Shabbos 68 “Tinok Shenishba” -Does a newly religious person need to repent for earlier transgressions?

On today’s daf, we are introduced to some basic concepts regarding the forbidden categories of work on shabbos.

One rule is that a person who unknowingly describes shabbos is liable to bring a special sacrifice to atone for this unwilling transgression. This type of transgression is called shogeig (שוגג), as opposed to a knowing and intentional transgression which is called meizid  ( מזיד) .

Since the destruction of the second temple where sacrifices are no longer offered, it follows that one is still required to  repent and pray for forgiveness for such aveirot , as prayer comes in place of sacrifices (ונשלמה פרים שפתינו)

However, not every type of unwilling transgression is defined as “shogeig” and requires a sacrifice.

To be defined as “shogeig” regarding the laws of shabbos, a person has to have intended to do the actual forbidden action but simply

  1. Have forgotten that work is forbidden on shabbos
  2. Have forgotten it was shabbos
  3. Have forgotten that the specific category of work is forbidden on shabbos .

If one did a  forbidden melacha ( work category)  completely unintentionally , not though an act of forgetfulness, like if he was forced to do so by someone else or did it by accident, it is called ones (אונס), a transgression performed under duress, and one is exempt from the Korban.

In such circumstances, we generally tend to view such actions as not tied to him at all and the action is not considered a sin at all- thus repentance might not be needed at all ( I say might as there are different categories of אונס and מתעסק and some opinions hold that some of them might still be considered a מעשה עבירה even if one is exempt from a sacrifice .)

One fascinating debate on this daf is the status of a “tinok  shenishba”- someone who was captured by non-Jewish captors as a child and was raised as a non-Jew, without being aware of his obligations as a Jew and without the belief required to carry them out. (Another fascinating case with the same law is the גר שנתגיר בין הנכרים which could make an interesting post in and of itself …)

Are his actions  considered to be “shogeig” ie intentional but unknowing , and liable to the relevant sacrifices when he becomes aware of his Jewishness and embraces it, or are they considered to be more like “ones”, done under duress, and thus exempt completely from a sacrifice, and probably the equivalent prayer and repentance in the absence of one?

The leading Amoraim (sages of the Gemara )  of Bavel ( Babylon) , Rav and Shmuel, are of the opinion that such a person has the status of a “shogeig” and needs to bring a korban when he becomes Jewish observant, and the leading Amoraim of Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, hold that he has the law of an “ones” and is  exempt ( there is a debate between Rashi and Tosfos as to the precise reason or source for this exemption, which might have some practical ramifications, but I will leave this for further discussion)

It can be argued that a person who was brought up Jewish but unobservant is similar to the “tinok shenishba” of our daf, in that he too grew up without awareness of his religious obligations or at least without the necessary belief system to appreciate their importance, and is thus subject to the same dispute.

As the law usually follows Rabbi Yochanan (and so rules the Rambam, Mamrim 3/3), it would follow that they would then likely be exempt from the sacrifice and from the equivalent prayer and repentance required in its place.

We find precedent for extending the rule of the captive child to such a person in the Rambam’s ruling regarding heretics (Mamrim 3/3.)

Whereas the original heretic who gives up on Jewish belief is treated in halacha appropriately, the Rambam says that their children and descendants, who know no better, are to be treated as the captive child, and thus not held responsible for their unknowing transgressions  prior to their religious arousal.

He applies this rule specifically to the karaim (karaites), a powerful sect in his time who accepted only the written Torah but denied the oral Torah .

The equivalent of the karaim’s descendants today would probably be the descendants of the original reform or secularist Jews , who due to their lack of religious upbringing, know no better , and thus according to Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, and the Rambam and other poskim after them, might  not be liable to a korban nor the equivalent tefilla and repentance in our day and age, for their transgressions up until the time that they chose to become observant.

My father שליט”א always likes to point out, on this basis , that the term  “Baalei Teshuva” (penitents) , commonly applied to newly religious people, is actually inaccurate, and should be reserved for people who intentionally sinned or left the path of Torah, and then returned.

Rather, people who grew up irreligious and became religious later   are really in the category of “Tinok Shenishba.”

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

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