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Who are Today's Kidnapped Infants?

02/07/2020 09:23:56 AM


The Talmud has a category called “kidnapped infants.”  

Suppose, God forbid, a Jewish baby was kidnapped and raised by heathens. At some point, the truth is discovered. There is no question about her Jewish identity. As the Talmud says, “Even a sinning Jew is a Jew.” The question the Talmud asks is, “How many animal sacrifices is she required to offer?”

Here are a few possibilities: she is required to offer a sacrifice for each category of prohibition that she unknowingly transgressed; she is required to offer a single sacrifice for all her heathen-esque transgressions; or, since all her actions were committed without knowing she was a Jew, no sacrifices are required.

There’s another category in the Talmud called “coerced.” All agree that one who is coerced is not responsible to bring a sacrifice. Here’s my question: are third-generation “kidnapped infants” coerced? They grew up in a home where their folks and grandparents all believed and acted the same way. Does that constitute coercion?

In the Middle Ages, there was a group of Jews who rejected the Talmud. They were called KaRAites or biblicists. (The Hebrew word for bible is miKRA-cognate to the Arabic word KoRAn.) Although the founders of the movement should have known better, according to Maimonides, the next generations of KaRAites were only acquiescing to their parents’ worldview. Maimonides, therefore, considers them coerced.

The truth, as we now recognize, is that we are all like infants kidnapped by the worldviews of our parents and communities. Perhaps Maimonides recognized that, too, and so sought to remove any barrier to re-entry.  As he wrote in the Guide of the Perplexed (1190): “Anyone who prefers an opinion [merely] because of his upbringing or for some advantage, is blind to the truth.

Wed, December 6 2023 23 Kislev 5784