Heresy in Judaism

Various movements within the religion have been viewed heretical by those who disagreed with them.

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The Mitnagdim regarded the Hasidim as heretics for their belief that all is in God and in the powers of the Zaddik, and the Hasidim the Mitnagdim for denying, among other things, these selfsame powers. Both Hasidim and Mitnagdim often called followers of the Haskalah heretics. Some rabbis denigrated the Zionists as heretics who took matters into their own hands instead of waiting patiently for the Messiah. The early Reformers were seen as heretics by the Orthodox rabbis; the term "Orthodox" itself is adapted from Christian discussions of orthodoxy versus heresy. On the contemporary scene, many of the Orthodox consider Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Jews to be heretics, albeit unintentional ones.

Heretics were treated with opprobrium but were only rarely excommunicated; the herem was reserved largely for practical breaches of communal discipline. On the other hand, Spinoza was excommunicated by the Amsterdam rabbis for his pantheistic beliefs. The statement in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 26b) that if heretics fall into a pit they need not be rescued and may even be pushed in the pit to die, is obviously hyperbole. There is no instance of it ever having been followed in practice. Even Maimonides, not particularly noted for his religious tolerance, states that this was the law.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.