As any good rabbi would answer, yes and no. The very first mitzvah in the Torah is to “be fruitful and multiply,”1 which is understood to mean that a man should marry and have children, if possible.2 This is considered so vital that one is permitted to sell a Torah scroll (which is ordinarily forbidden) if that is the only means by which one could get married.3

In this regard, a rabbi is no different than any other Jewish man. But is there a specific imperative for rabbis to be married?

What Is a Rabbi?

The word rabbi simply means “teacher” in Hebrew. In Talmudic times, this title was reserved for one who had special rabbinic ordination (read A Brief History of Rabbinic Ordination). These days, however, it is used very loosely and can refer to a leader of a congregation, one who has achieved a certain level of Torah knowledge, or a teacher of Judaism.

Now, there is no technical requirement for a rabbi—both in the classic and contemporary use of the word—to be married. (Unless he were to be appointed to the Sanhedrin (Jewishhigh court in Jerusalem), in which case it would be required that he be married—and have children—since one who gives death sentences must have the additional compassion that comes with having a family.)

However, in past generations, some rabbis refrained from giving their students ordination until marriage, or they would write in the ordination that it would only become effective after the student married.4 And, historically, many communities traditionally included in their bylaws that they would only accept married candidates as their rabbis.5

Why is this?

Since marriage is a central institution of Judaism, it is appropriate that a communal leader lives in accordance with this ideal, and his obligation to marry is thus greater than a layman’s.

Also there is a certain gravitas that comes naturally with the responsibility of being married and caring for a family.6 Additionally, it is more likely that an unmarried man may find himself in an inappropriate situation with women he encounters in the course of his work. A principle area of a rabbi’s responsibility is guiding couples through the mitzvah of Family Purity, and very personal information is often shared with him. Even if no improper action is taken, the very conversation (and the thoughts it may generate) are inappropriate for a person who does not have a healthy home life to anchor him.


This is the reason for the law that an unmarried man should not be a schoolteacher, lest he end up secluded (yichud) or in another compromised situation with mothers who come to drop off their children.7

(There is some debate around contemporary schools where the students are dropped off at a central location, and/or the classrooms are open, thus precluding the concern of seclusion.8)

Although not specifically stated, this concern applies equally, if not more so, to a community rabbi, who is often called upon to provide comfort and guidance, sometimes in highly private settings.

High Priest and Chazzan

In a somewhat related law, the High Priest who served on Yom Kippur was required to be married. The technical reason for this is that the Yom Kippur service included an offering to “atone for him and for his household,” which was understood to mean his wife.9

In a similar vein, if there are two equally qualified candidates to be chazzan, preference should be given to the one who is married, since, like the High Priest, the chazzan represents the congregation and will be able to pray with greater intent if he thinks of his own family’s pain. (Of course, chazzan and rabbi are not necessarily related positions.)10

The 1833 Wronki Controversy

In the year 1833, the Jewish community in the Polish city of Wronki wished to appoint a young rabbi who was then unmarried. When the famed Torah scholar Rabbi Akiva Eiger heard about it, he uncharacteristically came out vehemently against it. This was despite the fact that the person they wished to appoint, Rabbi Baruch Yitzchak Lipschitz, was the son of one of his prestigious students, Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz, who later authored the classic commentary on the Mishnah, Tiferet Yisrael.11

Many point out that his protest was not based on strict halachah, but was reflective of social conditions and a concern for what this could lead to. However, certainly in a case of need, and with the proper precautions, an unmarried person can be appointed as rabbi of a community that doesn’t have such a custom and wishes to hire him.12

(Thus, for example, we find that after Rabbi Yerachmiel Blumenfeld, Chief Rabbi of Rio de Janeiro, suddenly passed away at the age of 52 in the spring of 1980, the Rebbe encouraged the community to invite his son to succeed him, despite the fact that the younger Rabbi Blumenfeld was yet not married at the time.)

Final Word

Of course, any rabbi worth his salt would tell you that much of the heavy lifting of communal leadership and pastoral guidance is the domain of the rabbi’s wife (the rebbetzin). Indeed, the model of Chabad leadership as established by the Rebbe almost invariably involves a husband-and-wife team, each one serving the community with his or her unique strengths, talents and abilities.