Shabbos 146 Original sin, the purifying effect of Torah, and converts

It is often though that the idea of original sin, that a person is borne already tainted by the sin of the first man, is a Christian concept (some Christian denominations go further and see every-man as not only tainted by, but guilty as a result of it), whereas the Jewish belief is that each person is borne pure and free of sin, and only becomes tainted by his own sins, mainly after he reaches the ages of majority, namely 12 for a girl and 13 for a boy.

Not only does every person need to purge this original sin in Christian theology, but for many centuries, Jews were persecuted and murdered for their very own “original sin”- namely the crucifixion, for which their persecutors held them responsible, despite it having been carried out by the Romans, not the Jews, and in much earlier generations.

One of our most essential beliefs regarding reward and punishment is indeed the idea that איש בחטאו יומת – each man will be “killed” for his OWN sins, and no one else’s (Devarim 24/16; Melachim II 14/6.)

Yet one cannot escape the fact that there are times where the Tanach and Chazal certainly seem to teach that people can be punished for the sins of their fathers.

Rehavam, the son of King Shlomo (Solomon) had his kingdom split into two, with ten of the 12 tribes rebelling and breaking away from him, due to the sins of his father Shlomo, allowing his wives to bring idolatry into the land (Melachim I 11/12.)

Many of the dynasties of biblical kings came to an end with severe retribution, blamed on the sins of the dynasty’s founder (see Melachim I 16/12 for example,) and we are told that every punishment in history involves a component of the original Jewish sin of the golden calf (Sanhedrin 102a.)

In fact, we are explicitly told (Shmos 34/7) that פוקד עון אבות על בנים ועל בני בנים על שלשים ואל רבעים – “he visits the sins of fathers on their sons and grandsons until 3 or 4 generations.”

In dealing with this contradiction, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 27b) concludes that so long as the son is righteous himself, he will not be punished for the sins of his father.

However, if he knowingly follows in the path of his wicked father, he will be punished not only for his own sins but also for those of his father.

Yet even when later generations are not punished for the sins of their fathers, their does seem to be some concept of “original filth,” if not original sin, that Chazal believed in.

On this daf, we are told that when the snake caused Chava, the first woman, to sin, he engaged in sexual relations with her and implanted זוהמא (filth) into her.

Only when the Jewish people stood on Mount Sinai, the filth that the original snake had given to her, was cleansed from them.

The Gemara asked what about גרים (strangers or converts,) who were not present at Sinai- how were they cleansed of their original impurity.

It answers that even though they were not there physically, their מזל (literally star) was there.

Without a full analysis of the subject of whether such statements of Chazal are meant to be taken literally, which is an important discussion in its own right (spoiler alert- very often at least, they are not,) or what the idea of מזל actually means, one can understand that whatever impurity that came into mankind after he/she disobeyed the divine command that very first time by following the snake instead of his/her maker, was somehow made right by the unconditional acceptance of his Torah on Sinai.

That “cleansing” is not only limited to the Jewish people who were on the mountain and their descendants, but to any righteous convert who takes on the law of G-d on his own volition.

Without getting involved in the discussion as to whether this option applies in our time or not, it is possible that this not only applies to a גר צדק ( someone who converts to Judaism,) but also to a גר תושב , someone who accepts upon himself the 7 Noachide laws but remains non-Jewish, at least at a certain level, for he too has accepted upon himself again the most basic level of divine law.

On a symbolic level, every person has his personality (star) that was present at Sinai and that thus has the potential to receive the benefits of Sinai retroactively- all he needs to do is take the plunge.

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.

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.