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How Do I Choose a Rabbi?

How Do I Choose a Rabbi?



I've got a few choices here in town of different styles and flavors of rabbis and congregations. How do I choose? Is there a simple test to determine who is fit to be my rabbi?

--Choosing Jew


Dear Choosing,

Here are two litmus tests you can administer to any rabbi. You'll need a stopwatch:

Test #1:

  • Ask the rabbi, "Rabbi, do you believe in G‑d?"
  • Start the stopwatch.
  • When you hear the word, "yes", stop the watch and record the time.

Test #2:

  • Ask the rabbi, "Okay, let's say they tie you to a post on a pile of kerosene-soaked wood and these guys in black hoods standing around with torches who look like they've done this before tell you, "Just say that this Judaism stuff is a bunch of nonsense and we'll let you go." Your answer is...?
  • Start the stopwatch.
  • When you hear the words Shma Yisrael... ("Hear O Israel, G‑d is our G‑d, G‑d is one") or some other convincing show of absolute commitment, stop the watch and record the time.


  • 0-2 seconds: That's why we are still here today.
  • 3-10 seconds: Okay, maybe he was just shocked by the question.
  • 11 seconds to never: If he doesn't really believe in it, why should we?

Sources: Test #1 is the invention of Dr. Judah Landes, a psychologist who used it to determine his rabbi when he was a senior researcher at Stanford. Test #2 was also used many times, but for less honorable purposes and not by psychologists.

Send in your results!

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Samuel August 26, 2016

Just listen Listen carefully to the rabbi and look at him;
if he talks to all of you like you are one (it seems he is directing his sermons directly towards you and what he talks about is exactly what is going on in your life at that moment) and to each one of you if you are all; then he is the right rabbi for you
This is the way to recognize any true spiritual teacher Reply

Sylvia U.K. January 2, 2016

Rabbi perfect How to choose a Rabbi? When does the Rabbi get a choice?

If we follow Torah teaching first is to respect a Rabbi then hope he can be forgiving of all our quirky faults. Reply

Leah bas Miriam Houston March 16, 2015

An organizer or a scholar? Must you have both? In any case, the test is valid. One person says a rabbi should be able to lead a community.

Others say a rabbi should give private lessons.

Those are different kinds of rabbis.

One is a good organization man.

The other is a scholar and teacher.

Those are very different talents, unlikely to occur in one individual.

But in either case you don't want a man who doesn't want to say he believes in Gd.

There are such rabbis. I have heard them. They preach to atheist congregations, who appreciate such rabbis.

But we want rabbis who believe that Gd brought us out of Egypt (and that this same One also created the world). Reply

Anonymous February 23, 2015

At first I thought this was a "minimum requirement" but as I read the comments, it makes more and more sense that this is the way to find the real real thing.

How does one find a tzaddik? Reply

steve NYC January 28, 2015

As usual, a foolish answer As usual, Rabbi Freeman tries to be cute and evades the question. If there were four Rabbis in my area, would his suggested tests really be a means to choose? Can you imagine any of the Rabbis actually answering these two tests? I think any reasonable man would see that these tests are foolish tricks, designed to distract the readers from the real question asked. Come on, Rabbi Freeman, why don't you have some courage, and really answer this question honestly? How would you choose which Rabbis if you had a choice between four? I bet you would choose the one who agreed with you most of the time. That is a reasonable answer, because you believe in holiness. Reply

Anonymous NYC August 13, 2013

Maimonides No. 2: "Just say that this Judaism stuff is a bunch of nonsense and we'll let you go," if not, we'll burn you to death. Your answer is...?
Not that simple. Maimonides discusses the laws for these situations in Mishneh Torah, Sefer Hamada, Chapter 5.
"....Should a gentile arise and force a Jew to violate one of the Torah's commandments at the pain of death, he should violate the commandment rather than be killed, because Leviticus 18:5 states concerning the mitzvot: 'which a man will perform and live by them.' The mitzvot were given so that one may live by them and not die because of them. If a person dies rather than transgresses, he is held accountable for his life."
So the question then becomes whether a general denunciation of Judaism indicated in this hypothetical (rather than, say, a specific denunciation of one of the 613 mitzvot such as the denial of the existence of G-D), is a transgression. And if so, under what circumstances is a person permitted to transgress? Moses knows Reply

Jonathan Cleveland August 17, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

You are correct. Jews should not give up their lives, save for three things: adultery, murder, and idolatry. If someone points a gun to your head and asks you to do any of those three, say the Shema and wait. Renouncing your Judaism is idolatry. Reply

Anonymous Sapulpa, OK November 27, 2012

In regards to question #2, what if the Rabbi remained silent for a period longer than the stopwatch could record? Reply

Jack September 7, 2011

Choosing a Rabbi Tzvi Freeman did not not limit his comment to Orthodox Rabbis. Many respondents assumed he was referring to Orthodox Rabbis. Why is that ? Reply

Michelle A Cape Coral, Florida December 4, 2009

I don't judge a book by its cover! It took G_d more then 1 day to create the world. Only time will tell the right Rabbi for me! Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman October 17, 2009

For John Morrison I guess that at least proves that he's Jewish. Reply

John Morrison Victoria, Canada October 16, 2009

Choosing a Rabbi I love this article.

But what do you do if the response to question #1 is "Why?" Reply

Robert Tuchman February 22, 2008

Obvious reasons Not obvious unless she knows the laws of modesty etc

Many? What are the others? Reply

Manuel (Manny) Blanco Moreno Valley, CA February 21, 2008

Dear Suzanne,
It seems from your comment that you're may be unfamiliar with Chabad. Although a Rabbi won't come to your house to study with you alone (for many obvious reasons), he may visit your home with his Rebbetzin (wife), invite you to a class with others or invite you to their own home! Also, you can approach the Rabbi's wife to study. Typically Chabad Rebbetzins are as knowledgeable as their husbands and since they see the world from a feminine perspective they may be more sensitive and understanding. Reply

Suzanne Pincus February 20, 2008

Thank you, Mindy.... Yes, when I teach a class, I encourage questions, but only because most students are shy and fear looking foolish. I do not allow one person to monopolize the session. But if I am tutoring only one individual, in person, s/he can ask questions constantly, as many as s/he needs.

Do you think a Hasidic rabbi will come to my home to learn with me even if I have questions about every single line we learn? And can we learn Talmud? That is difficult material and evokes many many questions. When I learned Talmud in a class, I had to restrict the number of questions I could ask or we would never have gotten through even one paragraph!!! That is the nature of learning in groups of more than three.

Thank you, Mindy. But what do I do to receive this one-on-one tutoring where I can ask all of my questions? Reply

Mindy Krakauer February 20, 2008

Studying with rabbis In the classes I have attended, people were free to ask questions, and encouraged to do so. Have you talked with Orthodox Jewish rabbis personally and asked about one-to-one mentoring and studying? has an "Ask the Rabbi" site, which can help answer your question, in addition to talking with rabbis. Let us know the results of your quest. Good luck! Reply

Suzanne Pincus February 20, 2008

Choosing a rabbi if I am a single female But the man said he was getting private lessons, not just study sessions. There is a difference between studying with one other person and getting his full attention and being free to ask questions, and being in a class where one hesitates to disrupt the group. And he had really good attention from the rabbi, who was like a mentor to him.

And his lessons were from the rabbi, not from the rabbi's wife. We are talking about choosing a rabbi, not choosing a rabbi's wife.

It still sounds to me as if I cannot have a rabbi to be my mentor.

Thanks anyway. Reply

Mindy Krakauer February 19, 2008

Rabbis do come to women''s homes for study I have attended many study sessions in private homes, some were women only classes, others were mixed men and women. These were Orthodox rabbis from Chabad, and other types of Orthodox Jewish rabbis. I have also attended classes by the wives of rabbis, either in their homes, or other homes. I have attended classes by women scholars, in homes. I think the issue is that a man and woman who are not closely related should not be in a private room. Otherwise there are many opportunities for women to study and have private and public lessons. Happy learning! Reply

Suzanne Pincus February 19, 2008

Manny Blanco Do you think your rabbi would come to a woman's home and study with her?

I'll bet not.

So how does a woman choose a rabbi? Reply

Manny Blanco Moreno Valley, CA February 18, 2008

Choose a Rabbi I have lived in my city for many close to 20 years. Many community members and friends certainly know I am Jewish. We have had a few Rabbis in the area over the years. Only One, a Chabad Rabbi, came to my home and offered my an opportunity to learn about Judaism and made me feel welcome. This was Rabbi Fuss of Chabad RIverside Jewish Center, RIverside, CA. We study weekly and he has made me feel what it means inside one's soul to be a Jew. I have enjoyed our studies and look forward to learning. Reply

Chaya May 22, 2007

Finding a rabbi.... re the question of whether we find a Rebbe or does a Rebbe find you, I was told that Rebbes hand picks their chassidim, we just are not aware of it, but there is a difference between a Rebbe and a Rabbi Reply

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