by R. Gidon Rothstein
Let’s start with an oddity in Parshat Bo we can work our way towards solving: I was not able to find anything in Aruch Ha-Shulhan about the mitzvah we will study today. Rambam counts it, with no demurral from Ramban, it’s in Sefer Ha-Hinuch and Minhat Hinuch, and there’s nothing about it in Aruch Ha-Shulhan. Explanation needed!
A Pesah Sacrifice Minefield
I found that factoid when researching this essay; for much longer, I have been fascinated by trying to imagine the practicalities of this mitzvah [as I hope you know, I once wrote a novel imagining what the Jerusalem of the third Beit Ha-Mikdash would be like, Murderer in the Mikdash]. Prohibition 128 in Rambam’s list tells us we may not feed any part of the Pesah sacrifice to a Jew she-nishtamed.
We will eventually grapple with a more exact meaning of the word, but for now we can stick with how Rambam defines it. Based on the source verse’s calling this Jew a ben nechar, Mechilta said it was a meshumad Jew, who worshipped avodah zarah, any power other than God. Sefer Ha-Hinuch 13 says the meshumad is someone she-nitnachru ma’asav, whose actions have become foreign, to his Father in Heaven. (He says that is how Onkelos translated it, when in fact Onkelos wrote only de-yishtamed, loosely, has left religion. Sefer Ha-Hinuch seems to have understood Rambam and Onkelos to mean anyone whose actions are foreign to God may not partake of a Pesah sacrifice.)
Let’s bring them closer together, assume that Sefer Ha-Hinuch in fact meant worshipped a power other than God rather than converted to another religion, an idea Yevamot 71a seems to adopt, because it speaks of hamarat dat, trading religions. For Sefer Ha-Hinuch, any Jew who has worshipped any power other than God may not partake of a Pesah until s/he repents (Minhat Hinuch points out the repentance option). Depending on how one defines such worship—not our topic, but to me a broader category than we realize, likely including some currently popular Eastern practices—a Jew might come to Jerusalem excited about experiencing this funky new ritual, and be turned away as a meshumad.
Imagine the politics, especially if the rabbinic authorities of the time decided that certain major religions are idolatry; any Jew who participated in their rituals, let alone converted, might find themselves rejected from Pesah offerings. How we would work that out is a question I cannot yet imagine going well.
Denial of God Cannot CoExist with Partaking of the Pesah
In his reason for the mitzvqh, Sefer Ha-Hinuch shows he might have been closer to Rambam than I have suggested, might have required a broader abandonment of Judaism than “just” acts of worship. The sacrifice comes to remind us of the miracles of Egypt, taking us back to when we were young in our relationship with God, when our nation first sheltered under God’s “wings,” made a lasting covenant with our Creator. There is no place in such a ritual for someone who has gone the other way, denied the faith, lives without it.
[Two points: he has gone back to a formulation where more Jews would be left out, because here any Jew who has left the faith but not adopted some other religion—unaffiliated, or an atheist—would not be allowed to join the Pesah sacrifice.
Second, a truth I fear many of us have forgotten, he has pointed out how inextricably linked faith is with what we might have seen as a technical ritual. One cannot be part of the Pesah sacrifice without buying into the faith statements underlying it, and Sefer Ha-Hinuch calls this is a sevara, obvious and inescapable logic.]
To Whom the Prohibition Is Addressed
One last surprise, he says the prohibition addresses the Jew who feeds some of the Pesah to this ben nechar. [The kohanim running the Temple side of things wouldn’t accept the sacrifice from a ben nechar, I think, so some other Jew would include the ben nechar in his list of those signed on for the sacrifice, then commit this sin by sharing it with an ineligible receiver.]
Minhat Hinuch assumed it is aimed at the still-in-the-religion Jew because the Torah would not bother adding a prohibition aimed at someone who does not care about the Torah’s rules, showing he thought the meshummad had left the religion overall, was no longer moved by mitzvot. [The more we accept that idea, the more room we might carve out for including Jews who are “only” attached to some erroneous view of the religion, and/or very lax in their observance.]
Then Minhat Hinuch raises the central question: what about a Jew who violates Shabbat publicly and uncaringly? This question had a different resonance in his time than it does in ours, sadly, because it used to be that any Jew who violated Shabbat in pubic thereby declared his overall disinterest in affiliation with Torah observance.
The Gemara in Hullin treats such a Jew as having abandoned all of Torah.
Or, asks Minhat Hinuch, what if the Jew only refrains from violating Shabbat and does not worship any power other than God, does nothing else of the Torah’s commands? [Today, we might argue those two show an attachment to the essence of the religion; Minhat Hinuch does not entertain the possibility.]
Meaning, if someone has completely left Judaism but not adopted another religion, or any idolatrous practices, what is his/her status for Pesah participation? With sources both ways, he leaves the matter unresolved.
The Status of the Shogeg
In our times, most of us avoid imposing the full weight of the Gemara’s reaction to those who have left religion by assuming our nonobservant fellow Jews do not count as full sinners, for various reasons. In his additional notes, the Kometz Ha-Minhah, R. Babad (the author of Minhat Hinuch) points towards that loophole. A sinner who violated Shabbat or worshipped idols without warning from witnesses would not be punished by a court, but would still be a full mumar, he says.
On the other hand, a shogeg, someone who did not realize the import of his/her actions, would not. He also exempts a minor, because minors are not responsible for their actions, count as (the popular phrase today) a tinnok she-nishba, a person taken captive as a baby, given no opportunity to learn the truth of the Torah.
The more Jews we could be confident count as shogegim or tinnokot she-nishbu, the more of them we would not need to exclude from the korban Pesah.
Bending the Rules to Include More Sources
I’m usually very strict about relying only on Rambam’s Sefer Ha-Mitzvot (with Ramban, when he writes), Sefer and Minhat Hinuch, and Aruch Ha-Shulhan. Since I could not find any Aruch Ha-Shulhan, I allowed myself to do a little research and found two presentations in later works that perhaps offer an explanation of his silence.
Seridei Esh 1;114 takes up a somewhat related topic, what happens when a widow whose husband had no children has only two brothers-in-law who might perform yibum or halitzah, a meshumad (he means a Jew who officially converted to another religion) or someone who does not observe mitzvot at all. He concludes a ben nechar is only someone who adopted another religion, that even worshipping a power other than God (God forbid) does not make one a ben nechar.
On the other hand, R. Elyashiv, z”l, responded to R. Yehuda Kelemer, z”l, in Sivan of 5733 (I note the time because I was living in Brookline then, my family davened at R. Kelemer’s shul, before he moved to West Hempstead for a long and illustrious career). R. Kelemer had suggested sources that limit ben nechar to a convert, and R. Elyashiv cited many the other way (particularly from a similar prohibition, against a ben nechar serving in the Temple). He noticed Minhat Hinuch’s uncertainty about the issue, but seems to lean to the conclusion ben nechar includes any overall abandonment of Jewish observance (including, according to Turei Even, the deliberate and willful refusal to observe any mitzvah).
It’s a mahloket aharonim, in other words.
A Delicate Omission?
We end up with a prohibition against sharing our Pesah sacrifice with Jews who have converted to other religions, at least, likely Jews who worship powers other than God and/or violate Shabbat deliberately in public, and perhaps any general abandonment of observance. Why wouldn’t Aruch Ha-Shulhan write about that? [Let’s be clear: maybe he did, and I missed it, but I searched in as many ways as I could think of.]
The option that occurs to me is that Aruch Ha-Shulhan was a meikel here, thought the prohibition could be limited to a convert to other religions, and in the name of not insulting the governmental authorities (and censors), stayed silent on the issue. In his defense, aside from discretion being the better part of valor (as my father z”l tried to drill into my impetuous younger self), he might have assumed the world that produced a future Beit Ha-Mikdash would be unlikely to also include Jews who had converted to other religions.
Or, we can leave it a mystery, the unmentioned prohibition in Aruch Ha-Shulhan laid out in our other sources, to be sure the Pesah is not eaten by those who reject the sacrifice’s framework.