Hillel’s Seven Rules of Interpretation

Hillel the Elder, a prominent Jewish religious leader who lived in the 1st century BCE, is known for developing Seven Rules of Interpretation of the Torah. These rules were formulated to aid in the understanding and application of the Torah’s teachings and are considered foundational in the development of Jewish oral law and Rabbinic literature. The seven rules are:

Hillel is considered one of the greatest teachers of first century Judaism.

  1. Kal va-chomer (a fortiori argument): If something applies in a less significant case, it certainly applies in a more significant case. This rule is used to make inferences from the minor to the major or vice versa, based on the logic that what holds true for a less important situation will certainly hold true for a more important one.
  2. Gezerah shavah (analogy): This rule allows for the interpretation of a law in one part of the Torah based on its analogy to another law. If two separate laws have a word or phrase in common, the details of one law can be applied to the other.
  3. Binyan av (building father): A rule derived from a single verse that applies to all cases where the logic of the scripture applies. This is essentially a case of deriving a general principle from a specific case.
  4. Kelal u-perat and Perat u-kelal (the general and the specific): This involves interpreting a general statement in the context of a specific statement that follows it, or a specific statement in the context of a general statement. The interpretation can either limit the general statement to the specifics of the particular case or extend the specific case to a general law.
  5. Ka-yotze bo mi-makom acher (analogy made from another passage): This is similar to gezerah shavah but is used when there is no common word or phrase connecting the laws. Instead, the analogy is based on the logic or theme shared by the different passages.
  6. Davar ha-lamed me-inyano (exposition from the context): This rule suggests that a word or phrase can be interpreted by considering its context within the passage.
  7. Davar ha-lamed me-sofo (exposition from what follows): Similar to the previous rule, but the interpretation is derived from subsequent passages rather than the immediate context.

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These rules served not only as a means to interpret the written Torah but also laid the groundwork for the development of the Talmud and the rabbinic tradition. They illustrate the dynamic and flexible approach to religious texts that has characterized Jewish legal and ethical thought throughout history.

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