The talmud in general seems to distinguish between different kinds of people in certain kinds of halacha. For example, Bava Metzia 23b tells us that a rabbi is allowed to lie for three things, implying a distinction in standards of truthfulness, even if the direction is ambiguous.

Though it is clear that everyone has an obligation to learn, is there a corresponding obligation to aspire to become a rabbi?

This question is based on two assumptions:

  1. That the Talmud uses the words talmid chacham, Rabbi, and disciple interchangeably for these halachic distinctions.
  2. That being held to a different halachic standard is an indication of superiority, and that we are encouraged to be the best we can be.
  • Even assuming that your assumptions are correct, #2 does not necessarily imply what you think it does. Just because one has to be the best he can be doesn’t mean that the best for him is to be a Rabbi. (Putting aside the many distinctions between a Rabbi today and a Rabbi in the times of the Gemara.)
    – DonielF
    Apr 30, 2019 at 15:02
  • Related to your assumptions: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/86208 judaism.stackexchange.com/q/14559
    – DonielF
    Apr 30, 2019 at 15:04
  • I thought everyone is allowed to lie about their bed, their hosts, and [whatever the third thing is I forget].
    – Double AA
    Apr 30, 2019 at 15:28
  • related Talmud Tora or Chessed: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/87582/…
    – Al Berko
    Apr 30, 2019 at 15:37
  • @DoubleAA That is from BM 23b, which seems to only refer to rabbis. Implication as I see it is that either non rabbis can lie about anything (as long as it doesnt cause harm to others) or that only rabbis have the right to lie and only in those three areas
    – SophArch
    Apr 30, 2019 at 15:56

6 Answers 6


R' Boruch Ber Lebowitz [Birchas Shmuel, Kiddushin #27] writes that the obligation of ושננתם לבנך is "לראות שבנו ובן בנו יהיו ת"ח וגאונים בתורה".

  • 2
    It's hard to know if this answers the question without precise definitions of terms.
    – Double AA
    Apr 30, 2019 at 16:25

Shulchan Aruch Harav (Talmud Torah, 1):

האב הוא חייב ללמד לבנו בעצמו או למצוא לו מלמד שילמדנו כל התורה כולה ואם אינו מוצא בחנם אף על פי שהוא בעצמו אינו יכול ללמדו ואפילו אינו יודע ללמוד כלל בעצמו חייב הוא מן התורה לשכור לו מלמד שילמדנו היטב לידע כל התורה שבכתב ושבע”פ כולה.

(Ibid, 5)

ואל יאמר האדם איך אפשר ללמוד כל התורה שבעל פה כולה הרי התורה אין לה קץ ותכלית כמ”ש לכל תכלה ראיתי קץ רחבה מצותך מאד ונאמר ארוכה מארץ מדה וגו’ כי באמת ההלכות הנגלות לנו ולבנינו יש להן קץ ותכלית ומספר וכן המדרשים שנתגלו לנו. רק שהתורה מצד עצמה אין קץ ותכלית אפילו לפשטי דרשותיה הצפונים בה ורבי עקיבא היה דורש על כל קוץ וקוץ תילי תילים של הלכות ולא הגיע לתכלית דרשותיה עדיין וכן אין קץ ותכלית לעומק טעמי ההלכות והפלפול בטעמיהן ובדרשותיהן במדות שהתורה נדרשת ועל ידי זה יתחדשו ג”כ חידושי הלכות לאין קץ ותכלית למי שזוכה לזה אחר שגמר תחלה כל התורה שבעל פה המסורה לנו ונגלות לעין כל כמו שאמרו חכמים ליגמר אינש והדר ליסבר שהוא עיון בעומק הטעמים וכמו שיתבאר:

Regarding how much time and effort this obligation compels, see Or Someach (Talmud Torah 1.4) and Birchas Shmuel (Kiddushin #27), who explain how this mitzva obligates in proportion to intellectual and emotional capabilities. (See also Ran in Nedarim 8a)

Aside from the obligation to learn the Torah (לימוד תורה), there is an obligation to know the entire Torah (ידיעת התורה). (See Ohr Yisrael from R' Yisroel Salanter #26).

  • As seen from the discussion in Kiddushin 29-30, כל התורה כולה means the Chumash and maybe Tanach, not Halachah - and that's how he starts. Then he switches strategy and expands it to include כל התורה שבע"פ and goes further and further by himself.
    – Al Berko
    Apr 30, 2019 at 16:27
  • As far I could tell, this is only talking about the universal obligation to learn, and not about talmidei chachamim or rabbis at all. I see that people who are more capable should learn more, but I dont think that answers the question about status differentiation
    – SophArch
    May 3, 2019 at 18:26
  • @SophArch - The above proves that there is a universal obligation to be a talmid chacham.
    – chortkov2
    May 5, 2019 at 0:41
  • I explained in comment on question why there is no status differentiation
    – chortkov2
    May 5, 2019 at 0:42
  • 1
    They aren't held to different halachic standard. There is something beyond the letter of the law - a higher sensitivity in moral or ethical code - which is universal, but directed at 'rabannan' who are people who would aim for this.
    – chortkov2
    May 5, 2019 at 10:48

The Talmud in Chagiga 5b records the following Beraita:

תנו רבנן שלשה הקדוש ברוך הוא בוכה עליהן בכל יום על שאפשר לעסוק בתורה ואינו עוסק ועל שאי אפשר לעסוק בתורה ועוסק ועל פרנס המתגאה על הצבור

Our Rabbis taught: Over three the Holy One, blessed be He, weeps every day: over him who is able to occupy himself with [the study of] the Torah and does not; and over him who is unable to occupy himself with [the study of] the Torah and does; and over a leader who domineers over the community.

(Soncino translation)

From this it sounds like there is a category of people that are not meant to be studying Torah (presumably beyond the minimum necessary to discharge the daily obligation). It would seem to follow from this that they would not be aspiring to be rabbis or talmidei chachamim unless the definition of those can include someone who doesn’t really engage in Torah study.


The Ksav Sofer (1815-1871)-- as quoted in this torchweb.org article (can't find his standalone commentary online)-- discusses this in his commentary to Bereishis 48:20:

... it is the obligation of every Jewish parent to teach his son Torah in the hope that he becomes a great Talmid Chacham which is the highest level to which a Jew can aspire - and if he doesn't succeed, he can always choose to be the doctor, lawyer, businessman, etc.

The Ksav Sofer continues:

For this reason, a Jewish parent blesses his son every Friday evening that he should grow up to be like Ephraim and Menasseh in that order, meaning that he should try to attain the highest level and to become a great Talmid Chacham like Ephraim, and if that doesn't work out, then he should strive to become a successful professional or businessman and a G-d-fearing Jew like Menasseh.

According to the Ksav Sofer, maybe not everyone should aspire to become a Rabbi but nonetheless everyone should aspire to be a Talmid Chacham.

  • 1
    Why shouldn't he aspire to be a Talmid Chacham AND a doctor? It's hard to know if this answers the question without precise definitions of terms.
    – Double AA
    Apr 30, 2019 at 15:54
  • @DoubleAA why not both? As R' Herschel Schachter says- one can be an "earner learner"
    – alicht
    Apr 30, 2019 at 15:58
  • Where are you getting the distinction between a rabbi and talmid chacham from?
    – SophArch
    May 1, 2019 at 13:22
  • @SophArch one can be a Talmid Chacham (lit. "smart student" ie- extremely knowledgeable in Jewish law) without being a Rabbi.
    – alicht
    May 1, 2019 at 14:35
  • @alicht yes, but I don't see the ksav sofer making that distinction in your answer. He seems to only be taking about being a Talmid chacham and that is the highest level
    – SophArch
    May 1, 2019 at 16:55

It greatly depends on how you define a Talmid Chacham - as opposed to Am Haaretz or as opposed to Ish Maaseh.

  1. As opposed to Am Haaretz - it is a sure Mitzvah to excel in learning Torah and observing the commandments to the maximum extent possible. I don't think this needs clarification, see the other answer(s).

  2. As opposed to Anshey Maaseh - I addressed this problem here. In short, there are two approaches, a) the Rabbis themselves want everybody to be a scholar, but b) they agree post-factum, that being a prominent Ish Maaseh - like devoting oneself to practical interpersonal Mitzvos, such as Tzdoko, Bikur Cholim, Kibud Av and more, is counted not less (and maybe even more) than being T"C.


I believe that there is a difference between a rabbi and a learned man. You can Have a full time job and learn for 30 minutes a Day, and still be a talmod chachum. As long as you fear heaven, and listen to the Torah and Mitzvos, and learn at least a little every day, you can live a normal life and still be a great person.

  • How does this answer the question exactly? It’s not asking about what’s practical; but rather what one should aspire to do. You also make a few unsourced claims here; can you please edit in a source?
    – DonielF
    Feb 11, 2020 at 2:18
  • @Yosef, Welcome to mi yodea. First of all, to know a few Torah is one thing and to be a talmid chacham something else. You cannot be a talmid chacham by learning 30 minutes aday. You can check this out: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/103572/…
    – Rh Haokip
    Jan 16, 2021 at 13:56

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