It has been discussed many times on this site that a non-Jew may not observe Shabbat (in addition to various other mitzvot that are prohibited to non-Jews). We have also seen that a Jew who renounces Judaism, while not losing his official Jewish status, may have to undergo some kind of process to reaffirm his commitment to Judaism.

My question is, may a Jew who has renounced Judaism continue to observe Shabbat? Must he? Does it matter if he has converted to some other religion such as Christianity?

  • You are referring to the Rama's requiring a dip in the mikva? He says clearly that that is only a rabbinic requirement.
    – Double AA
    Apr 24, 2013 at 5:20
  • What about if an apostate Jew poured you wine, is it considered yayin nesech?
    – Aryeh
    Apr 24, 2013 at 5:52
  • @Aryeh Some say it is forbidden as stam yeinam.
    – Double AA
    Apr 24, 2013 at 6:06
  • 1
    @Aryeh, that question has been asked here somewhere.
    – Seth J
    Apr 24, 2013 at 12:21
  • 1
    @Daniel, we've said elsewhere also that an apostate Jew is a sinning Jew. For purposes of his obligations as a Jew, it means nothing that he doesn't consider himself Jewish.
    – Seth J
    Apr 24, 2013 at 14:27

1 Answer 1


The halachah is once a Jew, always a Jew. The source most often cited for this is ישראל אף על פי שחטא ישראל הוא (Sanhedrin 44a)--A Jew, even if he has sinned remains a Jew. Rashi in a teshuvah cites this Gemara as the basis for saying that a mumar retains his Jewish status. Thus a Jew cannot lose his obligation to perform mitzvot. The fact that he may lose his status as a Jew in good standing and thus is ineligible to write a sefer Torah or perform shechita is irrelevant to his obligation in mitzvot.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explained this by reference to the two types of kedushah that a Jew possesses, symbolized by the two blessings, שלא עשני גוי and אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים. One holiness, that of שלא עשני גוי, is a product of being born a Jew (or converting to Judaism). It cannot be renounced. However, there is a second kedushah which comes from observing the Torah, אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים ונתן לנו את תורתו; regarding this element of kedushah, if a Jew does not observe the mitzvot he loses his status (Chumash Mesoras Harav Vayikra, p. 223):

One aspect of our chosenness relates to being the progeny of Abraham, and it is for this aspect which we recite the blessing who has not made me a gentile. A second chosenness comes through the study of Torah, reflected in the blessing who has chosen us from among the nations. This chosenness involves a higher sanctification than is afforded through simple lineage. By understanding the duality of our kedushah, we can explain a puzzling area of Jewish law. The halachic status of a Jew who renounces his religion is complex: although his status as a Jew is compromised, it does not entirely disappear. With regard to specific halachos, an apostate Jew is considered no different from a non-Jew. For example, regarding the slaughter of animals or the writing of Torah scrolls, an apostate is considered to be a non-Jew: his meat would be considered non-kosher, and his Torah scroll would be invalid. On the other hand, if he betroths a woman, his betrothal would be valid. How can we understand the hybrid nature of the halachos concerning an apostate? The apostate Jew retains the sanctity afforded through his lineage—a heritage that cannot be renounced, no matter what he does. This kedushah applies equally to the apostate as it does to the greatest of rabbis. The second kedushah, however, is dependent on the sanctity of the individual attainable only through limud haTorah. The apostate has renounced this second kedushah.

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