If there's a person who, for example's sake, keeps all Halachot applicable to him or her, can they do or believe in anything that would be considered heresy?

What brought this question on was a stance by someone who teaches at my synagogue, that anyone who doesn't believe the literal meaning of the aggadot in the Talmud and Midrash is a heretic. I personally don't believe in them as a literal historical fact. I view the Talmud as a forum for discussing and debating over Halachic concerns in the Torah Shebaal Peh with some stories and theories included.

That's why I want to know if I kept all Mitzvot applicable to me, would I be considered a heretic for my beliefs concerning the Talmud and Midrash? Or by some other possible act or belief? I know the Zohar is another controversial one and I don't believe it was written by Rabban Shimon bar Yochai.

With regards to my case specifically, I know that Rambam was against the literal interpretation of aggadot and Ravs Sherira and Hai Gaon said that aggadot should not be relied upon. Rav Shmuel Ben Hofni said we are not obligated to accept them. Rav Shmuel Hanagid said "The value of Aggadah is found only in the gems of wisdom one derives from it. If one derives nonsense, it has no value."

An excerpt from an essay on the subject, by the son of Rambam, Avraham Maimuni : "Know that it is your duty to understand that whoever propounds a certain theory or idea and expects that theory or idea to be accepted merely out of respect for the author without proving its truth and reasonableness pursues a wrong method prohibited by both the Torah and human intelligence."

  • The Sefer Hachinuch and Rambam, Ramban, Rashba aggadot. Ritba on hamocher et hasfina says that aggadot are generally parabola and not literal. If someone says that is litteral Rambam in introduction to Chelek says that he make tora ridiculous. The "someone who teach" refers perhaps to a phrase of the GRA that he do not understand.
    – kouty
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 21:05
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    Didn't Elisha ben Avuyah fit this profile?
    – DanF
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 21:25
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    Isn't a heretic a Halachic classification? If one doesn't keep requirement XYZ, he is a heretic, and if he does, then he isn't. How can one fulfill all the Halachot and still be a heretic, which requires not keeping the Halachot of heresy? (Sounds a bit circuitous, but may be true nonetheless) Commented May 2, 2016 at 21:51
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    @DanF As the Talmud tells it, he was breaking halachot by the end of his life. I'm not sure at what point exactly he was called a heretic. Commented May 3, 2016 at 2:31
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    @Salmononius2 You assume it's a Halachic obligation to not be a heretic.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 15:49

2 Answers 2


One who keeps the mitzvos of the torah but believes that the torah was invented by human beings would fall into the category that you mention. You can see in the answers to Belief in midrashim that not all midrashim are meant to be completely literal. However, one must be careful not to go overboard on the matter.

There is a statement that I recall (paraphrase from memory)

One who believes that all midrashim are literal is a fool. One who believes that all midrashim must be allegorical is an apikorus.

Rabbi Hershel Schachter was once asked how one should relate to the more difficult-to-believe stories in the Midrash. He responded with a Mashal. Imagine that archaeologists one thousand years from now find an old newspaper from our generation. The headline reads “Yanks Bomb the Red Sox”.

Or consider the pre World War I headline "The double headed eagle stretches its wings to cover all of Europe"

These things are perfectly understandable to the people of that time.

Consider the statement "with one drop of ink millions of people were killed".

One must be careful to maintain the mesora in all circumstances and to understand which medrashim are "literal" and which are "allegorical" as well as which use an understood idiom.

Who is an APIKOROS?

Sanhedrin 99b–100a Different Amoraim apply the term variously to: one who insults a scholar;one who insults his neighbor in the presence of a scholar;one who acts impudently toward the Torah;one who gibes and says "what use are the rabbis to us, they study for their own benefit;" or "what use are the rabbis since they never permitted us the raven nor forbade us the dove" (i.e., who cannot go beyond the dictates of the Torah);

Maimonides gives a more precise theological definition of the word. Distinguishing the Apikoros from the sectarian (min), the disbeliever, and the apostate, he defines him as one who either denies prophecy, and therefore the possibility of communion between God and man, or denies divine revelation ("who denies the prophecy of Moses"), or who says that God has no knowledge of the deeds of man Maim., Yad, Teshuvah 3:8.

Later authorities extended the meaning even further to include all those who refuse obedience to the rabbis, even "the authority of a religious work, great or small" (Moses Ḥagiz, Leket ha-Kemaḥ YD 103a).

Maim., Yad, Teshuvah 3:8.

Halacha 8

Three individuals are described as Epicursim:

a) one who denies the existence of prophecy and maintains that there is no knowledge communicated from God to the hearts of men;

b) one who disputes the prophecy of Moses, our teacher;'

c) one who maintains that the Creator is not aware of the deeds of men.

Each of these three individuals is an Epicurus.

There are three individuals who are considered as one "who denies the Torah":

a) one who says Torah, even one verse or one word, is not from God. If he says: "Moses made these statements independently," he is denying the Torah.

b) one who denies the Torah's interpretation, the oral law, or disputes [the authority of] its spokesmen as did Tzadok and Beitus.

c) one who says that though the Torah came from God, the Creator has replaced one mitzvah with another one and nullified the original Torah, like the Arabs [and the Christians].

Each of these three individuals is considered as one who denies the Torah.

Halacha 9

Among Israel, there are two categories of apostates: an apostate in regard to a single mitzvah and an apostate in regard to the entire Torah.

An apostate in regard to a single mitzvah is someone who has made a practice of willfully committing a particular sin [to the point where] he is accustomed to committing it and his deeds are public knowledge. [This applies] even though [the sin] is one of the minor ones. For example, someone who has made a practice of constantly wearing sha'atnez or cutting off his sideburns so that it appears that, in regard to him, it is as if this mitzvah has been nullified entirely. Such a person is considered an apostate in regard to that matter. This applies [only] if he [commits the sin] with the intent of angering God.

An example of an apostate in regard to the entire Torah is one who turn to the faith of the gentiles when they enact [harsh] decrees [against the Jews] and clings to them, saying: "What value do I have in clinging to Israel while they are debased and pursued. It's better to cling to those who have the upper hand." Such an individual is an apostate in regard to the entire Torah.

  • " One who believes that all midrashim must be allegorical is an apikorus [sic]" If you read the answers in the link you followed, you will see plenty of views through all stages in Jewish history who held that there is no obligation to believe in Midrashim. They are not part of Torah Shebaal Peh, and like anything else someone tells you, you can accept it or not.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 15:33
  • "One must be careful to maintain the mesora in all circumstances" There is no single Mesorah; the matter of Midrashim has been a matter of dispute for the better part of a millenium, from the Tosafists who pretty much understood them all literally, to others such as Geonim and Rishonim who felt no obligation to believe in them at all.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 15:36
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    If any one group can claim to have the Mesorah it would be the Geonim in Bavel who were largely a continuation of the Tannaim and Ammoraim. They state nowhere (AFAIK) that Midrahim must be believed at all, and as noted, sometimes state the contrary!
    – mevaqesh
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 15:39
  • "and to understand which medrashim [sic] are "literal" and which are "allegorical": Limiting the question to which Midrashim are allegorical is extremely misleading, as it implies that one must believe in them in the first place. As has already been stated, this assumption is fallacious.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 15:40
  • Summary: If one actually read judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/53349/belief-in-midrashim/… one would unsurprisingly find that it is about whether or not one must believe in Midrashim at all. Shifting the discussion to literalness, ignores the whole question, assumes an extreme position against the Mesorah if such a thing exists, and renders many of the baalei hamesorah heretics, including Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, whose statements can be found here.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 15:49

the chovos halevavos starts off in gate 1:

After investigating after what is the most necessary of the cornerstones and fundamentals of our religion, we found that the wholehearted acceptance of the unity of God is the root and foundation of Judaism. It is the first of the gates of the Torah, and it differentiates between the believer and the heretic. It is the head and front of religious truth, and one who strays from it - will not be able to perform religious deeds and his faith will not endure.

Pas Lechem commentary: even if he does good deeds, his acts will not be correct and built on a foundation, nor will they be whole and enduring and if there is no foundation, the entire building will eventually collapse

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    Eventually collapse doesn't mean it's collapsed now. You can claim that someone who does all the Mitzvot without believing is unlikely to continue to do so long-term, but that doesn't mean he isn't doing them now.
    – Double AA
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 8:02
  • @DoubleAA that was just a side point. main point is in bold
    – ray
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 18:11
  • Your main point is then an out of context quote? The commentary clearly explains that the differentiation between the believer and the heretic is exactly that without solid belief one will stray to heresy; not that he's a heretic now. Whose translation is this anyway?
    – Double AA
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 18:13
  • @DoubleAA he is commenting the last line "one who strays from it - will not be able to perform religious deeds and his faith will not endure". the heretic part is a previous point. that;s how i see it
    – ray
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 19:04
  • Then I don't understand it. How can you say about someone who doesn't believe in God that "his faith will not endure"? What faith?
    – Double AA
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 19:06

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