Counting Intermarried for a Minyan

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by R. Gil Student

Can a man who is intermarried be counted for a minyan? The Minchas Yitzchak (3:65) quotes the Chakham Tzvi (38) who writes that there are certain sins that are so rebellious that the community would excommunicate someone who commits them. Examples he gives are openly violating Shabbos and repeatedly sleeping with non-Jewish women. The Chakham Tzvi writes that even if the community has not excommunicated such a person, we cannot give public honor to someone who should be excommunicated because it gives the mistaken impression to people that these sins are acceptable. Therefore, the Chakham Tzvi concludes, we should not count them for a minyan or call them to the Torah (see Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Talmud Torah 7:4). This means that someone who is intermarried should not be counted for a minyan.

Writing in early twentieth century Germany, the Seridei Esh (Orach Chaim 7 [new edition]) writes similarly, that since the community must excommunicate someone who intermarries in order to teach that it is unacceptable, even if for whatever reason they cannot excommunicate him they still may not call him to the Torah.

The above Minchas Yitzchak raises the issue, regarding someone who violates Shabbos, that people today are not necessarily raised in tight, traditional communities and therefore do not violate Shabbos with the same intentions as in past generations — i.e., they are tinokos she-nishbu and therefore not fully culpable for their violations. Therefore, there is reason to be lenient regarding someone who violates Shabbos. While the Minchas Yitzchak does not indicate whether he agrees with this position (which has become fairly normative), he points out that this logic does not apply to intermarriage. In 1959 Manchester, where he wrote the responsum, every Jew was raised knowing that intermarriage is absolutely unacceptable and, therefore, no one can claim that they were not adequately educated regarding this prohibition.

Similarly, the Seridei Esh (ibid. 11:13) writes that since not calling Shabbos violators to the Torah is an issue of public policy and communal education, it is up to the local rabbi to determine whether refusing to call someone to the Torah will teach them (and the community) a proper lesson or will serve to alienate people from the Torah. If the former, then they should not be called up. If the latter, then the rabbi is free to permit it.

The question, then, is whether in the year 2017 intermarriage has sadly become so common that we cannot say that every Jew is raised knowing that intermarriage is absolutely unacceptable. Perhaps there are people today who are tinokos she-nishbu regarding intermarriage and our failing to call them to the Torah only alienates them further. According to the above reasoning, perhaps in certain communities and outreach synagogues, where there is not an issue of appearing to condone such violations, intermarried men may be counted for a minyan and called to the Torah.

Rav Hershel Schachter (Eretz Ha-Tzvi 17:4-5) quotes in the name of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, based on Eruvin 19a, that God’s covenant with Avraham required four things of Jews: 1) Belief in God’s unity, 2) Performing circumcision, 3) Not intermarrying, 4) Belief that God gave to Avraham and his descendants the land of Israel. Rav Schachter suggests that fulfilling these four conditions is a prerequisite for being a part of the Jewish people (regardless of one’s personal status as a Jew). I did not ask Rav Schachter but it seems that this idea, if taken literally, can be extended further. Someone who violates any of these conditions (e.g. intermarries) remains Jewish but is not a part of the Jewish people. If this is taken literally, he should not be called to the Torah or counted for a minyan.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

3 comments

  1. How does this ruling interact with the conversion crisis. If a gabbi thinks a man’s wife’s conversion is not valid, should he consider the man intermarried and not call him to the torah? How about if the mara d’atra questions the conversion? Just as some early 20th century poskim said that someone who says kiddush when he returns from work after dark on Friday and who davens early before working on Shabbat is not a public sabbath desecrator in the traditional sense, can we say that someone who marries a convert in good faith is not intermarried in the traditional sense?

    • It isn’t my place to rule on these complex issues but that seems to me to be at most an accidental sin that does not deserve excommunication

  2. Would this imply that someone who rejects Jewish ownership of Eretz Yisrael should also not be eligible for an aliya?

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