Hillel teaches in Pirke Avot (2:4): do not separate yourself from the community. I'm not a historian, but I have the impression that at the time he was writing, towns tended to have one (Jewish) community. The shul you go to and the shul across the street that you wouldn't set foot in seems like a newer idea.

I'm a 21st-century city-dweller. There are at least a dozen shuls within a mile of my house, to say nothing of the chavurot and other groups that I don't know about. What exactly is the community that I must not separate myself from?

Am I separating myself from the community if I:

  1. Move from one synagogue to another, within the same "flavor" of Judaism? (e.g. I move from one Modern Orthodox shul to another.)

  2. Move from one synagogue to another, moving to a different "flavor"? (e.g. I'm Modern Orthodox and conclude that what really speaks to me is Lubavich.)

  3. Cease affiliating but join or form a chavurah?

  4. Remain affiliated but stop going? (I think I know the answer to this one, but just checking.)

In all of these cases I've separated myself from a community, but in three of the four I've then joined another (not necessarily of the same size). According to Hillel, am I behaving inappropriately?

Disclaimer: this is a thought experiment. I have no intentions of leaving my current synagogue (and by the way, it's neither Modern Orthodox nor Lubavich).

  • 1
    I think that there is a teshuva of R' Moshe Feinstein regarding making another shul. He says that if one stays in the same community infrastructure (Beis Din, school, cemetery, etc.) there are stringencies. However, if there is no over-reaching community, each shul is their own community and making another shul is like moving to a neighboring town. (No source so no answer) Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 4:29
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    The Rav Ovadiah MiBartenura interprets the mishnah to mean that you have to share in the troubles of the community
    – b a
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 4:35
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/17117/472 Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 14:21
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/29083/2091
    – Lee
    Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 21:35

1 Answer 1


The Tif'eres Yisrael (commentary on this mishna) says Hilel's maxim is directed at a community leader, and offers a few explanations for it:

  • One should follow the practices of the community.
  • One should act in the best interest of the community, and take their advice, about how to have Torah classes, prayer sessions, or the like.
  • One should feel the pain of the community when there is some problem (שלא תבא), even if it doesn't directly affect him. [This is also the explanation of the Rav (commentary on this mishna), though I don't see that he restricts it to community leaders. I seem also to recall (no source now) that the reason Elimelech, a community leader, died at the start of the book of Rus is that he had been rich and had left Israel during a famine rather than see people starve or support them.]
  • One should, when praying for himself, do so as a member of the community, praying for all in need.
  • Although a leader needs to maintain some distance, he should not keep completely apart.

So — at least according to this commentary — your concerns don't seem to have anything to do with Hilel's maxim, and, as far as it is concerned, you can change synagogues, etc. (Other halachic or moral principles may be at issue, but those are not what you asked about.)

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