This question came up in a discussion and I guess is a topic up for debate. The questions are.

(1) What is the definition of Yiras Shomayim?

(2) Based on that definition, is it possible to not subscribe to normative Orthodox Halachic practices and still posses it?

I'm looking for sources for the definition of (1) and then see if anything can be implied from that definition to answer (2)


  • 2
    I suspect subquestion #1 is big enough (will warrant enough and long-enough answers) on its own that it should be asked separately (if we don't have it yet) and that you should relegate subquestions 2 and 3 to a separate post (or two posts, one apiece).
    – msh210
    Jun 24, 2016 at 18:01
  • 2
    This seems like just a word game.
    – Double AA
    Jun 24, 2016 at 18:02
  • Actually, if you can justify that "Yiras Shomayim" is A Thing (e.g., a mitzva), then this question is answerable. Otherwise, subquestion #1 is a matter of opinion and the other subquestions depend on the answers to #1. Which would mean that this question should be closed as opinion-based. Can you justify that "Yiras Shomayim" is A Thing? If so, please edit the question to indicate what Thing you're referring to. cc @DoubleAA
    – msh210
    Jun 24, 2016 at 18:05
  • 1
    Alright I edited it. Not sure why this is down-voted I guess its controversial then Jun 24, 2016 at 20:46
  • 2
    @PloniAlmoni Why are you not sure? You have comments above explaining problems with the post.
    – Double AA
    Jun 24, 2016 at 21:43

3 Answers 3


According to the Mesilas Yesharim (beginning of ch. 24), there are 2 major divisions of yir'ah, of which one is subdivided.

1- Yir’as ha’onesh: fear of punishment. This is the lowest of the three. However, since even fear of punishment is a motivator, even yir’as ha’onesh is viewed positively.

R’ Shlomo Wolbe zt”l writes that today, we’ve lost that motivating quality. Punishment invokes more thoughts of rebellion than of compliance. He therefore bans corporal punishment of children, and also plays down the role of yir’as ha’onesh a generation raised on democracy, rights, and personal freedoms.

2- Yir’as Shamayim: fear of [the One in] heaven

This is the lofty goal. It, in turn, comes in two flavors:

2a- Yir’as hacheit: fear of sin. This is distinct from the fear of punishment; it’s fear of the sin itself, of the possibility of erring. Mesilas Yesharim continues that when a traditional source speaks of “yir’ah” without specification, it means yir’as hacheit (fear of the sin [itself]).

2b- Yir’as haRomemus: fear of the Grandeur [of G-d]

Note that as the Ramchal progresses, the translation for yir’ah as “fear” becomes steadily less compelling, and that of awe, or acting with awareness of the magnitude of what one is engaging in, seem more appropriate.

The Ramchal writes that the default meaning of yir'as Shamayim is yir'as hacheit. The name of the middah in the beraisa he bases Mesilas Yesharim on is "yir'as hachait" and that is reflected in the names of the relevant chapters.

To explain how fear of sin and awe of Divine grandeur are aspects of the same thing, the Ramchal writes (adapted from R' S Simmons zt"l's translation):

It consists in a person's constantly fearing and worrying that some trace of sin might have intruded itself into his actions or that they contain something, small or great, which is inconsonant with the grandeur of HQBH's honor and with the majesty of His Name. Here we see the strong relationship between yir'as hacheit and fear of yir'as haromemus - their common concern being that one do nothing in opposition to the great Majesty of HQBH.

So it would seem that by definition, someone cannot both reject halakhah and have yir'as Shamayim. But that's rejection, a rebellious turn away from what they would accept as G-d's Will if they were being intellectually honest with themselves.

On the other hand, why couldn't someone who was raised or honestly erred and was misled into having a different value system still fear that some action is out of consonance with Hashem's Will, while not sharing Orthodox beliefs about what that will for us contains? They may have the application of the middah misplaced, but that's a matter of knowledge, not middos.

  • Very Insightful!. Is it possible to say that about someone who opposes normative Halachic practice that they can still have Yiras Shomayim? Jun 26, 2016 at 22:45
  • The main question, despite that @PloniAlmoni is satisfyied by your answer, is what is the non-theologic translation of Yir'at Hashem. Obviously reject halacha is wrong. But nowadays, most people which reject Halacha do not understand that Tora is the truth. The question is if the concept of Yr'at SHamayim is entirely stanger for them.
    – kouty
    Jun 27, 2016 at 6:33
  • 1
    @kouty the question was whether it was possible. So I showed that ny the Ramchal's definition, yes, non-observance and yir'as Shamayim can co-exist. You are addressing the likelihood, given the belief systems currently common among Jews; which is not what I think PloniAlmoni wanted to know. If I can get controversial for a moment, there are likely more yarei Shamayim among the spiritual seeker non-O Jews I teach for the Mussar Institute than among those who attend my daily minyan - most of whom are there because "that's what we do - מצות אנשים מלומדה." Jun 27, 2016 at 7:13
  • @MichaBerger Gooood. interesting Topic
    – kouty
    Jun 27, 2016 at 7:47
  • seems the question needs to be clarified as to what type of person he is asking about. a torah scholar or an ignorant person. one the former there is no room to call him Gd fearing w/o observing halacha
    – ray
    Jun 27, 2016 at 11:18

the Rambam writes in sefer hamitzvot:

The 4th mitzvah is that we are commanded to establish in our minds fear and dread of G‑d (exalted be He); that we not be calm and nonchalant, but be constantly concerned of imminent punishment. The biblical source of this is, "You shall fear G‑d your Lord." (Devarim 6:13)

Hence one who does not care to follow orthodox halacha (shulchan aruch,etc) which is just the practical rulings of the commandments cannot be called God fearing.

  • 1
    This is a good source to be started with. But I think there needs to be a bridge from that to being Shomer Halacha. Jun 26, 2016 at 3:07
  • 1
    @PloniAlmoni then what is there to be afraid of if not transgressing halacha?
    – ray
    Jun 26, 2016 at 5:06
  • @Gizbar I agree with what you're saying. 100% I'm wondering if there are more sources besides for this Rambam. (So as to flesh out the idea) Jun 26, 2016 at 15:57
  • There's God. [15]
    – Double AA
    Jun 26, 2016 at 20:38
  • 1
    Actually, what the Rambam you uote says is that one cannot observe all of halakhah without fearing G-d, not that one cannot fear G-d without observing halakhah. (Nor that one couldn't observe most of halakhah, just that this one mitzvah and related ones would be ruled out.) Jun 26, 2016 at 20:47

Yir'at Shamayim is fear from the "not true", which is not physically perceptible and without consequences (at least if nobody from our physical word can). Only "Who is in heaven" sees.

A man which makes something because it is true has Yir'at Shamayim.

An example: At the second world war, there was some people, not Jews who saved Jewish people, against law, against common opinion, in spite of the clear and present danger, with no expectation of a future reward, because it was right.

People like this give a good example of Yir'at Shamayim. If you think that something is true, you feel duty to make it. This is Yir'at Shamayim.

Some people does not understand the righteousness of orthopractice, but may be that concerning certain issues they understand, they have Yir'at Shamayim. Fairness concerning money needs a greater Yir'at Shamayim then certain ortho. practices.

I heard in name of Rav Shlomo Wolbe Zatsal, that non-religious, but upright and honest people have Yir'at Shamayim in some extent.

See here

Mesilat Yesharim, introduction:

והנה הכתוב אומר (איוב כח כח): "הן יראת ה' היא חכמה", ואמרו רבותינו ז"ל (שבת לא, ב): ""הן" אחת, שכן בלשון יוני קורין ל"אחת" הן". הרי שהיראה היא חכמה, והיא לבדה חכמה, וודאי שאין נקרא חכמה מה שאין בו עיון.‏

The verse says: Ene fear of G-d is wisdom. And Chachamim said Ene : "1", because in Greek language Ene is "One". So fear of G-d is wisdom, it is the only wisdom...

If we spent a few minutes to understand this statement, we see that wisdom, (or knowledge) is the fact that something not apparent will being a part of the reality for the Chacham. So Yir'at Hashem is to see righteousness as consideration to an invisible reality. To explain in a more detailed way is very hard for me.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .