Do the all or nothing tactics of the Tea Party mesh with Judaism? Does Judaism have anything to say about this? Or is supporting the Tea Part just another of the many choices of which Judaism is silent or neutral?
I wrote a piece on this issue for the Forward.
It was published this morning and you can read it here.
Here a few sources for those of you interested:
• The murder and (or) hostage taking of Beit Hillel by Beit Shammai over the 18 gezerot: Talmud Yerushalmi, Shabbat 1:4.
• Disciples of Hillel joining the Essenes: Talmud Bavli, Haggigah 16b; Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim, end of Chapter 5.
• Beit Shammai dominating Jewish life after the fight over the 18 gezerot: Talmud Yerushalmi, Beitsah 2:4
In general, the Jerusalem Talmud (Talmud Yerushalmi), which was composed in the Land of israel, often by descendants of the members of Beit Hillel mentioned in these accounts – preserves much more detail about the relationships between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai than the newer Babylonian Talmud – composed in what is now Iraq – does.
Because the Jerusalem Talmud is rarely studied today – most yeshiva students have done nothing more than look up an occasional parallel reference to clarify a commenter's position on something arcane in the Babylonian Talmud, if even that – most haredi and Orthodox Jews have no idea how much Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai came to detest each other, or about Beit Shammai's close relationship to the Zealots.
Update 2:24 pm CDT – I want to add a brief comment about the following remark made by a commenter on the Forward's webiste.
The commenter wrote, in part: "…the Rabbis of the Talmud would never have agreed to follow the few rulings that we accept from Beit Shammai versus Hillel, if anything that you are writing were true."
First of all, this is a prime example of circular reasoning. (Look up the "No True Scotsman Fallacy" for another commonly used example of circular reasoning closely related to this one.)
Past that, the rabbis actually did follow the 18 gezerot even though they were passed in this horrible illegal fashion.
Why they did so is topic that needs a lot of explanation, which I don't have the time for right now. But basically what happened is that Beit Shammai controlled these issues until the Destruction, at which point Beit Hillel regained control.
Part of regaining that control appears to have been allowing anti-Gentile measures enacted by Beit Shammai to stand, in part because Gentiles were hated because of the Destruction.
Rabbi Akiva can be seen as a figure who sought a synthesis of the two schools, with Beit Hillel in the dominant position.
At any rate, what this supposedly Orthodox (and seemingly haredi) commenter is doing is calling the Jerusalem Talmud a liar – a position I doubt his rabbis would support.
Update 5:13 pm CDT – There seems to be confusion about my sources for disciples of Beit Hillel leaving to join the Essenes and then for the idea that Hillel was basically left alone and harassed by Beit Shammai.
Scholoars often associate Menachem Hillel's Av Beit Din with Menachem the Essene who prophesied Herod's assent to the throne and his especially long reign.
Seder Hadorot – the rabbinic history text – itself identifies Menachem, the Av Beit when Hillel was first Nasi, with Menachem the Essene.
Menachem – whoever he was – left with 160 students. That allowed Beit Shammai to have influence it never before had.
To get an idea of the size of the "academy" or grouping of sages deciding rabbinic law, the meeting where Beit Shammai held Beit Hillel hostage was held on the roof of a private home in Jerusalem. We're not taking about thousands of academy participants – in fact, we're probably talking about less than a 200, maybe even less than 100.
Leaving with 160 disciples was a very big deal, no matter where they went.
(There are rabbinic opinions that have them becoming heretics, for example. Another has them joining the King's service, with "King" referring to God – a probable reference to joining the Essenes, which after all was a pietist sect closely related to the Pharasees. Another has Menachem working for Herod; presumably his disciples joined him either as students or as co-workers.)
The point is that they left, and the sources I cited show that they left.
Articles like the one I wrote have serious space constraints. There simply is not room to cite sources or explain these type of details.
But that does not somehow kasher the behavior of many of the commenters – most of whom appear to be haredi – who attack what I wrote based on their own ignorance of history and of their own ignorance of the rabbinic sources they supposedly study and follow.
I can't help it that Hebrew Schools and often yeshivas told you buba meisot about Hillel and Shammai, or that the Talmud Bavli tends to sanitize certain aspects of history that the Yerushalmi instead lays bare.
In the real world, older sources written closer to the time of an incident and by people who lived in the geographic area the incident happened in are considered to be closer to the truth than a source written later and much further away by people who had never seen Eretz Yisrael and were not descended from the people in these stories.
That some rabbis have chosen to exclude an older and more authentic source isn't my problem – especially when it's clear that early Ashkenazic sources (Tosofot on Bavli Gittin 36b, for example) held like that older and more authentic source with regard to this.
Ask your rabbis why they failed to tell you the whole story.
Don't berate me for telling you what those rabbis did not.
Update 6:50 pm CDT – Here's a source for Beit Shammi harassing Hillel after the disciples of Menachem and Hillel left: Bavli Beitzah 20a, where they gang up on Hillel – who is evidently alone – when he brings his offering according to the opinion of his own school.
Also, the idea that there was no cross pollination between the Essenes and the Pharasees is bizarre. There clearly was such cross pollination and scholars have noted this for more than a century.
Update 8:52 pm CDT – APC notes the following source for Shammai's little "playing fairly with others" problem:
Bavli Shabbat 17a
"When one vintages [grapes] for the vat [I.C., to manufacture wine], Shammai maintains: It is made fit (to become unclean]; while Hillel ruled, It is not made fit.8 Said Hillel to Shammai: Why must one vintage [grapes] in purity, yet not gather [olives] in purity?9 If you provoke me, he replied, I will decree uncleanness in the case of olive gathering too. A sword was planted in the Beth Hamidrash and it was proclaimed, 'He who would enter, let him enter, but he who would depart, let him not depart!'10 And on that day Hillel sat submissive before Shammai, like one of the disciples,11 and it was as grievous to Israel12 as the day when the [golden] calf was made. Now, Shammai and Hillel enacted [this measure], but they would not accept it from them; but their disciples came13 and enacted it, and it was accepted from them.14 "
This appears to be a sanitized version of the actual story reported by the Talmud Yerushalmi and cited in my article.
Note that Shammai's reaction to the contradiction between his desire to make grapes able to receive tumah and the fact that olives were not deemed able to receive tumah was to theaten to make olives able to receive tumah if Hillel didn't shut up and back down.
What was so important about grapes that caused Shammai to want them to be able to receive tumah during the winemaking process?
Exactly that – wine.
Wine was the staple drink at that time in Eretz Yisrael. All meals were served with wine, which was sometimes cut with water.
Causing the winemaking process to become fit to receive tumah meant that wine would need to be made under some sort of supervision – which, of course, Gentile wine would not be.
And that would stop Jews from drinking wine with Gentiles, and therefore eating with Gentiles.