Monday, June 15, 2009
[one of my favorites]
This is a little bit off the topic of this blog, however since this question arises from time to time I feel that it is worthwhile to deal with it in a separate post.
Orthodox Judaism takes the issue of heresy very seriously. Heresy basically means the denial that any part of the Torah was authored by God. The Torah means the Pentateuch as well as the traditional rabbinical interpretation of the Pentateuch as recorded in the Talmud. Obviously, the idea that there is no God would be included in heresy. (See Talmud Sanhedrin 90a and Maimonides Laws of Repentance, iii. 17.)
As a rule, for someone to qualify as a heretic, one must have studied Torah and then have rejected it. Therefore Maimonides considered the Karaites to be legitimate Jews, in spite of their rejection of the Talmud, because they had lived since birth in this tradition and had been taught nothing else.
The Talmudic attitude regarding heretics is negative in the extreme.
First of all, he must be hated. We pray constantly for his complete destruction. When he dies, his relatives celebrate his death (Yoreh De'ah , 345, 5) . He may not read from the Torah in the synagogue or lead communal prayers. If he pours wine, a Jew may not drink it . I think this helps us to understand why it is imperative to identify such people and purge them from the community.
As far as the afterlife is concerned, the Talmud (Rosh haShanah 17a) makes their fate clear: They will be punished in hell forever. The Talmud explains that the fire of hell is sixty times stronger than ordinary fire (Berakoth 57b). This is referred to in Isaiah 66:24 “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have rebelled against Me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” After being totally ostracized by the Jewish community in this world, they will after death face eternal suffering.
In summary, the Jew who has studied the Torah and then rejected it is not merely a Jew who is imperfect or who has sinned or who has a problem. He is an anti-Jew. We must love the Jew: Leviticus 19:18 states “Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.” But we must hate the heretic: Psalms 139:21-22 “Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate Thee? And do not I strive with those that rise up against Thee? I hate them with utmost hatred; I count them mine enemies.” A Jew will enjoy eternal paradise after death, “All Israel have a portion in the World to Come” Sanhedrin 90a. The heretic, in contrast, will burn in hell forever.
The above is referring to someone who is merely a heretic privately, however obviously someone who is going further and attempting to persuade other Jews to become heretics is committing a far more heinous crime and his punishment will be proportionately greater. This would include the many “Jewish skeptic” bloggers on the Internet today.
It should be noted incidentally that of course a Jewish heretic may repent, just like any sinner, and receive complete atonement. However, this process may be so stressful and painful, if done sincerely, that it will result in the death of the penitent, as we see from the case of R. Eleazar b. Dordia (‘Abodah Zarah 17a).
Posted by jewish philosopher at 11:38 AM