Kenneth Cohen

Arrested for Arrogance

The Talmud in Masechet Baba Kama 59b, relates a very unusual story connected with an individual named, Eliezer Ze’ira. The incident took place in the city of Nehardea, in Bavel.

Eliezer was walking in the market place wearing black shoes. Some opinions were that his shoes had white laces. He was stopped for questioning by the representatives of the Exilarch. They wanted to know why he was wearing such provocative shoes. He explained that the shoes were a symbol of his constant mourning for the destruction of the Temple.

He was arrested on the grounds that he acted in a very arrogant manner. Only the greatest members of the community, were on such a level to truly feel the loss of our Temple.

Eliezer told the authorities that he was a very learned person, and he was not trying to show off. He was on the level of those who mourned daily for the Temple.

He said that they could ask him any question in Halacha, and if he knew the answer, it proved his worthiness of wearing such shoes.

Eliezer was asked a complicated question involving the assessment of damages to a field of crops that were not yet ripe. They verified that Eliezer’s answer was correct by contacting the great, Shmuel, the head of the Yeshiva in Nehardea. He was released and sent home.

It is difficult to imagine a society that arrests people on the grounds that they acted arrogantly. It is a proof that we are not on a level to realize the high level of spirituality of the Tannaim and Amoraim. That society had zero tolerance for phoniness, where people tried to pass themselves off for someone that was not them.

We can certainly learn from such stories as to how important it is to serve Hashem and man with great humility. We should not need to seek recognition in dishonest ways. The knowledge that we are acting in a way that is pleasing to Hashem, is all the recognition we need.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at