We have already talked about the meeting at the house of Hananiah Ben Hezekiah Ben Gurion, but we are going to get into more detail. Hananiah is a scholar, working on Ezekiel and was responsible for restoring Ezekiel into the Tanak. He was seen as a peacemaker and was a member of the leading family of Zealots. His father Hezekiah was the founder of the Zealot Party. Josephus called his father a “chief bandit” who advocated violence against Rome, and he was executed by Herod. Hananiah was not involved in all that, but he devoted himself to scholarship. We have Hananiah’s father as the founder of the Zealots, so by 20 BC the Zealots already existed and they had close ties with Beit Shammai. They will not be recognized as a “group” until 6 AD.
Before the vote on the 18 Edicts was taken at Hananiah’s upper room, the Jerusalem Talmud in Shabbat 1.4 tells us that some members from Beit Hillel were killed by some members of Beit Shammai, and there were eyewitnesses. It was at this time that 80 of Hillel’s disciples left and joined the Essenes, leaving shortly after Menachem left with 80 of his talmidim (disciples). He not only left in disgust over the murders, but he also left because of the 18 Edicts that separated Jews from non-Jews. Menachem totally disagreed with them. We don’t know how many were there at the meeting before the vote, but because so many from Beit Hillel were murdered, the 18 Edicts from Beit Shammai passed.
We have discussed previously in the trial of Yeshua, that you can only have a trial like Yeshua’s in certain places and at certain times before certain people, and not in houses. However, when discussing issues you can have Sanhedrin business done by committee’s in houses. When a formal decision is made, they will come back to the Sanhedrin chamber and ratify the decision. Our government does the same thing. They meet in committee’s and then come back to the House or Senate chamber to vote. The 18 Edicts were designed to stop all relationships between the Jews and non-Jews.
There are several accounts as to why Menachem left. One account says he went to do “evil” and another account says he went on a mission to the non-Jews. When we look at this in contrast, we have the statement of Paul in Acts 22.22, where he says Yeshua sent him on a mission to the non-Jews. In v 22, the people will get upset with Paul because he said this and wanted Paul dead. Going to the non-Jews was not very acceptable to some. So, we can now see why Menachem’s mission to the non-Jews was seen as “evil” in one of the accounts of his departure (he was going to the non-Jews). When you read the accounts of Beit Shammai, they only address their dealings with the Jews. When you read about Beit Hillel, they deal with all mankind, whether Jew or non-Jew. These two schools will come from two different “poles” and in the middle there is conflict. It is believed that Zealots committed the murders of those from Beit Hillel, and not members from Beit Shammai. But, can we be sure? What do we know about the Zealots?
The word “zealot” in English comes from the word “zeal” and they wanted to see the Kingdom of God established. They believed that after the fourth kingdom of Daniel, the Kingdom of God would be established. In their perverted view, they believed they were serving God by making a war happen with Rome. They believed that God would then send the Messiah to destroy the Romans. So these men (the Zealots at the meeting) were associated with with Beit Shammai and they were in agreement with the 18 Edicts because they didn’t like Rome and wanted total separation. So, it is believed that they killed those from Beit Hillel because Beit Hillel did not think interaction with the Romans was a bad thing, and they were also opposed to the 18 Edicts.
We have also mentioned before that there was bad blood between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. An example of this can be found in a story about the Shema. Beit Shammai taught that in the evening, one should recline to say it, and Beit Hillel said you can recite it in any manner you choose. Beit Shammai required a certain posture, but Beit Hillel didn’t. So, a certain rabbi named Tarfon (very famous) said he was riding along and the time for the Shema arrived. He stopped riding his donkey and followed what Beit Shammai said and reclined. In doing so, he put himself in danger and a robber came along. According to Beit Hillel, he could have kept riding and said the Shema. His friends from Beit Hillel said “Serves you right for following the teaching of Beit Shammai.” In addition, Beit Hillel called Beit Shammai “murderers” and “fools”, a “brood of vipers” and “sons of Satan” and “hypocrites.” These are the very words Yeshua used when talking to some Pharisee’s, but more on that later. Members of Beit Shammai were also Zealots, and vice-versa. There was another major argument over when to bring the Chagigah, another festival offering. Beit Shammai said after the first day of a festival, and Beit Hillel said on the first day. By the time the ruling came along, Beit Shammai was in total control in the Temple. The Talmud records that on a particular festival, the courtyard of the Temple was empty because the people were following the opinion of Beit Shammai, and Beit Hillel said they have made “desolate” the House of God. Hillel himself once brought a chagigah on the first day according to the opinion of his school, and talmidim (disciples) from Beit Shammai ganged up on him as he brought it. It would appear he was alone and Beit Shammai had control of the courts.
Now, why is all this important? Because we need to understand what was happening when Yeshua was speaking. We need to understand who he is speaking to and why. Was he talking to all “Pharisees” or to a certain party of the Pharisee’s? It is important to understand what is happening in Acts 10 with Cornelius, a Roman. Why did Peter have to see a vision from God in order to even go into the house and talk to Cornelius? It is necessary in order to understand Acts 15 and the Book of Galatians. The conflict between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai is essential in understanding what is is going on in the Gospels and Epistles. With a proper back-round, we can read difficult or misunderstood passages and books and get a proper understanding, and this back-round will change its meaning.
In Part 7, we will pick up here and begin to get into this back-round even further which will help us to understand the Gospels and Epistles, starting in Acts 10.