Who’s (Not) a Heretic?

Like many others, I grew up with the understanding that there really weren’t any bona fide apikorsim (heretics) any longer. “Do you know how much a person has to know before he can be considered an apikorus?” teachers used to say. The assumption was that one had to have studied far in excess of the hoi poloi to be a candidate for the title. (One cynical young man I knew sported a T-shirt with the slogan “Aspiring Apikorus.”)

Discovering the Chazon Ish changed all that. The Gemara is quite clear about urging an “exit strategy” for them, in a manner short of actively spilling their blood. However, says the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 2:16), this was true only when the community clearly recognized the operation of Divine Providence in its midst, and understood that any backsliding towards transgression jeopardized society by compromising its relationship with G-d. Eliminating spiritual fifth columnists was roundly appreciated as vital to the security of the community. In contemporary times, ridding ourselves of heretics would cause even greater contempt for religion, and is counterproductive. We have no choice, he says, but to attempt to win back the heretics with bonds of love.

Implicit in this approach is that heretics are not a thing of the past. They live among us, even today. A heretic need not be a gadol hador (Torah giant) who went bad. Heretics today know enough that they can be considered genuine rejectionists, not benighted souls victimized by their unfortunate ignorance.

So heresy came back to life as a functional category of people. In more recent times, the potential for heresy grew exponentially as some uncovered a new way to bring more folks under the heresy umbrella. The argument goes something like this. “My rebbi/ rebbe/ rosh yeshiva etc. is a very important talmid chacham (Torah scholar). The Gemara states that disparaging a talmid chacham makes one an apikorus. Now my rebbi, etc. holds X. Nothing could be more disparaging of him than for you to contravene or ignore X. Since you have elected to disobey, you are therefore a heretic.”

Those who are suspect that there is something wrong with this thinking and can’t put their finger on it will take comfort in a passage in Metiv Shir (8:10), the Netziv’s commentary to Shir HaShirim.

This teaches us that we should not distant ourselves from people who are not Bnei Torah, even while they violate the Torah. We should nonetheless seek out their merit, as according to Avos D’Rav Nosson (chapter 16): “What is ‘hatred of people’ [that we are instructed to avoid]? This reaches that a person should not say ‘Love the Sages – and despise the disciples;’ [or] ‘Love the disciples, and despise the commoners.’ Rather, you should love all of them, and hate the apikorsim, as it is said, ‘Those who pronounce Your Name for wicked schemes…For indeed those who hate You, Hashem, I hate them and I quarrel with those who rise up against You (Tehilim 139:20-21) .’”

The Tanna precisely explains which apikorus we are allowed and instructed to hate – those who “pronounce Your Name for wicked schemes,” i.e. [arguing] G-d has abandoned the world; there is no Judge and no judgment. The amei haaretz – even those who hate and ridicule the Sages and the disciples (and who are termed apikorsim by Chazal in Chapter Chelek [the last chapter in Sanhedrin]) – you are not permitted to scorn and hate! Rambam and Shulchan Aruch write similarly: Apikorsim are those who deny Torah and prophecy in Israel, etc. This is unlike the Ran cited by the Shach that even those who disparage Torah scholars are included in the category of apikorsim for the purposes described there in Shulchan Aruch. Chazal term such people apikorsim only in the sense that they are treated as such by Heaven. In the laws of Man, it is forbidden to hate them.

I trust that readers will inventively find new ways we can label people apikorsim so that we will replenish any losses caused by the Netziv.

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19 Responses

  1. Moshe P. Mann says:

    While Rabbi Adlerstein wrote the above piece in a humorous sarcastic tone, to the ultra orthodox it is THE definition of apikorsus.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    There are some bloggers who are apikorsim by any definition and openly try to make converts to that way of thinking. What should we reasonable up-to-date people do about this phenomenon? Are their comments admissible into Orthodox Jewish blogs at all? If so, why?

  3. B says:

    Very nice article. However, it’s irrelevant, because we don’t pasken that way.

    For those that don’t realize it, I am being sarcastic. But, still, does it make a difference? Will this article change anyones opinion? I think not!

  4. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Bob Miller, most Jews are not Orthodox. You could say it’s because we’re lazy, but a lot of us truly don’t believe that the entire Torah is G-d given. That makes us apikorsim by the Shulchan Aruch.

    However, if you want to do kiruv, which is one of the purposes of Project Genesis, those are the Jews you need to discuss things with. If you start the discussion with: “I’ll talk to you and tell you what I think, as long as you won’t try to convince me that you are right”, you’ll get nowhere. I assume that is the reason the moderators allow us apikorsim to post here.

    I am one of those apikorsim. I am also a lot more observant than I was when I started discussing things on forums.torah.org and then here. I guess that means the moderators know what they are doing 😉 .

  5. michoel halberstam says:

    Most of us will agree, I think that with respect to this question, one can come out on either side of the issue. What is most telling about people is where they choose to come out. That is, do you feel a real need to be superior to someone, to hate him, even? Or do you come by these feelings reluctantly with great sorrow? Look around, you may find your self enlightened if you analize peopke this way. Remember also that if bioyon ztalmidei chachomim is apikursos, does that permit you to avoid the problem by redifining who is a talmid Chochom? I think I should stop here, or this will get very disturbing.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    Ori, there are bloggers who openly don’t believe in G-d at all. How would you deal with them?

  7. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Bob, I used to be an Atheist, now I’m not. If they come here, it means that they are at least interested in Judaism. Unless they are trolling, it’s better to take them seriously and explain why they are wrong. That could be laying the ground work for them to change their opinions.

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    Let’s assume that person X is a Shomer Torah Umitzvos and even possibly a musmach or someone who learned in a yeshiva for many years. However, person X will say in writing or on a blog words to the effect that evidence a lack of belief in critical Ikarie Emunah such as Maaseh Breishis, Schar vOnesh, Bchirah Chafsis, Yetzias Mitzrayim, Matan Torah, the Mesorah of TSBP, Bchiras Yisrael and Techiyas HaMesim ? How about a person who denies Targag Mitzvos Neemrah LMoshe or that 600,000 people did not witness Kabalas HaTorah (which is a number used to quantify a Reshus HaRabim Min HaTorah)? Would one apply the Netziv’s criteria to such a person as well? IOW, can one say that despite the fact the person is Orthoprax, he or she is not Orthodox in mind and action?

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Ori said “Unless they are trolling…”

    Trolling is pretty common. The many doctrinaire trollers will never be persuaded by a mere blog to give Judaism a fair hearing.

  10. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Moshe (#1) Me? Sarcastic?

    Bob (#2) We spoke to several halachic figures when we started up CC. The bottom line was that we do not publish direct attacks on foundations of faith. Anything else can get a fair hearing so that the flaws and deficiencies in certain other points of view can be exposed. Most of the time, the process works well. I’m not sure that anyone is converted to the cause, but it usually becomes apparent that the certainty of other positions is in no way a sign of certitude. (Yes, in the process weaknesses in our own thinking are sometimes exposed, but the assumption is that blog readers are living a somewhat more open lifestyle, and can live with questions.)

    B. (#3) – I hope that you are wrong. Many people listen to two (or more) sides of an issue, even regarding Torah matters, both in halacha and in deos (weltanschauung). Some issues are beyond an individual’s own competence, and must be brought to someone higher up on the pecking order. Other issues, however – especially in Litvishe circles, among people who have considerable background in learning – we do our own research, and come to our own conclusions. I will bet that there are many people out there who, if faced with two definitions of a halachic construct, one from the Netziv and the other from the neighbor of the brother-in-law of the gabbai of the Minchas Pinchas, who is pretty sure he heard him say something under his breath while walking out of the Boro Park Mikvah, will opt for the Netziv.

    Steve (#8) –
    I dunno. But do look at the Chazon Ish, not too far down from the place I cited, where he argues that halachically, a kofer must reject the entirety of the proper Jewish life style. If kefirah in Torah She-B’al Peh (the Oral Law) – a pretty important principle, I would think – would be sufficient to make one a kofer, then the avodah in the Second Temple would have been invalid for the decades that it was performed by Saducee kohanim, who completely rejected the Oral Law. ע”ש

  11. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Bob, I agree that trolling is pretty common, and that there’s no point in “feeding the troll”. I assume that is the main reason this blog is moderated.

    However, not all apikorsim are trolls. Apikorsut is defined by beliefs, not my a lack of civility.

  12. Steve Brizel says:

    R Adlerstein-thanks for the mareh makom. We do know that the Tzadukim and Perushim fought over many issues beyond that of Sefiras HaOmer and that the first Mishnah in Yuma definitely implies that the Kohen Gadol prior to Yom HaKippurim was intellectually and spiritually interrogated because his actions and attitudes were so vital that one could not rely on a natural presumption of Chezkas Kashrus. See Noraos HaRav re the Avodas YK Bshem RYBS for more on this point.

  13. Doron Beckerman says:

    The Chofetz Chaim (Sefer Chofetz Chaim 8:5) disagrees with the Chazon Ish regarding denial of Torah SheB’al Peh qualifying as Apikorsus vis-a-vis hatred.

  14. Shira Schmidt says:

    In the popular imagination, apikorsim has a slightly different meaning. If you do a Google search for apikorsim and Chaim Potok, z”l, you will find many study guides for the latter’s book, The Chosen, where in the beginning the chassidic boys say to the modern Yeshiva (of Flatbush???) boys, that their team will “kill you apikorsim.” Here are 3 definitions from internet study guides for The Chosen. Bookrags: “Apikorsim: Apikorsim are what Hasidim refer to as Jewish goyim, or secular Jews. They seem to be the worst opposition for Hasidic Jewry and are cause for Reb Saunders and his followers to hate Reuven and his father. They believe in establishing a Jewish homeland without the coming of the messiah, in direct resistance to the Hasids”. Cliffnotes: “a word originally used to describe a Jew who denied basic tenets of Judaism.” Random House: “The Hasids are also contemptuous of Jews who ignore the traditions of dress and study which they scrupulously adhere to, and have a special name which brands these Jews as second-rate, the apikorsim.”

  15. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “My rebbi/ rebbe/ rosh yeshiva etc. is a very important talmid chacham … Now my rebbi, etc. holds X… Since you have elected to disobey, you are therefore a heretic.”

    “The Tanna precisely explains which apikorus we are allowed and instructed to hate – those who “pronounce Your Name for wicked schemes,” i.e. [arguing] G-d has abandoned the world; there is no Judge and no judgment. ”

    The more well-known Netziv in the preface to Bereshis is also relevant to tolerance among different groups vis-à-vis the Charedi world. The Netziv, there, writes that :

    A) Hashem can not tolerate even tzaddikim, who believe that others with slightly different way of life are apikorsim, and that this was a problem in the Bayis Sheini era.

    B)the Avos were referred to as “Yesharim”, upright, because even when they interacted with those whose conduct they abhorred, they still had a concern for them, as they were part of Hashem’s world.

    Within Orthodoxy, there are groups who share similar Torah values with the charedi world. Even within the charedi world there are those who are more insular, and some who are less so. If all of these three groups do not endeavor to see what they have in common as far as Avodas Hashem and confer some degree of legitimacy on each other’s path, then this would appears to be an application of tzadikim suspecting that the next person is an apikores.

    On the other hand, there are ideologies both within and without Orthodoxy concerning which Torah Jews can not simply say “elu v’elu”, and minimize the differences. Here, it is relevant the second part of the Netziv, that “yashrus” means having a certain decency in relating to even those whose ideology one feels is beyond the pale. It is also within the charedi world’s self-interest to bear this Netziv in mind, because experience has shown that today, attacks which are perceived as intemperate and overly-polemical, often are taken the wrong way and are not very productive.

  16. Elitzur says:

    Logarithms grow very slowly – I think you meant exponentially…

  17. B says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    However, given your understanding of the Chazon Ish and given the choice between the Netziv and the Chazon Ish, most of the current Yeshivah world will opt for the Chazon Ish. Hence my comments.

    On a side note, I have heard that the interpretation of the Chazon Ish is that there are NO apikorsim today, precisely, because we don’t know when we provided the appropriate chinuch, love and support.

  18. Danny Rubin says:

    I have also seen a Teshuvas Maharam Lublin quoted (“Ayelet Hashachar” written by R’Yaakov Filber p.82)which seems to say that due to the fact that Tochacha is a lost art in present generations the definition of a heretic/Rasha is severely limited. Has anyone seen any Poskim on this topic?

  19. Moshe S. says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, yasher koach. What about posting the Netziv’s intro to Haamek Davar on Bereishis?

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