Regarding the Revolving Door from FDA Regulator to Employment at Pfizer. Does Halacha View this as Bribery?

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What are the Facts?

In another post I quoted former Pres. Donald Trump bragging that his administration’s Warp Speed program got the vaccines through clinical trials and approvals in under a year, whereas it would have taken a minimum of five years without those efforts.

But there is an additional reason why the regulators are too lenient when dealing with mRNA safety issues.

Jordan Trishton Walker is a Pfizer Director of Research and Development, Strategic Operations – mRNA Scientific Planner. In a video interview by a reporter for project Veritas Walker explained how Big Pharma and government officials, such as at the Food & Drug Administration [FDA], have mutual interests, and how that is not in the best interest of the American people:

Walker: [Big Pharma] is a revolving door for all government officials.

Veritas Journalist: Wow.

Walker: In any industry though. So, in the pharma industry, all the people who review our drugs — eventually most of them will come work for pharma companies. And in the military, defense government officials eventually work for defense companies afterwards.

Veritas Journalist: How do you feel about that revolving door?

Walker: It’s pretty good for the industry to be honest. It’s bad for everybody else in America.

Veritas Journalist: Why is it bad for everybody else?

Walker: Because when the regulators reviewing our drugs know that once they stop regulating, they are going to work for the company, they are not going to be as hard towards the company that’s going to give them a job.

In a Hebrew article on the invalidation of a Judge due to a personal interest (for one of the sides) or on account of being a relative Rabbi Bar-Eli Ariel raised the issue of a judge getting benefits from one of the litigants after having already decided the case in his favor.

A Gift after the Decision

Seemingly, the reasoning behind the prohibition of bribery exists, only if it was given before the final verdict, but afterwards, behold it (the gift) does not have the power to change the past. Although, from the words of the Rosh it seems that even a late (after the verdict) gift is considered a bribe.

The Rabbi’s words revolve around the incident brought up in the Gemara that Bar Chama, who was a litigant, kissed the feet of Rabbi Popi, the judge who acquitted him, and took it upon himself to speak favorably on his behalf before the king in order to be exempted from taxation.

The author of “Yad Rama” explained on that page of the Gemara, that Rabbi Popi was not in fact a judge, and therefore there was no suspicion of wrongdoing. However, the Rosh explained that indeed in truth also a delayed gift is classified under the prohibition of bribery, however, Rabbi Popi was exempt in any case from paying taxes (due to his status as a Talmudic scholar) and only because speaking to the king did not produce actual profit – this was not classified as bribery.

It can be deduced from the words of the Rosh that to the extent that speaking with the king would have produced real profit, Rabbi Popi would have been forbidden to judge because of the prohibition of bribery. Admittedly, this type of bribery is not prohibited by the Torah, but only by the words of the Sages alone, and as the author of the Tosafot Yom Tov explained that the prohibition of late bribery (after the verdict) is similar to the prohibition of late interest (on loans). And just as interest after the loan has ceased to exist is prohibited by Rabbinic Law, so too late bribery (after the verdict) is only violating a rabbinic decree.

It should be noted that in the example used by the Mishna for late interest, the borrower explicitly states that the payment of the interest is due to the loan. And in comparison to our case, it can apparently be learned that the prohibition of taking a late bribe applies only if the bribe giver explicitly stated that it was given in exchange for the judgment. But this may be subject to dispute.

Rambam ruled regarding late interest payments (after the end of the loan) “If he took a loan from him and returned the debt, and then sent the lender a present for the fact that his money was in his possession without his receiving any benefit, this is considered as paying interest afterwards. And he did not mention that there is a prohibition only if the giver states that the gifts are for the loan.

The View of the Rosh About Linkage of Interest Payments and Bribery

Whereas the Rosh stated that it is necessary to state the matter explicitly. However, it seems that even according to the Rosh’s viewpoint the issues (of interest payments and bribery) cannot be completely linked, and for our purposes it is enough that the circumstances of the case show a clear connection between the verdict and the late gift and there is no need for the gift giver to verbally express (the connection between the verdict and the gift).

In any case, Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, not to be confused with Yad Rama mentioned earlier) ruled in accordance to the words of the Rosh:

“A judge who already issued a verdict, and the litigant then comes to give him a present that he decided the verdict in his favor, it is forbidden for the judge to accept it”.

The reason is that the judge is prone to expect a late gift from the litigant and this will disrupt his judgment. And so too did Rabbi Shmuel Mohliver write:

“And even accepting after the verdict is forbidden, because he will tilt the trial towards the person he feels will give to him after the verdict”.

And so too wrote Aruch HaShulchan:

“And after the verdict, when he decided in favor of one of the litigants who then sent him a gift for having decided in his favor, it is forbidden for him to accept, unless there was some reason that Halacha in any case determined that this benefit was due to the judge”.

Rabbi Moshe Alshich even found support for this (restriction) in the scriptures. The verse in the book of Psalms “And he did not take a bribe upon a clean one” was explained by Alshich in the following way.

“It is possible that the wording was precisely stated … and he did not take a bribe upon a clean one that even after he already emerged from his verdict, clean, he (the judge) should not take upon him, late bribery”.

According to these words, the book, Ir Mivtzar ruled that it is forbidden for a litigant to send Mishloach Manot (food gifts) to a judge who heard his case and ruled on his case before Purim, when he was not used to sending Mishloach Manot  to him beforehand.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein Discusses When It is Known the Winning Side Will Give a Gift to the Judge

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein[i] relates to the commitment of the litigant to pay the judge after he wins the trial, and this is (a translation of) his wording:

“Since he committed himself to give him at the outset, it is clear that it is forbidden by Torah law and there is no side of doubt in the matter. And not only if he actually committed himself to give afterwards, but rather, even if it was known to the judge that definitely the winning side would give him a gift after some time elapsed, this too, it is obvious is completely bribery and he would be invalid to be a judge, and his judgement is nothing”.

That is, according to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, when the judge  knows in advance that a bribe will be given, and even if it was not following an explicit commitment – this is considered an outright bribe prohibited by the Torah, and it does not amount to (just) “late bribery” and therefore even after the fact, the judgment would be annulled.

Regarding Punishment

With regard to a late bribe, which is given after the verdict and was not promised before it, where the prohibition is only rabbinic, it is written in the responsa, Be’er Shlomo  that the judgment should not be invalidated: “according to all, the rabbis did not punish the judge with a fine for getting a late payment (after the verdict) and therefore his verdicts remain.

The author of responsa, Ma’adanei Yom Tov, was asked by the chairman of a community outside of the land of Israel, who recommended that his friend, a certain rabbi, be elected to the rabbinate of the community, and after he was elected, the chosen rabbi sent him a fancy Shas in new print, whether he must return the gift in order not to be guilty of taking a late bribe. And he replied that even though this gift is definitely considered a bribe, there is reason to be lenient not to return the gift.

Conflict of Interest by Public Servants (Govt. officials, etc.)

There are public figures who, by virtue of their positions, make monetary decisions regarding other people (such as, a committee that decides on discounts, etc.) and it is clear that their judgment should be clean and in the best interest of the matter they are entrusted with. It is necessary to find out if Halacha relates also to conflict of interest among these people?

Gods of Silver and Gods of Gold

In the Gemara, Rabbi Ashi expounded upon the verse “You shall not make with me gods of silver and gods of gold”, which deals with the prohibition of idolatry, about a reality where judges pay silver or gold to be appointed “Judges who come on account of silver and Judges who come on account of gold” (in Biblical Hebrew, there is a word that can either mean gods or judges depending on the context). In Yerushalmi there is an extension to other public figures – “Parnasin”, the treasurers of charity funds. Accordingly, the Yerushalmi stated: “No less than three may be appointed as Parnasin” and, similar to the law that rejects the appointment of two brothers in the composition of one court, “we do not appoint two brothers as Parnasin.”

An especially outstanding expression for the comparison between public servants and judges emerges from the rulings of Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserles):

“The dignitaries of the community who are appointed to deal with the needs of the public or individuals, behold, they are like judges and it is forbidden to appoint among them those who are ineligible due to wickedness”; “The leaders of the community should be careful when they impose a tax based on an estimation of the wealth of each individual, that they do not show undue favoritism to those they love and not overly burden those they hate so that they are not disqualified from testifying and making oaths”.

Immoral Behavior of Public Servants Can Degenerate the Public into General Anarchy

It seems that the accepted concept among Sages is that public officials, when it comes to the management of public affairs, are subject to the strict norms of judges who decide the law, because the immoral behavior of public servants can degenerate the public into general anarchy, as Rabbi Ron Kleinman expressed it:

“It is clear that public servants and their elected officials who set norms of behavior for them, whether by legislation or by making executive decisions, should conduct themselves impeccably and flawlessly, in accordance with the principle, “Correct yourself first and then others”. When public servants are tainted by conflict of interests, their actions lose their moral validity, and the public’s trust in them decreases.

And appropriate for this matter are the words of the ‘Chazon Ish’… “Even if a man will agree about the great wisdom of the sage, he will not feel morally obligated to listen to him, after he will find an excuse to ascribe the sages ruling to a personal interest… And by this, a generation will arise that judges the judges, and every man will perform what his right in his own eyes… and the entire atmosphere of the city, and sometimes the atmosphere of the whole country, is filled with scourging tongue, fights and quarrels””.

The author of Hapilpula Charifta applying the law from the less obvious case to the more obvious, wrote that one should expand the prohibition of bribery also to public servants that judge and decide on secular matters.

“And see a great thing that our rabbi voiced, bribery is prohibited even in a matter that is not a Torah law but just a fine in general…. I wrote this to instruct to those who are appointed over the community, even though their laws are not Torah law and they are not accepted for this purpose, even so, they should be careful not to accept gifts on account of their judgements”.

And so too ruled the author of Aruch HaShulchan[ii] :

“And not specifically a judge is forbidden in accepting bribes, but even all the appointed and all those who deal with public needs, even though their laws are not Torah Law; and it is forbidden to sway the matter for love or hatred, and even more so, by taking bribes. And not necessarily monetary bribery is forbidden, but even bribery of words such as initiating greetings to the Judge if he was not accustomed to do so previously, and so too, doing him some service is forbidden if he was not accustomed to do so previously for him; even doing a small service is forbidden.”

And in the continuation of his words he wrote:

“There is one thing that the world practices as if it is permitted, but a great prohibition is contained within it. Accepting bribes and causing the public to sin and dissension and the desecration of the name of Heaven (G-d)  where there is no end to the punishment, and this situation comes when it is necessary to choose a leader in some matter related to the affairs of the city according to royal authorization and they try to place their relatives or their lovers or on account of hatred for the other, even though they know themselves that the man they want is not fit for the position as much as the other candidate and they try to lobby on behalf of whoever they want, even to the point  of saying whoever they want is good and fit, and they seduce the masses, although in front of him that knows the secrets (G-d) it is obvious that he has a vested interest in this, and they cause the city to stumble and many victims have fallen dead over these type of matters and therefore a person has to be very, very, careful about this.

Similarly, Rabbi Mendel Shafran warned against bribing public servants and wrote that “this prohibition includes the middlemen involved in taking or giving favors”; and thus he warned:

“For all office holders, to suppress their personal leanings and deal only with the good of the institution and the society to which they are entrusted. For example, the principal of a school who chooses a relative for a certain position, behold, he harms both the other candidates and also the students and parents, and the school itself as a school for the public since he is entrusted to act exclusively for the good of the institution”.

Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein on Gifts by the Pharmaceutical Companies

Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein[iii] was asked by Dr. Meshulam Hart whether a doctor who introduced a certain drug into use in a hospital may, after the fact, receive a gift that the pharmaceutical company wishes to give him because of it. After discussing the matter and clarifying that the gift to the doctor is not considered “agent fees” but rather is a ‘late bribe’ he wrote:

“In light of all this, even those in charge of the public should not take a late bribe, because the late will become an early bribe the next time, and since the doctor knows that after he approves the drugs and buys them, the company will send him a gift, it is fitting to be doubly,  very, very careful about this: on the one hand is the issue of bribery, and on the other hand being a doctor where every mistake borders on matters of life and death. It turns out that if he preferred a certain medicine because of the bias of the mind due to bribery, he violated the commandment to ensure public safety and sinned against the lives of people”.

For those who wish to examine the long list of footnotes for this article, you will find them in the original Hebrew article at

Not all of the Hebrew article was translated, but just those that were relevant for the “revolving door” issue that the Pfizer executive talked about.


[i] Igrote Moshe, Choshen Mishpat, section 2, chapter 26

[ii] Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 9,1

[iii] Shiurei Torah LaRofim , Section 1, chapter 14