7 Signs On How To Spot Fake Rabbis – And Why I Don’t Call Many People Rabbi

One of my great surprises when becoming Breslov was that suddenly I realized not everyone whom I admired or used to call a Rabbi was actually deserving of the title. Some were actually fake Rabbis pretending (or misleading) you into accepting their distortion of Torah.

Our generation has many good Rabbis, but I dare say many are absolutely corrupt and do not represent Torah in any way, shape, or form. In fact, I’d be happy to see many of them dishonorably discharged from their duties as that would do us all a lot of good.

Of course, not everyone with moral failings every now and then is necessarily corrupt at his core.

And of course, there are varying degrees of corruption.

But here are some clues that may help you identify “Rabbis” whom you should avoid.

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An introduction to fake rabbis

Anyone acquainted with Massechet (tractate) Sotah 49 knows that this is a scarily and accurate description of our generation. The sages predicted with fantastic accuracy what would happen in the “End of Days” time which we are now experiencing.

It’s not just fake rabbis, but the entire gamut of human experience is reaching absurd levels even for the minimally intelligent who can see beyond what is being portrayed.

Starting from the fact that:

  1. No, you are not biblically or rabbinically mandated to take a vaccine
  2. No, you can’t be held responsible if your breath “supposedly” kills someone else many days latter
  3. No, Rabbis, even good ones, are not immune from erro
  4. No, the Torah does not grant doctors full power over our lives because of a flu.
  5. No, the Batei Dinim, unfortunately are not all holy and impervious to corruption.

Illustrating this last point, one colleague who’s a lawyer from my old shared office related once that, as he was waiting with his client for a hearing to start, the contender came and cheerfully gave the “dayan” an invitation for his daughter’s wedding. That’s bribery in the simplest sense of the word. My friend was shocked at the “matter of factly” with which the judge received that, and simply left speechless.

There are unfortunately many other cases of fake rabbis who are complete narcissists and think they are the ultimate truth, must be obeyed at all costs, and anyone who disputes them are heretics. All this we have seen in our generation.

Anyway, here are 7 signs that should help you spot fake rabbis:

1. Excessive concern with gashmiut (physicality)

In Brasil and in Israel, I’ve seen some Rabbis that had palaces that made the Louvre Museum look like a 7-Eleven. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating here (maybe…), but many of these arrogant leaders built their mansions, using Tzedakah money. This is money people give in order to “support Torah” and expect it to be fairly distributed among avrechim (Torah students).

The reasoning?

Well, basically “these people are supporting Torah… and I AM TORAH”!

The Chofetz Chaim lived in a simple run-down apartment. HaRav Aharon Steinman used the same mattress he received when he arrived in Israel for over 60 years. So many gedolim couldn’t care less about where they lived and how they lived, and I think that this should be a good measurement of where a person stands.

Many fake Rabbis keep pandering on how “this world is temporary” and we need to “minimize our concern with gashmiut” but don’t follow their own advice.

If you built your fortune through some business venture, then kol hakavod, enjoy it and may Hashem give you more.

If, however, you are taking Tzedakah money to “support” Talmidei Chakhamim (i.e. you), then no, there’s no justification for siphoning it all into yourself.

2. Hatred for a particular Jewish group

Real Tzadikim don’t hate any legitimate Jewish group. They may fiercely debate and reject their opinions, but they don’t denigrate them. It’s all for the sake of Torah and discussions are good.

So many fake Rabbis out there speak about Lashon HaRah, peddle rumors, spread hatred or make off-hand comments about a certain group or individual thinking “it’s ok”.

What do they get from that? Nothing.

Actually, these fake rabbis will get a massive bill of sins on their name in Olam HaBah (World to Come) to be paid in full to the aggrieved parties. It’s all fun and laughs (until judgment comes).

There are obviously rules for Lashon HaRah and times when it’s permissible. This is especially through when directing less informed people away from scammers like open orthodoxy or malicious individuals.

Speaking Lashon HaRah over any legitimate Jewish group should be a major red flag. No excuses.

3. Egregious distortion of halacha

This should’ve been a no-brainer, but in an age where it’s become acceptable to distort Torah for the sake of political correctness and a hefty amount of money, it has to be stated. I’m not even talking about the “open orthodoxy” scam, which of course is not Judaism at all.

No, you are not obligated to wear masks by Torah law.

No, halacha doesn’t say that you are not obligated to vaccinate.

The Hebrew term for mask (מסכה) is actually connected to idolatry.

None of these things constitute pikuach nefesh or v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha as so many charlatans made us believe the past 3 years. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Real Halacha (even basic Jewish Laws) requires deliberation, openness, honesty, integrity, a lot of study, wisdom, patience and definitely purity of intentions (i.e. not being paid to give a Psak). Fake Rabbis will go along the fad that everyone is pandering and won’t concern themselves with “silly details”, while fattening their bank accounts.

fake rabbis are like fake medicine

4. Going against the spirit of Torah

Certain things may be halachically permissible but go against the spirit of Torah.

This is what the Ramban calls מנוול ברשות התורה (a debased person within Torah jurisdiction). An example of this is eating. Technically speaking, you can eat everything that’s kosher, as long as you don’t mix meat and milk.

Technically.

However, excessive eating goes against the spirit of Torah just like over-indulging in physical pleasure like marital relations.

It’s permitted to be intimate with your spouse as much as one wants, but it doesn’t mean you should or that it brings one to his Tikkun.

Exceptions to this rule are, of course, during Shabbat and Yom Tov, when eating and marital relations is a Mitzvah. Even then, writes the Shulchan Aruch, a person should be careful to avoid Achilah Gassa (“gluttonous eating”).

The same goes to engaging in business. It’s permitted. It’s good for your body and brain. But maybe you shouldn’t work 14 hours per day to make more money if you are already doing well. Maybe you should try to work less or hire someone to do part of your work so you can increase Torah study.

5. Low level of Torah Study

Rabbis should know a lot of Torah. Period. Rebbe Nachman, whom many unfortunately wrongly equate his advice of being “simple” (Tam) with not studying, already tells us a man should be a Lamdan (scholar).

They should know not only where to find a particular piece of information, but also how to study, make an effort to remember, and be honest enough to say “I don’t know” when they actually don’t know the answer.

So many fake Rabbis have a dismal understanding of the Torah that I often wonder if they got their semicha on Udemy.

6. Dismissal of Kabbalah / Chassidut

Kabbalah and Chassidut are an integral part of Torah. They were given to Moshe Rabbenu on Har Sinai, and passed down from generation to generation until a very small (of what it was), distilled portion has reached us now.

The sages and prophets were tremendous mystics and could perform incredible miracles thanks to this special knowledge. I will make a full post on this but I venture to say that their understanding of nature and humanity makes our scientific knowledge look like a joke and I’m not exaggerating. But I digress.

Not all Torah is the same. The Zohar writes that Mikra (scripture) which corresponds to Pshat comes from Assiyah, Mishnayot which corresponds to Remez come from Yetzirah, the Gemara (Drash) comes from Beriyah, and Kabbalah (Sod) comes from Atzilut.

Rav Chaim Vital, chief disciple of the Holy Arizal, writes in the introduction to Etz Chayim that the Geulah is being delayed by people who neglect to study Kabbalah since this is the light of the future redemption that can transform our perspective most drastically. Nowadays it’s more or less an accepted idea that whoever can’t study Kabbalah can fulfill his obligation by studying Chassidut.

Jews, and Rabbis most of all, need to understand the importance of Kabbalah or/and Chassidut and study (and also teach if they can).

7. Over-emphasis on chumrot (stringencies)

Chumrot are good when they are used in good measure. They are also an integral part of Jewish life. If your spouse is happy to accept chumrot, then by all means, be happy and Kadosh (holy).

But chumrot are not halacha and many fake Rabbis sometimes force their own chumrot on less informed people asking questions. They may do this out of ignorance or out of malice, like requiring a person to have 2 Platas (one for milk and one for meat).

Often an excessive interest in chumrot can be a big problem because a person may falter on other areas of basic halacha. Many fake Rabbis seek chumrot to show off as pious and may end up being the worst sinners. By the way, chumrot, especially if imposed on the spouse can destroy marriages.

Quick example: I once saw online the story of a certain chassidishe guy who received from his “holy” Rebbe that his Chassidim should not have marital relations more than once or twice per month even when the woman is permitted. The woman felt dejected, and abandoned her husband when he gave her the sermon of a lifetime for wanting to be with him more than the prescribed amount and committed suicide.

The Torah is a tree of life, the source for divine wisdom. It provides couples with a guide for a harmonious relationship, and no chumrah should hurt a spouse’s feelings. This is not a Kabbalistic secret, it’s just basic common sense.

Couples should choose chumrot very carefully and both need to be in full agreement.

Preferably a real, wise and God fearing rabbi with a great level of Avodat Hashem should be consulted.

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Concluding Remarks

I don’t think I finished this list and may update it in the future.

Maybe this will help someone spot fake rabbis pretending to offer real Torah, and avoid them altogether.

I tried to keep this list as concise as possible. Use your common sense, and remember that if something is too good to be true, it probably is.

There are times when you might not know whether someone is legit or not. That’s ok.

A final trick you might want to use to spot a fake is by asking him “Where is the source for what you just said?“. This is a simple, but brutal question that can immediately reveal whether the guy in front of you is the real deal or a fake rabbi.

Again, use your common sense and research.

Can you think of other items to add to the list?

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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2 Responses

  1. I know a bit about Neo-Platonism, and there is a connection between it, Gnosticism, and Kabbalah.
    For example, the ideas about emanations.
    Why do you think they are related? One is paganism, and the other is holy knowledge.

    1. I haven’t studied neo-platonism, but you can be sure many religions and philosophical schools try to explain Kabbalah in their own words, sometimes adding their own interpretations.

      While they may take Kabbalah for their needs, it remains part and parcel of the Torah that was handed down to Adam HaRishon, the patriarchs and that we all received later from Hashem in Mt. Sinai.

      The principles of Kabbalah, once learned, are a self-evident reality, so it’s understandable why they do that.

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