Hillel’s Hermeneutics

These rules are rules of Hillel the Elder. Their point of interest is…

  1. Interpretation of Scripture
  2. Establishment of halakhah

By applying these rules to our Hermeneutic process we can better understand the Tanakh and the Nazarean Codicil.

Seven Rules of Hillel

  1. Kal va-Homer: “Argumentum a minori ad majus” or “a majori ad minus”; corresponding to the scholastic proof a fortiori.
  2. Gezerah shavah: Argument from analogy. Biblical passages containing synonyms or homonyms are subject, however much they differ in other respects, to identical definitions and applications. Note: Gezerah shavah must be used in conjunction with tradition. It cannot be used as pe

G ‘zera shava: ‘Similar formulation’, also known as heqesh (‘analogy’). If a word or phrase occurs in two separate passages, an analogy may be drawn for the application of the law in both cases.

Examples: Berakhot 31b (see p. 25), Sota 37b (p. 370).

The use of general (k ‘al) and specific (p r’at), or inclusive (ribbui) and exclusive (mi frit), terms. Examples: Pesahim 95a (see p, 175), Sukka 50b (pp. 218-19).

Meaning determined by context. Examples: Rosh Hashana 2b  (p. 239), Bava Metziå 61a (p. 474).

In many cases it is not clear exactly which type of comparison should be drawn: an afortiori or merely a  gezerah shavah. Finally, we have a number of analogies introduced with  a form of nqs.90 Given that there are several common ways for the rabbinic documents to draw analogies between passages, the sage’s or editor’s employing the ql whwmr or the gezerah shavah probably reflects a conscious decision to use this terminology. The heqesh and the gezerah shavah are different, but related techniques. This point becomes clear when we encounter the awkward formulation of using a form of nqs with the technical term gzrh swh.91 The texts imply that the gezerah shavah is a form of an analogy, heqash, so that they are the same thing. However, even a cursory reading of all the examples indicates that the heqesh is a much more varied technical term than this simple formulation would suggest.

(2) Gezerah shavah: comparison of similar expressions. It is probable that etymologically the word gezerah means “law” – as in Daniel 4:4, 14 – so that gezerah shavah would mean a comparison of two similar laws (Beẓah 1:6; see however S. Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, 193ff.); if the same word occurs in two Pentateuchal passages, then the law applying in the one should be applied to the other. Bergman argues (Sinai 71, 1972) that a gezerah shavah is the application of the laws in one instance to a second instance to achieve a unified legal principle, irrespective of the differences between the cases, more often than not by finding a word that appears in both instances. For example, the word be-mo’ado (“in its appointed time”) is used both in regard to the Paschal lamb (Num. 9:2) and to the tamid, the daily offering (Num. 28:2), which is offered on the Sabbath as well. Thus it can be inferred that the term be-mo’ado includes the Sabbath and hence the Paschal lamb may be offered even on the Sabbath, although work normally forbidden on the Sabbath is entailed (Pes. 66a). The gezerah shavah, as may be seen from the above example, was originally a purely logical principle. It is reasonable to suppose that a law clearly stated in one passage can shed light on a similar law in a different passage. In the schools, however, the gezerah shavah threatened to become a formal principle whereby a mere similarity in words was sufficient warrant for positing similar laws in the respective passages. To prevent the abuse of this method, rules were laid down to qualify its use. A man cannot advance a gezerah shavah independently, but must receive it by tradition from his teachers (Pes. 66a); both passages must be from the Pentateuch (BK 2b); the words of the gezerah shavah must not only be similar but also superfluous (mufneh, “free”) in the context in which they appear, so that it can be argued that they were placed there for the express purpose of the gezerah shavah (Shab. 64a). It would appear that the school of R. Akiva disagrees with that of R. Ishmael and does not require mufneh (TJ, Yoma 8:3, 45a).

Similar to the gezerah shavah but not identical with it are the rules of hekkesh (“comparison”) and semukhim (“juxtaposition”). Hekkesh refers to the presence of two laws in the same verse, from which it may be inferred that whatever is true of one is true of the other. For example, “Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith” (Deut. 16:3). Although women are exempt from carrying out positive precepts associated with given time, they are nevertheless obliged to eat unleavened bread on Passover since the verse, by combining the two laws compared the duty to eat unleavened bread with the prohibition against eating leaven, which, being a negative precept, is binding on women (Pes. 43b). Semukhim refers to the juxtaposition of two laws in two adjacent verses. For example, “Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live; Whosoever lieth with a beast shall be put to death” (Ex. 22:17, 18). Just as one who lies with a beast is put to death by stoning, so, too, a sorceress is put to death by stoning (Ber. 21b). R. Judah, however, rejects the universal application of the semukhim rule: “Just because the two statements are juxtaposed, are we to take this one out to be stoned?” (ibid). The semukhim rule, according to R. Judah, is to be applied only in Deuteronomy (ibid).

1.1.5d HEQESH does not actually occur in the lists of middoth but it is often regarded as one of Hillel’s middoth because it is one of those which he employed when he (supposedly) introduced the middoth to Israel by using three of them to determine whether or not Passover over-rides the Sabbath (tPis.4.13). It is very similar to Gezerah Shavah 11 in that it brings together two texts by means of a common feature and can be expressed with the same formula.

The main difference between Gezerah Shavah and Heqesh is that the former depends on a similarity of words or phrases which occur in the two texts while the latter depends on a similarity of subject matter. These rules can also be used to connect two topics rather than two texts, in which case the difference between them can be generalized under the rule that Gezerah Shavah forms a link by common nouns, while Heqesh forms a link by
common predicates (Mielziner 1968:152f.).

However these distinctions are minor, and they are not followed consistently. There is little evidence that these were recognized as separate before anyone attempted to list the middoth. Even when Hillel’s list of middoth was
made, the rule of Heqesh was assumed to illustrate the list although it was not named in it. It is therefore likely that the rule of Heqesh was originally another name for Gezerah Shavah, and there is little to be gained in emphasizing differences which later grew up between them.

3. Binyan ab mi-katub echad: Application of a provision found in one passage only to passages which are related to the first in content but do not contain the provision in question.
4. Binyan ab mi-shene ketubim: The same as the preceding, except that the provision is generalized from two Biblical passages.
5. Kelal u-Peraṭ and Peraṭ u-kelal: Definition of the general by the particular, and of the particular by the general.
6. Ka-yoẓe bo mi-maḳom aḥer: Similarity in content to another Scriptural passage.
7. Dabar ha-lamed me-‘inyano: Interpretation deduced from the context. Deduced from scripture that is close together (i.e. corral)
Just because a piece of text is “Peshat” does not mean that it does not contain some deep spiritual truths.

NOTE: Some of this information is found at the Jewish Virtual Library, Wikipedia and other sources…

Lopes Cardozo, Nathan T. The Written and Oral Torah: A Comprehensive Introduction. Northvale, N.J: Jason Aronson Inc, 1997.
Schiffman, Lawrence H. From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism. Hoboken, N.J: Ktav Pub. House, 1991.
Strack, Hermann Leberecht, and Günter Stemberger. Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.