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A learned friend of mine is of the opinion that it is forbidden to learn from a Rabbi (or anyone else) who is known to have sinned. He used the example of a particular Rabbi caught in a scandal so malodorous he was forced to leave his community and indeed the country. After a number of years overseas he has quietly returned and has begun giving a shiur to a small audience who are obviously able to overlook his past. My friend rails against what is happening and compares it to 'drinking from a sewage pipe'.

This attitude seems far too stringent to me. I have asked him for sources for his opinion, which he is preparing.

I expect the halacha is far more nuanced than what he says. I am looking for sources for and against learning from such a person. For example,

  • forbidding learning from such a person
  • the danger of learning from such a person
  • judging someone to have done teshuvah
  • learning from any available source
  • etc.
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Talmud Chagiga 15b http://dafyomi.co.il/chagigah/points/cg-ps-015.htm

(a) Question: How could R. Meir learn Torah from Acher?

  1. The verse (Malachi 2:7) teaches that one should only learn Torah from a Rav who is similar to a Malach of Hash-m! (angel of God)

(b) Answer: R. Meir relied on another verse (Mishlei 22:17, or Tehilim (45:11) which teaches that one may learn Torah from a Rasha, as long as one follows Hashem's laws and not the deeds of the Rasha.

(c) Question: If so, the verses (in (a) and (b)) contradict!

(d) Answer: One verse refers to a Gadol (one who knows how to be careful not to learn from the deeds of the Rasha may learn Torah from him), and one verse refers to a Katan (one who does not know how to avoid being influenced by the deeds of the Rasha may not learn Torah from him).

likewise, the Maharsha on Makkot 10a: "gadol (a great torah scholar) can learn even from a Rav who is not hagun (acting properly), like Rebbi Meir who learned from Acher".

This is not meant to be halacha, just a source.

  • Dang, I guess I need to find a new Rebbe. :) JK, JK. – DonielF Oct 30 '17 at 19:11
  • What is Maharsha adding that cannot be inferred from Rashi (Hag. 15b, s.v. גדול)? – Oliver Nov 28 '17 at 17:38
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Dovid Lichtenstein, in his excellent book Headlines 2, researched the question and brings many opinions.

Among those who rule against learning from a confirmed sinner (sometimes only until they return to proper behavior) are

Likewise, a Rabbi who does not follow the good way, though he be a great scholar and all of the people stand in need of him no instruction should be received from him until his return to goodness

Regarding studying a disgraced scholar's work

  • R Yirmiuyahu Low assserts that the Rambam only means to formid studying from the mouth of a wayward scholar (i.e., directly) and not from his books, i.e., when studying from books one can extract the good from the bad and not be under the influence of a sinner
  • R Shmuel Wosner disagrees and writes explicitly (Shevet Ha-Levi 3:145) that it is forbidden to study Torah that was written by "someone who is wayward"

Regarding studying a disgraced scholar's work from before his misconduct, Dovid Lichtenstein brings an interesting tshuva of R Moshe Feinstein (referring to a composer of popular religious songs - possible RSC) who allows listening to such songs as (1) the composer doesn't espouse heretic views but only displays behavior he disapproves and (2) the songs were produced before this behavior.

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