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Are Jews Allowed to Steal?

Are Jews Allowed to Steal?

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So a Jewish guy allegedly steals $50 billion from his friends and associates—most of them Jewish. Without fail, the predictable stereotypes involving Jews and money begin to pop up on blogs and chat rooms all over. They recycle the old calumny that Jewish tradition allows people to deal dishonestly with others as long as they live otherwise pious lives.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, Jewish tradition teaches that how you deal with your fellows is perhaps the most important aspect of your relation with your Creator. This idea has been expressed both in Jewish teachings as well as in personal example since almost the beginning of time.

Let us take a look at a small sampling of these teachings and anecdotes.

4,100 years ago:

The people are so bad that G‑d has no choice but to wipe the world clean and start all over again, with Noah and his children. What was the sin of that generation? To quote the Torah (Genesis 6:11): "The earth was corrupt before G‑d, and the earth became full of robbery." The Talmud tells us (Sanhedrin 108a) that despite all their depravity, their verdict was sealed only because of their robbery.

A few centuries later, the world is again in hot water (this time only figurative). Noah's descendents build a tower (Genesis 11:1-9), in order to combat G‑d (Rashi ad loc). What does G‑d do? How many does He kill? None. All He did was disperse them.

The Sages (Midrash Rabbah Genesis 38:6) explain that though they had the audacity to conspire against G‑d, they worked together in harmony. This as opposed to "the Generation of the Flood who were robbers and there was strife between them, and therefore they were destroyed."

3,700 years ago:

Abraham and Sarah arrive in the Land of Canaan, along with their nephew Lot. Shortly thereafter, a quarrel breaks out between Abraham's and Lot's shepherds (Genesis 13:7). What caused this fall out? Again the Midrash (Rabbah Genesis 41:5) sheds light: Lot's herdsmen pastured their animals in fields belonging to others, Abraham's herdsmen kept their cattle muzzled, and rebuked their counterparts for committing robbery...

3,300 years ago:

Seven weeks after their Exodus from Egypt, the nascent Jewish nation gathers at Sinai to enter into a covenant with G‑d. He chose ten of His 613 commandments to personally communicate to the nation. Five of them deal with interpersonal issues, and three of those discuss the importance of honesty: Thou shall not steal, thou shall not bear false witness, and thou shall not covet.

This sets the tone for all times to come.

2,900 years ago:

King David writes (Psalms 24:3-4), "Who will ascend upon G‑d's mountain and who will stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not taken My name in vain and has not sworn deceitfully."

2,600 years ago:

G‑d admonishes the people regarding their fasting ways which He found reprehensible (Isaiah 58:2-11):

"Daily they pretend to seek Me, desiring knowledge of My ways . . . 'Why have we fasted and You did not see?' they ask. 'We have afflicted our soul and You do not know?' Behold, on the day of your fast you pursue your affairs, and from all your debtors you forcibly exact payment. Behold, for quarrel and strife you fast, and to strike with a fist of wickedness..."

Instead, Isaiah teaches the Jews the proper way to fast:

"Loosen the fetters of wickedness, untie the bands of perverseness, send the oppressed free, and break every oppressive yoke. Offer your bread to the hungry, bring the wandering poor into your home. When you see someone naked, clothe him . . . Then you shall call and G‑d shall answer, you shall cry and He shall say, 'Here I am.' . . . G‑d will always guide you and satiate your soul with radiance..."

2,000 years ago:

The sage Hillel is approached by a non-Jew. "I am willing to convert to Judaism on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot."

"That which you detest," Hillel answers, "do not to others. All the rest is commentary" (Talmud, Shabbat 31a).

This tradition is exemplified in a teaching by Rabbi Yosi (Ethics 2:12): "The money of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own; prepare yourself to study Torah…"

One must first learn to respect the property of others, and only then can he approach G‑d and the study of His Torah.

1,900 years ago:

One of the holy Ten Martyrs was the great sage Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon. The teaching of Torah is forbidden by the Roman regime, a capital offense, but he is undeterred. He publicly gathers disciples and, with a Torah scroll in his bosom, heroically teaches them Torah. Eventually he is captured while in the midst of a Torah lecture and burned alive for his deeds.

Shortly before his capture he visits a colleague, Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma. Rabbi Chanina turns to his friend and asks, "Will I be deserving of a portion in the World to Come?"

Rabbi Yosi's asks Rabbi Chanina whether he had done anything special in his lifetime. Rabbi Chanina responds that he once had two pouches of money—one earmarked for charity, and the other for his personal holiday expenses. He later discovered that he had accidentally given his holiday money to charity. Although he could have reimbursed himself from the other pouch, he chose not to and gave the second pouch to the poor as well.

"In that case," answers Rabbi Yosi, "may my portion be like your portion; my lot like your lot" (Talmud, Avodah Zarah 18a).

This is beyond astonishing. Rabbi Yosi knew very well that Rabbi Chanina devoted his life to the advancement of Torah, with utter disregard for his personal safety. Yet he only assured him that he would be admitted to the World to Come when he ascertained that he dealt honestly with public funds!

1,700 years ago:

Rabbah, the leading Talmudic sage of his day, teaches (Talmud, Shabbat 31a) that when a soul ascends to heaven, the very first question she is asked is: "Did you conduct your business honestly?"

1,000 years ago:

Rabbeinu Gershom "the Light of the Diaspora" forbids opening letters addressed to others. A millennium before the advent of the civil rights movement, the rabbis of old understood the importance of individual rights and how important it is to be utterly honest in all one's dealings.

700 years ago:

Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, the "Baal Haturim," reworks the entire body of Jewish law into four sections. This structure will eventually become the framework for the Code of Jewish Law. One of the sections, Choshen Mishpat, is entirely devoted to the laws of interpersonal relationships and the minutiae of honest business practice.

65 years ago:

The Lubavitcher Rebbe publishes a calendar, the "Hayom Yom," that contained a chassidic aphorism for every day of the year. For the 8th of Av, the Rebbe writes:

"What good is Chassidic teaching and piety if the main quality, love of a fellow Jew, is lacking—even to the extent of, G‑d forbid, causing anguish to another!"


Anyone who thinks otherwise simply slept through Hebrew school.


Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
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yitzhak houston January 10, 2013

shame and thievery what's the background of the concept: to be ashamed is to steal, and not know how to get away with it? Reply

Kate Gladstone Albany, NY/USA December 28, 2010

souls Re:
"The Jewish soul is twofold, an Animal soul and a G-dly soul" --

What about non-Jews? Do they also have two souls (according to Judaism), or just one, or none?

If Jews have two souls and non-Jews have only one, which one (according to Judaism) didn't the non-Jews get? Reply

Jews are brothers and sisters. Brooklyn, NY December 27, 2010

Answer to "why specifically,,," "Love a fellow Jew For the same reason a person should care about his own family and it is not ever the 'same' as caring about everyone else.
Yet is does not mean a person has no compassion for everyone else.
People of the same 'groups' (like race or ethnicity or fellow countrymen) tend to have closer bonds to each other then they do to the outside world.
Jews are often considered "outsiders" like in Germany when the rest of the population so easily turned on them, this has been repeated in many countries.
Jews are family and should be closer to each other then to the rest of the world.
Everyone needs to part of some group where they look out for each other more then they do for the world at large.
If Jews don't do this for each other, no one else will.
But being spread all over the world, it can be hard for Jews to remember this, so there are admonitions to remind Jews that a Jew who does not look like you is still your 'brother'.
Just like Polish people feel closer to other Pols for example. Reply

Kate Gladstone Albany, NY/USA September 29, 2010

why, specfically ,,, Re:
"the main quality, love of a fellow Jew"

Why, specifically, would loving a Jew rank higher than loving any other person?

Re::

"God forbid, causing anguish to another!""

Causing anguish to *any* other? Or only causing anguish to another Jew? Reply

albert benos aires, argentina December 26, 2009

Are Jewish allowed to steal? A very good article indeed. My congratulations to the writer. Reply

DanLew.com Bkk, Thailand via jewishthailand.com December 24, 2009

Great article, There is a big gap between 65 and 700 years though Reply

fab fort lauderdale, fl October 27, 2009

because they were afraid! G-d spoke to Abraham and Abe acted on faith. at Sinai, the Israelite did not want to hear directly from G-d then how else would G-d who was, is, and will be and knows all, would communicate to His people? are we ready to hearken to His voice and do what He tells us? or would we rather discuss, theorize about and twist the law to our convenience trying to trick Him who is within us, who wants to walk with us and bless us? steal, lie, deceit, covet? what can we get thru those actions, which we can take to heaven? yet this is our level: to seek materialism, dirt. just because we are made of dust? but then are we that dust? aren't we spirit as well? weren't we promised to receive all we need if we believe in his words? hearken to my voice HE said, but no, we worry about peanuts, stress out over hot air, we want more, we can't wait. "it is all mine, don't steal; i'll give you all you ever need, i'll be your exceedingly high reward". sons of Adam, we all covet, what can we gain that is ours? Reply

Anonymous winnipeg, canada January 11, 2009

madoff Cannot excuse him because he is a Jew. The Jewish soul is twofold, an Animal soul and a G-dly soul. They cannot be replaced. That means that a Jew can be totally wicked and have both souls in the lowest sewer. As for the penalty, hopefully he gets his just dessert. Even a lifetime prison sentence gives his soul(s) a chance to rise to higher levels. It's called Tshuvah, repentance.. It does not get his body out of prison. As for the " greedy" Jews who invested, i do not agree that they are at fault.. A con artist plays the confidence /trustgame. A good one plays a good game. They can take any form including your wife if you have some wealth, or even a Rabbi. Reply

Maer Kahane January 10, 2009

Barbara gee you really should read the article again and not embarrass yourself with anti-jewish rants Reply

Barbara Bendorf January 10, 2009

Money The fact that a law is on the books means that somebody was committing that act.

there is no need to forbid it unless somebody is doing it.

If we had so many laws against it, maybe it means that we were doing it a LOT and the effort was made to restrain us. Reply

Anonymous Iowa City, Iowa January 9, 2009

Rubashkin Even the court appointed translator who was present when the arrested workers were being interviewed and pushed towards deportation cried out publicly about the Rubashkin case. It was mishandled by the goverment, and teh workers were pushed to make bizarre false accusations (a menth lab? there was no such equipment present at the plant. beating people with meat hooks? not one injury was reported- only these hastily made verbal accusations which were made by the government employees and signed on by Spanish speaking prisoners who were being kept, frightened and without proper legal counsel, at a county fair ground and being threatened with imprisonment if they did not sign. Reply

Herbert Schwarz Santa Ana, CA January 8, 2009

Madoff He can't be in anyway excused because he is Jewish. His soul is replaced with pure evil. It's as if he killed, and perhaps Biblically he deserves stoning.His only saving grace are the number of greedy Jews that invested with him. Reply

gershon January 8, 2009

to stephen rubashkin and madoff are individuals and should be treated as such. Reply

Stephan Epstein Austin, TX January 8, 2009

Double standard? I'll allow that you penned this with an eye towards being 'thought provoking.' But I am nevertheless astounded that, in light of the ongoing Rubashkin saga, and the Chabad community's efforts on his behalf, you (and chabad.org) would cast another jew accused of misdeeds in such a negative vein. Reply

Anonymous winnipeg, canada January 7, 2009

madoff Since I am not on a level to exonerate madoff nor love him, I am very comfortable with my decision. A highly intelligent common criminal, a con man, a predator is not about to receive my respect, nor love. Sorry. Reply

Anonymous New York, NY January 7, 2009

What does this teach us? NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- Police are looking for two armed robbers who disguised themselves as Hasidic Jews and stole $4 million worth of jewels from a Diamond District wholesaler on New Year's Eve. The brazen heist happened at around 3:25 p.m. on Dec. 31 at a commercial building located at 2 W. 46th Street in Manhattan.

Dressed in Orthodox garb of black coats, hats and fake beards, the robbers showed fake IDs to a lobby security guard on and took the elevator to the fifth floor of the building all while under security cameras, police said.

The robbers then displayed a gun and took the jewelry.

They are both described as males between 5 feet 7 and 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing approximately 190 pounds. Reply

rocky Pittsburgh, Pa January 7, 2009

Business ethics we need in this crazy world to renew our committment and learning of Torah based business ethics. Torah observant Jews are in the media and public light under more scrutiny than others when it comes to fair and honest business practices and the good treatment of workers. Reply

Mitchell West Hempstead, NY January 7, 2009

Loshon Hora While your headline is timely and attractive, I question its value weighed against what I believe the Chofetz Chaim would have ruled as being prohibited. This was beneath you guys. Get back to doing the good work you have been doing, without sinking to the level of others trying to sell a story. Reply

Anonymous New York , NY January 7, 2009

Madoff The sad fact is that otherwise observant Jews have a dreadful and well earned reputation in secular courts (both civil and criminal) for corruption and dishonesty. Hasidic Jews, shuls and schools instill a culture of using a variety of artifices to game the system; from tax fraud, money laundering to bank and securities fraud. Too many Chasidic Jews think it's a mizvah to circumvent rules; to be dishonest in seeking governmental benefits and cheat Gentiles. The anomaly of a Chasid taking a break from a criminal activity to daven mincha or insisting on chalav yisroel is breathtaking The problem isn't lessons taught in Hebrew schools. The more important issue is the culture fostered in the Charedi community. Reply

Anonymous January 7, 2009

re: Con Artist What "Talmudic Sources" are they citing? The truth is, it is worse, according to Jewish tradition, to steal from a non-Jew, because the crime of stealing is there in both cases, but in the case of stealing from a non-Jew you have the added crimes of causing hatred against Jews to increase and giving Judaism a bad name. Reply