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.