Yesterday, we noted the debate presented by the Gemara, in Masekhet Beitza (16a), between Shammai and Hillel regarding the manner of preparing for Shabbat. The Gemara relates that whenever Shammai chanced upon a choice food product, he designated it for Shabbat, and if he later found a higher quality product, he ate the first and reserved the second for Shabbat. Hillel, by contrast, enjoyed the blessings of each day, trusting that God would provide a portion also for Shabbat. As we saw, Rashi, surprisingly, follows Shammai’s position in his Torah commentary, interpreting (based on the Mekhilta) the command, “Remember the day of Shabbat” (Shemot 20:7) to mean that one who comes upon a quality item during the week should earmark it for Shabbat. Whereas generally we accept Hillel’s rulings over Shammai’s, Rashi in this instance appears to embrace specifically Shammai’s view.
Maharshal (cited by Siftei Chakhamim) explains that Rashi understood that Hillel and Shammai do not, in fact, argue. According to Maharshal, Hillel agrees with Shammai, that even early in the week, one who comes across an especially high-quality item should set it aside for Shabbat. However, due to his exceptional level of piety and trust in God, Hillel himself acted differently, trusting that a similar item would become available closer to Shabbat. Normative halakha thus follows Shammai’s practice, to which even Hillel subscribed in principle, even though in practice he acted differently.
This theory is advanced also by the Or Zaru’a (Hilkhot Erev Shabbat, 18), as cited by several Acharonim. The Or Zaru’a draws proof from the story told in Masekhet Shabbat (119a) of a fabulously wealthy man who attributed his financial success to the way he showed honor to Shabbat. This man had a butcher shop, and anytime he came across an especially high-quality animal, he reserved its meat for Shabbat. The Gemara appears to approve of this man’s practice, which clearly followed Shammai’s position. The Or Zaru’a thus concludes that Hillel did not disagree with Shammai on this point, even though personally he acted differently due to his unique stature of piety.
This view of the Or Zaru’a is cited approvingly by the Bach (O.C. 242) and by the Rama, in Darkhei Moshe (O.C. 250:1). Likewise, Chida, in his Petach Einyaim commentary (Masekhet Beitza) and in his Machazik Berakha (O.C. 242:5), cites a manuscript of the Shibbolei Ha-leket citing Shammai’s practice, without noting that Hillel acted differently, indicating that the Shibbolei Ha-leket accepted Shammai’s position. Later poskim who embrace this position include the Magen Avraham (250:1), the Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav (242:10) and the Chayei Adam (1:1).
A number of other writers, however, questioned this theory. As we mentioned yesterday, after the Gemara notes the different practices of Hillel and Shammai, it relates that this issue was also debated by Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai – the schools of Hillel and Shammai, with each school advocating for its founder’s practice. It appears that this question was, indeed, the subject of a bona fide halakhic debate, and Hillel – and his disciples – disputed Shammai’s position. At least from the simple reading of the Gemara, it seems quite clear that Hillel did not merely choose to follow a different personal practice, but actually held a different opinion that Shammai, such that we should accept Hillel’s practice, and not Shammai’s.
As a practical matter, the Mishna Berura (250:2) writes that certainly, if one comes across a high-quality item that will not likely be available later in the week, he should designate it for Shabbat, rather than assume that it will somehow be attainable later.