There are several cases of people who identify as "Orthoprax", meaning that they follow mitzvot, but do not believe in G-d. (Most notable have been the cases of anonymous rabbis like the aforelinked one, whose congregations don't know they are closet atheists).

Halacha treats secular Jews, who don't keep Shabbat, etc., differently in many matters (for example, with kashrut). How does halacha treat someone who does not believe in G-d, but fulfills the mitzvot (almost the opposite of Reform Jews who believe in G-d, but don't fulfill mitzvot)? Does it make a difference when an apikoros is shomer mitzvot?

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    The simple answer, based on the Rambam's intro to Cheilek: they are heretics and should be treated as such (which means they are to be hated and perhaps it's best to throw them into pits and let them die). If someone can give a real answer though, discussing the applicability of the Chazon Ish's opinion etc, I'd give them extra points/bounty Nov 24, 2014 at 6:49
  • See what I wrote here: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/28636/… Nov 28, 2014 at 16:06

2 Answers 2


If they truly don't believe at all (which I'm not so sure), then:

The Chafetz Chaim's Sefer Hamitzvos mitzva #1:

Positive commandment to believe in the existence of Gd

As written "I am the Eternal your Gd" (Ex.20:2). He created all that is found and all the worlds by His power and intent. He presides on every thing. This is the foundation of Judaism. He who does not believe this is a kofer b'ikar (denies the main principle) and he has no portion or merit with the Jewish people...

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    Why quote the Chofetz Chaim when you can quote the Rambam? The Rambam actually responds to your equivocation in his intro to Cheilek, where he writes (Kafah translation): וכאשר יפקפק אדם ביסוד מאלו היסודות - even merely doubting, apparently, is enough to warrant being נקרא מין ואפיקורוס וקוצץ בנטיעות, וחובה לשנותו ולהשמידו ועליו הוא אומר הלא משנאיך ה' אשנא Nov 24, 2014 at 6:53
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    @Matt When dealing with practical Halachah (at least in the Ashkenazic tradition), a more recent Posek is generally preferred to an earlier source. Since the question asked about Halachah, quoting the Chofetz Chaim seems more appropriate in this case than quoting the Rambam. Nov 24, 2014 at 16:37
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    @Salmononius2 point taken. I'll revise my objection to be: why quote from a mussar sefer of the Chofetz Chaim when you could quote from the Biur Halacha 39:4 (which expressed a more careful/nuanced opinion)? Nov 24, 2014 at 16:58
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    @Matt because he knew the rambam and those after him. sefer hamitzvot is not a mussar sefer. the chafetz chaim wrote it as a practical work as he explained in the intro there
    – ray
    Nov 24, 2014 at 22:00
  • @Matt this was the last sefer he wrote so yes. how about adding your own answer which is probably betterthan this one
    – ray
    Nov 24, 2014 at 22:09

This is not so simple as it seems. And I'm sorry to see you accepting a shallow answer.

First, orthopraxy does not mean disbelieving in God. It means that people align with or observe proper actions rather than beliefs. It appears that after prolonged confrontations with the early Christians, that based their religion on pure beliefs and dismissed rites, Rabbis chose the path of actions, developing practical Mishnah and Talmud that focus on details of everyday rituals rather than additional interpretational Midrashim. As it says (Pirkei_Avot.1.17): "וְלֹא הַמִּדְרָשׁ הוּא הָעִקָּר, אֶלָּא הַמַּעֲשֶׂה." "Study is not the most important thing, but actions;", and there are many similar sayings about the utmost importance of the actions.

I would agree with "the Times of Israel that in Judaism we derive beliefs from actions, not the other way around. A person that keeps Shabbos is testifying his belief in seven-days Creation, a person that davens is testifying that God controls the happenings, a person that keeps Seder Pesah testifies of the Exodus, etc.

Here's a test, I light a lighter on Shabbos in my shul just for fun. The reaction? I'm finished. But if I say out loud in the middle of a prayer that I don't believe in God, people will chuckle and think I'm going through hard times, maybe advise me to seek Rabbinic help.

Your example is different because a person openly asserts the insincerity of his actions which basically invalidates them and makes him technically totally secular. But had we not known his true intentions and only hear him denying God's existence, we'd judge by his actions rather than his words.

There's a reason that Halachicly a Jew is strictly required to prove his beliefs in actions, so putting Teffilin and reading Shemah out loud are mandatory while reciting the 13 Principles is not.

  • This is correct. Orthoprax Jews do not necessarily deny G-d. They reject strict dogma, which as Rabbi Slifkin writes, is not in the spirit of the Torah.
    – Turk Hill
    Feb 27, 2021 at 21:35

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