From the Rav’s Desk: Who is a real Apikores/Tinok Shinishba today?

  1. Question: [Tuesday, 27th Teves 5781]

Who today is considered a Tinok Shenishba versus a real and true Apikores? Obviously, there are different approaches and attitudes that we must have between these two types of nonobservance Jews, as brought in Torah that one is obligated to hate the Apikores and consider him outside of the realms of the Jewish people. I feel today that we use the concept of Tinok Shenishba way too liberally and say that everyone who is not religious today is a Tinok Shenishba. Why should a Jew who has been made completely aware of Judaism be considered a Tinok Shenishba? I’m not just referring to someone who was brought up religious and went off the Derech, but even to one who was not brought up religious, but thanks to the Internet and media is fully aware of the existence and details of the Jewish religion. If he now chooses not to join us despite having awareness, why should he still be considered a Tinok Shenishba?



First off, to clarify that while there are some practical halachic ramifications today between a Tinok Shenishba and a true Apikores [i.e. Joining a Minyan, getting an Aliyah, lending with Ribis, giving Tzedaka and helping live, Hashavas Aveida, standing up for elderly] there are other halachic matters in which we do not differentiate [i.e. Yayin Nesech, Bishul Akum, etc], and one is to speak to a Rav for clear Halachic guidance regarding these matters. Now, to discuss the main point of your question:

The definition of a Tinok Shenishba, and who is considered to be included in this category, is like all other matters of Judaism, subject to the rulings of Halacha and the statements of the Poskim and Gedolei Yisrael, and not to emotions and developed or predisposition perspectives that one has towards the subject as influenced by a variety of personal factors. Thus, even if one feels very zealous for Judaism and is very angry at those who do not keep Torah, and even more so against those who were brought up observant and left the Torah way of life, this does not create the definition of who is considered a Tinok Shenishba, but rather only what the Poskim define. Let’s now go into the words of the Poskim and the halachic perspective on the subject.

The concept of a Tinok Shenishba is recorded in the Talmud and Rishonim, and is defined as a person who is an Apikores in his belief system, but does not receive the halachic definition and severity of an Apikores, and is hence not to be treated like an Apikores, being that he cannot be blamed for his heretical beliefs and behaviors. In other words, God being the most just and kind creator that He is, judges a person based on his challenge and expectations, and not simply by his outwardly actions and perspectives, and therefore one who contains heretical beliefs due to no fault of his own, God does not judge and does not tell us to treat like an Apikores. Now, for the definition of who enters into this category of people who cannot be blamed for their heretical beliefs, we find many levels, as well as debates amongst the Poskim.

  • A Jewish child who grew up in a home of heretics: The most basic definition of a Tinok Shenishba, which is not under debate, is a child who has been brought up in a home of heresy. This can be whether due to him having been kidnapped from a very young age by heretics or Gentiles and being brought up in their home, or due to simply being switched at the hospital and going home with the wrong set of parents who are Gentiles, or due to the fault of their parents, such as if the parents gave the child up for adoption to gentile parents, or the mother intermarried and the child was brought up in a Gentile home. In all these cases the child is defined as a Tinok Shenishba and not an Apikores even after he becomes Bar and Bas Mitzvah, and applies whether he simply has heretical beliefs or is brought up in a different religion such as Islam, Christianity, etc. and practices them. Now, while the above definition of Tinok Shenishba certainly applies so long as the child does not even know that he’s really Jewish, we will now explore if it also applies after he discovers his Jewish identity.
  • A Tinok Shenishba who now discovers his Jewish identity and the Jewish religion: When a Tinok Shenishba discovers his Jewish identity, and has been made aware of the Jewish religion and its details, the Rishonim and Poskim debate as to the status of such a Jew and if he continues to fall under the category of a Tinok Shenishba. The main ruling of the Alter Rebbe on this subject is like that of the Rambam, to continue to consider him as a Tinok Shenishba, in his words, “A heretic Jewess who has a son from a gentile which is brought up like a heretic just like him, it is forbidden to lend him money with interest according to all opinions, as he is like a child who has been captured by gentiles and is not similar to a real Apikores which is defined as a person who knows his creator and intentionally rebels against him… However, this boy does not know. Now even though afterwards he discovered that he is Jewish and he sees the Jewish people and their religion, he nonetheless maintains the status of an Anuss [i.e. Tinok Shenishba] and according to all is not considered a rebel. Thus, according to all opinions it is forbidden to lend money with interest to Karite Jews, as although they are deniers of the oral tradition, they do not have the status of a Apikores. Being that they are not deniers due to their own will but rather due to the fact that their parents brought them up with this mistake and they are therefore like a Jewish child that has been captured and brought up with their mistake and is defined as an Anuss [i.e. Tinok Shenishba].” These words of the Alter Rebbe are very similar to those of the Rambam, although the Rambam further writes and concludes, “Even though the person afterwards discovered that he is a Jew and he sees the Jewish people and their religion nonetheless he still defined as a Anuss [i.e. Tinok Shenishba] being that he was brought up with that mistake. Therefore, it is proper for one to influence them to do to Teshuvah, and to draw them with words of peace until they return to the strength of the Torah.” A further point that needs to be contemplated even according to the dissenting opinion which holds that they are considered like heretics, is the level of exposure that is necessary for them to leave their status of Tinok Shenishba, and as we will now see, Gedolei Yisrael of both the Chassidic and Lithuanian sects of Jewry have determined that the level of exposure that is necessary to take one out of the status of Tinok Shenishba is so high that today there virtually no longer exists any Apikorsom, even if a child was brought up observant and then went off the Derech.
  • Child was brought up observant and then went off the Derech: According to both the definition of the Rebbe Rayatz and Chazon Ish, a person is defined as a Tinok Shenishba even if they were brought up religious and then went off the Derech, so long as they have not had full and true exposure to the truths of Judaism, it’s philosophies, and its miraculous nature. In the words of the Rebbe Rayatz “A person is only defined as an Apikores if he denies the Torah and Mitzvos and in godliness due to his own foreign ideologies which are the result of deep philosophical thought, as was common amongst the philosophers in previous generations. However in our generation, even those who are completely unobservant r”l majority, if not all, of them are very distant from any deep philosophical and ideological understandings and rather are simply drawn after such opinions, and the lack of fulfilling Mitzvos, on the majority is simply because it’s easier that way for their life and not because heaven forbid they are intentionally rebelling and betraying God. Even their transgressions of negative commands is not in order to get G-d angry but rather simply to fulfill their lusts.” And, in the words of the Chazon Ish: “It appears that the concept of Moridin [i.e. a real Apikores] only applies in the time that the providence of God is revealed, as it was during the times that we witnessed miracles which acted as a sign from heaven, and at a time where there were Tzaddikim of the generation who lived with open miracles that were viewable by all, as in such a case one who still maintains heretical beliefs shows that his intent is simply to rebel …. However, at a time that there is complete concealment of our faith…. Our job is to return them with chains of love and show them the light of the Torah as much as we can.” Thus, with all of the concealments and challenges that exist today in keeping the faith, having belief in its philosophies, and observance of its directives, it is understood that even one who goes off the Derech is not truly considered a Apikores but rather an ignoramus and Baal Taavah, whose lack of depth of understanding Jewish philosophy and lack of exposure to miracles of God, have brought him to take the easy way out and choose to fulfill all his lusts without regulation.

The final word: From all the above it is understood, that we should completely avoid acting as God’s minister of interior to decide who retains the status of a Jew and should be loved and who doesn’t and should be hated and ostracized, based on his level of religious observance, and rather we should simply focus on trying to influence them as much as possible with peace and love towards the path of Torah and Mitzvos. Just as God is kind and merciful and does not judge a person simply by his beliefs and actions but also based on his background and level of challenge and expectations, so too we should not be quick to judge a Jew by his outward observance or lack thereof. A good measure to tell if a person’s feeling of hatred for a nonreligious Jew is genuine is to imagine if that occurred to one’s own son r”l, and would he try to do everything possible to bring him back with love to the path of Torah, or would he retain his philosophy that such a person needs to be hated and excluded from Judaism.

Sources: See Shabbos 68b; Avoda Zara 26a; Chazon Ish Yoreh Deah 2:16 and 28; See Yaavetz 1:30; Chasam Sofer Y.D. 341; Mahrahm Shick 140; Beis Yitzchak Y.D. Treifos 29; Hisorerus Teshuvah 1:169; Chelkas Yaakov 1:45 and 154; Minchas Yitzchak 1:53; 3:20; 10:31 letter 14; 10:151; Igros Moshe E.H. 2:59; Sheivet Halevy 3:36; 5:48; 10:65; Mishneh Halachos 5:55; Tzitz Eliezer 8:15; 9:17; Yabia Omer 8:38; Piskeiy Teshuvos 329:5 and footnote 23; Poskim who rule that awareness negates status of Tinok Shenishba: Admur Ribis 80 in parentheses; Shach 159:6 and 8; Ramban and Nimmukei Yosef brought in Darkei Moshe 159 and Beis Yosef Y.D. 159; Radbaz Mamarim 3:3; Derisha 159:2; Shut Rabbeinu Betzalel Ashkenazi 3; See also Teshuvos Vehanhagos 5:95; 6:90; Bina Vedaas Miluim in anme of Rav SZ”A; Betzeil Hachochma 2:76; Shevet Halevi 9:198; Yissa Yosef 3:97; See Piskeiy Teshuvos ibid footnote 22; Poskim who rule that person remains a Tinok Shenishba even if made aware: Admur Ribis 79; Darkei Moshe 159; Rambam Mamarim 3:3; Chazon Ish Yoreh Deah 2:16; Zekan Ahron 12; Binyan Tziyon 23; Milameid Lehoil 29;]; Letter of Rebbe Rayatz: Igros Kodesh 2:526; Opinion of Chazon Ish: Chazon Ish Yoreh Deah 2:16

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