The Enlightening Dispute Between HiIlel and Shammai


Adding a candle to the chanukiya on each successive night of the holiday is a well known traditional practice. What is not common knowledge, is that this was not always the accepted custom. In this lesson students will analyze a passage from the Talmud that records  the dispute between Beit Hillel (the students of Hillel the Elder)  and Beit Shamai (the  students of Shamai the Elder)  as to whether we should add to or subtract from the number of Chanukah candles that we light each night of the holiday. In addition to learning the reasons for both sides of the argument, students will also discuss when arguing and debate are seen as positive or negative forces in Jewish tradition.  Engaging discussion triggers and creative activities such as facilitating a classroom debate are included in this resource.

The learner will:

  1. Understand that disagreeing can have a positive and/or negative impact on communal relationships.

  2. Know Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai’s approaches to lighting Chanukah candles, and examples of “good” and “bad” disagreements in Jewish history.

  3. Be able to participate in a classroom debate that will have a positive impact on the class community.

When you click on the Jewish Education by Design resource link featured above, you will find the following educational building blocks for the creation of a lesson plan:

  1. Essential questions that get to the “heart” of the learning

  2. A hook/s to open the lesson in an engaging fashion and spark the learners’ curiosity

  3. In depth discussion questions that are designed to elicit conceptual thinking and personal reflections about the featured source/s

  4. Suggested activities that enable the students to both process and apply what was learned in a thought provoking and creative fashion

  5. A further study option/s to related materials on the JEBD site or to external links

Student handout

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