In Jewish law, we find that certain positions are passed from father to son, provided that the son is worthy of filling his father's post, while other positions are not inherited. This article will explore this issue.

The King and Public Officers

Concerning kingship, the verse states: "…in order that he have a lengthy reign, he and his sons, amongst the Jewish people."1 The Talmud2 derives from this verse that if a son is worthy, he inherits his father's position as king. The son needed to be worthy in terms of being G‑d fearing, even if he was not as wise as his father.3 In the Northern Kingdom of Israel, we often find that prophets would anoint new kings instead of continuing the existing dynasties,4 because the children were unworthy of monarchy. If the firstborn is worthy, he becomes the next king, but if he's not, the position is passed on to one of the other children, with older ones getting precedence over younger ones.5 Thus we find that King David chose Solomon to become king after him, even though he was not the firstborn.6

The same holds true with all positions of political leadership—they were passed on to the rightful heirs, as long as the son was worthy of the post.7

The High Priest

The Torah is considered "free" for all those who wish to acquire itThere are several references in the Torah to the fact that a worthy son of a high priest inherits his father's position.8 Despite the fact that he is inheriting the position, the son needs to be anointed.9

If there is no son that is considered worthy, a priest from a different family is chosen.10 Thus we find that Pinchas took over the post of high priest from his father, Elazar,11 but the position was then removed from the family as a result of Pinchas' unbecoming behavior,12 and given to the family of Itamar.13 It was only returned to the descendants of Elazar after the sons of Eli the High Priest were deemed unworthy of the position.14

(For more on this topic, see How Is a High Priest Selected?)

Religious Positions

Positions of religious leadership, on the other hand, were generally not inherited.15 This is because the Torah is considered "free" for all those who wish to acquire it.16 Thus we find that, despite Moses' request, G‑d insisted that his position of leadership be inherited by Joshua, his student, rather than by his own son.17 Similarly, in the days of the Judges, we don't find any judges who inherited their positions from their fathers. The one notorious exception was Abimelech, whose reign proved to be a catastrophe.18 In a similar vein, although the prophet Samuel suggested that the Jews accept his sons as their judges,19 his sons were not as righteous as he was,20 and they were not accepted as the leaders of the Jewish people.21

Similarly, with the notable exception of the family of Hillel, the Torah leadership positions in the time of the Mishnah and Talmud were not inherited.22

Rabbinic Positions Today

Despite this, some say that today it is customary for religious positions to be inherited.23 The Chatam Sofer24 explains that since the rabbis of today are also expected to serve their communities in a practical and political sense, the modern rabbinic positions are ones which can be inherited by sons who are worthy. The Chatam Sofer concludes that this gives the son precedence over scholars greater than himself that come from other communities or cities. If there is a scholar greater than the son living in the city or community, however, that person has a right to be considered for the position before the previous rabbi's son.

Other Religious Positions

If a cantor is hired for a lifetime position, and his son is sufficiently G‑d-fearing and also has an adequate voice, the community should hire the son to replace the father when he is no longer able to sing,25 or to aid his father as needed. The same applies to all similar community positions,26 such as charity collectors or scribes of the Beit Din (Jewish Court of Law).27