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Ideal Occupations: The Talmudic Perspective
Hershey H. Friedman

Ideal Occupations: The Talmudic Perspective

Hershey H. Friedman


Choosing the ideal occupation is not a trivial decision. The profession one chooses can affect the amount of time available for spiritual duties, one’s earnings, and whether an individual remains honest. This paper explores the views of the Talmudic sages regarding the ideal profession.


What is the ideal occupation for an individual? This is a question the Talmud addresses since it is not a trivial one. The profession one chooses can affect the amount of time available for spiritual duties, one’s earnings, and whether an individual remains honest. This paper will explore the views of the Talmudic sages regarding the ideal profession. The question as to whether an individual should only study Torah or combine Torah with an occupation has been studied by others [e.g., Steinberg and Rosner (1996)]. This paper will consider what the great sages of the Talmud had to say about various occupations in their day. The world has changed considerably in 2,000 years, but the considerations in choosing an occupation are the same today as they were back in Talmudic times.

Talmudic Attitude Towards Work

The first thing to note is that the sages of the Talmud had a great deal of respect for labor. The Talmud abhorred idleness and felt that it leads to mental illness and sexual immorality (Babylonian Talmud, Kethubos 59b). Rabbi Yosi felt that a person does not die except through idleness (Babylonian Talmud, Avot D'Rabbi Noson 11:1). Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Shimon (Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 49b) stated: "Great is labor for it honors the workman." Both sages would purposely carry burdens on their shoulders because they wanted their students to see that manual labor should be respected. Rabbi Yehuda b. Bathyra said: "If a person has no work to do, what should he do? If he has a dilapidated yard or field, he should go and occupy himself with it" (Babylonian Talmud,, Avot D'Rabbi Noson 11:1). The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Avot D'Rabbi Noson 11:1) also believed that "A person should love work and not hate it; for just as the Torah was given with a covenant, so too was work given with a covenant."

Attitude Towards Wealth

The attitude of Judaism towards wealth is quite positive since it enables one to help others. Those that use their wealth to help the poor will be blessed by God (Deuteronomy 15:10; Isaiah 1:17-19; Proverbs 19:17). Wealth, peace, and/or long life are rewards from God for obeying God’s laws (Leviticus 26: 3-13; Deuteronomy 11: 13-16; Deuteronomy 25:15; Proverbs 22:4). The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Taanis 9a) also sees wealth as a reward from God. In a wordplay on the verse (Deuteronomy 14: 22): "You shall surely tithe," the Talmud advises that one should tithe in order to become rich (the Hebrew word that means to tithe is very similar to the word that means to become rich). The verse (Proverbs 11:24), "There is one who scatters and yet is given more" is interpreted by many of the commentators (e.g., Rashi and Ibn Ezra) as referring to one who spends his money on the needy. Wealth is seen as "comely to the righteous and comely to the world" (Babylonian Talmud, Avot 6:8), and affluent people who used their possessions to help others were respected by the Talmudic sages (Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 86a).

Occupations of the Sages of the Talmud

The sages of the Talmud worked at many diverse occupations. For instance, Hillel was a woodchopper before he became the Nasi (President of the Sanhedrin) and Shammai the Elder was a builder. Abba Chilkiyah was a field laborer; Rabbi Yochanan b. Zakkai was a businessman for forty years; Abba Shaul was a gravedigger; Abba Chilkiyah was a field worker; Abba Oshiya was a launderer; Rabbi Shimon P’kuli was a cotton dealer; Rabbi Shmuel b. Shilas was a school teacher, Rabbi Meir and Rabi Chananel were scribes; Rabbi Yosi b. Chalafta was a tanner; Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar was a shoemaker; Rabbi Yehoshua b. Chananiah was a blacksmith; Rabbi Safra and Rabbi Dimi of Nehardea were merchants; Rabbi Abba b. Zavina was a tailor; Rabbi Yosef b. Chiya and Rabbi Yannai owned vineyards; Rabbi Huna was a farmer and raised cattle; Rabbi Chisda and Rabbi Papa were beer brewers; Karna was a wine smeller (he determined which wine could be stored and which had to be sold immediately); Rabbi Chiya b. Yosef was in the salt business; Abba Bar Abba, (father of Mar Shmuel) was a silk merchant; and (Mar) Shmuel was a doctor.


The Talmud provides advice to one seeking an occupation as to several positive criteria for the ideal occupation. Good professions are those that provide an individual with time for spiritual pursuits and time to help others. In addition, one’s occupation should ideally be pleasant and dignified and lucrative so as to provide one with the means to help others. General advice on how to find a job one is likely to succeed at is provided for by Rabbi Yochanan. His advice (Babylonian Talmud, Eruchin 16b) is that one should consider the profession of his father and ancestors in choosing an occupation since one is most likely to find success in the same occupation as his father.

Time for Spiritual Pursuits

One of the primary considerations in choosing an occupation is ensuring that it provides one with the opportunity to develop one’s spirituality. The following statement by Rabbi Shimon b. Elazar (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 82b) makes it clear that the ideal is to serve God. Thus, an occupation that either allows one the time for spiritual pursuits or has a spiritual component is desirable.
Did you ever see a wild beast or bird with a trade? I have never in all my life seen a deer drying fruits in the field, a lion carrying heavy burdens, or a fox who kept a shop, and yet none of them die of hunger. Now, if these, who have been created to serve my needs are able to support themselves without trouble, how much more reasonable is it to expect that I, who have been created to serve my Master [The Lord], should be able to support myself easily, without trouble. However, my deeds were evil and I have therefore ruined my livelihood.
The classic dispute between Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Shimon b. Yochai revolves around the problem of what will become of the Torah if people spend their entire lives pursuing wealth and forget that mankind has a higher purpose than materialism. The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud Berachos 35b) concludes that many tried to follow the advice of Rabbi Yishmael and were successful. Others, tried to follow Rabbi Shimon's advice and were unsuccessful. It would appear that even Rabbi Shimon b. Yochai would be more accepting of an occupation that allows one the time to pursue Torah. Nowadays, with 40-hour workweeks and 4-week vacations, it is probably considerably easier to find professions that allow individuals more time for spiritual pursuits.

'And you will gather in your grain' (Deuteronomy 11: 14). Why does the Torah state this? Since it says (Joshua 1: 8), 'This book of the Torah should not leave your mouth, ' I might think that these words should be taken literally. That is why it says, 'And you should gather in your grain,' that is, pursue, in combination, with Torah a secular occupation. These are the words of Rabbi Yishmael. Rabbi Shimon b. Yochai said, Is it possible (for a person to have an occupation and still study Torah properly?) If a person plows during plowing season, plants during planting season, harvests during harvesting season, threshes during threshing season, and winnows during the windy season, what will become of the Torah? But, when Israel performs the will of the Omnipresent, their work will be done through others. As it says (Isaiah 61: 5), 'And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks.' And when Israel does not perform the will of the Omnipresent, their work will done by themselves, as it says, 'And you will gather in your grain.'
It is clear that the sages of the Talmud believed that being absorbed with making money is not the ideal for an individual. The following statements further describe the feelings of the sages regarding preoccupation with business. Hillel stated (Babylonian Talmud, Avot 2:5): "Nor can one who engages too much in business become wise." Rabbi Meir asserted (Babylonian Talmud, Avot 4:10): "Rather limit your business activities and occupy yourself with the Torah instead."

Rabbi Nehorai said: I forsake all professions in the world and teach my son only Torah, for a person eats of the reward for learning Torah in this world and the principal remains for him in the next world. Other professions are not like this: If a person becomes sick or old or is in agony and cannot work at his occupation, he will die of starvation. The Torah, however, is not like this. It will protect him from evil when he is young and provides him with a future and hope when he is older (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 82a).
The Maharsha’s interpretation of the above statement of Rabbi Nehorai is not that one should not teach his son a profession since this would contradict the law that (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 29a) "One who does not teach his son an occupation, it is as though he taught him to become a robber." Rather, what Rabbi Nehorai means is that Torah studies should always be the primary preoccupation of an individual and one’s profession should be secondary. Rabbi Nehorai’s advice, therefore, is that one should always keep in mind that Torah is permanent; one’s occupation, on the other hand, is as temporary as us mortals.

Another explanation is provided by the Iyun Yaakov. One who has no other occupation may be paid for teaching Torah. Thus, not teaching one’s son a profession and only instructing him in Torah will enable him to earn his livelihood as a teacher of Torah.

Rabban Gamliel, son of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, made it clear that Torah should indeed be combined with an occupation (Babylonian Talmud, Avot 2:2):

The study of Torah is good in combination with an occupation, since the toil of both makes sin forgotten. All Torah that is not combined with work will eventually cease and lead to sin.
Choosing an Occupation that Makes One Wealthy

The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 113a) records Rav’s business advice to his son Aibu, which included the idea to "sell your wares while the sand is still on your feet" (i.e., do not procrastinate, and sell as soon as possible). The idea of diversification – i.e., dividing one’s assets into thirds: 1/3 in land, 1/3 in business, and 1/3 kept liquid – is also mentioned in the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 42a). The Talmud is providing some practical advice on how to become financially successful since this is something that is desirable.

The question of what a person should do to become rich is discussed in the Talmud; one answer is to engage in much business and deal honestly (Babylonian Talmud, Niddah 70b). Rabbi Papa claimed that he became wealthy by being a beer brewer and recommended this occupation since it allowed one to become affluent and to be charitable (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 113a). Rabbi Yochanan’s opinion was that raising small cattle would make one wealthy (Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 84a-b).

Rabbi Elazar also stated (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamos 63a): No occupation is inferior to that of agriculture, because it says (Ezekiel 27: 29), "And they shall descend from their ships… and they shall stand upon the land." Rabbi Elazar once saw land that was plowed across its width. He remarked: ‘Even if you were plowed along your length as well, engaging in business would still be more profitable than you.’ Rav once entered a field among growing ears of grain. Seeing that they were waving in the wind, he called out to them: ‘wave as you will, engaging in business would still be more profitable than you.’ Rava stated: A hundred zuz invested in business means meat and wine for every day [i.e., you will become wealthy]; a hundred zuz in land, means only salt and immature sprouts [to eat]. Moreover, it forces him to sleep on the ground [to watch the field or because he becomes homeless] and involves him in discord [with neighbors over title].
The rabbis cited above believed that business, i.e., buying and selling merchandise, was more lucrative than farming and therefore they advised people to avoid agriculture as an occupation. It is apparent that the sages were advising people to pursue a livelihood that is profitable, not very difficult, and does not cause one to fight with neighbors.

On the other hand,
Rabbi Yehoshua b. Levi stated: Twenty-four fasts did the Men of the Great Assembly observe in order that those who write Torah scrolls, phylacteries, and mezuzos should not become wealthy. For if they were to become, wealthy, they would not write (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 50b).
Normally, the sages would have been happy that an individual became wealthy from his/her occupation. The above are the exceptions because these items are vital for the performance of religious obligations.

Occupations that are Easy, Pleasant, and Dignified

Ideally, a profession should be pleasant and not back-breaking. Of course, if one has no choice, the sages still advocated working rather than living off charity. The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Bathra 110a) asserts that a person should even hire himself out to do work that is strange to him and beneath his dignity rather than be dependent on people for charity. In fact, Rav told his disciple Rabbi Kahana (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Bathra 110a): "Skin a carcass in the street and receive wages and do not say I am an important person and this type of work is beneath my dignity."
Bar Kappara stated: A person should always teach his son a clean and easy occupation. What is it? Rabbi Chisda said, needle work (stitching in lines and furrows) (Babylonian Talmud, Berachos 63a).
Bar Kappara stated: The world cannot do without either a spice-dealer or a tanner. Happy is he whose occupation is that of a spice-dealer and woe to him whose occupation is that of a tanner (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Bathra 16b).

It is not clear what Bar Kappara meant by "clean and easy." Some commentaries take this literally. The Maharsha, on the other hand, cites the Aruch who interprets "clean and easy" to mean an honest and a low-risk occupation. Spices were used to make perfumes and fragrances, whereas tanners were surrounded with noxious, horrid odors.

The Maharsha on the next selection interprets "clean and easy" to mean an occupation that provides one with ample time for Torah.
Rabbi Meir said: One should make sure to teach his son a trade which is clean and easy; then pray to He who owns all the wealth and property of the world. For there is poverty and wealth in every occupation. One's occupation does not cause poverty, nor does it bring wealth. All is determined on the basis of one's merit (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 82a).

Whoever looks to his wife's earnings or to [earnings from] a mill will never see a sign of blessing (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 50b).
The Talmud explains that a woman who has to rent her services of spinning yarn by weight in the public market makes little profit and is involved in an undignified occupation. However, if she makes garments at home and sells them, this is praiseworthy. Tosafos adds that spinning yarn in public is undignified because the woman's arms are exposed while she is spinning. Renting mills is very difficult work and results in very little profit.

"Occupations" that Help Others and Contribute to the Welfare of Society

The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 24b-25a) disqualifies certain individuals from being witnesses or judges. These include gamblers. The Talmud describes various types of gamblers such as dice-players and pigeon-racers. The reason given is that people who are unproductive and do not further the welfare of society by holding down a job are willing to lie and cheat. A productive occupation has a tendency to make a person responsible and honest, whereas being engaged in something unproductive such as gambling has the opposite effect.

Oleynu is one of the oldest of Jewish prayers (some claim that it goes back to the time of Joshua making it more than 3,000 years ago) and it concludes all congregational services. One phrase in this prayer deals with tikkun olam, and describes the ideal society "when the world will be perfected under the reign of the Almighty." The concept of tikkun olam includes alleviating such world problems as poverty, racism, pollution, and oppression. The sages of the Talmud used the principle of tikkun olam to legislate various laws, amendments, and enactments to help society and to prevent conflicts (e.g., Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 32a, 34b, 40b, 41b, 45a,b). Professions that improve the world are certainly admirable. Tikkun olam is a major part of the cabala of Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572). In fact, Rabbi Luria once remarked that the reason for so much of the world’s problems such as hunger, hatred and war was because God needs mankind’s "help" in repairing the world.
Rabbi Beroka Hozaah asked Elijah the Prophet: Is there any person in this market who is destined for the world to come [i.e., Paradise]? He replied, no. ... While they were conversing, two people passed by. Elijah said: These two are also destined for the world to come. Rabbi Beroka approached them and asked them what they did. They replied: We are jesters, and we cheer up people who are depressed. Also, when we see two people who are quarrelling, we work hard to make peace between them (Babylonian Talmud, Taanis 22a).
Elijah also told Rabbi Beroka of another individual who was destined for the world to come. He was a jailer and used his position to make sure that the men in the prisons would not harm the women prisoners. He also used his position to warn the rabbis when the authorities were planning to issue decrees against the Jews.

The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Taanis 21b) tells the story of Abba, the bloodletter who received greetings from the Heavenly Academy daily. Abaye, who received greeting only once a week, was perturbed over the special honor shown to Abba. He was told that he could not do what Abba did. Abba was especially concerned with modesty and treated men and women separately, and he would put a special garment on woman patients to minimize the amount of exposed flesh. His patients paid him by putting money — as much as they could afford — in a box which was in a place away from public view. He would take no money from students and instead would give them money so that they would be able to buy food to speed up their recovery.
A person should always be willing to sell all that he possesses and marry the daughter of a scholar. If he cannot find the daughter of a scholar to marry, then he should marry the daughter of the great people of the generation [i.e., righteous people who perform many good deeds]. If he cannot find the daughter of the great men of the generation, then he should marry the daughter of the community leaders. If he cannot find the daughter of the community leaders, then he should marry the daughter of charity treasurers. If he cannot find the daughter of charity treasurers, then he should marry the daughter of teachers of children. But he should never marry the daughter of an ignorant person (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 49b).
This passage makes it clear that individuals who work to help others are to be admired. Note that the Talmud holds schoolteachers in high esteem. The "ignorant person" referred to here is one who is immoral and despises spiritual values.

A matron once asked one of the Talmudic sages what God has been doing since He created this world (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 68:4). The response was that God matches up people, i.e., God is a matchmaker. Matchmakers are certainly involved in helping people and this may also be a ideal occupation for people. What makes this homiletic Midrash even more fascinating is that there is an assumption that God has to be occupied with something. The answer provided was not that God was studying the Torah, but that God was improving the world by helping humanity find proper matches.


The Talmud also provides guidelines for occupations to avoid. These may be professions that encourage dishonesty, immorality, strife, and arrogance.

Occupations that Cause One to Engage in Dishonest Business Practices

Solomon said (Proverbs 15:16): "Better a little with the fear of the Lord, than a great treasure and turmoil with it." This means that it is better to have less wealth, but acquired honestly, than a great deal of wealth obtained dishonestly. Money acquired dishonestly causes a great deal of "turmoil" because the individuals who are cheated will scream and fight for their property. This is similar to the view of Ecclesiastes (4:6): "Better is one handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of the spirit." Honestly-acquired wealth comes with peace; assets obtained through deceitful means cause strife and aggravation.
Abba Gurion of Zadyan in the name of Abba Guria stated: One should not teach his son to become a donkey-driver, camel-driver, wagon-driver, sailor, shepherd, or storekeeper, for their profession is the profession of thieves. Rabbi Yehuda said in his name: Most donkey-drivers are wicked, most camel-drivers are righteous, and most sailors are pious. The best of doctors are destined for Hell and the most righteous of butchers are partners of Amalek (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 82a).
Abba Gurion felt that donkey-drivers, camel-drivers, wagon-drivers, and sailors often steal when they are traveling and generally do not abide by their agreements with clients. Shepherds graze the cattle in private property and retailers often add water to the wine and pebbles in the flour they sell (Rashi). The sages of the Talmud frowned on professions that were very likely to cause one to become dishonest. Rabbi Yehuda disagrees with Abba Gurion (see Maharsha). According to this latter opinion, camel-drivers are righteous people because they are in a dangerous profession that requires that they go into the wilderness and can be attacked by robbers and wild animals. Sailors are in an even more dangerous profession at the mercy of the elements, Individuals in dangerous occupations become more devout and pray to the Lord to keep them safe.

The "best of doctors" are destined for hell because, with their ability to heal themselves and the means to afford good food, they are rarely ill and thus are not very devout. In addition, they will often not treat indigent people who are ill (Rashi). Another interpretation is that "best of doctors" refers to doctors who consider themselves as such, i.e., consider themselves experts and thus do not consult with other doctors. This results in the death of some of their patients (Maharsha, Etz Yosef).

The "most righteous of butchers" will often sell unkosher meat as kosher because they do not want to take a financial loss (Rashi). Alternatively, butchers can become cruel because they are constantly slaughtering animals and become like Amalek, a bloodthirsty people who attacked the Israelites when they left Egypt (Exodus 17:8-16).
Seven have no share in the world to come: a scribe, a teacher of young children, the best of doctors, a town judge [who sits alone as a judge without consulting others], a shop-keeper, a law-officer, and a butcher (Babylonian Talmud, Avot D'Rabbi Noson, 36:5).
All of the above can easily sin if they are not especially careful. For example, an arrogant doctor may refuse to consult with other doctors and thus may cause patients to suffer needlessly. The Talmud is not advising one not to go into these professions, but pointing out that these are professions where mistakes can result in serious consequences. Thus, it is easy for one who does not take his work seriously to lose his share in the world to come.

The Talmud also felt that tax collectors (Sanhedrin 25b) were disqualified from becoming judges or witnesses since they were no better than robbers. In Talmudic times, people paid the government for the tax-collecting franchise and were often extremely dishonest and unfair in calculating the correct tax.

As noted above, many of the Talmudic sages felt being a merchant was a better profession than being a farmer. There was, however, a danger that individuals working in buying and selling might be tempted to hoard food in order to resell it at a higher price. In fact, in Talmudic times, when ships carrying necessities arrived sporadically, it was not very difficult to purchase a shipment of food, hoard it, and then resell it at an excessive profit. This the Talmud was very much opposed to (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Bathra 90b).

The ninth blessing of the "amida" prayer recited three times a day reads as follows: "Bless on our behalf, O Lord our God, this year, and every species of its produce, for the best; and bestow a blessing upon the face of the earth and satisfy us from its bounty…" Although there is no direct reference in this prayer to hoarders, price predators, or cunning profiteers, the Talmud states that this prayer was established as a prayer for divine protection against individuals who would raise prices unjustly (Babylonian Talmud, Megilla 17b). Shmuel and his father were known to buy and subsequently sell produce in such a manner as to keep the market price stable and low throughout the year and were praised for this by the Talmud (Bava Bathra 90b). Keeping consumer prices low was something looked at quite favorably by the Talmud.
Yehuda b. Tabbai said Do not make yourself to be like lawyers (Babylonian Talmud Avot 1:8).
Here Rabbi Yehuda b. Tabbai advised judges not to advise litigants how to plead their cases since a judge must be impartial. In the Talmud, we have two different cases where sages were upset that they advised relatives how to escape from an obligation. Each of them remarked: "We made ourselves to be like lawyers" (Babylonian Talmud, Kethubos 52b, 86a). Apparently, teaching people how to evade obligations using the legal system is not something to be admired.

Occupations that Result in Sexual Immorality

Some occupations require that a person be alone with members of the opposite sex. The sages were concerned about this and therefore discouraged such occupations. The Talmud explicitly states (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 82a): "A person should not teach his son a trade that requires that he be among women."

If a man's profession requires that he be constantly with women (and often alone with these women), it can result in sin. The Talmud lists trades that require that a person often be alone with women:
Our Rabbis taught: Whoever’s business is with women has bad character, for example: goldsmiths [who make jewelry for women], carders, handmill cleaners, door-to-door perfume salesmen, barbers [women bring their children to him for haircuts], launderers, bloodletters, bathhouse attendants, and tanners [who make clothing from skins for women]. These cannot be made appointed neither as kings nor as high priests. Why? Not because they are legally disqualified; but because their profession is undignified (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 82a).
The Talmud (Kiddushin 40a) relates the story of Rabbi Kahana who used to sell baskets to women. One day, a Roman matron tried to force him to have illicit relations with her. To escape, he went to the roof and flung himself from it. Elijah the prophet caught him and complained that he had to travel a distance of four hundred parsangs to save him. Rabbi Kahana explained that it was his great poverty that caused him to go into this line of work. Elijah gave him a vessel filled with golden dinarim.

Occupations that Make One Haughty

In Talmudic times, the bloodletter was arrogant as the following passage from the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 82a) indicates:
Our Rabbis taught: Ten things were said about bloodletters. He walks on his side [arrogant way of walking], is conceited, and reclines when sitting. He has an envious eye and an evil eye. He eats much but defecates little [because he eats fine bread and fatty meat]. He is suspected of committing adultery, robbery and murder.
Shemaya stated (Babylonian Talmud, Avot 1:10): "Love work, hate being in a position of authority, and do not become overly intimate with the ruling authorities." Shemaya felt that people in positions of authority are arrogant, pompous, and overbearing.

Occupations that Produce Strife
Vendors selling from market-stands, those who raise small cattle, those who cut down good trees, and those who cast their eyes at the better portion [whenever a division of an asset has to be made] will never see a sign of blessing (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 50b).
As noted above, one reason some sages did not encourage agriculture as a profession because it frequently caused one to fight with neighbors of adjoining fields. While it is true that the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 84a-b) notes that one who raises small cattle becomes wealthy, this refers to one who raises them in isolated areas. Raising small cattle in settled areas causes strife since the animals graze in other people’s property (see Tosafos).

Individuals who send their bird decoys to other people’s coops to lure away the pigeons are not quite thieves but are still disqualified as judges or witnesses (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 25a). The reason given is that they are not engaged in "ways of peace." While it is certainly true that pigeons living in someone’s coop are not quite private property, one would be very upset with people who find a way to "steal" their pigeons. Occupations should produce peace not contention.

Rabbi Yehudah stated (Babylonina Talmud, Bava Kama 30a) that one who wishes to become pious must be very careful about observing the laws of damages and torts, i.e., be especially careful never to cause anyone any harm, physically or financially. Professions that harm others, even if it is the way waste material is disposed of, would not be proper.


The ideal occupation has the following characteristics:

(1) It provides an individual with time to pursue spiritual pursuits.

(2) It does not tempt one to become dishonest or sexually immoral.

(3) It allows one to help people and society.

(4) It is profitable and enables one to become wealthy.

(5) It is clean, pleasant, and dignified work.

(6) It is not overly strenuous.

It is highly unlikely that any one profession should have all of the above characteristics. It is important, however, to know what one should consider before selecting an occupation. Making money may be important, but it should not be the sole criterion in choosing one’s livelihood.


Steinberg, Avraham and F. Rosner (1996). "Sources for the Debate: Torah Alone or Torah Together with Worldly Occupation," The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, vol. 32 (1), pp. 65 - 93.

© 2001 H. H. Friedman

Hershey H. Friedman, Ph.D.
Professor of Business and Marketing
Brooklyn College, CUNY

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