Against Asceticism (Extreme Self-denial)


In the future world, a man will have to give an accounting for every good thing his eyes saw, but of which he did not eat. — Palestinian Talmud, Kiddushin 4;12

Although some individual rabbis have been ascetics, the talmudic Rabbis, and most subsequent Jewish scholars, believed that God put human beings on this world to enjoy it. True, because of the laws of Kashrut, certain foods were forbidden, but all those that were not forbidden should be eaten. — Jewish Wisdom, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Throughout the religious realm, the practice of self-denial of good things (asceticism) is rampant. It is masked under the guise of “holiness” unto the Lord, “separation” unto the Lord and other such like things.  Some religious sects even go to the extreme of calling it “worldliness” if a person partakes of the latest fashions or styles in clothing or hairstyles.  Some, are even denied automobiles, cell phones and other modern conveniences of life!  However, the Jews have taught no such law. In his book, Jewish Wisdom, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin teaches against asceticism (the practice of self-denial of good things).

It is not enough what the Torah has forbidden you, but you wish to forbid yourself more things? [The Talmud’s response to a person who forbids himself things permitted by the Torah, such as drinking wine] — Palestinian Talmud, Nedarim 9:1

In commenting on a verse in Ecclesiastes, “Be not over righteous” (7:16), Maimonides writes, “No one should, by vows and oaths, forbid to himself the use of things otherwise permitted” (“Laws of Character Development and Ethical Conduct, ” 3:1).

Although sobriety long has been an honored value among Jews, even the prohibition of drunkenness never has been absolute:

A person should become so drunk on Purim that he cannot tell the difference between “Cursed be Haman,” and “Blessed be Mordechai.” — Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 7b

Drinking wine and  other alcoholic drinks is forbidden in many Christian religious sects. Even though the Tithe celebration clearly states in the Old Testament scripture that one can have wine and strong drink while in the Temple in celebration of this event (Deut. 12:22-26).  Many overlook the passages where God allows drinking. One passage that I have seen abused is the wedding in Cana where Jesus changed the water into wine. The sect I came out of taught that Jesus turned it into pure grape juice. What a twisted and demented teaching to prevent others from enjoying what God has clearly said is perfectly permissible. Just a word study on the word “wine” can reveal the truth about wine. Yet, most do not understand this and let themselves be spoon-fed their beliefs on this. As a result, they are taught to believe that drinking is a sin. It is not.


Go, eat your bread in gladness and drink your wine in joy, for your action was long ago approved by God. Let your clothes always be freshly washed and your head never lack ointment. Enjoy happiness with a woman you love all the fleeting days of life that have been granted you under the sun. . . . Whatever it is in your power to do, do with all your might. — Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

— Jewish Wisdom, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Don’t let religious zealots take the pleasures of life away from you. God has given every good thing into our hands for our pleasure and happiness. This said, use wisdom and discretion with the good things you partake of. Don’t let them become idols in your heart or a springboard for evil behaviors.

Don’t let others dictate the blessings of life that you can partake of and enjoy.

Don’t allow others to be a ‘personal holy spirit’ in your life telling you that to partake of the goodness of God is sin. Let God be your guide alone. What he permits, enjoy freely.

Religion would have you to believe that IT needs to control what you do because you do not have the wisdom or discipline to control yourself. This thought process is no different than the government controlling what we do because it thinks we cannot think and make good decisions for ourselves and our families. Don’t let others control your thinking by instilling an ascetic mentality in you; thus, preventing you from the pleasures of life God gave you to enjoy.

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