The Halachic status of Non-Orthodox Marriages - Part IV by Rabbi Howard Jachter


             For Rosh Hashana, we shall continue discussing the Halachic status of non-Orthodox marriages.  We will begin discussing whether a ;*1&8 :1:"%, someone raised in a non-Orthodox environment, is considered Pasul La'edut, invalid to give testimony. 

              In this issue we will explore the notion of a ;*1&8 :1:"%.  The Talmud (Shabbat 68b) speaks about one who is unaware of Hilchot Shabbat because he was a ;*1&8 :1:"% "*0 %1,9*., a person kidnapped as a baby and raised among gentiles.  The Gemara rules that if such an individual transgresses, he is regarded as one who sinned ":&##, inadvertently.

              In another context, the Rambam (Hilchot Mamrim 3:1-3) codifies the harsh actions (/&9*$*0 &-! /3-*0) which the Halacha prescribes for a known Apikores, someone who rejects one of the pillars of traditional Jewish thought.  The Rambam limits the harsh treatment of Apikorsim as follows:

              This rule applies only to one who has consciously rejected belief in the Oral Law on his own initiative such as Tzadok, Baytus, or their followers.  However, children and grandchildren who were raised among those who reject the Oral Law and were educated to practice and profess Karaite tenets are to be viewed as ;*1&8 :1:"%.  Thus, they are viewed as if they transgressed "!&12, as if they were coerced to live as Karaites (even though he heard as an adult that he is Jewish and he saw practicing traditional Jews) since he was raised on mistaken belief.  It is therefore appropriate to try to influence them to return to traditional Jewish observance and beliefs and draw them with pleasant engagement until they return to a Torah life.

              For a full discussion of the Rambam's attitude towards Karaites see the interesting essay by Professor Gerald Blidstein that appears in Techumin (8:501-510).

Applications of the Binyan Tzion, Rav Kook, and the Chazon Ish

              Three landmark comments regarding this issue have been written in modern time.  Rav Yaakov Etlinger (Teshuvot Binyan Tzion Hachadashot, no.23) was asked whether (early nineteenth century) non-observant Jews render wine non-kosher by touching it (see Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 124:2 and comments of Nekudat Hakesef thereupon).  He writes that although one who publicly desecrates Shabbat (/(-- :"; "59%2*!) has the status of a non-Jew regarding wine, he suggests that today things may be different:

              It is difficult for me to issue a ruling regarding contemporary non -observant Jews.  We see that the majority of the Jewish community is no longer observant and Chillul Shabbat has become the norm (13:% ,%*;9).  It is possible that these people should be considered to be !&/9 /&;9, they think what they are doing is permissible and as such they are 89&" -/'*9, falling short of being considered deliberate transgressors (see Makkot 7b).  In addition, many of them recite Kiddush and later engage in Chillul Shabbat.  Thus, they do not deny that Hashem is the creator.  The children of these people who are ignorant of the Halachot regarding Shabbat and are merely emulating their parents should be regarded as ;*1&8 :1:"%...  Accordingly, there is a basis to be lenient and regard wine touched by a non-observant Jew as kosher, unless it is known that he knows the rules of Shabbat and flagrantly violates those rules publicly.

Rav Kook

              Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook (Igrot Hareiyah 1:4) takes a similar approach regarding "today's" non-observant Jews (translated by Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm in the outstanding book, "Jewish Tradition and the Non-Traditional Jew"):

              Just as the Tosafists remark on Sanhedrin 26b (s.v. %(:&$) that someone who is suspected of performing an act of sexual immorality because he was seized by passion is not disqualified as a witness because "his passion coerced him..." 

              We may say that the "[secular] spirit of the times" acts as an evil intellectual temptress who seduces the young men of the age with her charm and her sorcery.  They are truly "coerced" and God forbid that we should judge them as willful heretics.

Chazon Ish

              The Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 2:16) takes a similar approach in the following remarks regarding /&9*$*0 &!*0 /3-*0 (the Halacha that mandates that certain grievous sinners and heretics are to be thrown into deep pits and left there to die):

              It would appear that this Halacha is only operative when Divine providence is clearly evident as it was when miracles were commonplace and the "; 8&- (heavenlqy voice) was functional, and the righteous individuals of the generation were under special divine providence discernable to all.  In those times heretics perversely provoked themselves to the pursuit of pleasure and anarchy and in those times excising evil people constituted protection of the world because all knew that inciting the people of the generation would bring calamity to the world; it would bring pestilence and war and famine.  But now, in an era during which God's providence is concealed and the masses are bereft of faith, orchestrating the death of sinners does not repair the breach in the wall of religion, but enlarges it because the masses will view such actions as destructive and violent, God forbid, and since our sole purpose is to be constructive, this Halacha [of /&9*$*0] is not operative at a time when it does not yield constructive results, and it is incumbent upon us to attract the masses to Torah through love and to position them so that they can experience the radiance of Torah to the best of our ability.                                           (translated by Rav Mayer Twersky, Tradition 30:4 p.92)

He adds, (Yoreh Deah 2:28):

              The Hagahot Maimoniyot wrote that one may not hate the heretic until he has disregarded rebuke.  At the end of his book Ahavat Chessed (by the Chafetz Chaim), the author cites Rav Yaakov Molin to the effect that we must love the sinner.  He also quotes the Maharam of Lublin to show that we must consider the sinners as those who have not yet been rebuked, for we no longer know how to rebuke properly (see Arachin 16b), and hence one must treat them as transgressors under duress.  As a result, we cannot exempt these sinners from [standard Jewish] obligations such as *"&. and other Halachot.                       (translation by Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm)


              It is clear from our citations (Shabbat 68b, Rambam, Binyan Tzion, Rav Kook, and Chazon Ish) that normative Halachic thought views almost all non-Orthodox Jews today as part of the catagory of ;*1&8 :1:"%.  Next week, God willing, we will discuss whether a ;*1&8 :1:"% is considered 52&- -3$&;.  For a more comprehensive analysis of Halachic attitudes towards non-Orthodox Jews, see the book "Jewish Tradition and the Nontraditional Jew," edited by Rabbi J. J. Schachter.

The Dual Nature of Yom Kippur and Our Relationship to God by Rabbi Howard Jachter

The Halachic Status of Non-Orthodox Marriages - Part III by Rabbi Howard Jachter