Rabbis’ views on gambling: focused on warning and risks

Gambling, while a popular pastime among many Jewish and non-Jewish people, some might have a concern about its permissibility. According to the medieval rabbi Jacob ben Asher, Moses warned the people before his death not to be corrupted by gambling. However, there is no explicit prohibition on gambling according to the Jewish laws and scripts. However, many Talmudic rabbis offer a negative view of this practice. 

For example, in the Mishnah in Sanhedrin, a person who ‘plays with dice’ cannot serve as a witness. But this is disputed in the community, as we will see below.

According to one popular view, this prohibition will only apply to a gambler without any occupation, so from a Talmudic perspective, a gambler’s habit may be overlooked if they contribute actively to society through a proper job. Therefore, casual casino players with a regular job are exempt from this prejudice. 

There exist conservative opinions that gambling is a form of thievery, as the losing party will have to give up their money against their will. Still, it is debatable, as in any gambling scenario both parties will consent to the bet and will be accepting the possibility of loss.

Another thing to consider is the type of bet that it is made. Usually, casino gambling, which is when a player bets against the house, is less frowned upon as opposed to someone placing wages against another person. Lotteries and raffles fall in this same category, as the winner will not take the money directly from another person, but from an organization’s money pool. These practices are not forbidden and are quite common in Jewish communities around the world, including Israel. 

Keep in mind, though, that none of these practices are considered moral depending on external factors. For instance, a compulsive gambler will be described as a sinner who has corrupted himself and likely to harm their family and forget G-d.

Historically, gambling prohibition are often relaxed during minor holidays like the Purim, Hannukah and Rosh Chodesh. In fact, some medieval authorities from Bologna permitted card playing during fasting to help distract them from their suffering and restrictions, but with a specified limited wager. Similar exceptions were seen during weddings and Christmas Eve. 

In the present landscape, Jewish authorities have focused on the dangerous aspects of gambling, such as bankruptcy, domestic abuse, and other mental health risks. Therefore, they have offered treatment programs in the United States that will treat gambling addiction just like any other addiction.

To sum up, gambling is not a specifically prohibited practice in the Jewish community, but as any other risky or addictive practice such as substance abuse, rabbis’ views have been focused on warning about its risks and offering treatment to those who have given in to temptation. On the other hand, healthy and controlled gambling has been present throughout history and is likely to continue presenting itself in the Jewish community for many more years to come, as long as they practice responsible gambling and brings harm to no one, including themselves and family. 

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Scientist turned techie. Founder at Neliti & Reputio. Interested in sharing lessons learnt from Tel Aviv's bustling technology ecosystem.
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