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Hillel: If Not Now, When? (Jewish Encounters) Hardcover – September 14, 2010


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Hillel: If Not Now, When? (Jewish Encounters) + The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-by-Day Guide to Ethical Living + Jewish Wisdom:  Ethical, Spiritual, and Historical Lessons from the Great Works and Thinkers
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Product Details

  • Series: Jewish Encounters
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805242813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805242812
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #227,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.
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Review

“Rabbi, lecturer, ethicist, novelist, playwright, and author, Telushkin demonstrates his unusual versatility in this fifteenth entry in the Jewish Encounters series. . . . 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.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“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
 

More About the Author

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, spiritual leader and scholar, is the acclaimed author of nine other nonfiction books, including The Book of Jewish Values, The Golden Land: The Story of Jewish Immigration to America, and Jewish Literacy, the most widely read book on Judaism of the past two decades. He is a senior associate of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, serves on the board of the Jewish Book Council, and is the rabbi of the Los Angeles-based Synagogue for the Performing Arts. He lives with his family in New York City and lectures regularly throughout the United States.

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Customer Reviews

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I read this book with very little knowledge of the Jewish history.
sherry
I have not read anything else from Telushkin, but in this book his tone is so warm and friendly that you feel like the one teaching you everything is a close friend.
DiegoBP
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is persuasive in showing that current Jewry rejected the principles of one of Judaism's greatest thinkers, the sage Hillel.
Israel Drazin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Roger Silk on October 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Hillel may be the only ancient rabbi that most Jews, and many non-Jews, have heard of. The Jewish outreach program on many university campuses is named after this famous rabbi. And many people have also heard (part of) Hillel's famous statement summarizing the Torah while standing on one foot: "What is hateful to you, do not do unto others." But, as Rabbi Joseph Telushkin lucidly explains, there is a very great deal more to Hillel's life and work.

And not only is there more, Rabbi Telushkin argues, much of Hillel's core teaching is a) more relevant to the Jewish condition than it has been at any other time in the past 2000 years, and b) most Jews, including perhaps even most practicing rabbis, do not appreciate or act upon these core teachings.

Hillel taught many important lessons. I will discuss only one of them here. To learn about the others, and to learn far more detail than I can mention here, I urge you to read Rabbi Telushkin's well-written book Hillel: If Not Now, When? (For those familiar with his recent works on ethics, this book is much shorter, and although it will reward careful study, can be read through like a biography.)

Hillel is best-known for the above quoted statement of the golden rule. But as Rabbi Telushkin observes, the context of the quote, as well as the complete quote, are much less well-known.

The context is that Hillel is responding to a pagan who has approached him and requested that Hillel convert him to Judaism, and explain the Torah to him while standing on one foot. Hillel agrees! While such openness to conversion might not surprise a Christian, it does surprise most Jews, including most rabbis, today. Rabbi Telushkin is obviously troubled by the modern Jewish antipathy toward interested non-Jews.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on December 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This addition to the Jewish Encounters series offers a new book about Hillel, a scholar and rabbi of the Talmud, but doesn't offer the usual biography format, as little is known about Hillel's life. Instead it gathers his stories, teachings, and legal rulings from the Talmud and provide insights on his perspective on ethical living and Jewish life, offering clear explanations and details of Rabbi Hillel's perspective. A top pick and a 'must' for any Judaic studies collection.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Oppenheim VINE VOICE on November 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author, who has written many remarkable books about Judaism, thinks it is relevant to do a biographical take on Hillel, because Hillel is arguably the greatest rabbi of the Talmud and still considered probably the greatest of Jewish sages. And, because Hillel was a moderate in interpreting Jewish law, is even more important now because Judaism seems to be at a crossroads of surviving because the Diaspora has lead to so much intermarriage and the resultant reducing the percentage of Jews and hence, Jewish values, among the world's population. Fundamentalism is fine for some, but not for all Jews. Plus, Telushkin points out that Jewish law doesn't just come from the Torah and Jewish bible, the written law, but also the oral bible, rabbinical writings of the Talmud, etc. Judaism never was a frozen religion and so the importance of Hillel is just as important, if not more so, now, as it has been over the about 2000 years. So, some things I found worth noting from the book are........

1. We don't know of Hillel's mom, dad, or wife.

2. The contemporaneous rabbi, Shammai, a fundamentalist, would drive many potential converts away and had many disputes with Hillel.

3. Years of Hillel's religious leadership - 30 BCE -10 CE. beloved for legal daring, passion for learning, openness to converts, and imaginative acts of kindness. He was poor, hungry for learning and knew literally what it was like being on the outside looking in. He didn't judge people by wealth or social status, but achievements - acts of human kindness are what to begin with. His rise to leadership occurred after the brutal Herod became King of Israel in 37 BCE.

4. Hillel famous for "That which is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbor, all the rest is commentary.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When Rabbi Joseph Telushkin remarked, "Why We Need Hillel Now More Than Ever!," it was not an attempt to make an exaggerated proclamation. I suggest, Telushkin was calling out to the Hillel who resides in each of us.

This book is Rabbi Telushkin's quest to open a discussion on the extraordinary life and ideas of The Talmud's most famous teacher.

Hillel lived in the 1st century BCE and during the reign of King Herod. Under the dominion of Rome and still the object of interest from the Greeks. Roman and Greek citizens living side by side with Jews in Jerusalem. This was the focus of the priests' wrath: foreign culture, foreign language, foreign education and foreign religious beliefs. Add to that, you had the migration of Babylonian Jews back to Jerusalem (and often victims of disparaging remarks from "native" Jews, as were the citizens of those imperialist nations.)

This was the environment that Hillel and Shammai had to work in.

We often typecast Hillel and Shammai as polar opposites in terms of understanding and ruling--halakha--the Truth as Telushkin lays out in his book that the issues are not cut and dry; it's not exactly liberal and conservative. These were two men who looked at their country's situation, had the responsibility of teaching Torah and had varying interest in Judaism from foreigners. What were they supposed to do?

Now, the early chapters, Telushkin discusses the issue of conversion and observation. For Shammai, to make it easy for conversion *may have* thought that the problem of Jewish observance (which had always been an issue) would become exponentially worse if the community was integrated with foreigners and perhaps their lack of interest in what they'd deem as benign.
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