Sunday, April 21, 2013

48 Ways: #17 - Minimizing social interaction


Pirkei Avot 6:5 teaches that Torah is acquired in 48 ways, which it lists for us. The seventeenth of the 48 is miut derech eretz, reducing one's social interaction.

As with our sixteenth "way", this causes us some some difficulty. We are instructed to build up society, to be part of a community, to help others, and so on. The Jew is required to look after the needs of others, and to consider the impact upon society whenever he acts. Further, one grows, as a peson, from his involvement with society.

Nonetheless, there is a downside to community involvement; the more one emphasizes involvement with others, the less energy one devotes to study. Pirkei Avot would not advise us to contradict the expectations of halachah, but one who would succeed in scholarship should place limits upon his other endeavors.

 Have a great day,


  1. "Derekh eretz" is a hard word to define. It could mean a profession, marital intimacy (as in the Hagadah's "zu perishus derekh eretz"), or appropriate social interaction. We can rule out the first one, since step 16 was minimizing commerce. The phrase could be taken to mean sexuality, and in fact R' Noach Weinberg's popular series "48 Ways" does.

    You're following the Bartenura. I have two difficulties with the Bartenura's understanding:

    1- Derekh eretz does not usually refer to social interaction itself, but to an ideal in social interaction; it's a description of doing it right.

    2- The conflict you raise is not only against halakhah, but also to mishnayos in Avos. "Yafeh talmud Torah im derekh eretz".

    OTOH, the invention of Facebook has illustrated quite well the difference between constructive and wasteful social interaction.

  2. R' Micha-

    It's not just Bartenura; Rabbeinu Bechayye does it, too. To me, the difficulties you raise are not reasons to veer from this path - as I noted in the post, even positive pursuits will detract from other positive pursuits.