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ETIQUETTE (Heb. דֶּרֶךְ־אֶרֶץ, derekh ereẓ), the proper conduct of man at home and in society. The sages demanded of the Jew, particularly the scholar, good manners in all his activities. The rules of *derekh ereẓ are assembled in the tractates Avot, Derekh ereẓ Rabbah, and Derekh ereẓ Zuta, and are scattered throughout the Talmud and the Midrashim. A substantial number of them are set forth in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot De'ot.

The rules of etiquette covered every aspect of man's conduct, including the most seemingly insignificant. Only a few of the most important rules are given here.


A man should speak pleasantly with everyone (Yoma 86a) and, Maimonides adds: "When speaking he should neither shout nor scream nor raise his voice excessively." When he meets his fellow he should be the first to extend greetings. As an example the Talmud cites the instance of Johanan b. Zakkai, whom no one ever preceded in extending greeting (Ber. 17a). Since, in the heat of argument, a man is liable to interrupt his fellow and stubbornly assert his own opinion, even after being convinced that the other is right, the sages laid down rules for the conduct of an argument: not to speak before one who is greater in wisdom, nor to interrupt the speech of another, not to be hasty in answering, to ask only relevant questions and to answer appropriately, to speak on the first point first and on the last point last, to say "I have not heard" when he has no tradition to that effect, to acknowledge the truth (Avot 5:7).


A scholar should not carry himself stiffly, with his neck outstretched… nor walk mincingly as do women and haughty people… nor run in a public place like a madman, nor bend his body as if he is a hunchback, but he should look downward, as when standing in prayer, and walk in the street like a man going about his business (Maim., Yad, De'ot 5:8).


The Talmud regularizes expenditure on food and clothing by the principle: A man should always spend on food less than his means allow, and clothe himself in accordance with his means (Ḥul. 84b). The sages were most particular that their clothing should be becoming and clean, even to the extent of declaring that any scholar upon whose garment a stain is found is worthy of death (Shab. 114a). Maimonides applies the doctrine of the Golden Mean to clothing: "He should not wear clothes, of gold and purple, for instance, fit for a king, and at which everyone stares, nor clothes worn by the poor that put to shame those wearing them, but he should wear modest dress" (De'ot 5:9).

Eating and Drinking

In eating and drinking, too, he should not indulge in extremes, but content himself with the minimum necessary for health. He should eat only in his own home, at his table, but not in the market place, for "he who eats in the market place is like a dog" (Kid. 40b). A scholar should not eat standing, nor lick his fingers, for this is the way of gluttons (DEZ 5). Gulping one's drink in a single draught is a sign of greediness (Beẓah 25b). One should not drink out of a cup and then give it to his fellow, for not all people are alike, and sensitive people are particular about this (Tosef., Ber. 5:9).

Treatment of Wife and Children

The rabbis were extremely particular about conduct in the family circle. The responsibility for this was placed primarily on the husband and father, to whom they gave the following directives: "A man should always observe the honor due to his wife, because blessings rest on a man's home only on account of his wife." "A man should always be careful not to wrong his wife (with words), for being given to tears, she is easily hurt." He should consult his wife in all matters affecting the home: If your wife is short, bend down and listen to her words (BM 59a). They enjoined the head of the household to be indulgent, not to take offense, and not to terrorize his household, so as to avoid quarrels (Ta'an. 20b; Git. 6b).

Personal Relations

Most controversies are due to the tendency to ascribe bad motives to the words and actions of others. As a result the sages urged: "Let the honor of your neighbor be as dear to you as your own" (Avot 2:10), and "Love all men and honor them, and forgo your will for that of your neighbor" (DEZ 1). Good and worthy intentions may fail if they are implemented at the wrong moment. Hence, the rabbis counseled: "Do not pacify your fellow in the hour of his anger; nor comfort him when his dead one lies before him" (Avot 4:18). One should not present oneself to one's friend, or even to the members of his household, at an inconvenient time: "Do not enter your own house suddenly, and all the more, your neighbor's house" (Pes. 112a) counseled Akiva. The concern of the rabbis in this matter is reflected in the statement, "Let all men learn good manners from the Omnipresent, who stood at the entrance to Eden and called out to Adam, as it says, 'The Lord God called to Adam, saying, "Where art thou"'" (DER 5). Many modern and medieval ethical works praise Derekh ereẓ, adherence to its precepts, and, at the same time, stress the duty of other strictures to those mentioned in the Talmud.


Krauss, Tal Arch, 3 (1912), 2ff.; A. Kohn, in: Ben-Chananja, 2 (1859), 66–67, 167–8, 210–1, 258–64 (Ger.); J. Friedmann, Der gesellschaftliche Verkehr und die Umgangsformen in talmudischer Zeit (1914); M. Higger, Massekhtot Ze'irot (1929), 1–7; idem, Massekhtot Derekh ereẓ (1935), 11–18 (English section); A. Cohen, Everyman's Talmud (1932), 168–266; C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinical Anthology (1938), 451–523; G. Friedlander, Laws and Customs of Israel (1927), passim.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.