The Yerushalmi Talmud at Shabbos 1:4 has a mysterious passage speaking of a time when Beis Shammai literally violently out-dueled Beis Hillel:

Mishna: These are the laws they said in the attic of Hanania ben Hizkiya ben Gurion, when they went in to visit him. They voted and Beit Shammai was the majority over Beit Hillel, and they decreed eighteen things in that day.

Gemara: That day was as hard for Israel as the day the golden calf was made... Rabbi Joshua Onaya taught: The students of Beit Shammai stood at the bottom [of the stairs], and they killed the students of Beit Hillel. It was taught: Six of them went up [to the attic], and the rest of them attacked them with spears and swords. It was taught: For eighteen things they decreed, and in eighteen they were the majority.

According to the Korban HaEda, this passage neither means that Beis Shammai outnumbered Beis Hillel or that, G-d forbid, Beis Shammai members actually committed murder. But during a number of votes, they did block access to Beis Hillel members to the beis midrash as votes were taken. Over centuries there has remained much dispute as to the meaning of this passage, for example the Karraites took up the passage with Rav Sadia Gaon who denied it ever happened. How have later commentators treated this passage?

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    This is especially strange because these two parties are showcased in the beginning of Yebamoth for their amicable relationship despite their drastically different halachic opinions.
    – Baby Seal
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 0:50

2 Answers 2


Rabbi S.R. Hirsch writes that the story cannot be understood like this, because then the vote would be meaningless. He explains that Beis Hillel had been refusing a formal vote, and Beis Shammai on that day gathered outside the building and forcefully prevented Beis Hillel from leaving until a vote was held. Beis Hillel were the majority, but Beis Shammai were intellectually superior, and convinced Beis Hillel on many of the issues, which were carried on Beis Hillel's vote. See the Collected Writings, Vol. 5, p. 84


R. Guttentag in his sefer Tal Oros Vol.1 here in his in-depth essay about Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai explains that the students of Beis Shammai in this story refer to some of the young hotheads who suspected that the opinion of the students of Beis Hillel came from a corrupt Torah outlook, and thus considered them rebels against the Torah and so they wanted to harm them. And because this behaviour was so outlandish the Rabbis described it in exaggerated terms, saying that "they killed the students of Beis Hillel", but in reality they only threatened them with swords and spears.

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