Sunday 15 July 2018



We all know about Tzniyut or modesty when it comes to clothing. In fact, one of the thickest books in my library is a modern English book on modesty, which for some reason, I received as a gift.
However, there is a less-known but just as important type of modesty - a 'spiritual modesty' - which one also needs to be aware of.

What follows is my translation of sections of Otzarot haMussar by Rabbi Moshe Zuriel:[1]

NOTE: I have sacrificed fluidity of writing style for more of a technical translation in the interests of better accuracy.


Our Sages have denigrated the person who shows himself off [or makes a spectacle of himself], even when it comes to [the worthy task of] serving G-d.


"[R. Yehoshua] says in the Mishna[2]  that a ‘conniving wicked person’ is [one of those individuals] who destroys [the moral and religious fabric] of the world.

How do we define such a [‘conniving wicked person’]?

[Rav Sheshet explains that the ‘conniving wicked person’] is one who persuades others with his ways [convincing them to mimic his seemingly righteous behaviour, yet in reality, he is a religious hypocrite].

And Rashi explains [that the ‘conniving wicked person’] is one who tells others to do like he does and to follow his [stricter] ways and yet [this ‘leader’s’] only motivation is to show off to others just how ‘pious’ he is. His outside piety does not match his internal deceit - and through [showing such religious ‘leadership’] he hides his own shortcomings [from his followers]."

"And how did Rashi know that [the individual referenced here] was only ‘pious on the outside in order to hide his internal deceit’?
Perhaps this individual was indeed genuinely concerned with teaching others how to serve G-d?
[Rashi knew that this individual was being deceitful because the implication is that he was over-exhibiting his religiosity] and it is written that ‘One must walk modestly with Hashem.'”[3]

"The Talmud continues to list seven examples of such bogus piety:

[Two examples follow:]

The self-flagellating righteous who injures his feet – which Rashi explains as the person who walks in [fake] humility to the extent that he drags his feet upon the ground without lifting up his feet [causing them to get injured].

And the bloodletting righteous - who closes his eyes so as not to see women and in the process can’t see where he is going, and bangs his head against walls till blood is drawn. (See Addendum at the conclusion of this article for a modern take on this Gemara.)

These are [just two] examples of [fake and exaggerated piety] which corrode the [religious fabric of] the world."


We must note the words of Rambam[4]:

“...these deplorable people add [extra practices] to what they are [already] obligated to observe and over exaggerate their external [appearances and behaviour] in order to deceive the minds of ordinary people...and by so doing they make the Torah appear as disgusting.”

"What Rambam is saying is that when a person adds to his religious obligations and does so in an exaggerated manner, other people [who observe such behavioural patterns] will find it a source of comedy [and bemusement] as they are not used to such performances – and they will come to blame the ‘Torah’ [for creating such people]." See KOTZK BLOG 57.

For similar reasons, it is forbidden to bow more than necessary at [the beginning of] the ‘Modim’ prayer [where a measured bow is prescribed].[5]


Another explanation is offered by the Meiri[6]:

“The matter of ‘the foolishly pious’ is where one is overly pious, to the extent that his ‘righteousness’ actually causes damage either to himself or to others, such as in a case where one fasts continuously etc.”


One of the ways to identify an individual who has studied Torah for its own sake [and not for an ulterior motive] is to see if he is ‘modest and patient and forgiving of infringes against his ego’[7]

The Maharal wrote on this[8]: “Modesty is the hallmark of Torah. [Modesty] stems from the higher [spiritual] realms which are hidden and modest. For this reason, one who learns Torah for its own sake is [of necessity, also] hidden and modest in all of his ways. He is not a [religious] exhibitionist.”


R. Tzvi Hirsch Kaidanover (1650-1712), author of Kav haYashar[9] [or The Good Measure, a work which uplifted the spirits of the Jews after the Chmelnitzki Massacres or 1648] writes:

[Note: Some editions of Kav haYashar had censored and intentionally omitted this particular section.]

“An individual must be careful - even if he knows how to spiritually focus on the ‘Kabbalisic kavanot (concentrations)’ during his prayers – not to pray at length during the communal prayers. This would be an issur gammur – an absolute prohibition! He should only pray tefilato k’peshuto, a simple [and quick] prayer [when in the synagogue during communal prayers, so as not to stand out and draw attention to himself].

This has always been a tradition with me:

One who draws out his prayers longer than it takes the community to recite them, it goes without saying that he is doing so in order draw attention to himself, and of necessity his prayer will therefore not be considered.

I also saw [my father] the Gaon R. Aharon Shmuel Kaidanover [known as Maharshak] and other rabbis who would pray without drawing their prayers out at all.
And they would disapprove of the other rabbis who would draw their prayers out more than necessary.


As the Rivash [R. Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet (1326–1408)] wrote in his Responsa[10] (see also Mishna Berura 98:1): ‘[During communal prayers] one must only concentrate on the simple meaning of the words and no more.


A [Talmudic] support for this may be found in R. Akiva[11]:
When he used to pray with the community, he would start and conclude at the same time as them. This, however, was not the case when he would pray privately because we know that he [would get so lost in his prayers that] he would start in one place [in his home] and end in another.


According to the Pele Yoetz [or ‘Wondrous advisor’ published in 1824 by R. Eliezer Papo]:

It is forbidden to raise one’s voice or to cry during Prayers and the Reading of the Torah as it would be considered to be arrogant, and this also applies to the Shemona Esrei.”


Furthermore, the Chida [R. Chaim Yosef David Azulai (1724-1806)] also rejected [such open displays of religiosity].

He writes:

“[During prayers] one should not cry out in a loud voice as it is not appropriate [behaviour, conducive] to the fear of Heaven, nor is it respectful of a synagogue.

He continues:

Nor should one cry out while answering to the Kedusha, because such yelling is [actually] a sign of [both] little respect and modesty. It [also] disturbs others from concentrating.


It would not be considered appropriate for a person to turn himself into such a [‘pious’] Chassid in front of the community, so that he falls on his face before them and turns himself into the main character of the prayer [service]... as there is no character attribute greater than modesty and nothing more offensive than a [self-made spiritual] authority.”


"[This spiritually exaggerated behaviour] has another downside in that it causes week minded people to ridicule that person [and the Judaism he represents]...and (according to Mesilat Yesharim)[12] they will be held accountable [for their mockery – together with] the ‘Chasid’ who caused the stumbling-block [in the first place].

[The reason why the spiritually overstated person is held accountable for people ridiculing his behaviour] is because had it been a clear Din [or Halacha that caused people to ridicule him] he would have had to do it regardless of their mockery [and he would not have been held accountable]. However, this is not the case where the action was one of ‘Chassidut’ [or a non-Halachic practice, where he would be held accountable for the ridicule he caused] because the public spectacle [which he created] in front of everyone was not a Halachic requirement but rather something extraneous."


What strikes one from these sources is that they paint a different picture from many of the common practices we are familiar with. People do shout out, sometimes even wail, and they do delay their prayers long after the regular communal davening. In some circles, this is even encouraged and those who do so are considered worthy.

Yet the Kav haYashar regards it as an issur gammur - an absolute prohibition – to draw out one’s prayers during public davening!

Instead, even the prayers of the genuine righteous, are to be tefilato k’peshuto - simple and at the same pace as the community - so as not to focus attention on any particular individual, turning him into the rosh le’tefilatam[13] or the ‘main attraction' of the prayers.

And this section was censored out of some editions!

It must be remembered that the Kav haYashar became one of the most popular books in the Jewish world after it was first published in 1705. It was published and distributed throughout almost all of the countries in which Jews had lived at the time.

During the first hundred years after publication, it was republished at least thirty times and to date, there have been over eighty editions, including seven in Yiddish and three in Ladino.

The question one has to ask is: What agenda drove some to feel that such an influential and inspirational work should not reference this notion of ‘spiritual modesty’?



A modern reconstruction of the Rashi regarding the one "who closes his eyes so as not to see women and in the process can’t see where he is going, and bangs his head against walls till blood is drawn".
These are amongst those who destroy the [religious fabric] of the world.


"The planned takeoff time: Six in the evening. Everyone boards, sits down, waits. Then the commotion starts. Four Haredim who boarded the flight refuse to sit next to women… 
(O)ne of the Haredi men, "particularly zealot and ascetic, boarded the plane with his eyes shut tight, led by the hand by his friend, and remained that way throughout the entire flight."

 The Haredim were unwilling to speak with—or look at—the female flight attendants. All of the men on the flight crew, apart from the captain, were now focused solely on this, instead of preparing for takeoff and serving the passengers…
 And then a prolonged diplomatic process began of moving female passengers from their seats to clear a row of seats for the four Haredim.

"After a lot of twists and turns, shouting and maneuvering, two women (one American around 70 years old and the other a young Israeli woman) agreed—because of time constraints among other things—to switch seats, and the crisis was resolved."

At the end of the ordeal, "the flight crew, which ran up and down the aisles for over an hour, appeared exhausted even before takeoff, though I assume they're used to such scenes."

He also noted that "for there to be no doubt: The women were not upgraded to better seats, only moved to different seats in economy. Not that it's relevant to the principle of the matter, of course."

According to the passenger, other religious Jews aboard the plane 'expressed surprise and disgust at the Haredim's behavior.'"

For more see:
And see:


  • R. Yosef Dov halevi Soloveitchik said:

"The religious experience is not the primary gesture. It is only secondary. The point of departure must never be the internal subjective experience, no matter how redemptive it is, no matter how colorful it is, no matter how therapeutic it is, no matter how substantial its impact upon the total personality of man…
We can never determine what is a religious experience in contradistinction to a hedonic mundane experience. We know of many hedonic emotions which are provided with enormous power, which are hypnotic, and, at first glance, redemptive…"

  • R. Avrohom Gordimer writes: 

"Every individual experiences and communes with Hashem in a different manner than his fellow; avodas Hashem is principally private and personal. One’s personal chumros and minhagim should thus be private, reflective of his unique relationship with Hashem. By keeping one’s chumros and minhagim private, his personal connection with Hashem remains intimate and unique....
One’s public comportment must embody Kiddush Hashem and dignity. Not drawing attention and not being too loud, but being humble, pleasant and dignified mark the way of the Jew in the company of others. Being distinctively Jewish is praiseworthy, but the private, inward posture of the Jew’s spiritual identity governs his public comportment..."

[1] Otzarot haMussar, Chelek Bet, by R. Moshe Zuriel; p. 846.
[2] Sotah 20a.
[3] Micha 6:8.
[4] Commentary on the Mishna, Sotah, ch. 3, Mishna 3.
[5] Rambam, Hilchot Tefillah, ch 9, Halacha 4. See Kesef Mishna commentary for more.
[6] Sotah 21a.
[7] Avot, 6.
[8] P. 285.
[9] Ch, 100.
[10] Siman 157.
[11] Berachot 31a.
[12] The Mesilat Yesharim or Path of the Just was written by R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-17460
 [13] To borrow the expression from the Meiri.


  1. This is a source of frustration for me in my shul. People stand Shmoneh Esrei for a very long time and other people who finished are not able to step back because it would cause them to go into the arbah amos of the person shlepping out his tefillah. Also, all the clapping, shouting, etc. make it hard to focus on the davening.

  2. I am surprised that you did not know that the airplane story was debunked. The delay was for a couple of minutes, maximum.

  3. The story was not debunked. The alleged delay of more than an hour was, however, shown to be inaccurate. If you read my excerpt from Arutz Sheva, you will notice I intentionally left out the reference to the 'delay'.
    Furthermore, if you read carefully, you will notice two links to that story. The second link deals with the 'delay' and acknowledges that the 'delay'was inaccurate - but makes the point that the disruption, attitudes and commotion as reported in the story were nevertheless still correct and accurate.
    It is, anyway, well known that such events are becoming more and more frequent and the resultant Chilul haShem from some individual's Chumras is what really is germane and relevant.