cover image Hillel: If Not Now, When?

Hillel: If Not Now, When?

Joseph Telushkin, Nextbook-Schocken, $24 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4281-2

A rabbi, lecturer, ethicist, novelist, playwright, and author, Telushkin demonstrates his unusual versatility in this 15th entry in the Jewish Encounters series. This new book about Hillel, "perhaps the greatest rabbi of the Talmud," is not a conventional biography, since little is known about Hillel's life. What is known comes as maxims and teachings based on stories in the Talmud and the Midrash; speculation places the period of Hillel's religious leadership from about 30 B.C.E. to 10 C.E. During that time, he and his followers, the School of Hillel, frequently had disputes with the School of Shammai, led by Hillel's adversary. One argument they had dealt was with the attitude to be taken toward a potential convert. Hillel offered this instruction: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the entire Torah! All the rest is commentary. Now, go and study." Telushkin points out that this response is about ethics, not about rituals or even about God, thereby underlining Judaism's ethical essence. Telushkin's lucid explanations are a model of clarity, enabling readers to better understand and appreciate the significant contributions of Hillel and their contemporary applications. (Sept.)