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Executive Summary

Two classic categories of a status of disqualification are that of the Shabbat violator and the heretic. Both categories require closer investigation. Shabbat violators have been excluded in the past primarily when their violation was part of a break with the community. Today, besides the arguments for decreased culpability based on tinok she’nishba, this reality does not exist: Shabbat violators do not stand outside the community, and this status of disqualification should not be relevant.

The status of the heretic was an innovation of Rambam, and it appears that even he did not apply it consistently. A close reading indicates that only heresy that leads to transgressive action translates into a status of disqualification. Hazon Ish goes further and implies that even without actual transgression, heretical beliefs can invalidate if it undermines the person’s felt religious reality of being under the “yoke of mitzvot.” In addition to those framings, many argue that tinok she’nishba and decreased culpability applies as much to the issue of heresy as to that of Shabbat violation. Today, another factor is relevant. Given that our beliefs must be affirmed and cannot be taken for granted as they were in the past, one who does not believe has not committed the rebellious act of heresy; he merely does not believe.

We conclude that a status of disqualification applies only in the case of 1) heretical beliefs that 2) translate into transgression 3) such that has the effect of setting a person outside the boundaries of his community. In today’s world, it is very hard to meet the criteria for 1 or 3, as a lack of belief is rarely if ever actual heresy and nonobservance of Shabbat is rarely if ever a full breaking away from the Jewish community. There may still be certain areas where such people cannot play active roles, and these must be explored further, both with regard to the rules that guide this and in looking at case-by-case requirements. As a matter of personal status, however, they would not be disqualified.

Contents
Opening: Basis for stam yaynam

Section 1: Status of a Shabbat violator

Part 1: Rishonim and Poskim

  1. Rambam rules “like a non-Jew”
  2. Formalist and non-formalist approach to stam yaynam
  3. Hatam Sofer, Hazon Ish and Rav Moshe Feinstein follow non-formalist approach

Part 2: Historical Development and Conclusion

  1. Teshuvot regarding Karaites – Shabbat violation or break from community?
  2. Shabbat violators nowadays – tinok she’nishba and not breaking away from community
  3. Conclusion: status of those who do not keep Shabbat and status of their wine

Section 2: Status of one who does not believe

Part 3: Gemara and Rambam

  1. Status, not mitzvah acts
  2. Gemara – status is based on action
  3. Rambam – status also based on belief

Part 4: Understanding Rambam

  1. Why can some heretics serve as a shochet?
  2. Heresy that leads to transgressive action and heresy that does not
  3. Hazon Ish – heresy cannot undermine the “the yoke of mitzvot”

Part 5: Different Types of Heresy and Applications for Today

  1. Shabbat violation is heresy that translates into action
  2. Rav Sternbuch – lack of belief can never be the basis for exclusion
  3. Non-believers nowadays – tinok she’nishba, and a lack of belief rather than heresy
  4. Conclusion: status of those who do not believe, and status of wine that they touch

2.5.1. Poskim that seem to point to belief alone

All of this is consistent with the teshuvot we saw above regarding Shabbat violation. Many poskim (e.g., Rashba, Rivash, Rav Ettlinger, Rav Moshe) distinguish between cases when Shabbat violation demonstrates rejection of belief and cases when it does not. When rejection of belief is not present—such as a person violating Shabbat because of forced conversion, or for the sake of earning a living—then the person would not have a status of disqualification. This should not be taken to mean that rejection of belief is itself a disqualification. All of these rulings are consistent with the position that rejection of belief is only meaningful if reflected by a person’s actions. Both are needed, transgressive action and the rejection of belief that informs it.

One source that seems to state otherwise is the responsa of Rashba, quoted in Beit Yosef (YD, 119) which states in the name of Rabbenu Yonah:

אבל משומד לחלל שבתות בפרהסיא או שאינו מאמין בדברי רבותינו הוא מין ויינו יין נסך וכו’ וענין חילול שבת או מי שעבר על דברי רבותינו לדעתו או שהוא עובד עבודה זרה שהוא מוחזק בו שלשה פעמים אבל בפעם אחת או שתים אינו עושה יין נסך ובפני עשרה צריך שיחלל But one who is a mumar to violate Shabbat or who does not believe in the words of our Rabbis is a min, and his wine is yayin nesekh…. Now the matter of Shabbat violation or one who transgresses the words of our Rabbis out of his own desire or if he worships foreign gods, is only if he has established this as a pattern and done it three times, but if he did this once or twice he does not make his wine yayin nesekh and he also must violate in the presence of ten (Responsa of Rashba, 7:179).

This passage seems to state that lack of belief in the Rabbis is, by itself, enough to disqualify a person. However, a careful reading reveals otherwise. When he characterizes such a person the second time, Rabbenu Yonah describes him as one who “transgresses the words of the Rabbis.” It is further clarified that we are talking about belief that translates into action when he states that this status is only for someone who repeats a behavior three times. What we are dealing with is behavior, not statements or thoughts.

Again, it is Hazon Ish who makes this point:

ועיקר דין כופר בתורה שבע”פ דעת הרשב”א בתשובה שהביא ב”י ס’ קי”ט שדינו כמומר לכה”ת כולה, אבל הדבר תימא הלא מבואר בגמ’ דכותי דינו כישראל לענין שחיטה אע”ג שאינו מאמין בדברי רז”ל… ולכן נראה דאינו מאמין בדברי רז”ל שהזכיר הרשב”א היינו שאינו מאמין בחיים של הישראלי הקבועים ע”פ חז”ל ע”פ התורה והמצוה ובכלל כפירה זו כפירה בתורה, ואינו ענין לכותים שהיו מדקדקים לשמור את הכתוב… As to the basic ruling of one who rejects the Oral Law, it is the opinion of Rashba in a responsum brought by Beit Yosef (YD, 119) that he is like a mumar for the entire Torah. But this is astounding [makes no sense]! For behold it is explicit in the Gemara that a Samaritan is like a Jew regarding the laws of shechita, even though he does not believe in the words of the Rabbis z”l…. Therefore, it seems that the one “who does not believe in the words of the Rabbis” who Rashba mentioned is one who does not believe in the Jewish life as established by the Rabbis z”l in accordance with the Torah and mitzvot, and thus part of this heresy is the rejection of Torah. This has nothing to do with the Samaritans who were punctilious to observe what was written…

Once again, the conclusion is clear: lack of belief only leads to a status of disqualification if such belief brings about transgressive action, in particular a life that rejects the norms and commitments of the community committed to halakha.

2.5.2. Rav Moshe Sternbuch
I have not seen a better articulation of this position than the one found in Teshuvot vi’Hanhagot of R. Moshe Sternbuch (vol. 1, no. 413). Interestingly, he starts his discussion by noting a personal practice of Hazon Ish that was stricter than the position quoted above. Because of the importance of this topic and the lack of awareness of Rav Sternbuch’s responsum, it is worth quoting this passage at some length:

שאלה: שוחט שומר שבת אבל דעותיו מקולקלות באמונה האם פסול לשחוט ומגעו ביין מהו

שמעתי מרבינו החזו”א זצ”ל שאפילו בשומרי שבת חשש שפוגמים ביין ולעשותו כיין נסך כשאין דעותיהם מכוונות, שאפיקורס פוסל בשתייה כיין נסך, ובדיעות כוזבות ר”ל נכנסים לגדר אפיקורס…

אמנם בעניי לא ידעתי מנליה ד”ז, שאם הוא טועה הרי דינו כאנוס ודינו ככל ישראל עיין ברמב”ם פ”ב דממרים, אבל גם אם הוא מכת הפושעים ומומרים ר”ל, שמפרסם דיעותיו בפקפוקים בהשגחה, לא מצינו מעולם שדינו כעכו”ם אלא אם עובד ע”ז כפשוטו, או מחלל שבת בפרהסיא, אבל בלא זה אפילו הצדוקים ובייתוסים שאינם מאמינים בכלל בתורה שבע”פ והם אפיקורסים וכמבואר ברמב”ם (פ”ג ה”ח) דהלכות תשובה, אם שחטו שחיטתן כשרה אם לא קלקלו וכמבואר ברמב”ם פ”ד דשחיטה (ט”ז), ואף אלו בעלי השיטות הפסולות אפילו נימא דהם בכלל המורידין ולא מעלין, מ”מ כיון ששומרים שבת ואין עובדים ע”ז אין דינם כעכו”ם ויינם לא נפסל בשתייה כיין נסך, שדין זה נאמר רק בעכו”ם או מי שדינו כעכו”ם.

והאמת שאם באנו לפסול מי שדיעותיו מקולקלות אין ביכולתינו לבדוק מטמוניות של חבירו, ואף אם מסית כ”כ ומפרסם דיעותיו, לא זהו סיבת הפסול שיהא כעכו”ם, ואפילו אם מפקפק בעיקרי האמונה בהשגחת אלוקינו ית”ש שאין עוון כמותו, לא גזרו בו להיות דינו כעכו”ם כל זמן ששומר שבת בפרהסיא ואינו עובד ע”ז.

וכמדומני שרבינו החזו”א זצ”ל לעצמו לבד חשש אבל לעולם לא פירסם בזה דעתו שכן עיקר הדין, ולכן למעשה לא הוריתי בזה איסור אף שנגע ביין אדם מקולקל עם חשש דיעות כוזבות בעניני השגחה וגאולה, מכיון שהוא שומר שבת ומצוות.

וכן מצאתי להדיא בתשובות מהרי”ל סי’ קצ”ד וז”ל:

ושחיטת אפיקורס לא פסלינן אלא במשומד לע”ז פעם א’ כו’, אבל כל הני אפיקורס ומגלה פנים בתורה שלא כהלכה אף על גב שגדול עוונו מנשוא לא מסתברא למיפסל שחיטתו דדוקא דברים הללו חשוד עליהם דנראה בעיניו דבר קטן וחוצפה בעלמא, ומשו”ה אינו חשוד לעבור על שום עבירה… ואמרינן שהמודה בתחיית המתים ע”פ הקבלה אלא שאומר שאינה מן התורה אין לו חלק לעוה”ב וכי תעלה על דעתך ששחיטתו תפסל והרי מוזהר הוא בכל המצוות ומדקדק שפיר בהן…

ויעו”ש שהאריך בזה.

וסברת החזו”א זצ”ל נראה שבשתייה גזרו בעכו”ם משום בנותיהן דהיינו קירוב יתר, וגם מאפיקורסים אפילו שוגגין או אנוסים חייבין להתרחק מטעם זה, ומיהו נראה שחז”ל לא גזרו אלא בעכו”ם וכותים, ולא מצינו שגזרו באפיקורס בדיעות, ולכן מדינא לא נאסר, אבל בשחיטה צריך ירא שמים דוקא ולזה בודאי הוא פסול.

אמנם למדנו מהנהגת רבינו החזו”א זצ”ל כמה יש להתרחק מאלו עם דעות מקולקלות, עד שאסר כיין נסך אפילו נגיעה ביין שלנו, וכ”ש עלינו להתרחק מחבורתם שאפילו דיבור עמהם פוגם בנפש הזכה.

ובנידון דידן להיות שוחט ובודק צריך ירא שמים דוקא, ואם דיעותיו מקולקלות הוא קל דעת גם לענין שחיטה ובדיקה ואין לאכול משחיטתו….

Question: A shochet who is Shabbat observant but his religious beliefs are corrupt, is he invalid as a shochet, and what is the status of wine that he touches?

Answer: I heard from our teacher, Hazon Ish zt”l, that even when dealing with Shabbat observers he was concerned that they would invalidate the wine and make it yayn nesekh if they had incorrect religious beliefs, for an apikores makes any wine that he touches un-kosher for drinking purposes, making it like yayn nesekh, and when a person has false beliefs, God forbid, he enters into the category of an apikores.

However, in my lowly state, I do not know what his source is for such a ruling. For if this person [with false beliefs] is in error, then he is like someone who is an annus, forced against his will [and not a willful violator], and his status is the same as any Jew, (see Rambam, Laws of Rebels, chapter 2). But even if he is of the sect of transgressors and rebels, God forbid, and he publicizes his [heretical] opinions, raising doubts about God’s providence, we have not found ever that such a person is to be considered like a non-Jew. This status is only for someone who worships foreign gods, literally, or who violates Shabbat publicly. But without either of these, even the Sadducees and the Beitusim who did not believe at all in the Oral Torah – and they are indeed apikorsim, as is stated in Rambam Laws of Repentance (3:8) – if they were to slaughter an animal, their slaughtering would be valid if they did not make any mistakes in execution, as is explained in Rambam, Laws of Shechita (4:16). Even if we were to say that those with invalid beliefs were among those whom we should try to bring about their demise, nevertheless, since they observe Shabbat and do not worship foreign gods, they are not like a non-Jew in terms of their status, and their wine is not invalid to drink as if it were yayn nesekh, for this law is stated only in regard to a non-Jew or one whose status is like that of a non-Jew.

In truth, were we to attempt to invalidate someone who has corrupt beliefs, we would not be able to inspect the inner recesses of another person’s heart. Even a person who was a serious enticer and who publicized his [heretical] opinions, this is not a reason to invalidate him like a non-Jew. Even were he to raise doubts regarding the foundations of faith, in the providence of our God, may His name be exalted, and there is no sin as grave as this, nevertheless, they did not declare that his status should be that of a non-Jew, provided that he keeps Shabbat publicly, and does not worship foreign gods.

It would thus seem to me that our master, Hazon Ish zt”l, was only being strict for himself, but he never publicized his opinion to the wider world to state that such was the true law [that one cannot drink wine touched by such a person]. Therefore, in practice I did not rule that there would be any prohibition regarding the wine, even if it was touched by a person regarding whom there was reason to believe that he harbored false beliefs about Divine providence and the redemption, since he was a Shabbat observer and kept the mitzvot.

I have found an explicit statement to this effect in the responsum of the Maharil (no. 194):

“We do not invalidate the shechita of an apikores. The only issue is regarding a person who worships foreign gods once….But regarding all the cases of heresy and one who ‘reveals faces in the Torah not according to halakha,’ although his sin is too great to bear, it does not make sense to invalidate his shechita.[1] For it is specifically these things [issues of belief] that he is suspect of violating, for they appear to him to be a trivial matter and just an issue of disrespect, and therefore [because it is only these things] he is not suspect of violating any transgression….And the Talmud states that one who believes in the resurrection of the dead based on tradition but does not believe that it derives from the Torah does not have a portion in the World to Come. Now, would it occur to us that such a person’s shechita would be invalid? Behold, such a person is commanded regarding all the mitzvot and is very punctilious about them…”

See there, where he discusses this topic at length.

It seems that the approach of Hazon Ish zt”l, is based on the fact that the Rabbis prohibited drinking the wine of non-Jews due to a concern of intermarriage, that is to say, being overly familiar with them. Similarly, when it comes to apikorsim, even those who are [not willful heretics but are] such due to negligence or situations beyond their control, one is obligated to distance himself from them for the same reason [and thus one should not drink their wine]. Nevertheless, it seems that the Rabbis did not make the formal prohibition of wine except regarding non-Jews and Samaritans, and we do not find that they made this ruling regarding one whose beliefs were heretical. Therefore, as a matter of law such wine is not forbidden. But when it comes to shechita we require someone who is God-fearing specifically, and thus for this purpose he would definitely be invalid.

Nevertheless, we can learn from the practices of our teacher, Hazon Ish zt”l, how important it is to distance oneself from those with corrupt beliefs, to the point where he [as a matter of personal practice] treated the wine that they touched as forbidden as if it were yayn nesekh. And thus how much more so is it our obligation to distance ourselves from their company, for even speaking to them can do injury to the pure soul.

And regarding our issue, to be a shochet and inspector it is required that one specifically be a God-fearing person. And if one has corrupt beliefs, then he will not treat with necessary gravity matters of shechita and inspection, and one should not eat from his shechita…

According to Rav Sternbuch there is absolutely no basis for invalidating a person based on his beliefs. At most, we have a concern to keep our distance from such a person, especially when it comes to talking about matters of faith, because his beliefs can be corrupting of others. We also have a concern that these corrupt beliefs may translate into some lack of full punctiliousness regarding one’s actions, and thus such a person should not be given the role of a shochet. Nevertheless, for formal halakhic status, it is action and not belief that matters.[2]

In summation, we have seen that, as regards Shabbat violation, according to many it is not the violation itself that is the key concern but the fact that it sets the person outside the community. Similarly, in regard to the issue of heresy, while Rambam makes this a basis for invalidity, his rulings indicate that he is only referring to a heresy that leads to transgressive action, and this is the approach of Rav Sternbuch and, to a lesser degree, Hazon Ish (who still requires the belief that underpins the action, the psychological reality of the yoke of mitzvot). Combining these, we conclude that a status of disqualification is conferred only through: 1) heretical beliefs that 2) translate into transgression 3) such that has the effect of setting a person outside the boundaries of his community.

We now turn to the special consideration of non-believers in our time.

2.5.3. Non-believers nowadays: heresy or lack of belief

One possibility offered by the Acharonim to explain why a Sadducee can serve as a shochet although a min cannot is to distinguish between willful rebels and innocent non-believers, that is, between those who broke away from the faith and those who were raised with a different set of beliefs. This distinction is stated explicitly by Rambam in a number of places. In Laws of Rebels (4:3), Rambam writes:

במה דברים אמורים באיש שכפר בתורה שבעל פה ממחשבתו ובדברים שנראו לו, והלך אחר דעתו הקלה ואחר שרירות לבו וכפר בתורה שבעל פה תחילה כצדוק ובייתוס וכן כל התועים אחריו.

אבל בני אותן התועים ובני בניהם שהדיחו אותם אבותם ונולדו במינות וגדלו אותן עליו, הרי הן כתינוק שנשבה לבין הגוים וגדלוהו הגוים על דתם שהוא אנוס. ואף על פי ששמע אח”כ שהיה יהודי וראה היהודים ודתם הרי הוא כאנוס שהרי גדלוהו על טעותם כך אלו האוחזים בדרכי אבותיהם שתעו, לפיכך ראוי להחזירן בתשובה ולמשוך אותם בדרכי שלום עד שיחזרו לאיתן התורה.ולא ימהר אדם להרגן.

To whom does the above apply [that those who deny the Oral Torah are to be thrown down the pit]? To a person who denied the Oral Law based on his own thoughts and according to his perception of things. He followed after his frivolous thoughts and his capricious heart and he denied the Oral Law on his own initiative [lit., first], as did Tzadok and Beitus and those who erred in following them.

However, the children of these errant people and their grandchildren, whose parents pushed them away [from the right path] and who were born into this heresy and raised on it, behold they are considered as a child who was captured by non-Jews and raised by the non-Jews according to their religion, who is an annus [blameless]. Even if such a child heard afterwards that he was a Jew, and saw the Jews and their religion, behold he is annus, for he was raised on their error. Such is likewise the case regarding those who follow the erroneous path of their ancestors who have gone astray. Therefore it is appropriate to bring them back in repentance and draw them close with ways of peace until they return to the power of the Torah. And a person should not be quick to kill them.

Here Rambam makes it clear that those who were raised as Karaites do not deserve the same harsh treatment as those who were raised in the faith and rebelled against it. He employs the halakhic category of tinok she’nishba in making this distinction. This distinction is also found in his Commentary to the Mishna (Hullin, 1:2). It should be pointed out that in both of these places he only uses this distinction to rule that we should not actively pursue their demise and not to say that it would change their general halakhic status. Nevertheless, in future centuries this principle was extended to matters of a person’s halakhic status, first regarding Karaites, and later, as we have seen, regarding those who did not observe Shabbat in the modern era.

What we are seeing is that the tinok she’nishba status, which is often used nowadays to be inclusive of those who are non-observant, was first used by Rambam regarding not the issue of observance, but the issue of heresy. The principle of tinok she’nishba, in other words, applies to the case of the apikores.

Following this, a number of Acharonim explain Rambam’s rulings regarding who can be a shochet in exactly this fashion. Thus, Hasdei David (Tosefta Hullin, chapter 1, s.v. u’khidei) writes:

אלא מוכרח דמ”ש כאן היינו בתלמידיהן הטועין ובחשכה יתהלכו במה שלמדום מוריהם ואבותיהם דסבורין הם שאין בידם עון אשר חטא, דהא ודאי לאו להכעיס מיקרו, וה”ז דומה לאומרם ז”ל [חולין יג.] גויים שבחו”ל לאו עע”ז הם אלא מנהג אבותיהם בידיהם. ומש”ל שהכופרים בתורה הרי הם כגויים, היינו אותם שתרים אחר מחשבות לבם ובודים מדעתם דבר של מינות שלא להאמין בדבר ההוא, והיינו ודאי להכעיס… We must say that what Rambam writes here [in the Laws of Shechita, that Sadducees can be ritual slaughterers], refers to their students who stray after them and walk in the darkness, regarding what their teachers and fathers have taught them, and they believe that there is no sin in this. Such people are certainly not considered as those who sin to provoke God, and behold this is similar to what the Rabbis said (Hullin, 13a), “non-Jews outside of Israel do not truly worship foreign gods, rather the practice of their ancestors is in their hands [they are just following the traditions they were brought up with].” So when Rambam writes that those who reject Torah are like non-Jews, that applies only to those who stray after the thoughts of their hearts and invent on their own matters of heresy, not to believe in a particular thing. This is certainly an act that is done to provoke God’s anger.

Hazon Ish likewise suggests the same resolution in a brief footnote (YD, 2.18): וכל דברי הרמב”ם בפ”ד מהל’ שחיטה בקראים משום דבניהם נחשבים כשוגגים…, “and all the words of Rambam in chapter 4 of Laws of Shechita refer to Karaites, because their children are considered to be unintentional [in their heresy].”

There are poskim who apply this distinction in their halakhic rulings as well. See, for example, Responsa Yeudah Yaaleh (YD, no. 50), where the author writes that the status of apikores refers not to one who has been led astray by his own reasoning, לבו אונסו בטעות, but rather to a person who בזדון לבו ומלגלג על ד”ח הוא דומה ממש למומר לחלל שבת, “[does not believe in the Rabbis] out of the willfulness of his heart, and he mocks the words of the Rabbis, such a person is truly similar to one who is a mumar to violate Shabbat.”

The upshot of all of this is that, according to this approach, the status of disqualification assigned to an apikores applies only to those who willfully reject principles of faith. To repeat, the principle of tinok she’nishba applies to matters of faith as well. This is already implicit in the many of the rulings of contemporary poskim. The poskim who rule inclusively regarding the non-observant and do so by applying the principle of tinok she’nishba to the category of the Shabbat violator are also, implicitly, applying it to the category of apikores, as their rulings clearly refer to all non-observant Jews, without regard to their beliefs or practices (see, for example, Yabia Omer 7, OH, 15).

What is the scope of tinok she’nishba? Would it apply even to those who had an Orthodox upbringing? When it comes to matters of observance, there are indeed poskim who rule that today, given the open, critical society in which we live, anyone who goes astray should be considered a tinok she’nishba, or an annus, an involuntary sinner, even if they were brought up observant.[3] If this can be said regarding those who leave observance, how much more can it be said regarding matters of belief, which are much less in a person’s control than matters of observance.

It should be noted that applying tinok she’nishba to matters of belief seems to go against what Rambam himself writes in Guide to the Perplexed (1:36):

If, however, it should occur to you that one who believes in the corporeality of God should be excused because of his having been brought up in this doctrine or because of his ignorance and the shortcomings of His apprehension, you ought to hold a similar belief with regard to an idolater; for he only worships idols because of his ignorance or because of his upbringing: They continue in the custom of their fathers…

Nevertheless, it is highly questionable whether any of Rambam’s writings in the Guide should be relevant in matters of halakha. More to the point, this statement deals with such a person’s metaphysical status and whether he has a portion in the World to Come. It is not relevant to the discussion of his legal status.

In short, according to this approach, it would seem that no one in our time should have the status of disqualification associated with the apikores, based on the principle of tinok she’nishba.

The issue of heresy today, however, is more than just the question of tinok she’nishba. That principle is one of decreased culpability; namely, a person should not be held responsible for his lack of belief due to his upbringing or even because the society in which he lives. A close read of some of the Acharonim quoted above, however, shows that when it comes to matters of faith, the issue here is rather about the difference between the heresy of the past and the lack of faith today. For someone to be an apikores, in other words, it is not enough for him not to believe, he must reject. And to reject in a meaningful way requires being embedded in a strong culture and society of belief.

Notice, for example, that Hasdei David states that people who are brought up in a different belief than the traditional one are not considered to be sinning to provoke. The point here is not that they have done kefira but are not culpable; it is that they have not done kefira at all. Given their upbringing, to not believe is not an act of heresy; it cannot be considered, in his words, as “done to provoke.” It is not a breaking away and rejecting but merely a lack of faith. This understanding can be seen also by the fact that he does not use the principle of tinok she’nishba but that of מנהג אבותיהם בידיהם. This principle, that non-Jews are just following their religious upbringing without real belief behind it, does not say that they have committed idolatry but are not culpable. Rather, it states that נכרים שבחוצה לארץ לאו עובדי עבודת כוכבים הם, non-Jews outside of Israel are not idolaters (Hullin, 13b). Because they don’t really believe, their acts, even ones of bowing down to an idol, are not acts of idolatry. Similarly, because someone is brought up in a different belief system, his rejection of a tenet of faith is not an act of heresy; it is merely a lack of belief.

This can even be said of someone brought up with a traditional, frum education today. In the past, people’s beliefs were taken for granted, and it required a strong act of will to break away from the normal assumptions and the accepted way of looking at the world. Today, everything is different. Even those who are brought up frum are aware of many other options, not just in how to act, but in how to think about and look at the world. In our days, to believe is not the default; to believe requires affirming belief. To not believe, then, is not an act of heresy or breaking away, it is merely the non-affirming, or the inability to affirm, such belief.

Sociologist Peter Berger articulated this beautifully, pointing to the etymology of the word “heresy”:

The English word “heresy” comes from the Greek verb hairein, which means “to choose.” A hairesis originally meant, quite simply, the taking of choice….For this notion of heresy to have any meaning at all, there was presupposed the authority of a religious tradition. Only with regard to such an authority could one take a heretical attitude. The heretic denied this authority, refused to accept the tradition in toto. Instead, he picked and chose from the content of the tradition, and from these pickings and choosing constructed his own deviant opinion….[This] possibility of heresy has always existed in human communities….Yet the social context of this phenomenon has changed radically with the coming of modernity: In premodern situations there is a world of religious certainty, occasionally ruptured by heretical deviations. By contrast, the modern situation is a world of religious uncertainty, occasionally staved off by more or less precarious constructions of religious affirmation. (Peter Berger, The Heretical Imperative, 27–28).

The idea that the core sin of heresy is thinking for oneself on religious truths in a society where these are taken for granted can be heard in Rambam’s description of apikorsim as הם התרים אחר מחשבות לבם בסכלות דברים שאמרנו, “the ones who wander after the thoughts of their hearts regarding foolish matters we have spoken about” (Laws of Idolatry, 2:5). It is the wandering after the thoughts that is at the root of the problem. This can further be seen in Radvaz’s explanation for Rambam’s ruling (ibid.) that a heretic who has repented cannot be accepted back into the community:

אבל יש חילוק בין שאר עבירות למינין… וטעמא דמלתא כיון שהם תרים אחר מחשבות לבם ועוברים על דברי תורה בשאט נפש לפי שהמצות בזויות בעיניהם היום אומר לו לבו לשוב בתשובה ולמחר אומר לו מה בצע בתשובה ויחזור לסורו ונמצא כיון שהוא תר אחר מחשבות לבו אין אנו בטוחים בו… But there is a difference between other sins and heresy [regarding accepting someone’s repentance]….and the reason for this is that heretics follow their own counsel and willfully transgress the words of the Torah, because the mitzvot are inconsequential in their eyes. Today his heart tells him to repent, and tomorrow it tells him, “What is the point of repentance?” and he will revert to his previous evil behavior. Since he follows his own counsel, we cannot place our trust in him… (Responsa of Radvaz, 5:45).

2.5.4. Final Conclusion

In final conclusion, regarding those who do not believe or find themselves unable to believe but are still committed to a life of mitzvot, there are two significant reasons that they should not have a halakhic status of disqualification. First, this is not a belief that translates into action. Second, in our times, one who does not believe is not considered to be like the apikores of old; he is a person who lacks belief and not a heretic.

Overall, in our teshuva, we determined that a status of disqualification is conferred only through 1) heretical beliefs that 2) translate into transgression 3) such that has the effect of setting a person outside the boundaries of his community. In today’s world, it is very hard to meet the criteria for 1 or 3, as a lack of belief is rarely if ever actual heresy and nonobservance of Shabbat is rarely if ever a full breaking away from the Jewish community.

All of this is not to say that there will not be certain mitzvot and functions that such a person is unable to perform. A greater exploration of this awaits a further teshuva.

Regarding the case at hand, it is clear that you are a person who is מדקדק בקלה כבחמורה, scrupulous regarding both weighty and light halakhot, and that whatever your beliefs or lack thereof, they have not translated into any weakening of observance or actual transgression. You have also in no way broken from the Jewish community, or even from the observant community.

Thus, any wine that you touch is certainly kosher, not only for you but for others.

Of course, regardless of all the above, it would be bizarre to imagine that you would not be able to drink your own wine. While this is not outside the realm of possibility, a number of poskim have already ruled that this would not be a problem. In this regard, see Aseh Likha Rav, 5:20; Iggrot Moshe, 5:37; and Tzitz Eliezer, 8:17, all of whom rule that it would be permissible to give a non-Shabbat observer wine to drink and it would not be a concern of lifnei iver regarding stam yaynam. This is because we can, in such cases, rely on the lenient opinions we saw above. But more than that, the poskim are lenient, says Rav Sternbuch (in a responsum in Tzitz Eliezer, 8:17), because וסברא אחת אצלם היא שהוא כעכו”ם לדידן אבל לא לעצמו, “they are all of the opinion that a Shabbat violator might be seen as a non-Jew by us, but he should never be seen as such by himself.” When it comes to one’s own wine or one’s consideration of one’s own status, one must always consider him- or herself to be a full Jew and a full part of the community.

May you have continued strength in your life of observance and dikduk bi’mitzvot. Please know that I am always open to learn with you and to explore matters of halakha as well as matters of faith.

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