Offering on Shabbos:
Hillel and the Bnai Besairah
The Talmud (Pesachim 66b) relates the historic event when the Bnai Besera
leadership had forgotten whether the Pesach offering overrides Shabbos. Only
Hillel knew the source that it does, and replaced them as Israel’s presiding
At first glance, this seeming lapse in institutional memory raises
How could the scholarly Bnai Besera forget such an established and commonly practiced
tradition known to the average Jew, especially when erev Pesach had actually
occurred on Shabbos during our very first Pesach in the desert?
In a similar debate (100 years later), we again find the Bnai Besera
hesitating to blow Shofar on Shabbos in Yavneh, but Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakai
encouraged it (RH 29b)
Noting a common issue in both episodes, this study suggests that the Bnai
Beseira surely knew all the proofs and precedents. They did not dispute the
original Halacha and exegesis, but questioned its application in lowly and
uncertain times of diminishing leadership, and after the Temple’s
As a communal ‘Tzibur’ offering, Pesach surely overrides Shabbos, but the
self-doubting Bnai Besera wondered if their community, led by Shmaya &
Avtalyon who were converts (Yoma 71b), truly deserved the ‘Tzibur’ status.
By contrast, Hillel followed his principle 'במקום שאין איש השתדל להיות איש'
(Avot 2). We see Hillel’s great respect and devotion endangering himself to
eavesdrop from the rooftop on Shmaya & Avtalyon’s lecture (Yoma 35b), and by his faithful
preservation of their teachings, including even their foreign accent (Edyot
Despite our shortcomings and limitations, we are marked for Effort, as
Hillel taught (Chagiga 9) the overriding advantage of coping with challenge.
Our very attempt to rise to the occasion is what establishes our ‘Tzibur’
(communal) unity and reality.