Be among the disciples of Aaron:
Love peace and pursue peace;
Love all fellow creatures,
And bring them near to the Torah.
“Love peace ...” The Hebrew scriptures are much concerned with the wars necessary to establish and defend the
Jewish state, but the emphasis of Judaism following Hillel is on making peace. In the Talmud, the emphasis is on peace
between individuals and communal peace. Hillel lived in a time of devastating civil wars in Judea, and it is likely that
he that he was also referring to ending and avoiding wars.
When Herod, backed by the Rome, besieged Jerusalem, leaders of the Pharisees, likely including Hillel, are said by Josephus
to have urged the people to lay down their arms, and for the sake of peace welcome Herod—whom they despised—to the city.
Two generations later, in the year 65, followers of Hillel continued to be of the peace party, but were outvoted in a
council, and rebellion against Rome went forward. The rebellion resulted in the destruction of the Temple, and later in
expulsion of the Jewish people, who were landless for the next 1,800 years.
In the generation after Hillel, Jesus of Nazareth took Hillel’s message of love and peace a step further, and said “Resist
not evil. ...If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left. ..If a man in authority asks you to go
one mile, go with him two. ...Love your enemies.” W. H. Hudson, 19th century naturalist and novelist, argued the contrary:
we have a moral obligation to strike back against the powerful who wrong us, because it is only the fear that the poor and
weak may strike back that prevents the strong from totally oppressing and exploiting the weak. The Jewish sages endorsed
neither of these extremes, but advocated a middle position: that we should pursue peace, but that self-defence is also proper
and appropriate. This policy means that each person and country needs to solve the difficult problem of how best to pursue
both goals simultaneously.
“And bring them near the Torah.” The Jewish view toward seeking converts has varied greatly over history. When Ezra
returned from the Bablyonian exile, he ordered the breaking up of intermarriages. The Book of Ruth, by contrast, makes
Ruth, a Moabite—with whom the Torah forbids intermarriage—an ancestor of King David. The Pharisees, of whom Hillel was
a leader, had a very favorable and welcoming view toward seeking and accepting converts. According to historians about
10% of the Roman world was then Jewish. After the fall of the Jewish state, Judaism continued to accept the convert
as a full Jew, but did not proselytize and warned potential converts of the difficulty of being a Jew in the condition of exile.