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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Rules governing intercourse in polite society. Such rules are supposed by the Rabbis to have been laid down by the Bible itself. Moses modestly uses the plural in saying to Joshua, "Choose for us men and go fight with Amalek" (Exodus 17:9, Hebr.), though he referred only to himself. The obeisance of Abraham as he "bowed himself toward the ground" and said to each of his visitors, "My lord, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant," is a form of Oriental politeness, and is recorded as a model of address even when coming from a greater man to one who occupies a lesser station (Genesis 18:2-3). The gallantry displayed by Eliezer toward Rebekah, by Jacob toward Rachel, and by Moses to the daughters of Jethro are instances of respectful behavior toward women. The appeal of Abigail to David is an example of courtly address (1 Samuel 25), as is also that of the "wise woman" of Tekoah (2 Samuel 14). The suavity of Queen Esther toward Ahasuerus in her desire to counteract the influence of Haman (Esther 5) is also distinguished by good breeding. The command is given to rise before the aged and to honor the elder (Leviticus 19:32). When a rabbi enters the bet ha-midrash or synagogue it is customary for the congregation to rise until he occupies his seat. For reverence to parents see see HONOR and PARENTS.

In rabbinical literature the term "derek ereẓ" (the way of the world) comprises among other things etiquette, that is, good breeding, dignified behavior, urbanity, and politeness. A general rule is laid down by R. Eliezer: "One from whose mouth the words of the Torah do not pass can not conduct himself according to the rules of etiquette" (Kallah, ed. Coronel, 1b, Vienna, 1864).

An introduction is necessary before dining with a stranger, or sitting in judgment, or affixing a signature with another witness to a document (Sanh. 23a; comp. Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa ).

A person to be spoken to must first be called by his name; even the Lord first "called" unto Moses and then "spake" unto him (Yoma 4b). But a parent or a teacher must not be called by name. Gehazi was visited with leprosy for naming Elisha (Sanh. 100a; comp. 2 Kings 8:5). The principle "ladies first" has Biblical authority according to the Rabbis. The most important message of Moses to prepare the Israelites for the reception of the Torah on Mount Sinai was addressed first to the women and then to the men ("Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob [women], and tell the children of Israel [men]": Exodus 19:3, according to Mekilta, ib. 2 [ed. Friedmann, p. 62b]).

Modes of Address.

Written communications usually begin "With the help of God," giving the week-day, day of the month, and year from Creation. Letters are addressed in the choicest terms of endearment, honor, or respect. Religious questions were sent to Hai Gaon addressed "our lord"; a letter to a representative rabbi styled him "the king among the rabbis," "the prince in Israel," "the commander in Law," "the famous governor," or "the great light." To women were applied such forms as "to the virtuous woman"; "the crown of her husband"; "blessed shall she be above the women of the tent" (Judges 5:24; Titles). The personal name generally follows the titles, even in case of a parent or a teacher. After the name is added "may his light ever shine" or "long may he live."

Letters written in the third person became the proper form in the eighteenth century among the German Jews. The addressee is referred to as "his highness," "his honor," or "the honor of his learning." The communication concludes with an expression of affection and respect, and a wish for the addressee's good health, peace, and prosperity. A rabbinic signature is sometimes preceded with the words "the little" or "who rests here among the holy congregation." A letter of introduction begins with "The deliverer of this writing" (). One must be careful not to blot his writing, and should answer his correspondents promptly ("Reshit Ḥokmah," ed. Constantinople, 1736, p. 300a).

Regular visiting was not generally indulged in except in the case of some worthy object; but it was a duty to visit the sick and to console the bereaved. The Rabbis visited one another very often for the purpose of learning. The custom of visiting the prophet on every new moon, or even on every Sabbath, is adduced from the question asked the Shunammite (2 Kings 4:23). Hence a scholar should visit his teacher every holiday (R. H. 16b). Johanan, when he visited his master R. Ḥanina, usedto make a stir (by ringing a bell) before he entered, in compliance with the Scriptural injunction, "his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place" (Exodus 28:35; Lev. R.; see Rashi to Ps. 112a). The answer "yes" to a knock on the door does not mean "enter," but "wait" (B. Ḳ. 33a). Ben Sira is quoted in the Talmud as saying, "One must not suddenly enter his neighbor's house"; to which R. Johanan added, "not even his own house" (Niddah 16b; comp. Ecclus. [Sirach] 21:22).


There are numerous regulations for etiquette at meals. Moses fixed the hours for dinner and breakfast: "This shall be when the Lord shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full" (Exodus 16:8; Yoma 75b). One who eats in the street is like a dog, and some say is incapacitated as a witness (Ḳid. 40b). One shall not bite off a piece of bread and offer the rest to his neighbor, nor offer his neighbor a drink from the cup from which he has drunk first. Not even shall a teacher let his pupil drink water out of the vessel which has just been touched by his own lips, until he has spilled some of the water from the top (Tamid 27b).

Anything that causes expectoration or an odor should not be eaten in company (Ket. 40a). Once Rabbi ha-Nasi, lecturing before his disciples, smelled garlic and requested the offender to leave. R. Ḥiyya, however, rather than put the transgressor to shame, caused the session to be suspended (Sanh. 11a). Etiquette prohibits eating the last morsel on the table or platter, but the pot may be emptied (ib. 92a; 'Er. 53b). Ben Sira teaches to "Eat as becometh a man. . . . And eat not greedily. . . . Be first to leave off for manners' sake; . . . and if thou sittest among many, reach not out thy hand before them" (Ecclus. [Sirach] 31:16-18).

Banquets; Toasts.

Invitations, as to a feast, were extended to even slight acquaintances by special messengers. In some instances the messenger mistook the name and called on the wrong person. Thus Bar Kamẓa was mistaken for Kamẓa, which error, it is claimed in the Talmud, was the original cause of the destruction of Jerusalem (Giṭ. 55b). In later times the beadle acted as the messenger, and usually invited every member of the congregation. The evil effect of such wholesale receptions was to make entertainment very expensive. The congregation of the expelled Spanish Jews (1492) who settled in Fez adopted in 1613 stringent measures to check excessive feasting ("Kerem Ḥamar, § 94, Leghorn, 1169), "One guest must not invite another" (B. B. 98b; Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa; comp. Ben Sira ).

The custom of appointing one as the head of a feast (probably as toast-master) is mentioned by Ben Sira: "Have they made thee ruler of a feast? Be not lifted up; be thou among them as one of them" (Ecclus. in [Sirach] 32:1). The guests drank wine to one another's health. "Wine and health to the lips of the rabbis and their disciples" was the formula of the toast for rabbis; in ordinary gatherings, "Le-ḥayyim" (To your health). After saying grace, toasts were given in honor of the host, his parents, wife, and children, or on other occasions in honor of the bride and groom or the "ba'al berit," always beginning with "The Merciful shall bless the host," etc. A person who drains his cup in one draft is a glutton; in three drafts, a cad; the proper way is to take it in two (Beẓah 25b).

Personal Appearance.

Personal appearance is of vital importance: "Cleanliness promotes holiness" ('Ab. Zarah 20b). The washing of the hands before and after meals, bathing for the Sabbath and the holidays, the paring of the nails on Friday, and hair-cutting once a month are part of Jewish etiquette. When bathing, one must not dive or plunge into the bath (Kallah, ed. Coronel, 18b). For other rules of etiquette in the bathing-place see Derek Ereẓ,

Women must not ride astride like men, except in cases of emergency or from the fear of falling off (Pes. 3a).

Artificial beautifying of the person by means of hair-dye is restricted to women. Garments distinctive of one sex must not be worn by the other (Deuteronomy 22:5).

R. Johanan called his garments "my honor." The priest was ordered to change his garments when removing the ashes from the altar (Leviticus 6:4). Thus, says R. Ishmael, the Torah taught as a lesson in etiquette, that the servant waiting at the table should not wear the garments in which he did the cooking (Sanh. 94a). The Sabbath garment must be distinguished from every-day apparel (Shab. 113a). A scholar whose garment is soiled by grease almost deserves death, as he disgraces the honor of the Law (ib. 114a). "This cleanliness in person and speech . . . was a direct consequence of the religion. . . . Cleanly habits were in fact codified . . . the medieval code-books of the Jewish religion contain a systematized scheme of etiquette, of cleanly custom, and of good taste" (Abraham, "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages," p. 16).


In matrimony the man, not the woman, shall propose, as it is written "if any man take a wife" (Deuteronomy 22:13). The Talmud declares that since usually the one who loses an article looks for it, the man must look for his lost rib (Ḳid. 2b). The bride is accompanied by a chaperon, who brings her and introduces her to the groom under the canopy, as "the Lord God . . . brought her [Eve] unto the man" (Genesis 2:22; Ber. 61a).

Another rule in etiquette demands the use of euphemisms: "Keep aloof from what is ugly and whatever resembles it" (Ḥul. 44b: comp. Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa ). R. Joshua b. Levi said: "Never use an indecent expression, even if you have to employ many more words to complete the sentence." Noah was ordered to provide the ark with clean beasts and with "beasts that are not clean" (Genesis 7:2), a long negative being used in preference to a short positive expression of "contamination" (Pes. 3a). Otherwise conversations should be precise and concise, especially when speaking to a woman (Ab. 1:5; 'Er 53b). See Euphemisms; Greetings; PRECEDENCE.

  • Derek Ereẓ R.;
  • Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa;
  • Abot;
  • Maimonides, Yad, De'ot;
  • Caro, Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 169-183;
  • Yoreh De'ah, 240, 241, 335;
  • De Vidas, Reshit Ḥokmah, Derek Ereẓ, pp. 282b-283a, ed. Constantinople, 1736;
  • Löw, Ben Chananja;
  • Die Etiquette der Thal. Zeit, 66, 167, 210, 258;
  • Kurrein, Der Umgang mit Menschen, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1896;
  • Schiefer, Mehallekim 'im Anashim, an adaptation of Knigge, Warsaw, 1866:
  • Andree, Volkskunde der Juden, ch. , Leipsic, 1881;
  • Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, pp. 16, 123-126, 330;
  • Eisenstein, Code of Life, part , ch.;
  • Briskin, Taw Yehoshua', part , Warsaw, 1895.
S. S.
J. D. E.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Etiquette'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​e/etiquette.html. 1901.
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