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I haven't found a good answer for this anywhere yet, so I'm just gonna ask here. Is it unacceptable for a Jew to not keep shabbat, even if they are trying to become observant slowly and don't know all the shabbat laws yet?

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    Welcome to MiYodeya Jack and thanks for this first Question. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Oct 26, 2023 at 8:06
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    Please note this is not a site for personal questions - you are welcome to ask general questions but they won't be able to take particular circumstances into account. For this you would be best advised to speak to your local Orthodox rabbi
    – mbloch
    Oct 26, 2023 at 8:07
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    Hi welcome to Mi Yodeya. This is the sort of question one needs to discuss with a rabbi experienced in kiruv, as only personalized guidance really works here. That's probably why you haven't found an answer in other places.
    – N.T.
    Oct 26, 2023 at 8:07
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    In general, the advice to people becoming more observant is to go gradually, taking on more commandments when they are ready, starting with Shabbat, kashrut and prayer. This is best done under the guidance of a Rabbi or experienced friend. No one can be expected to take on everything right away and those who do so typically burn out just as fast. Guidance on exactly what to take on is highly personal, in general it is good to abstain from the main interdictions on Shabbat (e.g., not to turn on lights, drive, etc.)
    – mbloch
    Oct 26, 2023 at 8:08
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    Very technically, yes. Every Jew is required to keep the whole Torah. Practically speaking, no one is perfect, and having a shortcoming in one area should not impede your observance in another. The main thing is to be steadily growing and improving toward the ultimate goal of full observance. When it comes to the specifics of pacing and prioritization, that requires personal guidance, as others have said.
    – shmosel
    Oct 26, 2023 at 9:17

1 Answer 1

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There are halachic sources for a step-by-step approach, and halachic sources for an all-and-not-nothing approach. This is a summary of the first chapter of "After the Return" (Feldheim 1994), "Evolution or Revolution?" by Mordechai Becher and Moshe Newman and it is highly recommended reading for people in the position as outlined in the OP.

Evolution approach:

There He placed before him statutes and judgements... (Shemot 15:25)

Chazal (cf. Sanhedrin 56b; Onkelos, Mechilta, Midrash Rabba ad loc.) explain that Hashem gave some mitzvot before the giving of the Torah. The Ramban explaining Rashi and R Shimshon Rafael Hirsch explain this was to acclimatize the Jewish people to doing mitzvot. Hagaon HaRav Moshe Shapiro zt'l explains that this can be used as the basis for an approach to someone new to Torah and mitzvot.

Hagaon HaRav Moshe Sternbuch shlita in his responsa Teshuvot V'hanhagot on OC 350 explains that one should follow the order of a child learning Torah and mitzvot in chinuch. Kashrut would be considered priority over Shabbat observance, for example. Wisdom should be used to measure the level of interest, the level of emunah, the capabilities and passion in the prospective baal teshuva to guide the process. The point is he says specifically that there is no reason to start with Shabbat.

A person should also try to know himself as he will be the main guide of his own process. If he feels that he would be overwhelmed then according to these opinions he shouldn't go from 0-613, as this will end up with him forsaking Torah and that would be far worse. To commit a minor sin to prevent one committing a larger sin is an obligation! See Shabbat 4a, Tosafot and Meiri ad loc.

Other sources for gradual introduction to mitzvot:

Revolution approach

To address the point of hypocracy, the Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuva 7:7 that one who does mitzvot while also doing aveirot (sins) has the reward for his mitzvot torn up in front of him. Kabbalistically as well, according to Zohar and the writings of the Ari, it states that when a rasha (sinner) does a mitzva, it actually gives power to the forces of impurity (although this would not apply to a tinok shenishba, someone raised without a proper education for Torah and mitzvot, which probably applies to everyone nowadays - see The Tinok Shenishbah written by Rabbi Chaim Rapoport for the London Beth Din in 5757).


It seems there are many answers to argue against the "Revolution" approach, starting with Rambam himself who rules (Hilchot Netiyat Kapayim 15:6) that a Kohen who does certain sins is still obligated in Birkat Kohanim (the priestly blessing) and says "we do not tell a sinner to add evil and not perform mitzvot", a clear contradiction. See also his Iggeret Ha-Shemad where he encourages people to draw sinners to Torah and mitzvot.

  • The Chida states that if a rasha does a mitzva with complete devotion, he is rewarded (quoted by Rav Yaakov Hillel shlita in an unpublished responsum)
  • Rav Moshe Shapiro explains that this does not apply to someone who is trying to connect with Torah and mitzvot.
  • Rav Sternbuch explains in Haderech Leteshuva 7:7 that when the rasha completes the teshuva process, the reward for the mitzvot will be retroactively reclaimed, so we should encourage people in the process to do mitzvot even if they aren't doing all of them yet.
  • Rav Hillel explains in the aforementioned responsum that the negative effects of not doing mitzvot is worse than doing them in the state of being a rasha
  • HaRav Yosef Cohen in Sefer Hateshuva 7:7 explains that the reward being torn up just means it will not be provided in Olam Haba (the afterlife), but it will be rewarded in this life.

All of these authorities show that one should do mitzvot even if one is violating other mitzvot.


The next chapter in the book is priorities in mitzvot. Overall, it concludes that if one is not inspired yet, he should focus on positive mitzvot, but if he is ready to accept the yoke of halacha, he should focus on negative mitzvot. When it comes to positive mitzvot, one should probably start with Torah study, and then mitzvot that help him feel part of the community, and then kashrut.

There is much depth there so I recommend purchasing the sefer (or reading it on google books here) and reading the whole chapter.


Important note: nobody should do anything based on a book or this answer alone. One should always seek the guidance of a Rabbi to get to know him personally and walk him through the process. CYLOR!

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    Great answer! I added in some sources that I could find on HebrewBooks. Also, it is important to remember that, just as with children who are learning Torah and about mitzvos for the first time, it is important to instill love for mitzvos to them, as Rav Edelstein zt"l teaches.
    – Shmuel
    Oct 26, 2023 at 11:02
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    This chapter is actually available on Google Books. Search for the title of the book and it will show up.
    – Shmuel
    Oct 26, 2023 at 14:25
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    Evolution or revolution. - books.google.nl/…
    – Shmuel
    Oct 26, 2023 at 14:39
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    "To commit a minor sin to prevent one committing a larger sin is an obligation!" Is there a formal guideline that says when to and when to not apply this rule? I personally find it very helpful but feel it could be abused
    – zunior
    Oct 26, 2023 at 17:33
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    I really like this answer because it keeps things in human scale. We are not in abstract legalism. We are talking about what a real human being is actually able to achieve in order to grow.
    – Mike
    Oct 26, 2023 at 19:13

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