Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Careers and Professions

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

A career and profession is something that every single person has a halachic obligation to choose for himself. A lifestyle revolving around intentional, self-imposed, unemployment is completely unacceptable from the perspective of Torah thought.[1] Even the greatest Talmudic sages had “real” jobs. For example, Hillel was a woodchopper,[2] Shammai built houses, and Abba Shaul dug graves for a living.[3] Rashi managed to master every single Jewish text and still found time to preside over his French winery.[4] In recent times, the much celebrated Chafetz Chaim was a grocer.

Before we explore the various pearls of wisdom offered by our sages on this vital issue, it is important to highlight that, ultimately, the Talmud’s only prerequisites in choosing a profession are that it be a dignified occupation and that it allow time for spiritual pursuits. Nevertheless, it is far better to hire oneself out to do menial labor than to rely on charity.[5] As a practical matter it is recommended to follow in the professional footsteps of one’s parents.[6] One should never, but never, rely on one’s wife’s earnings for a family’s livelihood.[7]

Click here to read moreMoney earned during the course of one’s profession is to be considered as a reward from God,[8] and must be used for noble purposes.[9] The Talmud also tells us how to manage our financial portfolios to ensure maximum returns: diversify![10] We are also taught that engaging in our business pursuits honestly will ensure much-needed Divine assistance in our financial security.[11]

The Talmud teaches that the ideal trade to engage in if one seek's wealth is to open a brewery.[12] If that doesn’t work, raise cattle.[13] If you would like to ensure that you never become wealthy, become a scribe – poverty is assured.[14] Furthermore, if you seek a job that will ensure that you’ll never get dirty, become a tailor.[15] A rabbi will never be poor, [16] but may drop dead while on the job.[17] If you seek happiness, become a spice dealer.[18]

There are yet additional professions worthy of consideration, as well. If you’re looking for a job that assures you a place in heaven, become a clown.[19] Are you one who strives to emulate God? These days He’s working as a matchmaker,[20] so maybe try that as well.

One should, of course, avoid all professions that encourage dishonesty, immorality, and arrogance. It also appears that becoming a donkey driver, sailor, or even a storekeeper is not recommended.[21] Never forget that your local butcher is to be considered your enemy.[22] A tax collector is really a robber in disguise.[23] A man is advised not to take a job in which he will be constantly surrounded by women.[24] Consequently, jewelers, perfume salesmen, and hairdressers are prone to bad character.[25] A lumberjack will never see a sign of blessing in his work.[26]


[1] Ketubot 59b.
[2] Yoma 35b.
[3] Nidda 24b.
[4] Teshuvot Rashi 382.
[5] Bava Batra 110.
[6] Erchin 16b.
[7] Pesachim 50b.
[8] Ta’anit 9a.
[9] Eruvin 68a.
[10] Bava Metzia 42a.
[11] Nidda 70b.
[12] Pesachim 113a.
[13] Chullin 84.
[14] Pesachim 50.
[15] Berachot 63.
[16] Shabbat 151b.
[17] Sefer Chassidim 70.
[18] Bava Batra 16; early aromatherapy, perhaps?
[19] Ta’anit 22a.
[20] Sota 2a; Bereishit Rabba 68.
[21] Kiddushin 82a.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Sanhedrin 25b.
[24] Kiddushin 82a.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Pesachim 50b.

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