In the most recent issue of Jewish Action, there is a brief interview with R. Herschel Schachter about "Halacha and the Fallen Rabbi". The final question is:

JA: Can we/should we continue to cite divrei Torah in his name?

to which R. Schachter responds:

RS: We are not allowed to do so. The gemara (Avodah Zarah 35b) says that if a rabbi violates halachah, one cannot say divrei Torah in his name. The statements found in the Talmud in the name of Elisha Ben Abuya were made when he was still committed to Torah observance and belief (see Tosafot, Sotah 12b). If it would appear that the books and articles of the fallen rabbi were written before he began his sinful behavior, they may be used.

R. Schachter's reference to Avodah Zarah 35b appears to refer to אמר להו רבא ואיתימא רב נחמן בר יצחק לא תשתעו (בהדיה דאיבו) דקאכיל לחמא דארמאי. The Bach comments: בהדיה דאיבו. נ״ב ס״א לא תשתעו מיניה דאיבו פי׳ לא תאמרו דבר שמועה משמיה. אלפסי והר״ן והרא״ש. Does anyone else cite this Gemara as a source that it is forbidden to quote a dvar torah in the name of a rabbi who has sinned?

Also, R. Schachter (or an editor?) refers to Tosafos in Sotah 12b as a source indicating that only statements of Elisha b. Avuyah "when he was still committed to Torah observance" are quoted. However, Tosafos there has two opinions about whether R. Meir is called "Acherim" only when citing Acher, or whether R. Meir was always called Acherim after the incident recorded in Horiyos 13b. How does this relate to the status of Elisha b. Avuyah? Here is the text of the Tosafot in question:

אחרים אומרים נולד כשהוא מהול. ומקשים מדקאמר ר"מ טוב שמו מכלל דאחרים לאו היינו ר"מ ובשלהי הוריות (דף יג:) אמר דאסקוה לר"מ אחרים ובפ"ק דברכות (דף ט:) בגמרא מאימתי קורין שמע בשחרית אפליגו ר"מ ואחרים וא"ר שראה בקונטרס צרפת שמועות שקיבל מאלישע בן אבויה קבעום בשם אחרים מפני שהיה שמו אחר אבל שאר שמועות קבעום בשמו ולא מסתברא דהא לרבי נתן אסקו יש אומרים ואית לך שכל שמועותיו קבעו כך ולר"מ נמי עשו כיוצא בו אלא נראה דלאחר דאסקוהו אחרים חזר בו ואמר נולד כשהוא מהול וכן בפ' קמא דברכות

  • i dunno, it seemed like he was quasi heretical to begin with "אחר מאי, זמר יווני לא פסק מפומיה. אמרו עליו, על אחר, בשעה שהיה עומד מבית המדרש הרבה ספרי מינין נושרין מחיקו." "It is said of him, of Aher, that Greek song did not cease from his mouth and whenever he rose to leave the house of study, many heretical books would fall out of his lap. "
    – Aaron
    Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 21:05
  • @Aaron seems like a good point.
    – wfb
    Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 21:24
  • See Igros Moshe (EH 1:96), which discusses a similar topic and makes the same distinction as R' Schachter.
    – Fred
    Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 21:27
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    @Fred R. Moshe pretty clearly argues with R. Schachter והנה בעובדא זו שהסני שומעניה אינו בעניני כפירה אלא בעניני קלות ראש לנגן בפני בחורים ובתולות יחד שודאי אין להחשיבו כמין ואפיקורס ואף לא כמומר לתיאבון דהא רק לדבר אחד דקלות ראש ופריצות הוא עבריין לתיאבון מסתבר שעל אדם כזה אין למילף שיהיה דין וחיוב שלא להניח שם לו ולמעשיו.
    – wfb
    Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 21:34
  • 1
    @wfb I think it may depend on the particulars of the case. The extent of what R' Moshe thought Shlomo Carlebach was doing (holding mixed events) would be considered benign compared to what some recent "fallen rabbis" have been accused of. R' Moshe might have categorized some of those rabbis as in the group of מומר לתיאבון, in which case the distinction regarding when "he began his sinful behavior" may come into play.
    – Fred
    Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 21:39

2 Answers 2


On the one hand, the Gemara in Chagigah (15a) quotes Elisha b. Avuyah specifically after his apostasy:

After his apostasy, Aher asked R. Meir [a question], saying to him: What is the meaning of the verse: God hath made even the one as well as the other? He replied: It means that for everything that God created He created [also] its counterpart. He created mountains, and created hills; He created seas, and created rivers. Said [Aher] to him: R. Akiba, thy master, did not explain it thus, but [as follows]: He created righteous, and created wicked; He created the Garden of Eden, and created Gehinnom. Everyone has two portions, one in the Garden of Eden and one in Gehinnom. The righteous man, being meritorious, takes his own portions and his fellow's portion in the Garden of Eden. The wicked man, being guilty, takes his own portion and his fellow's portion in Gehinnom.

Likewise, the principle קבל את האמת ממי שאמרו tells us that we do not care about the source of an idea, only about whether it is true (Rambam, Shemonah Perakim, introduction). In a post on the Seforim blog, Marc Shapiro notes that the Ibn Ezra often cites Karaite scholars by name, and R. Moshe Teitelbaum, in his Yismach Moshe, defends this practice:

הנה אנכי שולח מלאך ע' באברבנאל שכתב בשם חכמי הקראים כי זה נאמר על יהושע, והנה האומר דבר חכמה אף באוה"ע חכם נקרא, ובאמת שהם גרועים כי הם מינים ואפיקרוסים, מ"מ את הטוב נקבל

Regarding the Gemara in Avodah Zarah 35b in which רבא tells his colleagues not to cite איבו, the Rishonim explain that the problem of citing איבו was that he did not fulfill rabbinic decrees, and therefore did not deserve to be treated as a rabbi in good standing (see Ramban, Meiri, Torat ha-Bayit ha-Katzar 3:7; Ritva: מידה כנגד מידה כי הוא מזלזל בדברי חכמים ז"ל ותקנותיהם ולכן אין מקלסין דבריו בבית המדרש). Thus, as long as it is clear that this individual is not being cited as a rabbi in good standing, there should be no problem of citing him for his ideas.

EDIT: See also this teshuvah (סימן יא) of the Machaneh Chaim in which he discusses this issue, and based on the Torat ha-Bayit says that one can quote the Torah but omit the name of the one who said it.

However, as R. Ari Kahn notes in a shiur on yutorah, the Rambam (Hil. Talmud Torah 4:1) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 246:8) rule that one may not learn from a rabbi who has gone astray, seemingly based on the Gemara in Mo'ed Katan (17a), and against the view of R. Meir:

א"ר יוחנן מאי דכתיב (מלאכי ב, ז) כי שפתי כהן ישמרו דעת ותורה יבקשו מפיהו כי מלאך ה' צבאות הוא אם דומה הרב למלאך ה' יבקשו תורה מפיו ואם לאו אל יבקשו תורה מפיו

Citing the Divrei Yirmiyahu, R. Kahn also distinguished between learning directly from a rasha and studying his works.

See also this discussion by Dovid Lichtenstein. Noteworthy is his citation of R. Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitch:

A different approach to explaining the Rambam’s view is suggested by Rav Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitch, in his Yad Peshuta commentary to Mishneh Torah. Rav Rabinovitch observes that the Rambam links this prohibition with the prohibition against teaching a תלמיד שאינו הגון – a student who conducts himself [im]properly. The Rambam establishes that one should not teach Torah to a student who “follows an improper path,” but should rather guide such a student towards appropriate behavior, after which מכניסין אותו לבית המדרש ומלמדין אותו – “he is brought into the study hall and then taught.” Meaning, a wayward student should be taught privately until his behavior improves, at which point he may be allowed to join the beis midrash and learn with the other students. The Rambam then writes, וכן הרב שאינו הולך בדרך טובה…אין מתלמדין ממנו – “Similarly, a rabbi who does not follow the proper path…people should not learn from him.” The word וכן suggests a degree of parity between these two halachos – the prohibition against teaching a wayward student, and the prohibition against learning from a wayward teacher. Accordingly, Rav Rabinovitch suggests, the second prohibition parallels the first, and thus we must distinguish between public lecturing and private study. Just as a wayward student is not allowed into the beis midrash to study with other students, a wayward teacher is not permitted to serve in any sort of public capacity, and this is the Rambam’s intent when he writes, אין מתלמדין ממנו – he may not be allowed to teach groups of students. Exceptional individuals, however, the likes of Rabbi Meir, are permitted to study from a wayward rabbi, just as a wayward student should be taught privately until he is deemed worthy of joining the beis midrash to participate in public Torah study.

See also Part 2 of his discussion, which concludes:

In light of what we have seen, the following guidelines apply when a rabbi or educator is alleged to have engaged in inappropriate conduct:

One must not reach any definitive conclusions based on hearsay, and judgment must be reserved until rumors of misconduct have been substantiated.

If it is confirmed that the rabbi in question engaged in behavior that brings shame to Torah, one may not learn Torah from him.

It is questionable whether one may read a sinful rabbi’s written works or use his recorded material. Written or recorded material that the rabbi produced before he became a sinner may be used.

If a disgraced rabbi has sincerely repented, he may once again teach Torah, though it would appear that according to some views, there must be compelling evidence of true, genuine teshuva.

At least according to some opinions, even after a disgraced rabbi has genuinely and demonstrably repented, he may not resume his official rabbinic post or educational position if his reinstatement will create a חילול ה’, or if the position is an especially distinguished post, such as in the case of a Rosh Yeshiva.

R. David Brofsky, after considering the sources, concludes:

May One Study the Books of a Disgraced Rabbi?

The answer to this question may depend on why we are not allowed to learn from a rabbi who doesn’t resemble “an angel of the Lord of hosts.” One possible reason may be that a student who maintains a relationship with such a teacher will learn from his behavior. If that is the case, perhaps his written works may still be studied. (Indeed, the passage cited above [Chagiga 15b] questions how Rabbi Meir could continue to learn “from the mouth” of Acher.)

The Divrei Yirmiyahu (commenting on Rambam, Hilchos Talmud Torah 4:1) holds this position. He writes that “the connection with the evil person is bad and causes harm and [spiritual] destruction.” A written work, however, is different. One can separate the good from the bad, which is why, he argues, the Rambam was allowed to study the written works of non-Jewish philosophers.

Rav Shmuel Wosner (Shevet Halevi 3:145), however, prohibited reading even the written works of a Torah scholar who acted inappropriately. He assumed they “undoubtedly cause harm.”

Other Considerations

I believe it is important, especially in our day, to raise three additional considerations:

First, the presence of a disgraced rabbi’s works in our personal and community libraries causes a great chillul Hashem and reinforces the notion that the frum community does not properly sanction criminals.

Second, it is terribly hurtful to the victims of sexual crimes to see the community embrace the scholarship of their attacker.

Third, continuing to study, cite, or even sell the works of a wayward rabbi sends a message, even if unintentional, that one who commits a horrible crime can continue to be a respected member of the community. One who sees the works of a sexual predator, or a criminal convicted of financial crimes, on the shelves of our homes and sefarim stores may conclude that we are not fully committed to ridding our communities of these people. This concern – of sending the wrong message to others – is why we burn a Sefer Torah written by a heretic: “in order not to make a name for the heretics or their deeds” (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HeTorah 6:8).

For the reasons cited above, I believe it’s crucial nowadays to properly distance unrepentant disgraced rabbis and leaders from our communities, and to discontinue studying and distributing their written Torah works.

  • Times have changed. That was then and now is now. Citing a rabbi who has gone astray (by someone's standards whom you value) seems to be forbidden, as if by some (unwritten) rule.
    – Yehuda W
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 16:37
  • I'n not sure I understand your reference to Shemoneh Perakim. In SP RAMBAM states that he quotes various people and sources without attribution, including philosophers and authors, and one should accept truth from any source. However I don't see an indication that there sources are morally impure or the people sinners. I don't see how you infer that this means that we shouldn't care about the source of an idea. Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 17:34
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    @Bachrach44 The Rambam quotes ideas from non-Jewish scholars because what matters is the idea and not the source. The same is true here--the source does not disqualify the idea
    – wfb
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 17:51
  • @wfb Okay, I see the point that it's the idea that matters not the source, but it's still possible that Rambam would still not have quoted a sinner. Non-Jews are judged differently from Jews (seven mitzvot for b'nai noach vs all 613), so the Rambam may have just been judging non-Jews based on the non-Jew standard, and Jews based on the Jewish standard. Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 18:02
  • @Bachrach44 True, which is why I didn't just cite the Rambam, I also made an argument for why there is no other problem either, and also cited the Gemara which quotes Acher after his apostasy
    – wfb
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 18:04

Sdei Chemed maareches haLamed klal 145 has a long list of sfarim from Rishonim and Achronim who do not allow one to quote something in the name of a Rabbi turned heretic. He started off quoting this gemara under discussion. He mentions a Rashba who says this is a measure for measure punishment for someone who doesn't lead his life according to the words of the Chachamim.

Its especially noteworthy that he begins that klal by assuming the opinion that one may read the chidushei Torah of a heretic, even though one is not allowed to learn from a heretic. The reason being that written works do not have the same power to draw one after the personality of the writer, as does the spoken word. This is only a hetter to read their Torah of course, not other ideas they write.

  • Of course, according to your citation, this is about a heretic, which is different from other forms of reshaim
    – wfb
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 17:27
  • I'm not sure what you mean
    – user6591
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 17:29
  • heretic=אפיקורס. Although now that I have looked at it inside, he is not discussing heretics but reshaim generally
    – wfb
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 17:39
  • I translated as heretics being that he was discussing the issue of mashchi and his mention of Aristotle and the like.
    – user6591
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 17:43
  • Now I don't know what you mean--what's mashchi?
    – wfb
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 17:43

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