The Middot of Hillel [Hillel’s Hermeneutical Rules] Part 5

Hillel’s Fifth Rule is not as cut-and-dry as Ishmael’s rules, for Ishmael takes the Torah5basic uferat ukelal logical argument and splits it up into seven basic logical arguments. Therefore, I have taken Hillel’s fifth middah and placed all of Ishmael’s variations under it.

[5a] Uferat ukelal [#5 Ishmael]

The uferat ukelal [particular and general or from a specific example to a general rule] begins with a particular instance and wraps up the statement with a generalized principle.

For instance, Exodus 22:9 states, “If a man shall give his fellow a donkey or an ox or a sheep.” These are particular animals, but the verse continues and states, “or any animal,” which is the generalized statement, which means all animals are included, not just the donkey, ox, and sheep. In a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 22:1-3, “If your fellow’s ox or sheep walks astray, you are to keep it in tender care until you can return it to him. The same applies to his steed, his clothing, or anything else your fellow owns” [cf. b.Bava Metzia 30b]. Again, the generalized statement mentions oxen and sheep, but ends up including all your fellow’s possessions [this command is made more stringent below in R’Ishmael’s Eighth Rule].

Look to Matthew 23:23, and one can see a Newer Testament example of the uferat ukelal. Yeshua calls a certain group of Pharisees hypocrites[1], because they tithe cumin, rue, and mint, but neglect the “weightier things of Torah,” those weightier things being judgment, lovingkindness, and trust. Yeshua goes on to say, “Those things you ought to do, without neglecting the others.” In other words, the particular statement, [tithing and the weightier things of Torah], are things that should not be neglected [the general rule].


[5b] Kelal uferat ukelal [#6 Ishmael]

Often rendered the general, the specific [example(s)], and the general. In this principle, one may only infer that which is similar to all points involved [cf. b.Shevout 26a]. For instance, Deuteronomy 14:26 states, “And you shall spend the money on all that your heart desires: on oxen, on sheep, or wine, or liquor, or whatever your heart requires, and you shall eat there before Hashem your G-d, and you shall rejoice, you and your household, and the Levite who dwells within your gates.” We have the following structure in the verse:

  • And you shall spend the money on all that your heart desires: This is the first general statement that does not affect what a person can purchase, just as long as it satisfies the desire of the heart.
  • oxen, sheep, wine, liquor: The Torah now produces a specific requirement: the desires of the heart are now limited to food and potable items.
  • or whatever your heart requires: The verse, once again, reverts to a generalized statement. B. Eruvin 27a limits the consumable items to those produced in the earth. Theoretically, a rabbinic council could limit the consumables to exclude hydroponic items since they are not produced in the earth.

Exodus 22:8 says, “For every matter of embezzlement, whether it be an ox, a donkey, for sheep, for clothing, or for any manner of lost thing, etc., the embezzler shall pay double to his fellow.” The verse can be broken down as following:

  • for every matter of embezzlement: This is a generalization; what it includes is unknown.
  • whether it be an ox, a donkey, for sheep, for clothing: This portion of the verse provides specific examples. 
  • or for any manner of lost article: Again, this phrase is a generalization.

The precept limits the doubled fine for embezzlement to portable items of intrinsic value and does not extend into the realm of real estate. The Rabbis did not extend the doubled restitution into notes or bills since they only have symbolic value [for instance, a promissory note is only worth the value of the paper upon which it is written, though it can be symbolic of a great deal of money or goods.]

Another example is Deuteronomy 15:21, “And when it has a blemish, lame, or blind, any evil blemish, you will not sacrifice it to Hashem your G-d.” The Kelal uferat ukelal can be diagrammed in the following manner:

  • and when it has a blemish: This is a perat [general phrase] since it’s not limited in anything in particular.
  • lame, or blind: This phrase limits the examples to specific blemishes.
  • any evil blemish: The verse reverts back to a general statement.

The blemishes in the kelal [general statement], lame and blind, are permanent blemishes. Therefore, the blemishes limited in this verse are external, visible, and permanent. This verse is explored further in b.Bechorot 37a. In spite of the permament blemishes, the animal can still be consumed as food, but it does not qualify as korban.


[5c] Kelal shehu tsarik liferat uferat shehu tsarik likelal [#7 Ishmael]

Often translated as from a general statement requiring an explanatory specific, and from a specific statement that requires an explanatory generality. This rule allows for a particular example to be used to elucidate the general statement. Both the example given in the text and the general statement require each other in order to be understood.

Leviticus 17:13 provides a simple example of this rule. It reads, “He shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.” The phrase, “to cover” is a general term since there are several ways that one can “cover” blood. The verse then states, “with earth.” Earth, dirt, or dust is a specific declaration.  If one were to use a kelal uperat to interpret this verse, one would come to the conclusion that dirt and only dirt can be used to over the blood of a slaughtered animal! However, in this case, “to cover” is often understood to mean “to hide;” therefore the passage requires the clarifying specific statement, “with dust,” otherwise one could hide the blood anywhere as long as it was out of sight.

Sanctify unto Me all first-born male” from Deuteronomy 15:19 is not clear. This is a general statement, but we don’t know the leniencies or the stringencies associated with it. Does it imply the firstborn male of a woman, even if the male has older female siblings from the same mother? Exodus 13:2 provides a specific statement that allows us to understand. It says, “Whoever opens every womb.” Therefore, the first-born male of Deuteronomy 15:19 must the one who opened the womb otherwise he is disqualified. Likewise, the first issue of the womb from Exodus 13:2 must be a male otherwise she is disqualified. Additionally, the term “Whosoever opens the womb,” would exclude those born from caesarian birth because someone else opened the womb, therefore, the phrase, “All the firstborn” is used to include the firstborn males from caesarian births, too [b.Bechorot 19a].


 [5d] Davar shehayah bikelal veyatza min hakelal lelamed lo lelamed al atzmo yatza ella lelammed al hakelal kulo yatza [#8 Ishmael]

This rule indicates that “if a specific instance of a general rule is singled out for special treatment, whatever is postulated from this instance is applied to all instances embraced by the general rule.” For example, Leviticus 20:27 states, “A man or a woman who divines by a ghost or a familiar spirit, shall be put to death – death; you are to pelt them with stones.” The general rule is against witchcraft, and the specific example is divination. According to this rule, every other example of witchcraft, those found in Deuteronomy 18:10-12 [astrology, reading omens, animal charmer, consult to the dead, etc.] also suffer the same penalty: being pelted to death with stones [cf. b.Sanhedrin 67b].

A second example can be found in Deuteronomy 22:1 [first mentioned under uferat ukelal]. The text tells us that anyone who finds lost property must return it to its owner. I told my children [much to their horror] this mitzvah is the Anti-Finders-Keepers-Losers-Weepers Rule. In 22:3, Torah adds, “So shall you do with your fellow’s donkey… clothing… or for any lost articles of your fellow that may become lost, etc.” Donkey and clothing are the first items listed because the donkey is very likely to find an escape route and a coat is likely to be haphazardly set aside when a cold morning progresses into a hot and humid afternoon. Though the donkey and the garment are included in the general expression of anything lost, they are specifically mentioned to provide us the understanding that our duty to find lost articles is limited to such items that are likely to have an owner and items with markings or some uniqueness by which the item may be identified by its owner.

Exodus 35:3 states “You shall not kindle a fire in all your dwellings on the Shabbat.” Kindling is included in the general category of work prohibited on Shabbat. If there are 39 melachot restrictions for Shabbat, why is kindling singled out? It’s used as an example for the sake of comparison. For just as one must bring a chatah sacrifice for kindling, so one must bring a chatah for the other 38 melachot restrictions when performed unintentionally on Shabbat. Therefore, the specific law [kindling] teaches something with regard to the general law [freeing one’s self from labor on Shabbat] – a chatah sacrifice is required for all melachot violations.

In like manner, Leviticus 7:20 forbids those who are ritually unclean from eating the shelamim [peace offering]. The consequence for purposefully ignoring the stringency, causes one to be cut off from the people [karet in Hebrew].

  • The general rules is that contaminated persons cannot eat that which is holy.
  • The specific instance is the shelamim.

The principle teaches that the shelamim is not the exception to the rule, but its karet penalty is applied equally across all sacrifices and holy foods.


[5e] Davar shehayah bikelal veyatza liton toan echad shehu keinyano yatza lehakel velo lehatzmir [#9 Ishmael]

This rule discusses a part of a general rule, which is later singled out to discuss a similar principle [similar to the general principle], was singled out to be more lenient, but is not used to make the principle more stringent. The point to remember for this rule is: General Rule + Similar Principle Leniency. When a particular instance of a general rule is specifically mentioned [using terms similar to the general rule], then only the leniencies of the general rule [not the stringencies] are to be applied in that instance.

For example, Exodus 21:12 states anyone who kills a human being is to be executed. Does the verse indicate that anyone who kills – for every reason imaginable – must be put to death? If one is driving a car and a tie rod snaps and the vehicle careens into oncoming traffic and someone is killed, is the driver put to death because of the accident? The next verse states that if a man inadvertently kills another, he is sent into temporary exile.

  • General Rule: One who kills is put to death [Exodus 21:12]
  • Particular Instance: the killer did not lie in wait for him [Exodus 21:13]
  • Leniency: He is sent into exile [Exodus 21:13, Deuteronomy 19:5]. One who unintentionally kills is particularly mentioned in juxtaposition to the general rule of One who kills is put to death, to indicate the punishment is more lenient: he is not executed – instead he is temporarily banished to a city of refuge for his carelessness.

The torah of tzaraat [or what is commonly called leprosy] is a general rule. Leviticus 13:1-17 details a long and involved process for both the priest and the sufferer, but as a unit, it’s a general rule. The stringencies include seven days quarantine, an examination from the Kohen, if necessary a second week of isolation and another examination for seit from the kohen, and finally a declaration of contamination if so required. The text digresses into two particular instances. Verses 18-21 describe the boil and verses 24-28 the burn.

The laws of the boil [shechin] (Leviticus 13:18–21) and the burn [mikvat aish] (Leviticus 13:24–28) are treated specifically even though these are particular instances of the general rule regarding tzaraat [13:1–17]. The general restrictions regarding the second quarantine week [13:5] and the raw skin [13:10] are, therefore, not be applied to them [b.Chullin 8a].

  • General Rule: The torah of tzaraat – leprosy [Leviticus 13:1-17]
  • Particular Instance #1: The shechin – boil [Leviticus 13:23]
  • Particular Instance #2: The mikvat aish – burn [Leviticus 13:24-28]
  • Leniency: The second week of isolation [Leviticus 13:5] and examination for seit [Leviticus 13:10] stringencies do not apply; the person is deemed clean.

On six days, work may be accomplished, but the seventh day shall be holy to you – a day of complete rest for Hashem; whoever does work on it shall be put to death. You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbat day [Exodus 35:2-3]. The instance of kindling a fire is implied in the restriction of any work, but it’s placement here indicates the penalty is not as drastic: one is not killed for kindling a fire. As discussed under R’Ishmael’s Eighth Rule, the penalty requires a chatah offering.

  • General Rule: Do no work on Shabbat
  • Particular Instance: Kindling a fire in your dwelling
  • Leniency: The death penalty does not apply


[5f] Davar shehayah bikelal veyatza liton toan acher shelo k’inyano yatze lehakel lehachmir [#10 Ishmael]

When a particular instance of a general rule is later singled out specifically to discuss another point dissimilar to those included in the general principle, then both leniencies and stringencies are applied in that instance. The point to remember for this rule is: General Rule + Dissimilar Principle Leniency & Stringency.

An example of this rule can be see in Exodus 21:1-11, where the torah of the man- and maidservant is discussed. In verse 2, the General Rule, a male Jewish servant must go free after no more than six years of service. In verse 7, the Torah singles out the Jewish female servant and says that she does not go free in the same way as a Jewish male servant. Herein, the text provides a leniency [she regains her freedom after reaching the age of 12 (verse 11)] and a stringency [her master or his son has the option of marrying her if he (and presumably her) so desire (verse 8-10)].

  • General Principle: a male Jewish slave is purchased
  • Dissimilar Principle: a female Jewish slave is purchased
  • Leniency: she is free to leave at the end of her childhood
  • Stringency: Marriage is an option for the master or his son [if she agrees]

In yet another return to Leviticus 13, verses 29-37 provide details regarding tzaraat within a person’s hair or beard. The principles for this section are different than the General Rule, therefore, a stringency and a leniency applies.

  • General Principle: The torah of tzaraat [Leviticus 13:1-17]
  • Dissimilar Principle: Tzaraat of the hair or beard [Leviticus 13:29-37]
  • Leniency: The white baheret [Leviticus 13:4] does not apply
  • Stringency: The hair bleached just above the scalp [from verse 30]

The torah of the vicious animal can be read at Exodus 21:28-32. Herein, the owner of an animal that gores to death a person must pay restitution as proposed by the Sanhedrin [verse 30]. In verse 32, Torah adds, “If the ox shall gore a [non-Jewish] slave or a maidservant, thirty silver shekels shall be given to his master and the animal stoned to death.”

  • General Principle: The vicious animal killing a person
  • Dissimilar Principle: The vicious animal killing a slave
  • Leniency: Restitution is a fixed thirty shekels, whether or not the slave is worth it
  • Stringency: The vicious animal shall be stoned


[5g] Davar shehayah bikelal veyatza liton bedavar hechadash I atah yachol lehachatziro li kelalo ad sheyacharizeinu hakatav likelalo beferush [#11 Ishmael]

When a specific instance of a general rule is singled out for a completely novel treatment, the details of the general rule must not be applied to this instance unless Scripture does so specifically [i.e., there is an explicit reference to it].  For instance, Leviticus 5 details the asham [guilt offering]. In another location, an asham offering is detailed for the metzora [leper]. The asham for the metzora, while being common in some areas, contained a stark difference: the guilt offering of the leper requires the Kohen to place blood on the ear, thumb, and toe (Leviticusd 14:14).

Interestingly, if it weren’t for the inclusion of the phrase, “for the guilt offering is like the sin offering, it is the Kohen’s and it is most holy” in Leviticus 14:13, other aspects of the general asham [like sprinkling] would not apply to the Metzora’s asham [cf. b.Yevamot 7a–7b].

  • Specific Instance: Guilt offering or asham of leper [Leviticus 14:12-14]
  • General Rule: The torah of asham [Leviticus 5:1-16]
  • Novel Treatment: blood being placed on the ear, thumb, and toe [Leviticus 14:14]
  • The blood being placed on the ear, thumb, and toe of the leper asham do not apply to the general asham

Leviticus 22:11 permits all those who are born to or who are owned by a Kohen to eat terumah, which is dedicated food items that are designated exclusively for the Kohen. A Kohen’s daughter is likewise included in the inclusionary statement. However, if the Kohen’s daughter marries a non-Kohen, she is prohibited from eating terumah.

  • Specific Instance: Kohen’s daughter marries non-Kohen
  • General Rule: Kohen, family, and indentured servants can eat Terumah
  • Novel Treatment: She is excluded from eating Terumah when marrying a non-Kohen
  • If she divorces or becomes widowed and returns to her father’s house, she will be included once again to eat Terumah

[1] Avot de R’Natan 37 deals with seven types of Pharisees.

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