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Rambam clearly and explicitly states on a number of occasions that one who denies the Oral Law is a heretic, and that this includes Tzadok and Baythus and their followers (Sadducees and Boethusians).

Hilchot Teshuvah 3:8

שלשה 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 בפרושה והוא תורה שבעל פה והמכחיש מגידיה כגון צדוק ובייתוס והאומר שהבורא החליף מצוה זו במצוה אחרת וכבר בטלה תורה זו אע"פ שהיא היתה מעם ה' כגון ההגרים כל אחד משלשה אלו כופר בתורה

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. (Chabad.org)

Hilchot Mamrim 3:1-3

מי שאינו מודה בתורה שבעל פה אינו זקן ממרא האמור בתורה אלא הרי זה בכלל האפיקורוסין [ומיתתו בכל אדם] מאחר שנתפרסם שהוא כופר בתורה שבעל פה [מורידין אותו] ולא מעלין והרי הוא כשאר כל האפיקורוסין והאומרין אין תורה מן השמים והמוסרין והמומרין שכל אלו אינם בכלל ישראל ואין צריך לא לעדים ולא התראה ולא דיינים [אלא כל ההורג אחד מהן עשה מצוה גדולה והסיר המכשול] במה 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

A person who does not acknowledge validity of the Oral Law is not the rebellious elder mentioned in the Torah. Instead, he is one of the heretics and he should be put to death by any person.

Since it has become known that such a person denies the Oral Law, he may be pushed into a pit and may not be helped out. He is like all the rest of the heretics who say that the Torah is not Divine in origin, those who inform on their fellow Jews, and the apostates. All of these are not considered as members of the Jewish people. There is no need for witnesses, a warning, or judges for them to be executed. Instead, whoever kills them performs a great mitzvah and removes an obstacle from people at large.

To whom does the above apply? To a person who denied the Oral Law consciously, according to his perception of things. He follows after his frivolous thoughts and his capricious heart and denies the Oral Law first, as did Tzadok and Beitus and those who erred in following them.

The children of these errant people and their grandchildren whose parents led them away and they were born among these Karaities and raised according to their conception, they are considered as a children captured and raised by them. Such a child may not be eager to follow the path of mitzvot, for it is as if he was compelled not to. Even if later, he hears that he is Jewish and saw Jews and their faith, he is still considered as one who was compelled against observance, for he was raised according to their mistaken path. This applies to those who we mentioned who follow the erroneous Karaite path of their ancestors. Therefore it is appropriate to motivate them to repent and draw them to the power of the Torah with words of peace. (Chabad.org)

In his Eighth Principle which is about accepting the Divinity of the Torah, he has a line which arguably includes the Oral Law in this:

וכן פירושה המקובל גם הוא מפי הגבורה

However, in several other places he seems to imply, or even say straight out that such denial of the Oral Law is not heretical as denying the Torah:

Hilchot Shechitah 4:14

ישראל מומר לעבירה מן העבירות שהיה מומחה הרי זה שוחט לכתחלה וצריך ישראל כשר לבדוק את הסכין ואח"כ יתננה למומר זה לשחוט בה מפני שחזקתו שאינו טורח לבדוק ואם היה מומר לעבודה זרה או מחלל שבת בפרהסיא או אפיקורוס והוא הכופר בתורה ובמשה רבינו כמו שביארנו בהלכות תשובה הרי הוא כעכו"ם ושחיטתו נבלה

A Jew who is an apostate because of his transgression of a particular transgression who is an expert slaughterer may slaughter as an initial and preferred option. A Jew of acceptable repute must check the knife and afterwards give it to this apostate to slaughter with, for it can be presumed that he will not trouble himself to check [the knife].

If, by contrast, he was an apostate because of worship of false deities, one who violates the Sabbath in public, or a heretic who denies the Torah and [the prophecy of] Moses our teacher, as we explained in Hilchot Teshuvah, he is considered as a gentile and [an animal] he slaughters is a nevelah. (Chabad.org)

Here he seems to hold that one who denies the Torah in accordance with what he wrote in Hilchot Teshuvah (where he specifically included one who denies only the Oral Law) is invalid for slaughtering. Yet a mere two halachot later he writes:

Hilchot Shechitah 4:16

אלו הצדוקין והבייתוסין ותלמידיהן וכל הטועים אחריהן שאינן מאמינים בתורה שבעל פה שחיטתן אסורה ואם שחטו בפנינו הרי זו מותרת שאין איסור שחיטתן אלא שמא יקלקלו והם אינן מאמינין בתורת השחיטה לפיכך אינן נאמנין לומר לא קלקלנו

These Tzadukkim, Beotosim, their disciples and all that err, following their path, who do not believe in the Oral Law - their slaughter is forbidden. If, however, they slaughtered [an animal] in our presence, it is permitted. For their slaughter is forbidden only because it is possible they blunder. Since they do not believe in the laws of ritual slaughter, we do not accept their word when they say, "We did not blunder." (Chabad.org)

Here he clearly states that the slaughter of those who deny the Oral Law like the Sadducees and Boethusians is in fact valid, provided we know they slaughtered correctly. This implies that such people are not heretics, for if they were then their slaughter would be invalid as per halacha 14.

Furthermore, in a responsum Rambam writes:

Shu"t HaRambam 1:20 (Machon Yerushalayim edition)

ואותם הקראין אינם אלה שקורין אותם החכמים מינים אבל יקראו אותם צדוקין וביתוסין להוציא הכותים והמינים הם אשר נתחלפו להם עיקרי תורתינו ומכללם האומר אין תורה מן השמים

And those Karaites are not those that the sages called sectarians. Rather they called them Sadducees and Boethusians, to exclude Cuthians. The sectarians are those that have exchanged the fundamentals of our Torah, and included among them is one who says that the Torah is not from Heaven.

Here he seems to be clearly saying that they are not considered as having exchanged the fundamentals of our Torah, unlike those who deny the Divine origin of the Torah, yet in Hilchot Teshuvah he put both in the same category of "deniers of the Torah".

How can we reconcile these statements of Rambam? Are those who deny the Oral Law heretics or not? Or is there some middle ground that can address this?

  • You need to understand something about Mishne Torah (my personal conclusions): just like the Talmud is not a strictly Halachic book, Rambam's Mishne Torah is not a strictly Halachic book it is full of parables, personal stands and moral guidance. Especially Sefer Hamada, that similar to Moreh Navochim, is more of a Musar book and can not be compared Halachicly wise with other books of MT. – Al Berko Jun 27 '18 at 17:11
  • @AlBerko The only quote here from Sefer Hamada is the one from Hilchot Teshuvah, and Rambam references that halacha in Hilchot Shechitah which is not in Sefer Hamada. – Alex Jun 27 '18 at 17:19
  • I'm just saying that expressions of a "Musar" type can not be seriously contrasted in Rambam. I stumbled many times over such statements and my only explanation to Rambam's slight "exaggerations" is that he not only teaches Halacha but also Musar. – Al Berko Jun 27 '18 at 17:36
  • @AlBerko But in this case what is the "mussar expression"? – Alex Jun 27 '18 at 17:38
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    I can also generalize that principle to the Chachamim of the Talmud also, that many Takanot were ruled in Musar terms (הנהגה טובה, לפני משוה"ד, להרחיק אדם מן העבירה etc) and it took generations until they turned into Halachah. – Al Berko Jun 27 '18 at 17:38

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