Shammai

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Shammai [Hebrew:שמאי] was a Jewish Talmudic scholar of the first century B.C.[1] He was the most eminent contemporary and the halakic opponent of Hillel, and is almost invariably mentioned along with him.[1] After Menahem the Essene had resigned the office of vice-president of the Sanhedrin, Shammai was elected to it, Hillel being at the time president.[1] Shammai was undoubtedly an Israeli, and hence took an active part in all the political and religious complications of his native land.[1] Of an irascible temperament and easily excited, he lacked the gentleness and tireless patience which so distinguished Hillel.[1] Once, when a heathen came to him and asked to be converted to Judaism upon conditions which Shammai held to be impossible, he drove the applicant away; whereas Hillel, by his gentle manner, succeeded in converting him.[1]

Nevertheless Shammai was in no wise a misanthrope.[1] He himself appears to have realized the disadvantages of his violent temper; hence he recommended a friendly attitude toward all.[1] His motto was: "Make the study of the Law thy chief occupation; speak little, but accomplish much; and receive every man with a friendly countenance".[1] He was modest even toward his pupils.[1]

In his religious views Shammai was strict in the extreme.[1] He wished to make his son, while still a child, conform to the law regarding fasting on the Day of Atonement; and he was dissuaded from his purpose only through the insistence of his friends (Yoma 77b).[1] Once, when his daughter-in-law gave birth to a boy on the Feast of Tabernacles, 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 (Suk. 28a).[1] Some of his sayings also indicate his strictness in the fulfilment of religious duties.[1]

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