosher laws, but pointing out to gentile believers in the congregation at Rome (within his larger context of Romans) that: 1) things are unclean not of themselves but because God said they are unclean, and 2) they must remember the higher principle, that their “freedom to eat what is unclean” is secondary to the salvation of unsaved Jews who are observing their behavior, as they are looking for “gentiles coming into the faith of Israel” to be acting in an “appropriate manner” as a truth test of Paul’s ministry (and Yeshua’s Messiahship).
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