Home » Posts tagged 'Hillel'

Tag Archives: Hillel


Stamp out starving writers, buy their books!

We think you'll find something interesting here. There's lots to choose from. These posts just go on and on, backward through time. If you'd like to know whenever we post something new, you can get a feed from Critical Pages. If you type our address and add /feed/ at the end, that will do it. That's simply criticalpages.com/feed/ and you're on your way.

Would It Have Been Better Not To Have Been Born?

Sun in an Empty Room by Edward Hopper Considering our life, would it have been better for us if we had never been born? Maybe you wondered about that. You weren’t alone, though it may have felt that way. The question is very old. In fact, it was debated almost two thousand years ago between the followers of two Jewish philosophers, the rabbis Hillel and Shammai. Both men were learned scholars and each established a schools of thought on Jewish law, but they differed greatly on certain points.

In general, Hillel was flexible and generous,  liberal in his views. Shammai, on the other hand, took a strict, narrow view in deciding issues and was zealously conservative. Their followers, like the sage Hillel and Shammai,  frequently differed with each other. For over two years these two opposing groups, the house of Hillel and the house of Shammai, debated the question: Would it have been better never to have been born? Surprisingly, these opponents agreed: It would have been better never to have been born.

Now that’s a desolating answer.

We  aren’t rabbinic sages. Far from it.  And if we were to choose a school of thought it might be the  house of the skeptic Michael Montaigne. (We’ll sum up Montaigne for you: The human mind is limited and contradictory. Get used to it.) For solace, we’ll leave you with this stanza from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “Sailing to Byzantium.”

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

More Notes

The World Happiness Report, released by the United Nations, ranks countries on six key variables that support well-being: income, freedom, trust, healthy life expectancy, social support and generosity. This year, Finland is first, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Switzerland, followed by Netherlands, Canada,New Zealand, Sweden, Australia. The United States, which has never been in the top ten, silpped down four places from last year and is now 18th. President Trump may make American Great Again, but apparently not happier.