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Hillel: If Not Now, When?

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  242 ratings  ·  34 reviews
Part of the Jewish Encounter series

"What is hateful unto you, do not do unto your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary. Now, go and study."

This is the most famous teaching of Hillel, one of the greatest rabbis of the Talmudic era. What makes it so extraordinary is that it was offered to a gentile seeking conversion. Joseph Telushkin feels that
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published September 14th 2010 by Schocken Books Inc (first published January 1st 2010)
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Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: judaica
It's very hard to know how to review this book because there were so many aspects of it that spoke to me. We are fortunate, I think, to have Rabbi Telushkin with us in this age...

I don't think I fully understood the extent to which our religion owes its modern manifestation to the teachings and philosophy of Rabbi Hillel. I certainly didn't understand the extent to which I personally encapsulate so much of his belief and interpretation of Judaism and the Jewish life.

One would not need to be
Craig Bolton
Sep 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
"Hillel: If Not Now, When? (Jewish Encounters) by Joseph Telushkin (2010)"

This volume is the latest example of the evolution of Joseph Teluskin from a rather shallow popularizer to a profound Jewish thinker. The two volumes of his planned three volume set on Jewish Ethics are also well worth reading.

This is a pretend biography of Hillel, in fact, we know very little about Hillel on which to base any such biography. The sparcity of the source material has led to all sorts of speculations
Hollisa Alewine
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: judaism
Excellent analysis of the House of Hillel as well as the House of Shammai, its family foil. I didn't agree with all the author's conclusions concerning the similarities/differences between Yeshua and Shammai, but his historical log and method of presenting those facts and sources is admirable. I have used this book as a research source for my own books in the past, and will likely use it again. The failure of Christian education to help New Testament readers put the dialogues and letters into ...more
Nov 13, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
A friend who grew up in and is active as an adult in a Conservative Temple really loved this book and I think it may resonate more strongly with people who share his background. A major theme of the book is that the Jewish religious community should be more liberal in welcoming potential converts. My personal experience as a convert to Judaism (Reform)felt like the experience that Teluskin advocates---so I didn't feel compelled by his argument that radical change from current attitudes back to ...more
Sep 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Hillel's wisdom has continued to be studied by Jewish people from his death to the present, and he is among the most popular Rabbis and philosophers in the Jewish canon.

Rabbi Telushkin's portrait of Hillel is clear, concise, and well-researched. What I found especially enlightening is the way Telushkin compared and contrasted Hillel's beliefs with his more conservative and traditional contemporaries. This contrast highlights how liberal and progressive Rabbi Hillel's views are, and how these
Oct 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
I was totally unfamiliar with Telushkin before reading this book, but apparently he's generally a sort of pop theology type writer. There are some elements of that here (the book is not technical at all), but this book is not lazy pop theology: Telushkin knows his shit and cites everything. It can get repetitive at times (he makes his point about conversion over and over again), but it covers a lot of ground. He makes a strong argument for ethics being the defining characteristic of religiosity, ...more
Sep 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Telushkin's writing is clear and concise, easy to read without being simplistic. I love the chance to learn more about my favorite figure in Jewish history. There are points which may find disfavor among the more legalistic or exclusive of thought, but Hillel's inclusive and loving approach to faith speaks to the heart of what is beautiful in Judaism.
Nathan Albright
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge-2018
In general, I enjoyed reading this book. For one, I must admit that my knowledge of the Jewish context of the New Testament, even when I do not consider writers like this one to be very knowledgeable and accurate when writing about the New Testament because they take their ideas about Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul from mainstream Christianity, which itself does not understand the relationship between Christianity and the law. Likewise, I appreciate this book in large part because it does not ...more
Nov 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was interested in reading this book because (1) I knew nothing of the relationship between Hillel and Shammai and (2) what religious teachings by Hillel influenced Jesus’ teachings?

The School of Shammai -- It is difficult to comprehend the structure of the theocratic government of Israel in the time of Christ. But the most important group in Israel was the Pharisees who sat under the teachings of a rabbi named Shammai, who founded his school shortly before Jesus was born. Most believed, among
Raymond Lu
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Easy to read and follow even for non-Jews

The book is not specifically written either for Jews or Gentiles. As a non-Jew myself, this is the first time I’ve read a book on Judaism. Neither do I have any Jewish friends (as I live in Asia). I have heard of Hillel though, particularly the anecdote about summarizing the Torah. And that is what attracted me initially to read this book. It goes to explain the anecdote in more detail and gave me a better understanding of Hillel’s teachings far beyond
Michael Abraham
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant and brief look at Hillel.

Rabbi Telushkin's look at the impact and influence of Hillel is simply a mitzvah to read. Brilliant, yet brief...a must
Victor Del Rio
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book.
Jul 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
I cannot remember that I have ever eagerly waited for a book to be published. I must say that I was not disappointed! For starters there is not any real biographical information on Hillel in the Talmud, but from what I grasped from this was that Telushkin wanted to revive the essence of Judaism that Hillel promoted. That essence is centered around ethics rather than on ritual observance.

As a Christian I noticed that a similarity between Jesus and Hillel is that both are apparently talked about
Michael Johnston
Jun 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
A wonderful, concise and easy to read biography of one of the great Rabbinic sages of our history. Telushkin highlights Hillel's belief that Judaism's ethical obligations outweigh almost all other matters in the faith and makes a call for us all to embrace his teachings more emphatically. Indeed, Telushkin notes that "only if one understands Judaism as having an ethical essence can one conclude, as Hillel did on several occasions, that sometimes practicing the Torah literally can lead one to ...more
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
For the past few years, attending Passover Seder at a friend's home, I have been drawn to stories that come up about Rabbi Hillel. The one that impressed me to read more about him was his explanation of the whole Torah to a convert while standing on one foot: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the whole of the Law; the rest is commentary. Now, go study." This book not only gave great insight into that story (Hillel's phrasing in the negative which echoed the Ten ...more
Bill Dauster
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Joseph Telushkin’s book, “Hillel: If Not Now, When?” is a wonderfully alive and tendentious biography of Hillel and his teachings. Telushkin, a Rabbi, writes fluidly and widely on matters of Jewish ethics, often from a how-to perspective. In this book on Hillel, Telushkin plausibly reconstructs the great Jewish sage’s character from his teachings recorded briefly and episodically in the classical sources. But Telushkin does not stop there, provocatively projecting Hillel’s teachings onto ...more
Carl Marcus
Oct 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Unlike many of the reviewers here, I was somewhat disappointed with this book, although I do feel it is worthwhile.

Admittedly, this cannot be a true biography of Hillel, there is not a great deal of information concerning him. Still I believe that the book would have been better with more history and less of Telushkin's sometimes strained interpretations of how Hillel would respond to ethical issues today.

It also seems to me that the author occasionally reuses material from some of his earlier
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: jewish-interest
I was definitely intimidated by the prospect of reading a book about a Talmudic sage, but Joseph Telushkin has made me LOVE Hillel. I found this book strangely riveting, considering that it's about a man who lived two thousand years ago and whose daily life we know very little about...but Telushkin does an outstanding job of distilling all the details into digestible nuggets of wisdom from the School of Hillel. I find Hillel's teachings profoundly relevant to today's society as a whole, and also ...more
Oct 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: jewish
Excellent book about the thinking of the most famous Tanna, Hillel, who lived about 2000 years ago. Rabbi Telushkin writes with enthusiasm and makes challenging ideas easy to understand. The one thing that disappointed me is that when presenting the "Hillel" side of arguments - particularly regarding modern day conversion - he doesn't show the strongest or most contemporary arguments on the other side. That doesn't mean I disagree with Hillel or Telushkin, over all, but there are things to be ...more
Jun 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing

This little book was a pleasure to read. Telushkin left me wanting to read more, but the strongest part of this book comes when he presses contemporary Judaism to truly listen more closely to the open-hearted intention with which its most-quoted sage clearly speaks. And I like what he says about the destructive effects of inpatient teachers. A good reminder for me as a parent and co-worker too.
Nov 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: judaism
The book is reads well, and at the same time goes into depth in describing Rabbi Hillel, as a person, as expounder of Jewish law in 1st C Eretz Israel.
It explains well the different schools of thought at the time, and show the influence these schools often still have today.
All too often there is a tendency to dismiss people of old as not having relevance on modern life. Joseph Telushkin clearly shows that great men like Hillel still have messages for us in the 21st C.
Mar 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful book, accessible to non-Jews and an inspiration to any and all. It's been years since I've studied Rabbi Hillel in any depth, and reading this book was like having a reunion with a long-distant friend.
May 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Hillel has a great heart and I liked hearing more about him. Telushkin is making some pointed arguments, but I'm not his prime audience, so I'd be curious what Orthodox readers think about this book.
Jan 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Excellent book that talks about the ways Hillel's thinking is and could be intrinsic to vibrant, progressive Judaism. His open and thoughtful approach has a lot to teach us about learning and understanding the diverse viewpoints of those around us.
Jun 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Interesting introduction to Hillel, who he was and what he contributed to Jewish life and thought. Appealing for emphasis on ethics and personal conduct over strict observation of law and ritual. Life and approach overlapped with J. of N.
Nov 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A great little biography of Hillel. I would recommend it for all Jewish readers, but also for non-Jews looking to learn a little something about the man who profoundly influenced Judaism in the first century and beyond.
Rushay Booysen
Jul 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
A noted entry into the life of a pretty unknown Rabbi by the name of Hillel.A man who predated Jesus Christ and displayed the same character traits that we found in Jesus.I found the story of his life very interesting,his humbleness made me reflect on my own life.
Nov 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Good review of ethical Judaism and Hillel, its source. Shows how often the spirit of the law and the ethics behind it are neglected by the rote observance and proposes going back to the basics that have been shortchanged recently.
Feb 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
A great introduction and invitation to Rabbi Hillel. Rabbi. Telushkin gathers great teachings and sets them into an inspirational perspective even as he challenges us to bring Hillel's teachings to life in the 21st century.

A great and accessible read.
Patrick Aleph
Nov 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Amazing. Connecting Hillel to conversion was really interesting.
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Joseph Telushkin (born 1948) is an American rabbi, lecturer, and best selling author. His more than 15 books include several volumes about Jewish ethics, Jewish Literacy, as well as "Rebbe", a New York Times best seller released in June 2014

Telushkin was raised in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Solomon and Hellen Telushkin. He attended Yeshiva of Flatbush where met his future co-author Dennis
“An important feature of good characterization in a novel is that the characters are dimensionalized and are not all of one piece. Human beings, as Singer noted, have contradictions.” 1 likes
“hereditary and transmitted through the paternal line. Therefore, a person whose father is not a priest cannot be a priest either. * Though without being as insulting as Shammai was. * An infrequently quoted Talmudic passage teaches that Timna, a female character in the book of Genesis, came from a royal non-Israelite household. At an early age, she became interested in the Israelite faith and sought to convert. But when she approached the patriarchs—at one time or another, all three of” 0 likes
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