Did You Know?
By Rabbi Fabian Werbin
When somebody mentions the name Hillel, we usually make the connection to The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life aka Hillel International. Hillel International is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life provides opportunities for Jewish students at more than 500 colleges and universities to explore and celebrate their Jewish identity through its global network of regional centers, campus Foundations and Hillel student organizations. Hillel’s mission (as is mentioned in its web page) is “to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world”.
There were many Hillels in Jewish History. It should be very interesting to investigate which of the Hillels the institution is named after. The first time the name Hillel is mentioned in the Bible is in the book of Judges. Judges 12:13-15 “After him, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, led Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. He led Israel eight years. Then Abdon son of Hillel died, and was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim.”
It seems that Hillel’s family was a big one.
After that we find Hillel the Elder (~110BCE-10CE). He was the Tanah (Sage of the Mishna) who founded “The house of Hillel.” He was one of the most important characters in Jewish history. He was found on a snowy roof of the Yeshiva. He didn’t have money to pay the tuition, but wanted to study Torah at any cost. He lived 120 years. At the age of forty, Hillel went to the Land of Israel. Forty years he spent in study. The last third of his life he was the spiritual head of the Jewish people. He’s the author or the famous phrase “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?”
Probably the Hillels at the campuses are named after this Hillel. Even though that’s the more rational guess, there was another famous Hillel.
Hillel II (330–365 CE) Prince of the Jewish community of his day. He is recognized as the founder of the contemporary Jewish calendar. He devised a calendar that we use until these days!!! He also was the head of the Sanhedrin between 320 and 385 CE.
Anyway, the people who had chosen the name for the institution that assists Jewish students on campuses were very clever. When they chose the name, they thought not only about the Jewish students, but the Jewish people in general. They chose the name thinking of the three Hillels mentioned above. We are a big family that dedicates time to study everyday of our lives.