If a Jew breaks halacha because he honestly does not believe that the Torah is G-d's law or that he is obligated it follow it, is his nonconformance with the law considered wickedness or ignorance? That is, is he Rasha or Am Ha'aretz?

Assume he knows the laws, just does not believe them to be given by G-d.

  • 1
    LeMai Nafka Minah? What's the practical difference? God judges, man does.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 6:48
  • As a skeptical Jew, I am interested in the answer. Knowing it would help me decide whether to make a Pascal's Wager on halacha.
    – SAH
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 7:00
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    Just to clarify: you're asking whether his daily nonconformance with minutiae of halacha is considered wickedness or ignorance, right? (And not asking whether his disbelief in the divine origin of the Torah is considered wickedness or ignorance.)
    – msh210
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 8:48
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    I recall that this was addressed thoroughly with sources in an answer by Matt (unfortunately, I can no longer find the answer). Basically, there are different opinions that run the gamut (though that may be an oversimplification).
    – Fred
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 23:15
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    Someone very knowledgeable about Torah gave me what I thought was a highly satisfactory answer to this question, B"H. He said: "This person is a rasha, but not a very big one." This is the answer I have since incorporated into my personal beliefs
    – SAH
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 1:25

2 Answers 2


This is a really great question. Although I think your binary choice is too limiting, it's an interesting dichotomy*.

As in all things Jewish, the simple one line answer is that "It Depends".

In the modern world, the typical person who does not keep mitzvot because they don't think that they are really Gd's will is an Am Haaretz. This type of person is normally typified by statements such as, "Oh the food is kosher, it's just that the Rabbis are trying to gain political points or get more money.", Or they might say, "Tradition never said anything about watching TV on Shabbat, and it helps me relax, whoever said you couldn't watch TV was just confused." These are traditional Am Ha'aretz points of view because they are looking at a very limited impact of the laws and society and don't understand the larger points. Such as how it affects the community, or what other halachot are being balanced and applied.

If a person lives in a healthy and stable environment within a Charedi community (or a Religious Kibbutz or any other similarly closed off Jewish community)**, and are not personally exposed to some terrible situations which have become popular in the press recently... And such a person does not feel that the Mitzvot are binding, that such a person is a Rasha. Such a person is not really rejecting Gd or the Mitzvot, they are rejecting their community, friends and family. However, instead of figuring out which aspect of their community they are rejecting, they turn around and declare that they are rejecting Gd instead. It is not a lack of education of the inner workings of Torah that causes them to reject Gd but rather an aspect of evil within themselves. If a person really questioned if the community they grew up in was Gd's will, then they would explore other options of what Gd's will might be. The premise for the story of the Kuzari, for example is how a non-wicked person would act. The King in the Kuzari story says that he does not know how to follow Gd's will, so he brings in people from each religion to learn about all paths and then make a decision. If the person rejecting his upbringing also wasn't a Rasha, they would do the same thing, and examine the many other paths of following Gd's will. The important thing in the case of the Rasha, is that the person grew up surrounded by Jews and Halachic life, had a good family, good friends, and a healthy life. To a normal person, this would all be evidence that they are in fact leading a good life and following Gd's will. So to reject all the blessings that Gd has given them, would be acting as a Rasha.

*They could also be an Acher type person, who feels they are doomed and will be punished, but doing the mitzvot doesn't help at all. Or they could just be confused, or growing, or any sort of other things. Rav Kook even argues that such a a person might be acting as a Tzadik if their motives are pure, and eventually they will return to Gd.

** I don't mean to imply that a Charedi community are the only communities that does things correctly, I'm only trying to give an example of a fully encompassing Jewish community where what is written in the books or taught in schools, and what one sees in life are the same thing. A rare thing in the modern world.

  • Thanks for this great answer. The only part that lost me a little was the part about the Kuzari and "exploring other options of what Gd's will might be." How does doing so indicate wickedness? Are you saying that the blessings in his Chareidi life ought to be taken as proof that the halachic path is the correct one; that is, the one willed by Gd?
    – SAH
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 9:54
  • Sorry, I'll clarify in the answer, but I was using the Kuzari story to show how a non-wicked person would react to uncertainty. I.e. it was two seperate points. 1. A person with a good life should see that the community that gave him this good life is acting in Gd's will, and 2. If a person does still have questions about Gd's will, then they should explore paths and not just reject what they currently know.
    – avi
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 9:56
  • thanks for the clarification. I'm not quite convinced that point #1 ("a person with a good life should see that the community that gave him this good life is acting in Gd's will) is rigorous, as opposed to merely expedient. But more important to me, point #2: are you saying that if someone is actively engaged in exploring paths toward the truth of Gd's will, then for that time they can be exempted from halacha in the same way that an am ha'aretz is "exempt"? (term used loosely of course). And suppose the person explores paths and then chooses another? In that case, can he still be +
    – SAH
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 10:21
  • ..."exempted" from halacha, simply by virtue of believing in something else rather than the mesorah? (@Avi)
    – SAH
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 10:23
  • @SAH re: " is rigorous, as opposed to merely expedient. " Agreed, but we are talking about human nature and character traits here(if someone is a rasha or not), not logic and debates. #point 2. I'm not aware of what degree an "am ha'aretz" is exempt. But if someone was actively engaged in exploring paths, they would move from the "Rasha" group into the "Am Ha'eretz" group, assuming that only those two groups existed. Again re point 1: It's fully possible for a person to question if their good life is a test or a punishment of some kind, but that's not normal behavior.
    – avi
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 10:27

I'm not sure exactly what you're getting at here, but here's Rambam, Laws of Teshuva Chapter 3:

ג,יד [ו] ואלו שאין להן חלק לעולם הבא, אלא נכרתין ואובדין, ונידונין על גודל רשעם וחטאתם, לעולם ולעולמי עולמים: המינים, והאפיקורוסים, והכופרים בתורה,


ג,יז שלושה הן הכופרים בתורה: האומר שאין התורה מעם ה', אפילו פסוק אחד, אפילו תיבה אחת--אם אמר משה אמרו מפי עצמו, הרי זה כופר בתורה; וכן הכופר בפירושה, והיא תורה שבעל פה, והכחיש מגידיה, כגון צדוק ובייתוס; והאומר שהבורא החליף מצוה זו במצוה אחרת, וכבר בטלה תורה זו, אף על פי שהיא הייתה מעם ה', כגון הנוצריים וההגריים. כל אחד משלושה אלו כופר בתורה.


ג,כו במה דברים אמורים שכל אחד מאלו אין לו חלק לעולם הבא, בשמת בלא תשובה. אבל אם שב מרשעו, ומת והוא בעל תשובה--הרי זה מבני העולם הבא, שאין לך דבר שעומד בפני התשובה: אפילו כפר בעיקר כל ימיו, ובאחרונה שב--יש לו חלק לעולם הבא, שנאמר "שלום שלום לרחוק ולקרוב, אמר ה'--ורפאתיו" (ישעיהו נז,יט).

ג,כז כל הרשעים והפושעים והמשומדים וכיוצא בהן שחזרו בתשובה, בין בגלוי בין שחזרו במטמונייות--מקבלין אותן, שנאמר "שובו בנים שובבים" (ירמיהו ג,יד; ירמיהו ג,כב): אף על פי שעדיין שובב הוא, שהרי בסתר בלבד חוזר ולא בגלוי--מקבלין אותו בתשובה.

The following do not have a share in the World to Come; instead they are cut off and lost, brought to justice for their great wickedness and sins eternally: the mins, the apikoruses, those who deny the Torah ... mins are those who reject the existence of G-d ... apikoruses reject that He is involved with, and communicates with, humanity ...

There are three types of "Torah deniers": 1.] one who says the Torah is not from G-d, even one verse or word -- if he says Moses made it up, that's a "Torah denier"; similarly 2.] one who denies its explanation i.e. the Oral Law and contradicts its bearers, such as the leaders of the Sadducees and Boethusians; and 3.] one who claims that the Creator dropped His Word in favor of a different one, and this Torah is obsolete, though it was originally G-d-given -- such as the Christians and Muslims. All these three are "Torah deniers."

... All the above lose their share in the World to Come only if they die without repenting first; even someone who expressly rejected the Existence of G-d their entire life and at the end came back, has a share ...

All the wicked and the like described above who returned to Jewish belief, whether in a public or private fashion, should be accepted by the community.

  • I think this answer could be improved, if you showed how the Rambam considered someone a Rasha, and if "losing a share" means that a person is a Rasha or an Am Ha'eretz. If I'm not mistaken, I think that Rambam holds that even an Am Ha'aeretz who is not a Rasha can lose his share in Olam Habah for various reasons.
    – avi
    Commented Feb 10, 2012 at 10:29
  • Muslims certainly think the Torah is obsolete (and corrupt). Christian views are more complicated, and many Christians still pay close attention to their "Old Testament".
    – TRiG
    Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 1:21
  • What about those who simply don't know? After all there are many version of Torahs each differing by more than 1 word. We got septuagint. We got masoretic. We got samaritan bible. Also some verses in leviticus where Moses explain how he died (in past tenses) couldn't possibly be written by Moses. If we do not even know the author how do we trust the content?
    – user4951
    Commented Jan 1, 2013 at 11:36
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    Saducees do not believe in after life. I suppose Rabam disagree with saducees either. Tough luck Rabam.
    – user4951
    Commented Jan 1, 2013 at 11:37
  • @JimThio, I really wish you'd do your homework please. The Talmud was very clearly written -- codifying mainstream Jewish belief -- by non-Saducees. As for the last verses in Deuteronomy (not Leviticus) which describe Moses' death, the Talmud was quite aware of this and offered two possibilities: either that his student Joshua wrote them (which makes sense, he's the next leader and continues in the next book of the Bible); or Moses had to prophetically write them in advance, which must have been painful.
    – Shalom
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 12:26

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