Infidels and Judaism

Certainly parshas Ki Sisa provides opportunity to discuss:

Infidels and Judaism

Question #1: The Sin or the Sinner?

“Why did Chazal establish a brachah in the Shemoneh Esrei against those who reject Judaism? Aren’t we supposed to pray that sinners find their way back to Judaism?”

Question # 2: Various Infidels

“What are the differences between the Tzedukim, the Baitusim, the kara’im, and other deviant groups?”


Antigonus ish Socho, one of our great Torah leaders, was the head of the Sanhedrin towards the beginning of the second Beis Hamikdash period, in the generation immediately following the passing of the last of the Anshei Kenesses Hagedolah. Two of his disciples, Tzadok and Baitus, misunderstood him to say that there is no reward for observing mitzvos (Avos Derabbi Nosson 5:2). In fact, what Antigonus had said was that one should not observe the Torah for the goal of receiving its reward, but because we want to serve and fear Hashem (see Avos 1:3).

Unfortunately, Tzadok and Baitus were cunning and charismatic individuals. Soon, each had amassed his own following of people who accepted them as their religious leaders in place of Chazal. Although both Tzadok and Baitus had, by now, rejected everything in the Torah, they understood that if their followers knew this, they would look for other leaders (Rambam, Commentary to Mishnah, Avos 1:3). As a result, both Tzadok and Baitus pretended to accept the Written Torah, but they rejected the Oral Torah, thus making them the deciders of what their new religions would observe. This created two splinter religious sects, called the Tzedukim and the Baitusim, each named for its founder, which became thorns in the sides of the Torah community throughout the rest of the period of the second Beis Hamikdash and the Tanna’im. At times, these groups even became violent in their attacks on halachah-observant Jewry (see Meiri, Rosh Hashanah 22a).

Although the origins of both groups were similar, they developed dissimilar practices and became two distinct groups (Tosafos Yom Tov, Menachos 10:3). Some early authorities note that there was also a divergence in style between the Tzedukim and the Baitusim. Whereas the Baitusim were brazen in disputing the halachic authorities, the Tzedukim were concerned about what the rabbonim held (Ritva, Eruvin 69b). The Gemara records instances where they followed rabbinic practice, even when it differed with what they theoretically held (Yoma 19b; Niddah 33b). The Baitusim, on the other hand, achieved notoriety for their troublemaking (see, for example, Rosh Hashanah 22a-b).

Baitusi bloopers

Notwithstanding the fact that the Baitusim behaved in a more brazen manner than did the Tzedukim, Chazal record only three instances where their official practices conflicted with halachah. They are:

  1. The Baitusim held that an individual could donate a korban tamid to be used by the community for the daily offering in the Beis Hamikdash (Megillas Taanis; Tosafos, Taanis 17b s.v. Meireish). The halachah is that these offerings, similar to all other required public offerings, must be purchased from the terumas halishkah, that is, from the half-shekel coins that each adult male Jew was required to donate annually to the Beis Hamikdash for this purpose.
  2. The Baitusim did not want the korban omer to be offered on any day of the week other than Sunday (Menachos 65a). The halachah is that it is offered on the day that we begin counting the omer, the second day of Pesach, regardless of which day of the week this transpires.
  3. The Baitusim were opposed to the observance of the mitzvah of aravah (Ritva, Sukkah 43b), a practice performed in the Beis Hamikdash every day of Sukkos (see Mishnah, Sukkah 42b and Gemara ad locum).

It is significant to note that all three of these divergent practices involved mitzvos performed in the Beis Hamikdash, and none of them impinges on how a person is required to observe his individual mitzvos. Thus, although, as we will soon see, the Tzedukim had many practices that differed from halachah, the more brazen Baitusim had fewer “official” practices that differed from halachah. I have attempted to find sources to explain the underlying reason for the Baitusim’s divergences, but I have not, as yet, found an approach I find satisfactory.

Baitusi slackness

This should not be interpreted to mean that the Baitusim were careful about the other laws. Quite the contrary, they observed all mitzvos that are not taught expressly by the written Torah in a haphazard way. For example, the Gemara states that one should presume that a Baitusi does not keep the laws of carrying on Shabbos properly (Eruvin 68b). Similarly, the rishonim state that it should be assumed that Baitusim do not observe the laws of shechitah (Meiri, Chullin 2a). This approach is codified in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 2:9). But, it appears that these were not formal practices of the Baitusim; rather, this reflected their attitude towards Torah she’be’al peh, which they treated with disdain.

Sadducee sophistry

On the other hand, the Tzedukim seem to have followed their own code of deviant practices. For example, they practiced the laws of netilas yadayim differently from the way halachah requires (Yadayim 4:6). Similarly, they followed different rules germane to some of the laws of family purity (Niddah 33b), of inheritance (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishis #140), of damages (Yadayim 4:7), and of jurisprudence (Sanhedrin 52b; Makkos 5b). They had occasional philosophic or religious debates with Chazal (Yadayim Chapter 4; Yalkut Shimoni, Devorim #824).

Similar to the Baitusim, the Tzedukim, also attempted to change specific practices of the Beis Hamikdash. They were opposed to the mitzvah of pouring water on the mizbei’ach on Sukkos (nissuch hamayim), since it has no explicit source in the written Torah. A more critical deviance was that they felt that the special offering of the ketores (incense) in the Kodesh Hakodoshim (the Holy of Holies) on Yom Kippur should be brought differently from the way that the halachah specifies. In their opinion, the kohein gadol should place the ketores onto the fire in the pan prior to his entering the Kodesh Hakodoshim, whereas the halachah is that he places it onto the fire after entering (Yoma 53a). This deviance of theirs was unusual, because, in this instance, the literal reading of the Torah is much closer to the halachah than it is to the Tzedukim’s practice (see Commentary of Rav Hirsch, Vayikra 16:13). To quote Rav Hirsch, “The tradition of the chachamim is in full accordance with the sense of Scripture; the Sadducean conception, however, entails a most forced reading of Scripture.” We will continue this discussion later.

Another practice in which the Tzedukim diverged from accepted practice concerned some of the preparations of the parah adumah. In this instance, Chazal went to great lengths to make it impossible for the Tzedukim’s approach to be observed. Why?

It is strictly forbidden to imply that the halachah is different from what it actually is. Since the Tzedukim denied the authenticity of Torah, we are required to emphasize the correct halachah. A great early authority, the Maharshal, proves that teaching a distortion of the Torah is forbidden to the extent that it is yeihareig ve’al ya’avor, one is required to avoid violating it to the extent that one is required to give up one’s life, if necessary to avoid such an eventuality (Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama  4:9; see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, II:51).

The Kara’im

Whereas the Tzedukim came into prominence during the period of the second Beis Hamikdash and the era of the Tanna’im, the Kara’im began in the period of the Geonim (the Middle Ages) in Bavel and the Fertile Crescent region. A prominent Jew named Anan ben David, descended from the royal family of Dovid Hamelech, was passed over in his bid to become the reish gelusa, or Exilarch, the political head of the Jewish community, because of concerns about his level of fear of G-d. He then proved that the concerns about him were valid, when he created a new religion that broke away from Judaism and denied the authenticity of the Torah she’be’al peh. As evidenced by the efforts expended by Rav Saadiah Gaon and others to combat it, Karaism, at one time, posed a serious threat to Jewish souls.

Kara’im versus Tzedukim

Both historically and religiously, there is no direct connection between the Tzedukim and the Kara’im. Both the Tzedukim and the Baitusim had died out centuries before the Kara’im showed up on the scene. Furthermore, the observances of the Kara’im vary tremendously from those of both the Tzedukim and the Baitusim. For example, the Tzedukim kept some form of the mitzvah of netilas yadayim, wore tefillin, and observed the laws of family purity, in a way similar to halachah. The Kara’im do not observe any of these mitzvos.

We see from the Gemara that someone could be a Tzeduki and yet observe halachah sufficiently to mislead a person to thinking that he was halachically abiding. Thus, it was necessary, at the time of the second Beis Hamikdash, to have the kohein gadol take an oath that he would follow halachah and not the Tzeduki practice, when he was in the Holy of Holies. Anyone familiar with Karaite practice quickly realizes that there is no way anyone can confuse them with halachically observant Jews.

Notwithstanding their vast dissimilarities, all three groups shared one common ground. Their primary motivation was to be free of the authority of the Torah; they decided that the only way to be one’s own boss was to reject the concept of Torah she’be’al peh. Ultimately, all three ceased to be factors of any significance for the Jewish people, the Tzedukim and the Baitusim because they disappeared, and the Kara’im because, with time, the small surviving remnants were not identified with Jews. Even Hitler did not consider the Kara’im to be Jews and excluded them from his nefarious final solution.

The Sin or the Sinner?

At this point, let us examine one of our opening questions:

“Why did Chazal establish a brachah in the Shemoneh Esrei against those who reject Judaism? Aren’t we supposed to pray that sinners find their way back to Judaism?”

Indeed, we seem to find two conflicting passages of Gemara. The first reads:

There were some biryonim, troublemakers, in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood, who were causing him considerable distress. To end the situation, Rabbi Meir wanted to pray that they die! His wife, Beruryah, told him: “What do you think? That it is acceptable to do this, as we see from the verse: ‘Chata’im should cease from the world.’ Does the verse say that chot’im should cease from the world, which would mean that the sinners, themselves, should be destroyed? Furthermore, look at the end of the verse, which states u’resha’im od einam, and there will be no more wicked people. Instead, you should pray that they do teshuvah!” Rabbi Meir prayed that they do teshuvah, and, indeed, they did! (Brochos 10a).

According to the way Rashi explains this dispute, Rabbi Meir understood that the word chata’im should be translated as “the sinners.” However, the grammatical form of this word could be understood to mean “those who cause others to sin.” If one translates the verse this way, the way Beruryah understood the verse, it means that the evil inclination, the yetzer hora, which causes people to sin, should cease. This passage of Gemara implies that one should not pray that the evildoers cease to exist, but that they should no longer sin.

On the other hand, we find the following passage of Gemara:

Shimon Hapekoli organized the eighteen brachos (of the Shemoneh Esrei) in the correct order in the presence of Rabban Gamliel, in Yavneh. Rabban Gamliel then asked the Sages: “Is there anyone here who is able to establish a brachah against the heretics?” Shmuel Hakatan stood up and established what is now called the birchas haminim (Brochos 28b).

Here we have a passage of Gemara that teaches that Chazal added a brachah to the Shemoneh Esrei, specifically requesting that Hashem destroy the evildoers. So, do we rule according to Beruryah or not?

Two additional questions

We can actually add two other questions to this discussion. One is that the conversation between Rabbi Meir and Beruryah transpired after Rabban Gamliel and Shmuel Hakatan had added birchas haminim to the Shemoneh Esrei to destroy the evildoers, yet its existence and the related halachic discussion is not mentioned as part of the conversation between Rabbi Meir and Beruryah. Why didn’t Rabbi Meir rally birchas haminim as support for his approach that one may pray that evildoers die?

An additional question is that, historically, the Tzedukim and Baitusim began early in the period of the Beis Hamikdash, and both succeeded in annoying the gedolei Yisroel sufficiently that several takanos were instituted to combat them. For example, as mentioned above, the kohein gadol was required to recite an oath that he would follow what he had been instructed to do by the Torah leaders, because there were kohanim gedolim who were suspected of being closet Tzedukim. And during the preparation of the parah adumah, numerous extra precautions were instituted to combat a practice of the Tzedukim. Also, initially, any witness who claimed to see the new moon was accepted by Beis Din, until it was revealed that the Baitusim had hired witnesses to testify falsely about what they saw. Each of these matters required a change in procedures germane to how mitzvos were observed in the Beis Hamikdash. Obviously, both the Tzedukim and Baitusim were sources of major exasperation to Chazal.

Yet, we do not find any attempt of Chazal to add a brachah to the tefillah against either the Tzedukim or the Baitusim. The core prayer, which had been established by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah at the beginning of the second Beis Hamikdash, remained. Only in Yavneh, approximately four hundred years after the tefillah had originally been structured, did Chazal add a new brachah against evildoers. Why did they wait until this time, rather than establish something similar to birchas haminim to combat the Tzedukim and the Baitusim?

It seems that, although Chazal needed to be concerned about the deviances of both the Tzedukim and the Baitusim, they understood that there was no need to make a permanent change in Klal Yisroel’s prayers. These deviant groups would never pose a long-term hazard to the Jewish people. And, we see how accurate Chazal were in their assessment, because both groups disappeared long ago. However, it seems that the concern of the birchas haminim was against the early Christians, who originally considered themselves part of the Jewish people, and it was based on a realization that this group would pose a long-term hazard. Remember that during its infancy, Christianity viewed itself as a branch of Judaism. To this day, Christians have tremendous difficulty explaining why Jews have so whole-heartedly rejected their religion. This is a tremendous blot on its reputation. Since Christianity was completely rejected by those who were around at the time this religion was invented, obviously, it is a forgery.

Against this backdrop, we can explain why Rabbi Meir made no reference to birchas haminim during his conversation with Beruryah. Rabbi Meir was being vexed by a local group of hooligans. The birchas haminim is not about such people, but was established to combat a permanent foe. Indeed, we see from this conversation that, under usual circumstances, one should not pray that an evil person die.

In conclusion

Above I mentioned the deviant practice espoused by the Tzedukim when they insisted that the ketores be burnt prior to the kohein gadol’s entering the Holy of Holies. In Rav Hirsch’s commentary to the Torah, he notes:

Toras Kohanim informs us of the motive of the Tzedukim to contradict the words of Scripture here. They openly put forward a plea of ‘etiquette.’ At human banquets, the incense is brought in already smoking, it is not put on the fire in the presence of the guests. How much more so should this same mannerly conduct be followed in the presence of G-d! Thus would the ancient Sadduccees bow to the idol of external etiquette – the same idol to which the modern ‘Sadduccees’ bow, and in whose name they break every law at the holiest moments of Divine worship.

“Further reflection reveals that the method of offering the ketores that was adopted by the Tzedukim had been employed, also, by Nadav and Avihu. They, too, brought their disastrous ketores offering in this manner…

“If this is correct, then we have here. again. what is so very characteristic: the Tzedukim, in their time, were the disciples of Nadav and Avihu, just as the Karaites later based themselves on all those whose opinions and teachings were rejected by the chachmei Yisroel.

“It appears further that this Sadduccean doctrine is emblematic of the whole principle of the Sadduccean deviation… for the true kohein gadol is nothing but a servant of the Will of G-d, a servant who subordinates his own subjective view. To him… only that which is pleasing to G-d is pleasing to him… The Sadduccean kohein, however, turns the altar fire into his fire and makes it an instrument for his own action… He lights the ketores in a manner that appeals to himself… and forces it on G-d’s will. That which fits his conception of rei’ach nichoach, G-d, too, will accept.

…Who knows whether this very contrast – which epitomizes the Sadduccean principle – is what led the Sadduccees to this doctrine, in blatant contradiction to the sense of Scripture!”