Seven Reasons Rabbis Should Be Criminals

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imageIn the spirit of twisted Purim humor:

Seven reasons why rabbis should be criminals:


Jewish organizations often struggle to pay rabbis salaries. They collect charity money from donors in order to cover payroll. Imagine the savings to these organizations if rabbis derive their income from crime rather than salaries. Overhead at non-profits would plummet and money would be freed for charitable use.


While everyone appreciates a spiritual guide, those involved in criminal activities have an urgent need for one. However, rabbis rarely come in contact with criminals. If a rabbi engages in illegal activity himself, he will find many opportunities to reach out to the spiritually impoverished. A rabbi who regularly encounters drug dealers and prostitutes will be able to offer pastoral care to those who need it most.


The Gemara (Bava Basra 21a) allows a Torah teacher to encroach on the territory of another teacher. While normally, this would constitute hasagas gevul, the prohibition does not apply to Torah study. This exception is based on the concept: “Kinas soferim tarbeh chokhmah, jealousy of scholars increases wisdom.” When Torah scholars are jealous of each other, they study harder and accomplish more in their learning and teaching.

Jealousy of Torah scholars increases wisdom. If rabbis are wealthy, if they walk around with fancy clothes, shiny jewelry and maybe a girl or two at their side, they will induce jealousy in others. And with that, increase wisdom.

#4Street Smarts

R. Yochanan Ben Zakkai explained his dilemma about teaching the laws of forbidden business practices (Bava Basra 89b). If he explains how the crimes are perpetrated, someone in the audience might decide to try it. But if he remains silent, people may think that rabbis are naïve, that they lack street smarts. As he puts it: “Oy li I’m omar, oy li im lo omar, woe to me if I say it, woe to me if I do not.”

However, a third path resolves both sides of R. Yochanan Ben Zakkai’s dilemma. If a rabbi commits the crime without explaining how, then he will not be teaching others how to commit crime. Additionally, no one will think that rabbis are naïve. A criminal rabbi need not face R. Yochanan Ben Zakkai’s dilemma.

#5Big Rabbi

The Gemara (Sukkah 52b) states that the holier the person, the greater his yetzer ha-ra, his desire to sin. A rabbi who commits crime must have a huge yetzer ha-ra and therefore must be holier. Some people may be content with a rabbi who does not sin. But those who strive for the excellence will only want a rabbi who is so great that he must commit crime.

#6Picture Perfect

Tradition teaches a value in seeing a picture of your Torah teacher’s face. When Yosef was faced with temptation, Rashi (Gen. 39:11) says that he saw his father’s image. This vision reminded him of his father’s teachings and kept him on the right path. When, following an arrest, a rabbi’s picture appears in all the major newspapers, millions fulfill the verse: “Your eyes shall see your teacher” (Isa. 30:20).


Jewish organizations struggle to gain attention for their programs. They spend significant sums on advertisements in newspapers. Since, as the marketing adage goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity, a criminal rabbi can help market Jewish organizations. When a rabbi commits a crime, every organization with which he is associated will receive mention in the major newspapers. This is a unique opportunity for world-wide publicity.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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