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Q&A: Heretical Movements?

January 21, 2016

Question: How do you know when a new movement, I guess within Judaism, is moving beyond mainstream Judaism, to the outside?

Answer: There is no way for me to know such a thing, nor is there a way for anyone, for that matter, to know. Even Maimonides, when defining the assorted heresies of the Christians, Muslims, and Sadduccees/Karaites, seemed to imply that while the Christians had been Jewish, they were no longer, while the Karaites were somehow fully Jewish. Just yesterday, you [i.e., the student who had asked this question at the time) mentioned the point I made about the Misnagdim vs. the Hasidim and Chabad vs. the anti-Chabad movements, and we saw how all managed to stay within the fold, despite the other sides denouncing them in the strongest terms. I believe that when we look back, the deciding factor, the point that determines if a movement’s adherents stayed within the fold was not one of belief or ideology, but rather how they behaved toward their fellow Jews when the going got tough. The Samaritans, Christians, and Sadducees were all too quick to abandon the rest of the Jews after the failed revolts against the Romans, whereas the hasidic schism was eventually bridged by both sides insisting on remaining in the fold.

As for your earlier question [not presented here] it is not my place or anyone else to judge or disqualify others. Specifically, I would recommend that Gordimer, who calls himself a “kashruth professional,” stick to telling us what is kosher in his opinion, but to not overstep his bounds and offer to tell us what is treif. Similarly, I would tell the Zomet types to continue offering us what they consider to be kosher sabbath devices but to not tell us how other people’s creations are not kosher. Both impinge on their reliability when they begin to disqualify others without solicitation.

I would offer that the embracing of high handed sinners as members of the community is not without precedent. It is often a public-policy decision, and as I have been trying to stress, public policy decisions, whether l’humra or l’qula, should never be presented as halachic absolutes. I was offended when one self-described experts on technology and halacha was telling me that his organization was planning to denounce the Kosher switch as treif because it was so ingenious, in their opinion, that it would lead to people doing all sorts of forbidden labors permissibly, “and then what would be with Shabbos?” So tell the truth! Don’t mislead people and tell them it isn’t kosher, tell them that in your opinion it is not wise because of what it could lead to. If the Rabbanut does not want Jews walking on the Temple Mount, it should say so. It should not lie and declare that according to the halacha it is forbidden. (I believe that community rabbanim can decree/order their own constituencies to keep certain prohibitions, because that is their own prerogative.) Every public policy decision that impacts halacha has to be reevaluated every so often. To return to the issue, how a community chooses to relate to its homosexuals and tax cheats is for itself to decide, but I can not fathom how a community can accept members who proudly flaunt their sins. Rabbinic figures are to disapprove of such behavior, and tell their constituents that there is no such thing as “just a little sinning.” I tell heterosexuals that asur is asur, “even if she is single,” and thank God society has taboos that keep family men in line. Why would we even dare to allow others to feel that their choice of vice has positive outlets? Aveira gorereth aveira. Sin only leads to more sin. There is no other way, so it must be avoided straight out.



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