I've heard that R' Chaim Brisker said that "Nebach An Apikorus is Oichet an Apikorus" (A "poor" heretic is still a heretic).

What's the source and what does it mean?

Does it mean that, for example, if there would be an argument about Ikkarei Emunah in the Sanhedrin between Rabbi A and Rabbi B and Rabbi A's side would be the majority, Rabbi B (and his followers) would be retroactively deemed Heretics and all their wine that they touched from the time the debate started until then would be not-kosher?

  • You want the source of R' Chaim saying it, or the source of it being true? Dec 29, 2014 at 19:10
  • 1
    @YeZ The source of him saying it will (hopefully) provide context and source Dec 29, 2014 at 19:15
  • But you would prefer the more primary source, of where it comes from? Dec 29, 2014 at 19:22
  • @YeZ If it's in Chiddushei HaGrach, for example, it should have the sevara there behind it Dec 29, 2014 at 19:23
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    Shmuel, what makes you so sure that ikkarei emunah are subject to the Sanhedrin and majority rule? Dec 30, 2014 at 3:46

4 Answers 4


This statement does not appear in R. Chaim's own writings, though it seems to have been popular as an oral tradition. Its meaning is debated even by his closest students.

One written source for the comment is from Reb Chaim's son, R. Velvel, quoted in the linked article as well as in Haggadah L'Beis Brisk (pg 175). His interpretation is I believe the most straightforward one: someone who comes to beleive in heresy through no fault of his own loses his share in the World to Come. The way in which this is phrased by R. Elchonon Wasserman (Kovetz Maamarim pg. 19), another of Reb Chaim's greatest students, is that while in all other areas of Torah there's a concept of 'shogeg', someone being exempt form being punished by the full extent of the law due to being mistaken, this is not so regarding heresy. This is also how the statement is interpreted by R. Moshe Shmeul Shapiro, by R. Yichiel Michel Feinstein, R. Shimshon Dovid Pinkus (last few pages of Breichos B'Cheshbon, and in other random books and places.

However, aspects of this interpretation are still left unclear and subject to debate, and here we get into the question of how Reb Chaim knew this to be the case. If such a person is considered a 'heretic', does that mean that he cannot perform shechita or pour wine for me?

As for a source, R' Weinberg (quoted by YeZ) shows that the Rambam does state (towards the end of his introduction to Perek Cheilek) that anyone who doesn't know and believe in the 13 principles would be a heretic (meaning, even if he never heard of them, and obviously can't be faulted, he's still a heretic). His definition of heresy in Hilchos Teshuva likewise seem to unequivocally include both the mistaken and unintentional disbeliever. R' Velvel was quoted as using this as an answer to why the Rambam formulated 13 principles, seeing as denial of any area of Torah should make one a heretic. The answer is that mistaken disbelief only makes someone a heretic if the disbelief is one of the principles, not another teaching of the Torah.

However, in several places, the Rambam discusses those who believe in heresy due to their upbringing and through no fault of their own. (See his comments to Mishnah Chullin 1:2, Hilchos Mamrim 3:3, Hilchos Shechitah 4:14-16, Moreh Nevuchim 1:36, Shut HaRambam 449, and towards the end of Iggeres Hashemad). In most of these places, the Rambam does seem to believe in a concept of shogeg regarding heresy, as he writes that someone who merely believes in heresy due to a mistake can still be a good shokhet.

Somewho? have suggested that the Rambam would differentiate between different forms of heresy, as there are 'minim, kofrim, and apikorsim' (see Hilchos Teshuva ch. 3) and not all of them necessary have the same laws. However, I find this to be a difficult read in the Rambam, and I believe that the true explanation, as indicated by several of the sources quoted above, is that while the 'unfortunate heretic' is not a halakhic heretic for the purposes of wine and slaughter etc. he is still a metaphysical heretic.

What's a metaphysical heretic, you ask? Just about every instance where the Rambam mentions heresy or heretics, he also writes that a heretic (1) loses his share in Olam Haba, and (2) is no longer considered part of the Jewish people. Thus, someone who is a heretic through no fault of his own, but merely due to a mistake, would have lost his relationship with the Jewish people and/or a share in the World to Come. I believe that the sources quoted above indicate that such a person would indeed lose his share in Olam Haba (as does the Abarbanel interpreting the Rambam, in Rosh Amanah ch. 12), but R. Weinberg, as quoted here and in the book Even Shesia, has reportedly said that the mistaken heretic loses his relationship with the Creator, but might still be granted access to the afterlife.

R. Elchonon Wasserman (Kovetz Maamarim pg. 19) also quotes this statement, but interprets this statement very differently: there's no such thing as being a heretic 'by accident', since the truth of God is so obvious that only a wicked person would deny it. (I personally have a lot of trouble accepting this though, especially regarding the other 12 principles besides belief in God, though it is perhaps supported by Moreh Nevuchim 1:36).

See also here and here, my discussion of these ideas in other contexts.

  • Can you quote the exact line of R' Elchonon? I'm having a hard time finding it
    – Bochur613
    Oct 24, 2018 at 21:20

The way that R' Yaakov Weinberg understood this, it means that someone who has an incorrect understanding of G-d, His Torah, and one's relationship to G-d through the Torah, does not have the relationship of a Jew with G-d. It specifically applies to the 13 principles of faith, which form the framework of having an accurate understanding of that relationship.

For example, if someone did not know that G-d is One, because no one ever told them, at the end of the day they still do not have an accurate relationship with G-d.

It is not a statement of accusation or culpability, it is just a statement of fact.

There are two sources to the source of this idea. The first is in Hilchos Teshuva 3:7. There the Rambam writes that someone who doesn't believe (among other things) that G-d has no body is a heretic. The Raavad there argues and says that, even though they are wrong, it isn't their fault as they were misled by the simple understanding of scriptures. The Rambam seems to have held that they are still heretics despite it not being their fault. R' Weinberg went a step further and showed that the Raavad essentially agrees - he does not argue on any of the other beliefs which the Rambam quotes, and doesn't mention any exemption of accidentalness in either Hilchos Teshuva or in the first chapter of Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah. The Raavad seems to have agreed otherwise that an accidental heretic is still a heretic. His argument was that G-d's incorporeality cannot be a principle of faith over which one is a heretic even for accidentally having it incorrect, as G-d would not have written the Torah in such a way as to be potentially misleading about such a basic point. But regarding anything which is a principle of faith, the Raavad agrees to the Rambam.

The second is from the Rambam's post script to the 13 principles in the introduction to Chelek. There the Rambam writes

וכאשר יהיו קיימים לאדם כל היסודות הללו ואמונתו בהם אמתית הרי הוא נכנס בכלל ישראל

When a person is aware and believes these foundations, he is included in the category of Israel

R' Weinberg pointed out that there are two requirements - to know the Ikkarim and to believe them. That means that not knowing one of them disqualifies a person. If a person isn't aware of one of the Ikkarim, they still are not בכלל ישראל.

  • Then למאי נפקא מינה that he's an apikores, merely that he doesn't have the proper relationship with Hashem as a Jew? It would be nice if we knew the original context, but did R. Weinberg hear this from anyone who would've know Reb Chaim's intent? (As this is not the explanation of R. Elchanan or R. Velvel who both learned with Reb Chaim personally) Dec 30, 2014 at 3:32
  • @Matt The נפקא מינה? I don't understand the question. These are things that you must know in order to have a relationship with Hashem through the Mitzvos. So know them. The נפקא מינה is make sure you know these things. Is there something I'm missing? Dec 30, 2014 at 3:35
  • Nafka Mina for there being such a thing as a nebach apikores. But I think I know the answer Dec 30, 2014 at 3:37
  • @Matt The nafka mina is that it's true. It is a statement of fact - if you don't accept these things, accidentally or intentionally, then you don't have a relationship with G-d. So the nafka mina is not having a relationship with G-d. You need like a chalos kiddushin in order to have a real nafka mina? Dec 30, 2014 at 3:39
  • @Matt FTR, I don't think I explained it any clearer here than I did here where we had a discussion about it. I just brought another source in the Rambam, since the question was for the source. Dec 30, 2014 at 3:40

This was explicitly stated several hundred years prior to R. Chaim.

In enumerating the different categories of heretics, Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuvah 3:7:

והאומר שיש שם רבון אחד אבל שהוא גוף ובעל תמונה

one who accepts that there is one Master [of the world], but maintains that He has a body or form;

(Touger translation)

Disagreeing with this, Ra’avad writes:

א”א ולמה קרא לזה מין וכמה גדולים וטובים ממנו הלכו בזו המחשבה לפי מה שראו במקראות ויותר ממה שראו בדברי האגדות המשבשות את הדעות

Abraham says: Why does he call this [person] a sectarian? Many greater and better than him went with this idea based on what they saw in verses, and even more from what they saw in the words of the aggadot that corrupt the viewpoints.

Commenting on Ra’avad’s dissent, R. Abraham de Boton writes (my emphasis):

על זה תפס הראב”ד ז”ל בהשגות דאם טעה בעיונו מפני שראה בכתוב נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו כו’ אין ראוי לקרותו אפיקורוס ורבינו סובר שאין לך אפיקורוס גדול מזה כמ"ש בפירוש העיקרים במשנה דבפרק חלק

On this Ra’avad of blessed memory grasped in his dissent, that if one errs in his analysis because of what he saw in Scripture “let us make man in our image like our form etc.” it is not proper to call him a heretic. But our teacher [Rambam] holds that there is no heretic greater than this as he wrote in explanation of the fundamental principles in the Mishnah of Chapter Chelek.

Thus, according to this interpretation Rambam holds that a mistaken heretic is still a heretic.


Better translation for nebach is unfortunate.

I do not know a specific source, though I have also heard it from my rosh yeshiva.

It means that there is no excuse for having heretical beliefs.


Someone brought up by parents that did not instil the right beliefs in him is still a heretic, though only so because of the unfortunate upbringing.

Someone who was abused as a child, and then "went of the derech" (even in belief-system, not just in performance of commandments), is still a heretic, though only so because of the unfortunate events.

  • IF he was your Rosh Yeshiva, why in the world would you link to that article?
    – Yishai
    Dec 29, 2014 at 19:01
  • R' Chaim is most famous for attributing to the Rambam that if one doesn't believe in the 13 Ikkarim out of ignorance, they are still a Kofer. Seems just as likely a candidate as your examples.
    – Yishai
    Dec 29, 2014 at 19:02
  • @Yishai Is there anything not objective in the current form of the article?
    – Adám
    Dec 29, 2014 at 19:04
  • @Yishai I'll edit the first to include.
    – Adám
    Dec 29, 2014 at 19:07
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    what does he do withבמה דברים אמורים באיש שכפר בתורה שבעל פה במחשבתו ובדברים שנראו לו. והלך אחר דעתו הקלה ואחר שרירות לבו וכופר בתורה שבעל פה תחילה כצדוק ובייתוס וכן כל התועים אחריו. אבל בני התועים האלה ובני בניהם שהדיחו אותם אבותם ונולדו בין הקראים וגדלו אותם על דעתם. הרי הוא כתינוק שנשבה ביניהם וגדלוהו ואינו זריז לאחוז בדרכי המצות שהרי הוא כאנוס ואע"פ ששמע אח"כ [שהוא יהודי וראה היהודים ודתם הרי הוא כאנוס שהרי גדלוהו על טעותם] כך אלו שאמרנו האוחזים בדרכי אבותם הקראים שטעו. לפיכך ראוי להחזירן בתשובה ולמשכם בדברי שלום עד שיחזרו לאיתן התורה: Dec 29, 2014 at 19:21

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