What is Derekh Eretz?

Derekh Eretz is a term used widely in the Oral Torah. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, it has four meanings:

  1. Manners. For example, we are taught that it is derekh eretz for a younger person to stand up when an older person enters a room.
  2. Nature. The fact that plants grow as they do, for example, is considered to be derekh eretz.
  3. Worldly Occupation. It is this definition that Yeshiva University in New York had in mind when they adopted the slogan of "Torah with Derekh Eretz."
  4. Sexual Relations.

Contrary to the view of the Encyclopedia Judaica, it is clear that derekh eretz denotes an understanding of the world that is the equivalent of that which the modern philosopher Ayn Rand named Objectivism. It makes no sense that the one word means four totally different things, after all. Derekh Eretz is manners, because Objectivism demands appropriate behavior. Derekh Eretz means nature, because Objectivism demands that we acknowledge the reality around us. Derekh Eretz means worldly occupation, because Objectivism is a philosophy for living in this world. And Derekh Eretz means sexual relations, because it is through them that the world continues.

We are told that "Derekh Eretz preceded the Torah by 26 generations." "Twenty six generations" refers to the generations enumerated between Adam and Moses. This statement shows derekh eretz to be the philosophy that man was intended to live by even before the Torah was given at Sinai. Some of the other links in the Judaism category expand further on this thought.

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