Yuhara (Halachic Methodology 16)

There has been much discussion recently about the issur of Yuhara, of acting with spiritual arrogance.  The issue is quite complicated, but I tried to summarize some of the main issues.  The shiur and source are available here.

The Gemara in Berachos and Pesachim presents a dispute as to whether a newly married man, who is exempt from Shema, is allowed to say Shema if he wants to.  The Rabanan permit it while R. Shimon ben Gamliel forbids it.  The Gemara first suggests that they dispute whether we forbid people from acting in certain ways because of Yuhara or not.  However, it notes that there seems to be a contradiction.  The Gemara rules that in a place where the custom is not to work on Erev Pesach, Talmidei Chacham should not work.  R. Shimon ben Gamliel permits anyone to act like a Talmid Chacham and not work.  Here, as opposed to the case above, the Rabanan seem to worry about Yuhara and R. Shimon does not, creating a double contradiction.  The Gemara suggests two resolutions: 1) The names in one of the disputes are switched.  2) The Rabanan worry about Yuhara when you are doing something different than most people.  Thus, in the case of Krias Shema, the groom is simply joining the crowd so there is no Yuhara.  In the case of the Melacha, the person is standing out.  R. Shimon, on the other hand, says that in the Shema case, the only reason he would be saying Shema is because he claims, against all odds, he can have kavana.   That is Yuhara.  In the Melacha case, people will perceive him as simply having no work to do, so there is no problem.

The Rambam and Rif rules that one can say Shema.  The Beis Yosef explains that they understand like possibility one, and conclude that R. Shimon rules that there is not a problem of Yuhara and rule accordingly.  Tosfos and the Rosh rule that it is forbidden, like the Chachamim.  Lehalacha, however, they think that no one has kavana in general, so a groom is not worse than anyone else and can say Shema.  This is accepted in Shulchan Aruch.

Yuhara is also found in Bava Kama, where Eliezer Zeira is punished for mourning excessively for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, until he proves that is in fact a Talmid Chacham for whom such actions are befitting.

In Taanis, the Gemara records a dispute whether people are allowed to fast on the fasts for rain set aside for scholars or not.  One position rules that they cannot as it is Yuhara.  The other position (R. Shimon ben Gamliel) says there is no problem of Yuhara when the action being accepted is painful.

Many explanations for the problem of Yuhara are suggested.  For example:

1)      Arrogance (Rashi)

  1. This could be internal or external – either he feels arrogant or shows arrogance.

2)      It caused discord with others (Rashi)

3)      The person is separating from the community.

4)      It is presumptuous – the person is acting as if he belonged to a higher class than he actually does.  This is more formal than mere arrogance.  (See below, and Prof. Woolf’s piece).

  1. This is indicated by the lashon of the Gemara – a person cannot make himself like a Talmid Chacham.

5)      It impugns others – related to 4.

  1. 4-5 do not require negative intentions, while 1 does.

Some of these overlap, and I will not try to flesh out in this summary all the differences between them or the proofs for each side.  The most obvious implication: Does one violate in private?  (Internal arrogance, perhaps a formal presumptuousness – yes.  The others, no).  For this, see the Yam Shel Shelomo and Yerushalmi.

R. Lichtenstein favors the formal explanation – you are taking a status you don’t deserve.  If so, he notes that if one does belong to the class of Talmidei Chachamim, one would be obligated to be machmir.  This is the position of Taz and others in the case of the fasts for rain.

Mahari Bruna seems to go in this direction as well, if you read his language.  See also Prof. Woolf’s piece:

Jeffery Woolf: 2) There has been much discussion of the description of women who don Tefillin in public as being guilty of מחזי כיוהרא. This phrase does does not mean ‘appearance of arrogance,’ but of being presumptuous (just as מחזי כמבשל doesn’t mean cooking, but appearing to cook which will lead to people suspecting one’s actions or possibly leading one to cook). Demonstratively practicing a mitzva that one is not obliged to do, according to Tradition, impugns others who do not do so. That, for example, is why R. Israel of Brunn (Resp. Israel Bruna no. 96) forbade wearing one’s tzitzit outside of one’s clothes. The category has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with the questioning the motives of the individual. It does question the sensitivities of the individual who is ipso facto making a statement about others who do not accept their new practice. Did anyone ask other women if they are put off by women putting on Tefillin, with the implied judgement that they are less spiritual or less committed?.

3) For the same reason, there is more reason and room to allow women to wear Tefillin in private, not because it is wrong (necessarily), but because doing so keeps their act of piety pure. That is true of every Humra, and rabbis should condemn people who use any personal Humra for self-aggrandizement.

4) I am stunned by the persistent, superficial equation of Black Hats and Tefillin. Yes, black hats are frequently arrogant displays (and prove my point about מחזי כיוהרא).  However, wearing a hat has no religious significance, though it is socially significant as a sub-group marker of identity. Adding religious obligations (whatever the legal mechanism in force there, נדר or חובה) is a deadly serious question. Those who dismiss it in the name of spiritual self-fulfillment only show that they are insensitive to the long term issue of sins of omission, when these same women may not be able to maintain their newly found personal obligation. And the reply that there are men who aren’t fastidious in their observance is myopic. Since when do we justify religious lassitude by pointing out that of others?


Another issue is whether it is better or worse if one is part of a small group – see Shvus Yaakov.

Rabbi Daniel Goldstein notes that the Rama believed one could even be forced to rely on kulos (such as bitul), or even less than intuitive shitos (such as davening before nightfall) if one was not of the caliber where he should be machmir.  On the latter point, however, the Achronim challenged Rama strongly, as one is allowed to keep normative Halacha without concerns for Yuhara.

This issue is quite complicated, but I tried to outline some of the issues and sensitivities involved.  I think that it is a category that should be taken seriously, and not only when it suits our political needs at the moment.  However, even when the community doesn’t always take it seriously, that doesn’t give license for others to ignore the category.   (Again, see Prof. Woolf).    More work must be done to balance the benefits of Chumra against the pitfalls of Yuhara, but that for another time.


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