What Would Have Happened if Rabbi Hillel Had to Secure Communal Funding?

hillel1by Dr. Gabe Goldman

Can you imagine what would have happened to Judaism if our ancient Jewish educators had to go through the same process as modern day Jewish educators to do something new, to bring about change? Imagine for a moment a scene in which Rabbi Hillel comes before a Jewish communal agency to secure funding for a new curriculum he wants to create. He is thinking of calling it the Talmud. Here’s how I picture the scene.

I picture R. Hillel explaining to the members of the Funding Committee of his time – pottery makers, food dealers, ship builders – about a collection of Jewish teachings he wanted to put together for Jewish teachers to use across the world for all of time. He might have explained that this was a cooperative effort between the School of Hillel and the School of Shamai that would call upon teachers of all Jewish traditions to contribute to this effort to bring about the development of one community of Jews, Am Echad. Following his presentation, Committee members would have questioned him on the value of his project.

Member 1: What will this project cost?
Rabbi Hillel: There is no way to determine the cost.

Member 2: How will your work be shared with others?
Rabbi Hillel: Individuals will have to make hand copies and travel around the world, becoming teachers in little villages tucked in mountains in lands without names.

Member 3: Is there any precedent for this? Can you point to another Jewish community doing this type of project successfully?
Rabbi Hillel: No that’s why we need it.

Member 4: Can you tell us how you plan to measure your goal of “developing one community of Jews?”
Rabbi Hillel: No. The only measure will be whether Judaism continues.

Member 5: Well, can you at least give us a time frame for the completion of this project?
Rabbi Hillel: Yes – about 500 years.

All Members: 500 years!


Because R. Hillel has such a good reputation, and he’s working in cooperation with the School of Shamai, the Committee decides to provide three years of funding after which time R. Hillel will be responsible for securing on-going funding for the remaining 497 years of the project.

Dr. Gabe Goldman is Director of Experiential Education and J-SITE at the Agency for Jewish Learning in Pittsburgh.