Three Converts in the Talmud

The stories of Hillel and Shamai

Hillel and Shamai were two Jewish leaders during the time of the second temple (352bce-68ce). They were the leading Talmudic scholars and teachers of their day.

They were different in their manners of study and different in their approach to life and human behavior. Whereas Hillel was motivated by humility, forgiveness and acceptance of everyone. Shamai was more demanding and expecting discipline and devotion to the truth without deviation. 

Both Hillel and Shamai were totally practicing authentic traditional Judaism without deviating one iota from the true Torah, still their style of fulfilling the laws of the Torah were distinctly different to each others. These differences were expressed in their approach to dealing with 3 non Jews who asked to be converted to Judaism.


A non Jewish person once came to Shammai and asked to be converted to Judaism but with one condition. I want you to teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot. Shammai threw him out and he approached Hillel with the same condition. Hillel accepted him and taught him the following. Love every Jewish person like yourself is the basis of the whole Torah, everything else is commentary. 


To truly love another person like yourself is to see him from his eternal soul perspective. In that area all are equal. The message is that to accept the Torah and convert to Judaism one must be prepared to advance the soul over the body. The spiritual over the physical. The divine purpose over the mundane existence. 


A non Jewish person once came to Shammai and said I would like to convert to Judaism but with one condition. I will only accept the written law of the five books of Moses but not the oral law as complied in the Talmud. Shammai threw him out and he came to Hillel with the same request. 

Hillel accepted him and taught him the first 4 letters of the Hebrew Alpha Bet. Which are Alef, Bet, Gimmel and Dalet.. The next day Hillel reversed the order of the letters and said the first four letters of the Hebrew Alpha Bet are Dalet, Gimmel, Bet and Aleph. When the convert said but yesterday you taught me different than you are teaching me now. Hillel said this proves to you that even the written Torah needs an authority to explain the actual letters of the Torah , therefore it only makes sense that you will accept all of the oral tradition. Which he did.


The Torah was given as a written Torah in the five books of Moses and with an oral tradition that was taught throughout the generations from father to son and from teacher to student. One cannot accept one part of the Torah without accepting the other part of the  Torah. This is a very important rule for the convert in training. There is only one true Torah. This is the Torah given by G-d to the Jewish nation at Mt. Sinai with all of the authentic explanations as taught by Moses. 


A non Jewish person once came to Shammai and asked to convert. He had only one condition. When I convert to Judaism I want to become the high priest. Shammai as usual sent him out. He came to Hillel. Hillel accepted him but advised him to study the laws of the Torah. As they were studying they came across the verse which calls for capital punishment if someone is to attempt to do the work in the temple when he is not meant to be there. The convert learned that even someone born to a Jewish mother cannot make believe he is a Kohen and do work in the grounds of the holy temple and he realised that for sure a convert should not attempt this. 


Everyone has his/her personal mission to achieve. The people are all different and have different missions to fulfill. The world was created such that each and every item and each and every person has their place. The places and persons have to be held separately and individually. As much as we value each person for their unique contribution we also value the differences of people, places and things. There are many laws requiring the separation of unique items. Milk and meat cannot be mixed together. Men and women are to keep their distances from each other. Wool and linen are not permitted to be used in the same garment. Harmony is when many pieces of a band play their unique sounds and their designated times.