The Mishna in Meseches Brachos 1:3 recounts the Machlokes between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel on how one should read the Shema:

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בֵּית שַׁמַּאי אוֹמְרִים, בָּעֶרֶב כָּל אָדָם יַטּוּ וְיִקְרְאוּ, וּבַבֹּקֶר יַעַמְדוּ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים ו) וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ. וּבֵית הִלֵּל אוֹמְרִים, כָּל אָדָם קוֹרֵא כְדַרְכּוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שם) וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ. אִם כֵּן, לָמָּה נֶאֱמַר וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ, בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁבְּנֵי אָדָם שׁוֹכְבִים, וּבְשָׁעָה שֶׁבְּנֵי אָדָם עוֹמְדִים.

Beis Shammai says: In the evening all people should recline and recite [Shema], and in the morning they should stand, since it says [in the verse (Deut. 6:7)], “And when you lie down and when you arise.” And Beis Hillel says: Each person may recite it in his usual way (posture), since it says (ibid.), “And when you walk on the road.” If so, why does it say “and when you lie down and when you arise”? —[It means:] at the time when people are lying down, and at the time when people are arising.

The Mishna proceeds to quote Rav Tarfon telling over his incident when following the opinion of Beis Shammai and the Sages' response:

אָמַר רַבִּי טַרְפוֹן, אֲנִי הָיִיתִי בָא בַדֶּרֶךְ, וְהִטֵּתִי לִקְרוֹת, כְּדִבְרֵי בֵית שַׁמַּאי, וְסִכַּנְתִּי בְעַצְמִי מִפְּנֵי הַלִּסְטִים. אָמְרוּ לוֹ, כְּדַי הָיִיתָ לָחוּב בְּעַצְמְךָ, שֶׁעָבַרְתָּ עַל דִּבְרֵי בֵית הִלֵּל:

Said Rabbi Tarfon: “I was once traveling on the road, and I reclined to recite [Shema] in accordance with the view of the school of Shammai, and [by doing so] I put myself in danger of [attack by] bandits.” They [the other Sages] said to him: “You would have deserved to be guilty for your own fate, since you went against the view of the school of Hillel.”

My Question:

What should have Rabbi Tarfon done? If he were to say the Shema while he was standing, would he not be going against the words of Beis Shammai?

  • See in mesilat yesharim a good pshat, see also rabenu Yona
    – kouty
    Jun 19, 2017 at 18:53
  • Yes. It's because he specifically abrogated the dictates of Hillel for those of Shammai that what he did was inappropriate. If he had already been sitting (like for a meal) then staying seated wouldn't have been a problem, since he would have been observing BOTH opinions. Jun 19, 2017 at 21:15
  • 2
    Where in the Mesilas Yesharim? Jun 19, 2017 at 22:04

2 Answers 2


The basic halacha in disputes between Bais Hillel and Bais Shammai is according to Bais Hillel as we see in Eruvin 13b. The point is that he stopped and lay down (putting himself in saccanah) when he did not have to.

R'Abba stated in the name of Samuel: For three years there was a dispute between Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel, the former asserting, 'The halachah is in agreement with our views' and the latter contending, 'The halachah is in agreement with our views'. Then a bath kol issued announcing, '[The utterances of] both are the words of the living God, but the halachah is in agreement with the rulings of Beth Hillel'.

why halacha is like Beis Hillel

It sounds at first glance like this is some kind of mystical segulah, that if you have good midos the schar is that you will hit the mark in psak halacha. I saw R’ Zalman Nechemya Goldberg explains it differently. We know the general rule of thumb in psak is “hilchisa k’basra’ah,” the halacha usually follows a later authority over an earlier one. This is because if you approach an issue after the fact, you have the advantage of hindsight and can better weigh the different options. The halacha follows Beis Hillel because they reviewed Beis Shamai’s opinion first; they first considered the counter-argument carefully before arriving at their own view. Therefore, their opinion was always the “basra’ah.”

There are only certain definite halachos in which Bais Shamai was accepted instead of Bais Hillel as we see at when is the halacha like Bais Shammai and not Bais Hillel?

This halacha was not one of those cases. Since the Halacha had been already determined, Rabbi Tarfon should not have followed Bais Shamai. Had the machlokes still been ongoing, then he would have been able to respond that he was following a valid psak and would not have been in danger. Since he did not have to lie down, doing so is a statement that he is going against the psak halacha, which puts him in danger.

  • Perfect answer, imho. +1
    – ezra
    Jun 19, 2017 at 18:43
  • @ezra not quite perfect, imho. He doesn't address why this situation is a violation of Hillel, who would seem to allow the recitation regardless of the situation. See my comment on the OP for a full explanation. Jun 19, 2017 at 21:18
  • @IsaacKotlicky The point is that he stopped and lay down (putting himself in saccanah) when he did not have to. Jun 20, 2017 at 1:26
  • Including you unedited comment about changing his behaviour to do Shammai in your answer would (imo) completely answer the question asked. I await your edit :) Jun 20, 2017 at 1:26
  • @IsaacKotlicky OK done. Jun 20, 2017 at 1:27

According to the Mesilat Yesharim the pshat of our Gemara is linked to the fact that, at a certain point of our history, the existing of Tora did depend on a clear decision that everyone needs to follow Bet Hillel.

The Gemara quoted below in Yebamot illustrates that this point. The assertion of the Mesilat Yesharim wasn't clearly admitted by Rabbi Tarfon, at the time of his statement quoted in Yebamot. Following the first version, as a Bet Shammai talmid, he wanted to show that he follows Bet Shammai, even if this leads to mamzerut according to Bet Hillel. Following the second version, despite he was a Bet Shammai talmid, he wanted to show that now the halacha was definitely ruled as Bet Hillel despite that following Bet Shammai this is a yebama lashuk. This last version is congruent to the Gemara's conclusion in Berachot. The behavior of Rabbi Tarfon in Berachot was to be quite following the both shitot in keriat shema.

Contextualization: There is a mahloket Bet Shamai - Bet Hillel about ptor from Yebum for tsarat erva if she is exempt and can marry a stranger, or needs Ybum/Halitsa by the Yabam the Mishna and Gemara analyses various problems regarding machlokets between BS and BH.

Gemara Yebamot 15a:

ת"ש דא"ר טרפון תאבני מתי תבא צרת הבת לידי ואשאנה אימא ואשיאנה

 Come and hear: Rabbi Tarfon said: Would that the rival of [my] daughter  were to fall to my lot so that I could marry her! - Read, 'that I could make her marry [another]'.

Rashi explains that Rabbi Tarfon was a pupil of Bet Shammai. There are two options to decifer his statement. The first: he did want to show that he rules as Bet Shammai. The second: He did want to show that the halacha finally pasked following Bet Hillel.

רבי טרפון   - מתלמידי ב"ש היה: מתי תבא צרת הבת - מאחי לידי: ואשאנה  - אייבם אותה כדברי ב"ש: ואשיאנה  - לשוק כדברי ב"ה:‏

About the Gemara Berachot, See Mesilat Yesharim chapter 20.

ומעשה דרבי טרפון יוכיח (ברכות י, ב)שהחמיר להטות כבית שמאי ואמרו לו כדאי היית לחוב בעצמך שעברת על דברי בית הלל, אף על פי שמחמיר היה, וזה שענין מחלוקת בית שמאי ובית הלל היה ענין כבד לישראל מפני המחלוקת הגדולה שרבתה ביניהם, וסוף סוף נגמר שהלכה כבית הלל לעולם, הנה קיומה של תורה שגמר דין זה ישאר בכל תוקף לעד ולעולמי עולמים ולא יחלש בשום פנים שלא תעשה תורה חס ושלום כשני תורות, ועל כן לדעת המשנה הזאת יותר חסידות הוא להחזיק כבית הלל אפילו לקולא מלהחמיר כבית שמאי.‏

The episode of R. Tarfon (Berachoth 10b) substantiates what has been said. Although he took upon himself the more stringent decision of Beth Shammai, he was told, "You would rightly have been accounted the cause of your own death, for you violated the words of Beth Hillel." All this because the controversy between Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel had become an area of difficulty to Israel in view of the great contention that had grown up between them; and after it had finally been ruled that the law should constantly be decided in accordance with Beth Hillel it was essential for the very endurance of Torah that this ruling forever retain its force and not be weakened in any way lest the Torah come to take on the semblance of two Torahs (G-d forbid). Hence, the view of this Mishnah that it is Saintlier to hold with Beth Hillel even when more lenient, than to be more stringent in accordance with Beth Shammai. This should serve us as a guide to perceive the path where light resides with truth and faith for the doing of what is just in the eyes of G-d.

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