14 Tamuz 5781 / Thursday, June 24, 2021 | Torah Reading: Balak
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The Kidnapped Baby    

The Kidnapped Baby

Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger rose so high in the Catholic church that he was a candidate for pope. He was a Jew from Poland, born Aaron Levy to Jewish parents…


Question: Who is a tinok shenishba (literally translated, "baby that was taken captive") and what are the Halachic ramifications?




I want to preface my answer with the true story of the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, who rose so high in the Catholic church that he was a candidate to become pope. He was a Jew from Poland, born Aaron Levy to Jewish parents who were killed in the Holocaust. Before they died, they hid him with Catholics. As the parents were never heard of again, the boy was converted to Roman Catholicism. He made a meteoric rise both in his studies and in his status until he became leader of the French church and an adviser to Pope John Paul II.


Before he died in 2007, Cardinal Lustiger contacted the Chief Rabbi of France, Rabbi Joseph Chaim Sitruk, ob"m, and asked the latter to say Kaddish for him after he died, confessing that he was really a Jew named Aaron Levy and despite his conversion, he never gave up feeling that he was a Jew.


When the Cardinal died, Rabbi Sitruk did not know what to do, so he contacted the great of our generation, "Maran" Rabbi Ovadia Yosef zt"l, and asked him what to do. Tears ran down Maran's eyes. He answered, "Without a doubt, you must fulfill the deceased's request. Even though he was a sinner, he was a Jew.[1] This is especially because of the circumstances that his parents had to hide him in a church during the Holocaust. He is therefore deemed a tinok shenishba – a baby taken captive without the benefit of a Torah education – and not an apostate."


The Gemara coined the phrase tinok shenishba[2], or baby in captivity. This is a child that was kidnapped or simply grew up among non-Jews, such as Cardinal Lustiger. The Rambam widens the definition of tinok shenishba to include any child that failed to receive a Torah education. The Bet Yosef rules this way,[3] where he specifies that such children must be treated as Jews inasmuch as one may not hate them, lend them money with interest or speak slander against them, for they are regarded as kidnapped children.


In regard to the secular and non-Orthodox sector of our people, and I stress our people, the Chazon Ish is very elaborate, as follows:[4]


First, he states that whereas sinners were subject to capital punishment in the generations of the prophets and the Holy Temple, in this generation, we must do everything we can to reach out to them.


Second, He rules that any Jew who fails to observe the Torah, yet declares that he is Jewish, cannot be regarded as an apostate, but merely as a Jew who sins.


Third, the sons and daughters of non-observant parents are deemed as children anusim - who were coerced - and therefore have the status of tinok shenishba. A tinok shenishba enjoys all the privileges of Judaism: his sacrificial offerings are accepted in the Holy Temple and we must violate the Shabbat to save his life. We are also commanded to love him as we love any other Jew and he is regarded as a child that was coerced, who forcefully received a non-Torah education. This is the way we regard all secular and non-Orthodox Jews in this generation. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Noach Weinberg and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, all of saintly and blessed memory, concur with this opinion.


I want to go a step further with a monumental ruling given by my beloved teacher and spiritual guide, Rabbi Shalom Arush shlit'a. Most poskim hold that a person who was raised in a Torah-observant home but fell off the path of observant Judaism cannot be deemed a tinok shenishba in any way. Rabbi Arush shlit'a maintains that if the child never learned emuna, or was never taught personal prayer and their own personal connection with Hashem, then they too are like coerced children and considered tinok shenishba, since a person with emuna never forsakes Hashem.


In conclusion, the Chafetz Chaim zatza'l warns not to say a bad thing about anyone, for despite the fact that one is allowed to speak detrimentally about an evil person, if that person has the status of a tinok shenishba, then he or she who spoke against them is in big trouble – don't go there…


Summary: Any child that failed to receive a Torah and emuna education is deemed a tinok shenishba – as a non-Orthodox adult, he or she has the status of an accidental sinner and not a willful sinner or an apostate.


May we all love one another and may we soon see the full redemption of our people Israel, the coming of Moshiach and our rebuilt Holy Temple in Jerusalem, speedily and in our days, amen!


[1] Sanhedrin 44a

[2] Shabbat 68b

[3] Bet Yosef, Tur Yora Deah, end of Ch.159

[4] Chazon Ish, Yora Deah, Hilchot Shechita, Ch. 2


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