Kenneth Cohen

Misplaced Piety

The Messilat Yesharim speaks about misplaced piety. A kind of warning is issued to use good judgment when choosing the path of piety. Bad judgment can have devastating results.

Two examples are given where bad decisions were made. The first had to do with the ultimate assassination of the Jewish governor, Guedalia. He was warned of the potential disaster, but his piety told him not to listen to Lashon Hara.

He did not take precautions and he paid with his life. It also put an end to a Jewish presence after the destruction of the First Temple.

The second example followed the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. The latter wanted his revenge for being humiliated at being thrown out of a banquet. He planned on placing a blemish on a sacrifice offered by the Caesar. Many rabbis felt that the sacrifice should be offered despite the blemish, due to extenuating circumstances. They were overruled by the misplaced piety of Zechariah Ben Avkolas. He felt that Jewish Law must not be compromised. This bad decision led to the destruction of the Second Temple.

When choosing the path of piety, one needs to weigh the situation very heavily. He needs to look at the long term results of such piety. If feelings will be hurt, and Judaism will look bad, such piety should be avoided. It is generally praiseworthy to be pious, but it must not be misplaced piety.

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