Can a Non-Religious Jew be a Tzadik?

Home Forums Decaffeinated Coffee Can a Non-Religious Jew be a Tzadik?

Viewing 27 posts - 51 through 77 (of 77 total)
  • Author
  • #1350064

    I don’t know about a Tinok Shensibah but I have the following observation about the current OTD crowd:. Although many of them are very self righteous and judgmental I never met anyone who went OTD that would be considered a principled idealistic person by SECULAR standards.


    you are talking about a very specific crowd.


    Joseph, Schindler was arrested multiple times for public drunkenness. He also committed adultery many times, and even had children with a someone who was not his wife, while he was married. His wife ended up leaving him.


    Wow, I am just catching up on all of the beautiful essays that people wrote here – especially the one from Lilmod-Ulelamaid. Thank you for that, very well said!

    Even if we stick to the most common definition of a Tzaddik as having more Zechusim than Aveiros, I think that we can all agree that the bottom-line actual value assigned to each aveira or mitzvah is so complicated that no human can ever understand it or know all the factors. For example, Mitzvos done in suffering or poverty are worth more than those that come easy. Aveiros might be attributed to an insufficient religious upbringing. It gets even harder when you consider that the value can change after the fact by doing teshuva, having Charata (even for Mitzvos), and deeds done even after death by others that were affected by the deceased before he died (decendants, or others that he was mekarev, or lives that he saved.) There are stories in the Gemara about people who acquired Olam Habah in one moment or act of teshuva. No one can even pretend to be able to figure it out.

    I often think about this Sukkos time, when I go shopping for an Esrog or in shul during Hallel. I wonder about the comparison between a poor man who pays $50 for a simple Esrog with great difficulty and sacrifice, versus a wealthy man that pays $500 for the most beautiful Esrog in the shul, but for whom even that sum of money is insignificant. Whose Esrog is really nicer to Hashem?

    Rabbi Shlomo Perl Zt”l gave a shiur (he gave many of course). He began by describing the parents of some friends he went to school with when he was very young. The father was a ‘bible scholar’ professor who knew how to learn very well but did not believe in any of it or keep any of it. They did not keep shabbos or kosher etc, even though he knew all of the halachos. Rabbi Perl then asked – Sounds like a rasha – no?

    Then he seemingly went off on a new topic, and described his own life in detail. He originally went to public school and his family knew nothing at all. In 5th grade, a neighbor convinced his mother that Public School was too dangerous, and for that reason alone she switched him and his older brother into a yeshiva. He then described his life’s journey. His brother became a Rosh Yeshiva, and he went on to become a world-renown expert in Hilchos Shabbos who gave over 1000 shiurim on various halacha topics. When he was niftar he was the Rosh Kollel of the night Kollel in the Bostoner Bais Medrash in Flatbush (where I daven.) He then asked -imagine the Olam Haba that that neighbor deserves, for causing all of this Torah learning and generations of frum yidden that came from that act.

    Then he surprised everyone by tying it back to his first question – the two stories are about the same people. The neighbor was in fact the same non-frum parent of his schoolmate. Rabbi Perl left it at a question. Not even he knew the answer to what the heavenly status of those people is.


    ZD, that is an interesting observation. Of course, the manner that he chose to save Jews fit his personality/lifestyle. It does not mean that that was the only way the Jews could be saved- there were many Chasidei Umos HaOlam who saved Jews in ways that did not involve gambling and drinking, etc.
    I don’t know if Shindler is a tzaddik or not, but I do know he did an act of tzidkus.
    Don’t we say “yesh kone olamo b’sha’a achas” (I forget the exact quote)? So perhaps one extremely righteous act can outweigh all aveiros, how do we know what Hashem’s cheshbonos are?


    What if every week a person kills two people and literally saves the lives of five people who would’ve been killed otherwise (by someone else). Every week, repeatedly.

    Does his saving more than double the number of people he kills mean he’s a tzaddik?

    Lilmod Ulelamaid

    Yitzyk – beautifully written! (and thanks for the compliment).


    Is the active killer from my previous comment a tzaddik?

    Avi K

    LY, according to some opinions the halacha indeed does not apply in our time. Why do you have problems with the facts that poskim sometimes disagree and that there are halachic tools to deal with that in practical situations?

    ZD, Schindler was perhaps a modern example of someone who acquires his world (to come) in a moment. He was indeed amoral and even was arrested twice for public drunkenness. Moreover, he joined the Nazi Party in the Sudetenland well before the munich agreement and spied for Germany. One of his survivors, Murray Pantirer said:

    “He came to my house once, and I put a bottle of cognac in front of him, and he finished it in one sitting. When his eyes were flickering – he wasn’t drunk – I said this is the time to ask him the question ‘why’ ? His answer was ‘I was a Nazi, and I believed that the Germans were doing wrong … when they started killing innocent people – and it didn’t mean anything to me that they were Jewish, to me they were just human beings, menschen – I decided I am going to work against them and I am going to save as many as I can’. And I think that Oscar told the truth, because that’s the way he worked.”

    After the war he was hounded by anti-Nazis as a former Party member and by Nazis as someone who saved Jews. Howvever, for what it is worth, he is buried in the Catholic cemetery on Har Zion.

    Lilmod Ulelamaid

    Avi – I’m not sure if your first paragraph is meant for me. If it is, it has nothing to do with anything I wrote! Please reread what I wrote. I never said anything whatsoever about having an issue with the fact that there can be different opinions amongst the Poskim.

    Actually, you were the one who seemed to have a problem with that.

    What I took issue with was your statement that the halachos that put a non-Shomer Shabbos Jew in the same category as a goy do not apply today. In the context of your statement, the implication was that the halachos do not apply today AT ALL.

    Even if it is true that there is a Poseik who says that the halachos do not apply today (which may or may not be correct – I do not know), you can not disregard that there are many who say they do, and pretend that such an opinion does not exist.

    In case you forgot what we are discussing, you had written as follows:

    “Mr. Crawley, he is not considered a gentile. He simply has a few legal disabilities in common with gentiles. However, his kiddushin would be a good kiddushin, to give just one example.

    In any case, as i posted this does not hold true today.”

    You wrote, “This does not hold true today” (the fact that he has a few legal disabilites in common with gentiles).
    That is not a true statement, as many (if not most) Poskim say that the halachos regarding wine do apply today (even if there are heteirim in certain circumstances).

    Lilmod Ulelamaid

    Joseph – you are asking a good question. As I already pointed out, there is a reason that you are assuming that even those people who are advocating that someone can be considered a tzaddik even if he does an aveira would differentiate when it comes to a serial killer. The question is, “Why?”

    I think it can be explained as follows: We are supposed to (and it is logical to) judge others favorably. Even if someone seems like a really bad person, you have NO clue what his level of bechira is (see Michtav M’Eliyahu for an explanation of bechira levels). You have no idea what his upbringing was, what all his experiences in life were, and what his inborn nature is. Even though he seems like a really bad person, perhaps for someone from his background and personality, etc, he is really a tzaddik.

    Maybe the person who is continually insulting you has poor social skills and has no idea that what she is saying is offensive. Or maybe she really wants to insult you 10 times a day and she is a tzadeikis for holding back and only insulting you once a day.

    Maybe the guy who is Mechalel Shabbos was not brought up Frum and was never taught about Yiddishkeit so he has no reason to believe there is any more truth to it than other religion. Maybe the guy who grew up Frum but stopped keeping Shabbos has emotional problems that you can’t even imagine and he is a Tzaddik for not giving into his Yetzer Hara and holding back from committing suicide every day even though every day of life is torture for him. Or maybe you saw him smoking of Shabbos but you don’t realize how hard he had to struggle not to smoke for the first four hours of Shabbos.

    I read a story about a kid-at-risk who approached his mentor/Rebbe distraught. He said, “I was trying so hard not to smoke on Shabbos! I held out for one hour, for another hour, for a third hour, and for a fourth hour. But then I gave into my Yetzer Hara and smoked.”

    The mentor said to him, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll take the Gehenom you are supposed to get for smoking on Shabbos…

    As long as you also let me have the Gan Eden you are supposed to receive for not smoking for those first four hours.”

    (I realize I didn’t answer the question yet, but this post is long enough.. to be continued..)

    Lilmod Ulelamaid

    So the question remains, why do we view serial killers differently: Why don’t we say: “Maybe he is a tzaddik because he really wanted to kill ten people today but he only killed one?” Why don’t we say that the Arabs are “tinok shenishba” (so to speak) because they are taught and believe that G-d wants them to kill Jews?

    This is something that I have thought about a lot, and I have come up with several possible answers:

    1. Chazal say that someone who is merciful to cruel people will end up being cruel to merciful people. Maybe the person really is a tzaddik in Hashem’s Eyes but it would be bad for our middos for us to view him that way. That would not be true of people who are mechallel Shabbos or who are oiver on just about any other aveira other than murder.

    2. Maybe we are wrong and we really are not supposed to be judgmental of murderers the same way we aren’t judgmental of people who are oiver on other aveiros.

    3. The Sifsei Chaim makes the following point regarding a different issue. I forget the exact issue – something to do with Nevuah, I think. He states that Hashem would only put someone in a certain position (involving doing something good without having any bechira in the matter at hand) if Hashem knew that the person deserved it and He knew beforehand that this is a person who was going to use His bechira for good.

    Perhaps one could apply the same principle here and say that Hashem would only put someone in a position where he will be brought up to murder Jews if He knows that the person is a bad person. Maybe one could say that Hashem would never put a good person in such a position.

    This is not something that we say about keeping Shabbos. There is a concept of tinok shenishba when it comes to keeping Shabbos.

    4. Maybe the concept of “tinok shenishba” doesn’t apply to Mitzvos Sichlios, of which murder is certainly one. Maybe it is so clear-cut and obvious that it is terrible to murder that one can never judge a murderer favorably.

    5. When it comes to Arab terrorists, perhaps one would be able to say that they don’t realize it’s bad so it doesn’t make them bad. Except for one thing – one could only say that if they were doing it reluctantly and found it hard to kill. The way that we find it hard to kill when we must do so (in self -defense, for example).

    The problem is that they don’t. They enjoy killing and try to torture their victims as much as they can. I saw a video of the lynching in Ramallah years ago – one of the terrorists held up his blood-filled hands – he was happy and proud of himself. He was definitely not a tinok shenishba.

    And I saw a video of a play in which Arab College students made fun of Nachshon Wachsman HaKadosh, HY”D.

    A good person would never enjoy killing someone else. But he might not realize that he is harming anyone when he doesn’t keep Shabbos or Kashrus.


    According to what you wrote above,

    I didn’t make it up.

    one would have to be perfect.

    No, the פסוק says כי אדם אין צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה טוב ולא יחטא

    But if you want to make you your own definition of tzaddik, go right ahead. You can alter the definition any way you want to make anyone you want into a tzaddik.


    Lilmod, regarding an Arab or any goy, there’s certainly no concept or benefit of tinok shenishba. A gentile who does an aveira even completely b’shogeg is completely chayiv no less than b’meizid. Obviously we’re only discussing Yidden in this context.


    2 Names came up

    Janusz Korzchak whose real name was Henryk Goldsmith and a Jew


    Oskar Schindler who was not jewish

    Both did averias and both did amazing things and the good they did was extraordiary that most could never come close to their good

    Lilmod Ulelamaid

    DY: 1. It’s not a question of making up definitions. I explained what my definition was based on.

    2. You haven’t explained yet what your definition is. You wrote that someone who doesn’t keep every halacha can’t be a tzaddik. Since no one is perfect and everyone does aveiros, then what is a tzadik?

    3. You wrote that you didn’t make it up, so what is your source?

    Lilmod Ulelamaid

    ZD – since it was your question, what did you mean? How are you defining the word Tzaddik?

    Avi K

    LU, you are correct that there is a machloket but we have a general rule that where there is a safek d’rabbanan the halacha is lenient.

    Joseph, actually there would be an interesting question regarding a gentile who thinks that he is a Jew (e.g. his mother’s mother’s mother did not convert properly and this fact was forgotten) and eats a ben pakua.

    Avi K

    Rambam also distinguishes between two types of shogeg. A gentile who thinks that adultery is permitted is chayav but if he does not know that the woman is married he is patur.

    Lilmod Ulelamaid

    Avi – I do not know whether or not it’s a safek D’Rabbanan. What I do know is that many Poskim today (if not most or all) do hold that the prohibition exists today (and whether or not it permitted to be lenient in specific situations is irrelevant). Therefore, you can’t just make a blanket statement that the prohibition does not exist at all today.

    Lilmod Ulelamaid

    Joseph – I’m not sure if that’s true in terms of all aspects of a goy’s judgment. I think it may apply in terms of certain aspects of his judgement – I am not 100% sure but I think that in terms of determining whether or not he kept 7 Mitzvos B’nei Noach and therefore gets a cheilik in Olam Haba, it is true.

    However, that is not the only aspect of his judgment in the World To Come. It is much more complex than that. A Cheilik in Olam Haba is one type of reward, but there are others. All good deeds get rewarded and all bad deeds get punished, and Hashem takes all factors into account.

    This includes every single factor – things we don’t can’t see and don’t know. Two people can seem like they are doing the same act, but only Hashem knows everything about the person and his experiences and nature etc, and every factor that will determine precisely how Hashem judges him. For example, if one of them once had an opportunity to learn from someone’s example and didn’t, Hashem would take that into account.


    Lilmod, I was referring to chayiv/onesh in Olam Hazeh, not Olom Haba. A gentile is chayiv misa even if he did something completely b’shogeg.


    3. You wrote that you didn’t make it up, so what is your source?

    It’s brought in several places, offhand Rashi on the first Mishnah in sixth perek in Avos, that a tzaddik is one who keeps the letter of the law, and a chossid is one who goes beyond it.

    Lilmod Ulelamaid

    Joseph, thanks for clarifying. But my original post which you were arguing against had to do with Hashem’s Judgment in Beis Din shel Maaleh. That is the discussion in this thread – we are talking about how we should view people who have done both big Mitzvos and big Aveiros. We were not discussing their punishment in this world.

    And for the record, the specific people being discussed are dead, so their punishment in this world would be irrelevant at this point.

    Avi K

    Joseph, do you have broad enough shoulders to disagree with Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 10:1)? If not, bring a source.



    What I say now is just my opinion. Different Averiahs and Differnet Mitzvahs are not equal. Using the example of cars, Not all cars are equal. While you can say a Lamborghini and a Hyundai are both cars, nobody says the are equal, obviosuly the lamborghini is better

    Nobody is perfect so everyone does Averiahs, I belive not all Averiahs are equal. We can debate which averiah is worse being Mechalal Shabbos or Killing (I am aware that some say being Mechalel Shabbos is worse) I personally think Killing is worse as it requires a certain moral deprativity to do such a thing. Oskar Schindler certainly had moral issues, but for what he did under almost impossible conditions puts what he did a much greater Mitzvah than any Averiahs he did.

    Same with Korzchak, no he didnt keep Shabbos or Kosher (As far as I know), but what he did for those Orphans was a greater Mitzvah (IMO ONLY) than anything he did as an Averiah.

    We can see from Moshe, I might not be wrong, Moshe did an Averiah of some sort (We are not exactly sure what it was) and he was punished severly for it

    Lilmod Ulelamaid

    ZD: “What I say now is just my opinion. ”
    I’m very impressed that you started with that qualification. There are probably many posters who can learn from you.

    “Different Averiahs and Differnet Mitzvahs are not equal. ”
    I agree 100%. And I can’t imagine that anyone with any brains would disagree with that. I think it’s a pretty basic concept in Judaism. I believe it says something to that effect in Pirkei Avos or somewhere.

    ” I belive not all Averiahs are equal. ”

    “(I am aware that some say being Mechalel Shabbos is worse) ”
    While there may be people who would say that, I don’t think that anyone whose words are worth quoting would say that.

    It seems pretty clear to me that according to the Torah, killing is far worse.

    For one thing, it’s considered one of the three biggest aveiros.
    For another, not killing is a “Mitzva Sichli (logical Mitzva)” which means that it’s something that should be obvious to everyone. On the other hand, if someone was not taught about Shabbos, he is considered a “tinok shenishba” and is not responsible for not keeping Shabbos.
    For another, you are hurting another person when you murder, and generally speaking, “bein adam l’chaveiro” is considered worse than “bein adam l’makom” (although, I’m sure there are exceptions).

    ” I personally think Killing is worse as it requires a certain moral deprativity to do such a thing”
    I agree 100%. See above.

    ” Oskar Schindler certainly had moral issues, but for what he did under almost impossible conditions puts what he did a much greater Mitzvah than any Averiahs he did.
    Same with Korzchak, no he didnt keep Shabbos or Kosher (As far as I know), but what he did for those Orphans was a greater Mitzvah (IMO ONLY) than anything he did as an Averiah.”

    I personally wouldn’t put them in the same category. I think that committing adultery is way worse than not keeping Shabbos or Kashrus (especially for a tinok shenishba). That is something that even a goy should know is wrong, and it involves hurting others.

    When it comes to Korczak, I would think that his Mitzvos outweigh his Aveiros by far. When it comes to Shindler, I have a harder time. I do think that we have to have tremendous hakaras hatov to him, but I would have a hard time respecting him or calling him a Tzaddik. But I do not know that it matters – only Hashem can judge him, and we should just have hakaras hatov for what he did for us.

    But as you pointed out, most of this is a matter of opinion (although some of it probably has sources). At the end of the day, we don’t know Hashem’s judgements. There are many factors to take into consideration. And it’s not just about which aveira is worse than which. There are millions of factors besides that. That is why only Hashem can judge.

    Our job is (usually – there may be some exceptions) to try to see the good in others.

    As for Moshe Rabeinu, I would be very careful about using his as an example of someone who did both Mitzvos and Aveiros. His “aveira” can not possibly be compared to any of ours. It was an aveira on his level, and on his level alone. His aveiros would be Mitzvos for us.

Viewing 27 posts - 51 through 77 (of 77 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.