Do Chazal have a positive or a negative attitude towards the person who abstains from worldly pleasures (pleasures that weren't prohibited by the Torah)?

  • 1
    Consider as well editing in what prompted this question, what you might expect to find, what specific forms of worldly pleasures your interested in if any, etc. Clearly the Torah did prohibit some worldly pleasures, so you may want to clarify what exactly you mean by an attitude towards that since Chazal aren't expected to denounce the Torah. Remember that asking and answering your own questions is allowed if you be sure to ask the question from the perspective if someone who doesn't know the answer. Also if you intended this to be limited to Chazal and not Rishonim you may wish to explain why
    – Double AA
    Jun 8, 2017 at 2:20
  • Limiting to pleasures not forbidden by the Torah seems to be missing half the point of the question, since if we decide avoiding pleasure is bad, then why'd the Torah do it so much
    – Double AA
    Jun 8, 2017 at 2:28
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    Do we really need an asceticism tag? How many questions is it useful for?
    – Double AA
    Jun 8, 2017 at 2:35
  • It is nevertheless part of Jewish literature and Halacha, so why not create a new tag?
    – Bach
    Jun 8, 2017 at 2:41
  • Tags aren't ways of recording what's part of Jewish literature. There are entire books of tanakh with no tag, because there juat aren't currently questions about them
    – Double AA
    Jun 8, 2017 at 2:43

4 Answers 4


The gemara in Taanis 11a brings a Machloket between two sages on how we should view the Nazir who abstains from wine,

ר' אלעזר הקפר ברבי אומר מה תלמוד לומר {במדבר ו-יא} וכפר עליו מאשר חטא על הנפש וכי באיזה נפש חטא זה אלא שציער עצמו מן היין והלא דברים קל וחומר ומה זה שלא ציער עצמו אלא מן היין נקרא חוטא המצער עצמו מכל דבר ודבר על אחת כמה. רבי אלעזר אומר נקרא קדוש שנאמר קדוש יהיה גדל פרע שער ראשו ומה זה שלא ציער עצמו אלא מדבר אחד נקרא קדוש המצער עצמו מכל דבר על אחת כמה וכמה

R Eliezer Hakafer calls the Nazir a sinner because he abstains from wine (wine was a necessity in ancient times). R Elazar (without a surname) disagrees with him, and regards the Nazir as a holy man. However, the consensus of the Rabbis seems to concur with the former view that the Nair is a sinner (see Taanis 11b. see also Rambam Shemona Perakim chapter 4 where he completely disregards the opinion of R Elazar. In hilchot dayot 3:1 he paskens like R Elazar Hakafer as well. However, see Tur & SA OC siman 571. They seem to pasken like R Elazar). We find the view of R Elazar Hakafer in other places in the Talmud as well, in the the Yerushalmi (Nedarim 29a) we find a similar saying,

רב דימי בשם רבי יצחק לא דייך מה שאסרה לך התורה אלא שאתה מבקש לאסור עליך דברים אחרים

Rav Dimi condemns the person that pledges not to eat certain foods, and argues that a person should not add prohibitions, since the Torah already prohibited enough things for us. The Bavli in Nedarim (22a) seems to endorse this view as well, it compares one who makes a Neder to one who builds a Bamah (a forbidden altar) and sacrifices on it (see Ran for clarification). From all this we can see that Chazal did not have a positive attitude towards the ascetic.

The reason Chazal discourage us from abstaining from permitted necessary pleasures is stated in the gemara Taanis 11b,

אמר רבי ירמיה בר אבא אמר ריש לקיש אין תלמיד חכם רשאי לישב בתענית מפני שממעט במלאכת שמים:

Unnecessary abstinence drains the person and makes him unfit to worship Hashem properly. The Rambam in Shemona Perakim (chapter 4) adds another reason: a person that abstains from worldly pleasures thinks that god hates the mortal body and wants to destroy it, he thinks that by abstaining from worldly pleasures he becomes closer to god, this is unhealthy destructive thinking, Chazal are teaching us here that the Torah doesn’t stand for such behavior. He also adds that abstaining too much makes a person sick and incapable of doing what he needs to do. He explains that the wise pious men only abstained as a means to refinement of their characters, but the fools took it in the wrong way and thought that this is what god wants from them,

וכאשר ראו הכסילים שהחסידים עשו אלו הפעולות ולא ידעו כונתן, חשבו שהן טובות וכונו אליהן, בחשבם שיהיו כמותם ויענו את גופתם בכל מיני ענוי, ויחשבו שהם הקנו לעצמם מעלה ומדה טובה ושעשו טובה ושבזה יתקרב האדם לשם כאילו השם יתברך שונא הגוף ורוצה לאבדו, והם לא ידעו שאלו הפעולות רעות ושבהן תגיע פחיתות מפחיתות הנפש... וזאת התורה התמימה המשלמת אותנו, כמו שהעיד עליה יודעה (תהלים, י"ט ח'), "תורת ה' תמימה משיבת נפש עדות ה' נאמנה מחכימת פתי", לא זכרה דבר מזה. ואמנם כונתה להיות האדם טבעי הולך בדרך האמצעית: יאכל מה שיש לו לאכול בשווי, וישתה מה שיש לו לשתות בשווי, ויבעול מה שמותר לו לבעול בשווי, וישכון במדינות ביושר ובאמונה. ולא שישכון במדברות ובהרים, ולא שילבש הצמר והשער, ולא שיענה גופו, והזהירה מזה לפי מה שבא בקבלה ואמר (במדבר ו' י"א), "וכפר עליו מאשר חטא על הנפש", ואמרו רבנן זכרונם לברכה (תענית י"א. נדרים י'. נזיר י"ט - כ"ב. סוטה ט"ו. בבא קמא צ"א. שבועות ח'), "וכי על איזה נפש חטא זה, אלא שמנע עצמו מן היין, והלא דברים קל וחומר, מה זה שציער עצמו מן היין צריך כפרה - המצער עצמו מכל דבר ודבר על אחת כמה

Another reason is mentioned in the Lechem Mishna (dayot 3:1) and the Yefay Mareh (Yerushalmi Kidushin 4:12) that the Nazir hurts his soul by abstaining from things that are permitted to him, and is oiver on the issur of Chovel, and as the gemara already states somewhere else (Bava Kama 91b) a person is not allowed to bruise oneself. See also Tosfos Taanis 11a.

So far it was only proven that Chazal discouraged us from abstaining from necessary pleasures. But in another place (Yerushalmi Kidushin 4:12) it is implied that that not only should we not abstain but that there is a positive command to engage in worldly pleasures,

ר' חזקיה ר' כהן בשם רב עתיד אדם ליתן דין וחשבון על כל שראתה עינו ולא אכל. ר' לעזר חשש להדא שמועתא ומצמית ליה פריטין ואכיל בהון מכל מילה חדא בשתא

(R Yeruchem Fishel Perlow in his commentary on the Resa’g (mitzvah 95) explains that according to R Saadia it is a mitzvah to eat meat when the person yearns for it; that is the verse in Dvarim (12:20) כִּי יַרְחִיב יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת גְּבֻלְךָ כַּאֲשֶׁ דִּבֶּר לָךְ וְאָמַרְתָּ אֹכְלָה בָשָׂר כִּי תְאַוֶּה נַפְשְׁךָ לֶאֱכֹל בָּשָׂר בְּכָל אַוַּת נַפְשְׁךָ תֹּאכַל בָּשָׂר: is a positive command. He brings the above mentioned gemara to support the idea).

If we take this saying of the Yerushalmi literally, then we must say that the Nazir is not a sinner only because he makes himself sick, he is a sinner because he rejects a gift that god gave to him. God created a world filled with pleasures because he wanted us to enjoy his world, which is why we must make a point to engage in worldly pleasures and not to abstain from them, a Nazir is doing the opposite of what god intended the world to be, this is why he is considered a sinner.

However, we should not confuse abstinence with Perishus. Chazal encouraged Perishus which is abstaining from excessive pleasure and indulgence (see Ramban vayikra 19:2), what they condemn is abstinence from necessary pleasures only.

  • Consider also the Gemara in chullin about yalta and the shibbuta fish
    – Double AA
    Jun 8, 2017 at 2:30
  • 1
    Note the various girasaos of that yerushalmi, though anyway there is no indication that all of Chazal felt that way. R lazar's practice was unique not standard. Plus as seen in the commentaries there your simplistic read of the yerushalmi isnt obviously​correct
    – Double AA
    Jun 8, 2017 at 2:31
  • what bearing does the gemara about yalta have on this post? can you clarify?
    – Bach
    Jun 8, 2017 at 2:39
  • Plain R Elazar is R Elazar ben Shamua
    – Double AA
    Jun 8, 2017 at 2:42
  • @DoubleAA the rambam seems to think that it is the majority view of Chazal not something unique to r elazar hakafer.
    – Bach
    Jun 8, 2017 at 2:47

Kodoshim Tihu:

• Mkadesh yourself by abstaining also from that which is permitted to you" (Yevamot 20a) Ramban counts it as a mitzvah.

• Nedarim 10a - 2 Shittas, one says a Nasir is a Choteh (sinner). What's his averah ? Not drinking wine? Is what the Torah has forbidden you not enough!

Another one says he's a "Ish Kodesh". Why, cause he abstained from wine?

• Mishna In Avos Perek 6: This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, and live a life of hardship."

While - Rav Nachman In Baba Kama 72 that a point of Halacha can be properly understood after enjoying a juicy steak

And also in yerushalmi kiddushin: Rabbi Chizkiah's says "A person will have to answer for everything that his eye beheld and he did not consume.

So there's really two ways of looking at it. But from what I understand, be like Beis hillel and do everything lshem shamayim - Sof B'Gm Kiddushin.

In everything you do, do it to know HaShem.

Bchol Darchecha Deyhu- Mishlei.


Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam (the son of the Rambam) has a very long chapter in his Guide to serving God (here in English) - chapter 10. He describes at length the virtue of abstinence as a barrier against squandering once life in materiality.

He brings dozens of sources from Tanach and Chazal to back up his argument, and incidentally follows in the footsteps of his father (see e.g., More Nevuchim 3:33).


the Mesilat Yesharim in chapter 13 discusses the relevant chazals

The general principle of Separation is what our sages of blessed memory said: "sanctify yourself [by abstaining] of what is permitted to you" (Yevamot 20a). This is the meaning of the word "Separation" itself. That is to say - to separate and distance from the thing, prohibiting on oneself something which is permitted. The intent in this is to not come to violate the prohibition itself.

The intent is that a person distance and separate from anything which may lead to something which could bring about evil, even though right now it does not cause evil and even though it is not itself evil.

If you contemplate and consider the matter, you will see that there are three different levels here:

(1) The prohibited things themselves.

(2) Their "fences", namely, the decrees and safeguards instituted by our sages, of blessed memory, enacted for every Jew.

(3) The distancing measures incumbent on every Parush (man of Separation) to make for himself to withdraw in and build [additional] personal fences, namely, to abstain from permitted things themselves which are not forbidden to every Jew and separate from them in order to keep far away from the evil a great distance.

If you ask: On what grounds should we add on additional prohibitions? Our sages of blessed memory already said: "is what the Torah prohibited not enough for you that you seek to forbid on yourself additional matters?!" (Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:1). Surely that which our sages, in their great wisdom, saw necessary to prohibit and make fences they already did so. Thus that which they left as permitted is because they deemed proper for it to be permitted and not forbidden.

Why then should we now adopt new decrees which they did not see fit to enact? Furthermore, there is no end to this matter. Thus, a man would soon be desolate and afflicted, deriving no enjoyment whatsoever from this world, while our sages, of blessed memory, said: "a person will in the future be held accountable before G-d on all that his eyes beheld and he did not want to eat from it" (Yerushalmi Kidushin 4:12). This is even though it was permitted to him and he had the ability to do so. They brought support for this from scripture: "all that my eyes desired I did not deprive them" (Kohelet 2:10).

The answer to this is that Separation is certainly needed and essential. Our sages of blessed memory exhorted us on this saying (Torat Kohanim 19:2): " 'you shall be holy' (Vayikra 19:2) - you shall be Perushim (men of Separation)".

They further said: "whoever fasts is termed 'holy', we can make this inference from the case of a Nazir" (Taanit 11a).

They further said (Pesikta D'Rav Kahana 6:58): " 'the righteous man eats to sate his soul' - this refers to Chizkiyahu, King of Judah, whose meal consisted of two litras of vegetables... The Jews would mock him saying: 'this is a king?'".

They further said regarding the holy Rabeinu HaKadosh, who before his death lifted his ten fingers and said: "it is revealed and known to You that I did not derive pleasure from this world, not even to my little finger."

They further said (Yalkut Shimoni 247:830): "before a man prays that the words of Torah enter his innards, he should first pray that food and drink not enter them".

All these statements clearly teach the need for Separation and its duty. However, in any case, we must reconcile the statements which indicate the contrary of this.

The explanation is that the matter certainly involves many fundamental distinctions. There is [good] Separation which we are commanded in and there is [bad] Separation which we are warned not to stumble in. This is what king Shlomo said: "do not be overly righteous" (Kohelet 7:16).

We will now explain the good type of Separation. After it has become clear to us that all matters of this world are trials to a man, as we wrote earlier and demonstrated with proofs, and likewise after we have truly realized man's great frailness and his close disposition to all evil, it will perforce be clear that man should do whatever he can to spare himself from these matters in order to protect himself from the evil which is at their feet. For there is no worldly pleasure which does not draw after it some sin in its heel.

For example: food and drink, when clean of all dietary prohibition are permitted to eat. But filling one's belly draws after it removal of the yoke of Heaven, and drinking of wine draws after it licentiousness and other evils. All the more so, once a person habituates himself to satiate [his belly] with food and drink. For then if but one time he lacks fulfilling his habit, it will greatly pain and disturb him.

Due to this, he inserts himself in the rush of business toil and acquiring possessions in order that his table be set as he wishes. From there he is further drawn to wrongdoing and theft, and from there to taking [false] oaths and all other sins which follow. He thus goes away from the divine service, and from Torah study and prayer.

But if from the beginning he had not allowed himself to be drawn after these pleasures, he would have spared himself from all this.

In this way our sages said regarding the rebellious son: "the Torah foresaw his final outcome..." (Sanhedrin 72a).

Similarly, regarding licentiousness they said: "whoever sees the Sotah in her disgrace should make a Nazirite vow against wine" (Sotah 2a).

Observe that this is a great strategy for a man to save himself from his Evil Inclination. Because when a man is engaged in a sin it is very difficult for him to defeat and subdue it. Therefore it is necessary that while a man is still far from the sin, he keeps his distance. For then it will be difficult for the evil inclination to draw him close to the sin.

Marital relations are completely permitted but the sages decreed immersion in a Mikveh for those who had seminal emissions in order that Torah scholars not be frequently with their wives like roosters. For even though the conjugal act itself is permitted nevertheless he imprints this lust within his nature, and from there he can be drawn to the forbidden as our sages said: "there is a small organ in man. If one satiates it, it becomes hungry. But if he starves it, it becomes satiated" (Sanhedrin 107a).

Not only that but even at the fitting hour and proper time they said of Rabbi Eliezer: "he uncovers a handbreadth and conceals two, and acted as though he were compelled by a demon" (Nedarim 20b), in order to not derive pleasure then.

Regarding clothing and ornaments, the Torah did not issue warnings regarding their beauty or style but rather only that they not contain a mixture of wool and linen and that they be fitted with Tzitzit. Otherwise, they are all permitted.

But, who does not know that fancy clothing and ornaments will draw a person to arrogance, and also licentiousness will mix its way in, aside from giving rise to jealousy, lust, and oppressing others which are generated by whatever man deems precious to attain. Our sages already said: "as soon as the Evil Inclination sees a man swinging his heels [when walking], smoothing his garments, and curling his hair, he says - this one is mine!" (Bereishis Raba 22:6).

Strolls and conversations which are not of something prohibited are certainly permitted according to the Torah. But how much neglect of Torah study (bitul Torah) is drawn after this, how much slander, how many lies, how much frivolity. And scripture says: "In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking [but he who holds back his lips is wise]" (Mishlei 10:19).

The general principle: since all matters of this world are nothing but grave dangers, how could he who wants to escape from them and strive to distance from them not be deemed praiseworthy?

This is the good type of Separation, namely, where one takes from the world, in all the uses he makes of it, only that which he is forced to due to the needs of his nature.

This is what Rebbi Yehuda praised himself in the statement I quoted, that he did not derive pleasure from this world, not even for his little finger, although he was Prince of Israel and his table was necessarily a table of kings due to the dignity of his position, as our sages of blessed memory taught: " 'two nations are in your womb' (Bereishis 25:23) - this refers to Rebbi and Antoninus, from whose table neither lettuce, nor radish nor cucumber was ever absent either in summer or winter" (Avodah Zarah 11a). This was likewise the case for Chizkiyahu, King of Yehuda.

The other teachings I quoted all support and teach that it is incumbent on a man to separate from all that is [for the sake of] worldly pleasure in order to not fall into its danger.

If you ask: if this is so necessary and essential, why did the sages not decree this like they decreed on the various fences and enactments?

The answer is clear and simple for "our sages do not impose an enactment upon the people unless the majority of the public will be able to abide by it" (Bava Kama 79b). The majority of the public are not capable of being Pious so it is sufficient for them that they be Tzadikim (righteous).

But upon the remnant few among the nation who desire to attain closeness to Him, blessed be He, and to benefit, through their attainment, the rest of the masses who depend on them - on them is incumbent to fulfill the Mishna (code) of the Pious which others are not capable of fulfilling.

These duties are the aforementioned orders of Separation. In this G-d has chosen. For it is impossible for the nation that each individual be equal in level because there are various ranks, each man according to his level of understanding.

Behold, at least there should be a few treasured individuals who prepared themselves completely, and through these few the non-prepared will also merit to receive His love, blessed be He, and the indwelling of His Shechina (Divine presence).

As our sages, of blessed memory, expounded on the four species of the Lulav: "let these come and atone on those" (Vayikra Raba 30).

And we find regarding Eliyahu, who answered Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi in the story of Ula the son of Koshev when the latter said: "is it not a Mishna?" And Eliyahu rebuked him: "But is it a Mishna for the Pious?" (Yerushalmi Terumot 8:10).

But the bad sort of Separation is that of the foolish gentiles who abstain not only from taking of the world the non-essential but also from taking that which is essential. They smite their bodies with sufferings and strange afflictions which G-d does not desire at all. On the contrary, our sages said: "it is forbidden for a man to afflict himself" (Taanit 22b). And regarding charity they said: "whoever needs to take but does not take is as one who sheds blood" (Yerushalmi end of Peah). And likewise they interpreted: " 'a living soul' - the soul that I gave you, keep it alive" (Taanit 22b). And "whoever sits in fast is called a sinner" (Taanit 11b), which they qualified as being in the case where a person is unable to withstand it.

And Hillel would apply the verse: " 'the pious man does good to his own soul' (Mishlei 11) to eating the morning meal. He would also wash his face and hands in honor of his Maker, inferring from the practice of washing the statues of kings" (Vayikra Rabba 34).

Here then is a true general principle: whatever worldly matter is not essential for a man, it is proper for him to separate from it, and whatever is essential to him for whatever reason, if he separates from it - he is a sinner, since that thing is necessary for him.

Behold, this is a faithful guideline. But the weighing of this rule is a matter of individual judgment and "according to his understanding a man is praised" (Mishlei 12:8). For it is impossible to discuss all the details of Separation for they are so numerous that a man's mind cannot grasp all of them. Rather each matter must be dealt with in its time.

see also Gate 9 of Chovot Halevavot.

  • 1
    Can you include some of the relevant sources form Chazal, since that's what the question was getting at? Even just a list of sources would be better than this
    – Double AA
    Jun 8, 2017 at 22:02
  • @DoubleAA i would have to cut and paste the whole chapter to present it properly. feel free to convert to comment
    – ray
    Jun 9, 2017 at 6:07
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    While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes. - From Review
    – DonielF
    Jun 13, 2017 at 22:25
  • @DonielF updated. how could the mesilat yesharim be changed?
    – ray
    Jun 14, 2017 at 5:06
  • 1
    Perhaps a summary of each of the Maamarei Chazal he quotes?
    – DonielF
    Jun 14, 2017 at 5:14

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