1. Is there a problem with acting more stringently in halacha than your Rebbe acts?

  2. If so, what if you are not in front of your Rebbe?

  3. If so (to #1), is having a longer beard or peyos considered a problem? (Even if that's not a stringency, the reason behind not acting stringently in front of your Rebbe could (maybe) apply to things that are not technically a stringency.)

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    Some people have beards which grow longer, so 3 is certainly a more complex question. Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 19:45
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    The rabbi who converted me some years back told me that he didn't mind if his converts went to the right of him, except for one circumstance where a convert joined the Neturei Karta and started saying terrible things about Israel. My rav tracked him down and threatened to revoke his conversion if he continued. The kid dropped out of the NK and later apologized. Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 20:00
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    There is a concept of שלא להוציא לעז על הראשונים to avoid practices which imply impropriety of ones predecessors.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Aug 23, 2015 at 5:07
  • My Mama taught me long ago that "It's not polite to out-Jew your Rebbe/Rabbi"
    – Gary
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 16:04
  • if the way this rebbe lived his life inspired his students to be more strict than him then the student being more strict is a reflection of how this person lived there life. A rebbe who is trully dedicated to a Torah way of life that has ahavas yisroel would find this to be a mechaya that his talmidim are very strict and very careful with halacha. Just my two cents though so you can take or ignore
    – Laser123
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 1:31

3 Answers 3


If I were to break down this question to its bare essentials, I would ask: Does the rabbi make the Jew, or does the Jew make the rabbi? In other words, if we see our life as a journey in which we try to move spiritually upon our current plane and attempt to raise ourselves to new levels, can it be that the rabbi who started us on our path is the one with whom we will finish? Not always, as I will explain below.

My second question focuses on #3: Is it the beard that makes the Jew or is it the Jew who makes the beard? I will explain that, also.

Pirkei Avos 1:6 quotes Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachiah saying: "Obtain a teacher for yourself, acquire a friend for yourself, and judge everyone favorably." These words are a recipe for success: One should always have a teacher -- a rabbi -- who can be a source of spiritual power that enlightens his way and provides strength as need. Similarly, the friend plays an important role in creating positive reenforcement and a supportive environment. Without both, a good teacher and a friend, the Jew has focus and direction in life.

If one looks at the original Hebrew of this teaching, though, it literally reads in Hebrew, "Make a teacher." Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed writes, you should always have a teacher, and even if your teacher isn't someone who "appears to be a 'messenger from the Almighty' Himself; even if he is not the most faultless individual on earth, one should not remain without a rabbi." But that raises the question of what do you do when you actually find someone who strikes you as a "messenger from the Almighty"? Do you stay with your old rebbe who cannot meet that standard, or do you move on? I think since the halacha here is that we make the rabbi, we are not required to remain with the same Rav when our soul requires something better.

But as we learn from Yaakov Avinu's vision of the ladder, Gen. 28:12, our spiritual lives are not, and should not be static -- we should be at least trying to rise up the ladder, otherwise we will be pushed down by those trodding upwards. If our rabbi is only able to move us ten or twelve rungs up the ladder, and no more, and we've reached that level, why must we stop there? Find a new guiding light to move up more.

There is a famous story about the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, zt'l. After the war, a Holocaust survivor, R. Elimelech (Mike) Tress, who knew him before the war, would often come to visit and the Rebbe would treat him with great honor. But the Rebbe's students wondered why a man without a beard would command such respect from the Rebbe when Hasidic custom requires men to be unshaven. The Rebbe responded: “In the World to Come when Mike Tress gets there they will ask him, 'Yid, Yid where is your beard?' When you get there, they will ask 'beard, beard, where is your Yid?!'" In other words, if the only thing the Satan has against you on your Judgment Day is that you failed to grow a beard, you're doing OK. Conversely, if the only merit you have is that you did grow a beard, but made many wrong choices, then the beard is a weak defense.

  • According to Wikipedia, that story is about Irving Bunim, who saved R' Yoel during the shoah. Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 0:36
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    A bare bear is a shaved bear.
    – TRiG
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 22:05

When I was in the conversion process all new comers to shul will think I was the shul's Rabbi as I habe a natural beard but his was trimmed. Of course the impression wouldn't last as my lack of Hebrew have me away. It wasn't my idea to look more Jewish than most congregants buti felt not looking Jewish enough was hindering and slowing the process. I never asked my Rabbi if it bothered him. Later on I moved to a different shul. My beard and peyot were longer than the Rabbi's. I did ask if out was ok how my peyot were as I heard him couple of times advocating for natural beard. He told me was fine. The bigger the better. And it isn't a Yemenite or chassidic community. So ask your Rab instead👍.

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    – mbloch
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 4:00

See Shulchan Aruch O.H.60 that it's assur to stand during krias shema of the morning (see there for exceptions). The Mishna berurah there brings the halacha that you're not allowed to be (publicly) more stringent than the accepted local custom, since it appears to be haughtiness/yehorah. The exception is for a person who is well known to be a true yorei shomayim (G-d fearing person.)

In that same halacha, he says that in front of one's rebbe one may not be more stringent than he even if the talmid is well known to be yorei shomayim, unless the talmid has clear-cut proofs to be more strict. He says this applies also to the mara d'asra/rav of the city, or a gadol hador (who have a din of rabbo muvhk.)

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