The ‘Wicked Child’: Removing Oneself from Community is True Heresy

In our tradition, heresy is to separate yourself from the community, because our tradition is a religion for a people.
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and holds the Kaufman Family Chair in Jewish Philosophy. He is author of the highly regarded 2016 book, Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself, and is the host of “For Heaven’s Sake,” one of the most popular Jewish podcasts in North America. Donniel is the founder of some of the most extensive education, training and enrichment programs for scholars, educators, rabbis,

Adapted from a study guide from the “Peoplehood” Video Lecture Series

The description of how our tradition defines the wicked one is absolutely fascinating and is only possible within a religious tradition which sees peoplehood as so essential.

When we had to define someone who is wicked, we didn’t speak about somebody who eats on Yom Kippur, or is not circumcised, or doesn’t keep Shabbat or doesn’t believe in God. Our definition of the paradigm of wickedness is the person who has taken himself or herself out of the community. That’s wickedness. That’s the core. That’s the worst that you could do. And what’s so interesting here – “By using the expression ‘to you’ he excludes himself from his people and denies God.” The person has taken themselves out of the community.

That’s the worst that you could do. He has denied the foundations of our faith. Nothing says more than the place of peoplehood in the Jewish tradition than this, especially when you compare it to Christianity and Islam. When you ask them what does it mean to be a heretic, in each one of these traditions, heresy is to be an atheist, heresy with various dogmas and beliefs you have to accept with regard to Jesus.

In our tradition, heresy is to separate yourself from the community, because that’s what our tradition is. Our tradition is a religion for a people. And when the wicked one, the one who separates themselves and in so doing rejects the essence, it places peoplehood at the center of what it means to be a Jew.

To the extent that – and this in many ways summarizes this – that Judaism without peoplehood is not Judaism. Very often we have to ask ourselves, what are the boundaries? When is it that our religion stops being our religion? When is it something else?

And the way Judaism understood itself for 2,000 years, is that if peoplehood gets removed, it’s not simply, go down from the mountain, and it’s not simply at this moment break the Torah.

This is the essence, and Judaism ceases being Judaism if it’s not integrated within a collective consciousness.

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