Hillel or Shammai? Ashtanga or Iyengar? Democrat or Republican?
Hillel and Shammai were two leading sages of the last century BCE and the early 1st century CE who founded opposing schools of Jewish thought, known as the House of Hillel and House of Shammai. Traditionally, the sages have characterized the differences in rulings of the two schools as more restrictive- Bet Shammai or more lenient- Bet Hillel. In many legal debates Shammai puts God at the center of the ruling, where as Hillel’s decisions are often based on the individual’s aspiration to holiness. However, this characterization does not always apply. For example, when it comes to matrimonial law, it is Bet Shammai that views women as autonomous individuals possessing equal personal status, while Bet Hillel disregards women’s personal status, thus seemingly more restrictive to women. Though they didn’t always agree, the debate between these schools on matters of ritual practice, ethics, and theology was critical for the shaping of the Oral Law and Judaism as it is today.
Similarly, Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar studied under Yoga Master Krischnamaycharya. Afterwards, they went their separate ways and developed their own methods of teaching and practicing yoga: Ashtanga and Iyengar. Pattabhi Jois was a highly devoted student and took to the ancient texts in order to formulate the vigorous Ashtanga flow that is practiced today. B.K.S. Iyengar’s grew up sickly and weak, therefore he used props to help him gain strength in poses. This informed his style of yoga: an intense focus on form, alignment, and effect on the body. As opposite as these two are they’re both still yoga; complementing each other and expanding the the knowledge it brings to practitioners.
So what can we learn from these seemingly opposing schools of thought?
Senator John McCain’s final words to America spoke to this very idea:“’Fellow Americans’ … We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world…. We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe…we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement.”