I will not be able to post a segment the coming Sunday. I have hurt my back this morning so staying at the computer for more than a few minutes is impossible for me. Since it’s a big holiday weekend, I assume not too many people in the U.S. would have bothered to be on the computer anyway, and I am sure those who write to me from other parts of the world will forgive me!
This kind of biography is partially a detective book, and I must constantly hunt for clues. A good comment by Lord David made me realize that I should have explained who I suspected as being the person who pushed Hillel to both his doubts and his rewarding stay at the Essenes. I did not discuss it because I am planning to devote much time to it in both the “History” part and the “Narrative” part, but really, there was no reason not to mention it now; after all, this is not a who-done-it exactly…
The person involved, in my opinion, was Hillel’s dear friend, Menachem, whom you might have met if you read the “narrative” part of the book. Menachem became Hillel’s partner in teaching, but later was replaced by Shamai. The reason for Menachem’s departure has never been established, to my knowledge (though much more research is on the horizon) and while there are some revealing comments about Menachem himself by Josephus, some scholars are not even sure it was the same Menachem. I tend to think it was the same man and working from this assumption, I can see how he could have influenced Hillel in more than one way, positive or negative. Stay tuned!
Hillel is thought of and remembered as a Jewish sage. His knowledge, creative approach, and intelligent application of the Law are legendary, and his Academy taught the Torah and the Law. It is clear that this was what mattered to him most, because as we have seen, he left his comfortable life in Babylonia so that he could study the Torah with the great teachers, Shemaya and Avtalion. His devotion to his studies is expressed in many of his sayings, but was it all so clear cut? Was he merely the predecessor of a rabbi? I think there is more to the story than that.
An amusing passage in Tractate Soferim, XVI. 9., which is part of the Minor Tractates, says:
"It was said of Hillel that he had not neglected any of the words of the Wise but had learned them all; he had studied all manners of speech, even the utterance of mountains, hills and valleys, the utterance of trees and plants, the utterance of beasts and animals, tales of spirits, popular stories and parables, everything he had learned."
This is a Roman fashion doll, given to young girls to dress as they pleased, much like a Barbie doll these days. Such dolls were also used as mannequins by seamstresses. The doll is made of ivory, and is wearing a gold necklace. Please note the bracelets, anklets, and elaborate hairdo.
(This picture was taken from a site that stated it was all royalty free and available for downloading. Since sometimes this is not entirely true, if anyone objects to my use of the picture, please let me know and it will be removed immediately.)
Judea, occupied by the sophisticated Romans and a center of lively trade that involved many foreigners visiting the country, was the stage for very interesting fashions. The elegant Greek ladies, the Roman officials’ wives and daughters, women from Syria, Babylonia, Moab, and Edom – all influenced the eclectic fashion scene. However, the purely Judean clothes had a distinctive style. It’s important to note, though, that many wealthy Judean women did not wear the Judean style, preferring the Greco-Roman style.
Judean women’s clothes were similar to the men’s in both fabric cut. The tunic was longer than the man’s, and somewhat more fitted to the body, but never tight enough to show the woman’s exact shape. It was tied around the waist with a fabric belt, sometimes in a contrasting color or striped. The women often embroidered even the plainest garments around the neck, then continued the pattern down the front. The poor and the middle class used wool or heavy linen, just like the men, and sometimes finer linen. The wealthy women, at least those who stuck to traditional Judean style and scorned the Roman stola and palla, used thin linen, silk, or cotton for the basic tunic, and on top of it wore a second tunic made of highly decorated linen, somewhat heavier than the inner one. The belt, tied around both tunics, was made from very expensive materials and embroidered with metal and precious stones tied around both tunics.
Since we have looked at houses in the last segment, I thought it would be interesting to look at the “fashions” of the day in Judea. The word “fashions” is in quotation marks, because style did not change much in Judea for a very long time, perhaps centuries. People were conservative, following the old traditions, their activities were very much the same for many years, and most of them were poor anyway. Many of the wealthy adopted the Greco-Roman fashions, but most of the population wore the same functional, rather simple and unassuming attire that we meet in the Bible. In this segment, I am looking at men’s clothing and accessories.
The wealthy could afford silk, fine thread linen and cotton. The silk was gorgeous, and came in many bright colors, particularly in deep reds and oranges, purples, and blues. It was often further enhanced by a precious metal thread that was woven into the material. Silk was so expensive, that it could be sold for its weight in gold. Cotton was liked, but it was not available in large quantities. The common people used mostly wool and coarse thread linen. Sackcloth, made from dark and heavy goat’s hair, was used mostly for tents, and for clothes one wore during mourning. The sackcloth mourning tunic was girdled with a leather belt, and the wearer d removed any foot or head covering as part of the mourning attire. The inexpensive yarns were rarely dyed, so usually the fabric retained the natural color of the yarns from which it was woven.
This segment might interest not only those who wish to read about Hillel, but also people who want to know more about what life was really like in Judea around the time of Jesus Christ. Jesus was born during the lifetime of Hillel, and as I mentioned before, very likely was his student for a while. Life in those days did not change as quickly as it does now; it was very much the same during Hillel’s young adulthood as it was during Jesus’ youth.
In the past I had described life in Babylonia in detail (and I will have much more on that subject in the future) but since in our narrative Hillel and his family are now living in Judea, I would like to tell what life was like there in those days. As you can see, today’s segment is marked “History.” On the April 15 segment I introduced the structure of the book in its completed form, when it will emerge from being a blog and become a hard copy and an e-book. To make the entries clearer to the readers at this stage, I decided to mark the entries according to the part they will be included in. If the title mentions “Primary Sources” then it comes from the Talmud or other formal Judaic sources. If it is marked“History,” it comes from various sources, such as Josephus, the ancient historian, Jewish and Israeli materials, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and modern archaeological research. If it is marked “Narrative,” it is what I call my "connect the dots," where I superimpose the primary sources and the historical sources on each other, and create a narrative about Hillel's exciting life and times, including my own analysis and some speculation.