views updated


APOSTASY is derived from the Greek apostasia, a secondary form of apostasis, originally denoting insurrection or secession (Acts 5:37). In the sense of "rebellion against God" it had already been used in the Septuagint (Jos. 22:22). The Christians of the third century definitely fixed its usage to the meaning of abandonment of Christianity for another religion, especially paganism (Cyprian, Epistula 57.3.1). The Christian usage of the term provides its essential elements: apostasy occurs in public and not in private, and apostates abandon an exclusive and institutionalized religion for another. In this sense apostasy is subject to specific historical conditions. It occurs when different religions compete with each other in one public arena. This essay will distinguish three aspects: occurrences of apostasy; legal sanctions with regard to apostates; and expectations of an apocalyptic desertion of the true religion at the end time.

Apostasy in Jewish Ritual Law

Clear instances of apostasy are first found in Hellenistic Judaea. The very notion of hellenismos was coined for the conflict that occurred in the Jewish community under Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria (r. 176165 bce). It began when the Jewish high priest Jason "abolished the constitution based on laws and introduced new customs contrary to these laws" (2 Mc. 4:11). He founded a gymnasium and an institution for training ephēboi, or young men. Everyone who passed could then be enrolled in the register of citizens of Antiochea, the new name for Jerusalem (2 Mc. 4:9). A "passion for Hellenism" and "an influx of foreign customs" swept over the country (2 Mc. 4:13). The Maccabean adversaries of the hellenismos fought in their turn for the iudaismos (2 Mc. 2:21). The struggle between these two adversaries intensified in 167 bce, when the next Jewish high priest, Menelaus, succeeded in convincing the Seleucid ruler "to compel the Jews to abandon their fathers' religion" (Josephus Flavius, Jewish Antiquities 12.384), and the ruler ordered the abandonment of the Jewish law (1 Mc. 1:4453, 2 Mc. 6:1ff.). At first, abandonment of the Jewish law occurred without any oppression by the rulers, and spontaneous apostasy recurred sporadically in later times. Well known is the case of the nephew of the Jewish philosopher Philo, Tiberius Alexander, a politician serving in the Roman state, "who did not stand by the practices of his people" (Josephus, Antiquities 20.100). There are also some instances of Alexandrian Jews adopting Greek philosophy. For the sake of political alliances with pagans, Jews were willing to abandon circumcision, food rules, and Sabbath laws. Intermarriage with pagans and shifting intellectual interests were among the reasons for their deviation from ancestral practices (Feldman, 1993, pp. 7983).

The Book of Daniel, written between 167 and 163 bce, made Jewish apostasy part of the apocalyptic drama. At the end of time, it stated, there will be Jews abandoning the holy covenant (Dn. 11:30). The pre-Maccabean Apocalypse of Weeks clung to the same idea: "After that in the seventh week an apostate generation shall arise, its deeds shall be many and all of them criminal" (1 En. 93:9). Apostasy is assessed not only in religious terms but also in moral and political ones. Abandonment of belief is near to treason and crime. Similarly, treason is rejected for religious reasons. When the historian Josephus Flavius, as commander of Galilean insurgents, was suspected of treason in 66 ce, his chief adversary told the people: "If you cannot, for your own sakes, citizens, detest Josephus, fix your eyes on the ancestral laws (patrioi nomoi), which your commander-in-chief intended to betray, and for their sakes hate the crime and punish the audacious criminal" (Josephus, The Life 135). The Jewish notion of the martyr reflects the same set of beliefs from a different perspective: due to his loyalty to the ancestral laws, the martyr is assured of resurrection to life (2 Mc. 7:14). His death is at the same time "an example of high-mindedness and a memory of virtue" (2 Mc. 6:31). If religion and citizenship are fused, the apostate who abandons the religion of his ancestors is regarded as a traitor. He is virtually the domestic ally of the external enemy.

Apostasy needed to be legally regulated. Since the first century bce Jewish communities outside Israel were established as recognized associations either under Roman law or under the law of independent cities. Their communities were recognized as "collegia"the Latin notion for these associationsor as "politeuma" and practiced internal jurisdiction. Jews who were responsible for civic unrest could be tried and punished by the officials of these bodies. The conflicts between Jews and Christians therefore affected legal issues. Paul was portrayed by Jewish opponents as teaching apostasy from Moses (Acts 21:21). When Paul complained: "Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one" (2 Cor. 11: 24), he refers to a punishment, inflicted by Jewish authorities according to their ancestral laws (Dt. 25:2). What Paul experienced as a persecution was from a different point of view, as E. P. Sanders rightly noticed, as a legal prosecution (Sanders, 1986, p. 86).

Apostasy was subject of religious reflection. "Whole Israel has a share in the world to come. And these don't have a share in the world to come: whoever says, 'There is no resurrection of the dead in the Torah' and 'There is no Torah from heaven,' and the Epicurean" (San. 10:1). The apostate is denied salvation by the Pharisees. About 100 ce the twelfth prayer of the so-called eighteen benedictions was expanded with the birkat haminim ("the blessing over the heretics"). The oldest wording of that prayer is found in a version discovered in the Cario Geniza: "And for apostates let there be no hope; and may the insolent kingdom be quickly uprooted, in our days. And may Nazarenes [Christians] and the Minim [heretics] perish quickly; and may they be erased from the Book of life" (Schürer, 1979, pp.454463). This amplification implies that apostates had earlier been cursed in Jewish divine service. Since the Babylonian recension of the prayer does not mention either the Nazarenes or the Minim, it is a matter of controversy whether the early form of the prayer actually refered to Christians at all. Later Christian literature corroborates that after the fall of the temple Jews cursed Christians in the synagogues. Justin, in his Dialogue with Trypho, relates that Jews were cursing in their synagogues those that believe in Christ (16, 4). But only after the third century ce did the rabbis possess the legal power to expel dissidents from Judaism; previously this power rested with the local Jewish communities.

The Gospel of John, which originated in Asia Minor, mentions several times the expulsion of Christians from synagogues (9:22, 12:42, 16:23). The Jewish communities of Asia Minor and other parts of the Roman Empire had been granted the privilege to form associations (sunodos) of their own in accordance with their ancestral laws and to decide on their own affairs and settle controversies. In the Gospel of John, the term sunagogē refers also to the community as a whole and not to a building. A Jewish community could withdraw the membership from Christian apostates in its politeuma.

Apostasy in Greek and Roman Public Cults

Conversion was unknown in Greek and Roman religions because exclusivity was alien to them. There were, however, limits of tolerance. These limits were reached when public citizens abandoned their ancestral religion or refused to participate in the common civic cults. Even as early as the time of Livy (59 bce17 ce), he could report with indignation that in the crisis of the Second Punic War (218210) "not only in secret and within the walls of private houses Roman rites were abandoned, but in public places also, and in the Forum and on the Capitoline, there was a crowd of women who were following the custom of the fathers neither in their sacrifices nor in prayers of the gods" (Livy, History of Rome, 25.1.7). With the Christian mission, abandonment of the mos maiorum (the ancestral custom) became much more frequent. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul advised the Gentile Christians not to participate in pagan temple meals (1 Cor. 8:1012, 10:19ff.). The Christian apologists sustained this rejection of pagan cults.

The pagan reproaches addressed to Christians diverged from East to West. In the Greek East, the Christians were accused of godlessness (atheotes). The accusation is attested for the first time by Justin Martyr in 1 Apology 6.1 (written between 150155 ce) and in the Martyrdom of Polycarp 3 (shortly after 156 ce). In the Latin West, the Christians were accused of "abandoning the religion of their ancestors" (christiani qui parentum suorum reliquerant sectam). In his edict of tolerance (311 ce), Galerius gave this abandonment as reason for the persecution. Christians should be forced to acknowledge the ancestral religion, he argued (Lactantius, De mortibus persecutorum 34). The reproach of having left the mos Romanorum ("way of the Romans") had already been uttered earlier in the acts of Scillitan martyrs.

In general, the pagan cults did not expel members who adhered to rival cults or philosophical circles. But often the gods of pagan cults were officially recognized by the civic authorities and ranked, in Rome, for example, with the di publici populi Romani (the public gods of the Roman nation). Every citizen had the duty to respect these civic gods. The Christians refusing to do so were not only suspected of superstitio, but also of political disloyalty. The first important critic of ancient Christianity, the Middle Platonic philosopher Celsus, accused the Christians of insurrection (stasis) against the community (Origen, Against Celsus 3.5). One hundred years later, about 270 ce, Porphyry renewed this criticism. The Christians are atheists, he wrote, "because they abandoned the ancestral gods, on which the existence of every nation and every city is based" (transmitted by Eusebius in his Praeparatio evangelica 1.2.2). Other pagan critics called for action. In the writings of Dio Cassius, Maecenas says to Augustus: "Venerate the Divine everywhere and totally according to the ancestral customs and compel the others to do the same" (Roman History, 52.36). The general persecutions of Christians since Decius (r. 249251 ce) met the demands of such a program. The same holds true for the edict of Diocletian against the Manichaeans (297 ce). It states: "It is the most serious crime to reject what once for all has been arranged and established by the ancestors" (Mosaicarum et Romanorum legum collatio 15.3.2f.). In sum, apostasy only became a problem for pagan society when its ancestral customs were rejected. The limits of tolerance were mainly political ones.

Apostasy in the Christian Church

Christianity found its adherents among Jews and pagans. But these new Christians did not always resolutely abandon their old religious loyalties. Until the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt (132135 ce) there were Christians who followed Jewish ritual law painstakingly (e.g., Gal. 2:1114). Other Christians continued to participate in pagan temple meals (e.g., 1 Cor. 8:10). Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, addressed their risk of falling away (1 Cor. 10:2021), but did not regard this practice as apostasy per se (Oropeza, 2002, p. 223). Only when the church had separated itself from Jewish-Christians and Gnostics did this evaluation change. Apostasy then became a clear-cut issue. The Neoplatonic philosopher Ammonius Saccas is said to have been a Christian who apostatized (Eusebius, Church History 6.19.9f.). The most noted apostate to paganism was the emperor Julian the Apostate (361363 ce). Committed to Neoplatonism, he thwarted the church's aims by every means in his power, short of actual persecution, and resumed the reproach directed against Christians for despising ancestral beliefs. Furthermore, he sustained pagan temples and attempted to reform them.

The notion of an apocalyptic desertion migrated from Jewish beliefs into the writings of the early Christian authors. In his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul maintains that the coming of the Lord cannot take place "if not at first comes the apostasy and reveals himself the man of lawlessness the son of perdition" (2 Thes. 2:3). The synoptic apocalypse in the Gospel of Mark expects that at the end of time many will be lead astray and betray each other (Mk. 13:512). But the early Christian conception of an apocalyptic apostasy differed from the above-mentioned Jewish one. Early Christians were less anxious about apostasy to foreign religions than the Jews of the Maccabean era had been. They were far more anxious about teachers of a false doctrine. The First Letter to Timothy explicitly states that the apostasy at the end of time is due to Gnostic heretics. And the First Letter of John points out that the last hour has come because false prophets and teachers have arisen from the community, fulfilling the prophecy of the coming of the antichrist. Interesting parallels can be detected in some Jewish literature which appeared contemporaneously with these Christian texts. Passages originating from Qumran speak about the teacher of lies who has not obeyed the teacher of justice. At the ascension of Isaiah, one passage asserts, all men in this world will believe in Belial, the antichrist.

From the third century on, the term apostasy referred exclusively to apostasy to paganism. Cyprian used the term to describe Christians who had returned to paganism in the time of the persecution by Decius, a move Cyprian equated with heresy (Epistula 57.3). In the ancient church the corresponding notion to apostasy became perseverance. Genuine faith was endangered by three kinds of threat: sedition and vices; heresy; and persecution. Originally, however, apostasy had been conceived as an internal fission of the community due to false prophets and teachers. Here the Jewish and Christian views of apostasy diverge. The apostate abandoning Christian belief is not an ally of the external enemy, but the follower of an internal adversary. For this reason, the law of the early church in regard to apostasy was severe. Apostasy was an inexpiable offense. After baptism there could be no forgiveness of this sin.

Only long after the persecution of Decius was readmission of the lapsi ("the fallen") allowed (Cyprian, Epistula 57). After the conversion of Constantine (d. 337), apostasy became a civil offense punishable by law. Edicts in the Theodosian Code, composed in 438 ce, testify to this severity. "Those Christians who have become pagans shall be deprived of the power and right to make testaments and every testament of such decedent shall be rescinded by the annulment of its foundation" (381 ce CTh 16, 7,1). It is important to note that an edict of 383 ce explicitly mentions Manichaeism in the same context as pagan temples and Jewish rites. Christians simply carried on the persecution of Manichaeans started by Diocletian in 297 ce. The Manichaean teachers were to be punished, the attendants of their assemblies to become infamous, and their houses and habitations in which the doctrine was taught to be expropriated by the fiscal agents of the government. Two edicts promulgated in 391 ce directed that all persons having betrayed the holy faith shall be segregated from the community of all men, shall not have testamentary capacity, shall not inherit, shall forfeit their position and status, and shall be branded with perpetual infamy (CTh 16,7,4). The Code of Justinian (534 ce) treated the apostate as a criminal (CJ 1, 7). Due to the fact that the code became a major source for later canonical law and the Western legal tradition, the law remained effective until citizenship and religious affiliation were separated by the constitutions of modern states.

Under modern political conditions the phenomenon of apostasy did not vanish, but changed profoundly. In the latter half of the twentieth century, religious communities arose in the United States that challenged the value of family relations and private property and replaced them by a utopian communal order. In some cases, external opposition to such groups was vehement. Concerned relatives mobilized media, politicians, and law-enforcement officials against the evil of these "cults." Apostates of the disputed communities joined with opponents to become principal witnesses for the allegation that only by mental coercion ("brainwashing") had they joined such groups. These apostates fulfilled a crucial role in the violence that exploded in the cases of Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978 and of the Branch Davidians, a sect of the Seventh-day Adventists, in the Texas town of Waco in 1993 (Bromley, 1998, pp. 910).

Apostasy in the Islamic Community

The Arabic word murtadd denotes the apostate, and the terms irtidad or riddah denote apostasy. Qurʾanic texts referring to apostasy threaten the apostate with punishment in the other world. The "wrath of God" will fall upon him, "except he has been forced, while his heart has been found in the belief" (sūrah 16:106). A similar idea is put forward by sūrah 3:8289: those who apostatize are the true evildoers. Their reward will be the curse of God, angels, and men. They will be condemned to hell "except those who afterward return and mend their ways. God is compassionate and ready to forgive" (sūrah 3:89). These early Islamic texts are less severe than the canonical and Imperial laws and the later Islamic ones.

There are also in Islam some scarce references to an apocalyptic apostasy. Occasionally the apocalyptic scenarios concerning the rise of the mahdī, or Islamic Messiah, provide for an antichrist called al-dajjāl. This word, not found in the Qurʾān, is borrowed from the Aramaic language. The Syriac version uses daggala to translate the pseudochristoi of Matthew 24:24. Al-dajjal, who will rule for a limited period, shall lead the crowds astray.

Later Islamic jurisprudence elaborated on the meaning of apostasy. As Yohanan Friedmann shows, it covered not just a retraction of the confession of faith, but also vilifying the Prophet, impugning the honor of his mother, denying the Qurʾān or parts of it, rejecting manifest commandments as the five pillars, and making licit well-known prohibitions (2003, pp. 121159). If these transgressions are due to a person's ignorance, the person should be apprised. If the person persists, he or she becomes an unbeliever. Their legal status is different from those who had never joined Islam. The apostate lacks "religion" and is not entitled to participate in such religious actions as marriage or slaughtering for food. While in the Qurʾān apostasy was punished in the hereafter, later the sanction was transferred into this world. Mālik ibn Anas (d. 796), founder of the Mālikī school, transmitted the following as a sentence of the Prophet: "Whoever changes his religion, kill him." But there was dissent among the ʿulamāʾ over the particulars: was it applicable to women as well as men, and to Muslim by conversion as well as by birth? There was further debate regarding whether in each case an effort should be made to bring the apostate to repentance before execution. Mālik ibn Anas held the view that such efforts should be restricted only to those who bluntly abandoned Islam. Those who turned tacitly to zindiq s ("heretics") should be killed immediately. Efforts to bring them to repentance are useless, for the sincerity of their repentance cannot be recognized because they have been infidels in secret before, while they confessed in public to be followers of Islam. The reference to zindiqs is instructive. The Middle Persian term zandik, from which the Arabic zindiq is derived, derives in turn from Zand (the commentary of the Avesta text) and refers to Manichaean and Mazdean heresy. As early as the reign of Bahram II (276293 ce), the chief of the Zoroastrian clergy, Kardēr, had ordered followers to persecute Christians and zindiq s. In the same way as Christians adhered to the laws taken by pagan emperors against the Manichaeans, so the Islamic conquerors carried on the pre-Islamic persecutions of the zindiq s. The prototype of the apostate was the heretic. The numerous persecutions of members of the Bahā˒ī religion in Iran since 1852 testify to the severity of this Islamic law. The apostates must be killed, their property confiscated, and their marriages annulled.

Islamic apostasy did not vanish in contemporary times. Since apostasy was defined so broadly, it covered many forms of blasphemy. A Muslim could even become an apostate unintentionally, as was the case with author Salman Rushdie. In his 1988 English-language novel The Satanic Verses, he used vulgar terminology in passages about Muammad and his wives. The title of his novel was actually a reference to a tradition which held that some verses of the Qurʾān may have been inspired by Satan (sūrah 22:52; 53, 1922). This reference seemed to cast doubt on the belief that the entire Qurʾān was the verbal utterance of God. Though Rushdie's novel was written for a post-Christian Western audience, it stirred tremendous wrath among Muslims worldwide. South Africa, India, and Pakistan banned the book's sale in their countries due to their substantial Muslim populations, but in Great Britain it was sold freely. Though British Muslims demanded: "Freedom of speech, yes! Freedom to insult no!," the British authorities declined to apply a blasphemy statute against the book. The most dire consequence came in early 1989, when Iran's leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa against Rushdie. Khomeini declared to the world's Muslim population that The Satanic Verses was against Islam, the Prophet, and the Qurʾān, and sentenced Rushdie to death. The fatwa also included any publishers of editions of the book who were aware of its content. Khomeini called upon zealous Muslims to execute them quickly (Ruthven, 1990, p. 112). Though Khomeini went with this ruling far beyond the competence of an Islamic cleric, it took years before the fatwa was retracted in 2001 by Iran's president. Another well-known case concerns the Egyptian scholar Nasr Hamid Abū Zayd. Since Abū Zayd reportedly refuted the Qurʾān as the word of God, he was declared an apostate and forcibly divorced from his wife (Dupret, 2003, pp. 137138).

See Also

Expulsion; Heresy, overview article.


Bromley, David G., ed. The Politics of Religious Apostasy. The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements. Westport, Conn., 1998.

Cassius, Dio. Roman History. 9 vols. With an English translation by Earnest Cary on the basis of the version of Herbert Baldwin Foster. Cambridge, Mass., 2000.

Codex Iustinianus. Edited by Paul Krüger. Corpus Iuris Civilis. Band 2. Berlin, 1929.

Codex Theodosianus: Theodosiani libri XVI cum Constitutionibus Sirmondianis et Leges novellae ad Theodosianum pertinentes. Edited by Theodor Mommsen and Paulus M. Meyer. Berlin, 1904.

Codex Theodosianus. Translated by Clyde Pharr. Princeton, N.J., 1952.

Collatio legum Romanorum et Mosaicorum. Edited with translation and notes by Moses Hyamson. Oxford, 1913.

Cyprianus. Correspondence. 2 vols. Edited by L. Bayard. Paris 19611962.

Dupret, Baudouin. "A Return to the Shariah? Egyptian Judges and Referring to Islam." In Modernizing Islam: Religion in the Public Sphere in the Middle East and Europe, edited by John L. Esposito and François Burgat, pp. 125143. London, 2003.

Eusebius. Praeparatio evangelica. Edited by K. Mras. 19541956.

Feldman, Louis H. Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World. Attitudes and Interactions from Alexander to Justinian. Princeton, N.J., 1993.

Forkman, Göran. The Limits of the Religious Community: Expulsion from the Religious Community within the Qumran Sect, within Rabbinic Judaism, and within Primitive Christianity. Lund, Sweden, 1972. An investigation into the attitude of three Jewish groups toward expulsion.

Frend, W. H. C. Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church: A Study of a Conflict from the Maccabees to Donatus. Oxford, 1965. A comprehensive historical investigation into the notion of martyrdom and the reaction of ancient political society to Jewish and Christian exclusiveness.

Friedmann, Yohanan. Tolerance and Coercion in Islam. Interfaith Relations in the Muslim Tradition. Cambridge, U.K., 2003.

Josephus, Flavius. The Life. Edited and translated by H.St. J. Thackeray. Cambridge, Mass., 1926.

Josephus, Flavius. Jewish Antiquities. Edited and translated by H.St. J. Thackeray and Ralph Marcus. Cambridge, Mass., 19301963.

Lanctatius. On the Manner in Which Persecutors Died (de mortibus persecutorum), vol 7: Ante-Nicene Fathers. 1994, pp. 301322.

Livy. History of Rome (Ab urbe condita). 14 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 19191959.

Maier, Johann. Jüdische Auseinandersetzung mit dem Christentum in der Antike. Darmstadt, Germany, 1982. A collection and interpretation of Jewish texts testifying to the frictions between Jews and Christians in ancient history.

Menasce, Jean-Pierre de. "Problèmes des Mazdéens dans l'Iran musulman." In Festschrift für Wilhelm Eilers, edited by Gernot Wiessner, pp. 220230. Wiesbaden, Germany, 1967. A study into relevant Zoroastrian material concerning the apostasy to Islam.

Nock, Arthur Darby. Conversion: The Old and New in Religion from Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo. Oxford, 1933. A famous study tracing the rise of the idea of conversion and exclusiveness in Greek and Roman thought.

Oropeza, Brisio Javier. Paul and Apostasy: Eschatology, Perseverance, and Falling Away in the Corinthian Congregation. Tübingen, Germany, 2002.

Ruthven, Malise. A Satanic Affair: Salman Rushdie and the Wrath of Islam. London, 1990.

Sanders, E. P. "Paul on the Law, His Opponents, and the Jewish People in Philippians 3 and 2 Corinthians 11." In Anti-Judaism in Early Christianity, edited by Peter Richardson, vol. 1: Paul and the Gospels. Waterloo, Ont., 1986, pp. 7590.

Schürer, Emil. The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.-A.D. 135), vol. 2. Revised and edited by Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Matthew Black. Edinburgh, 1979.

Vajda, Georges. "Die zindiqs im Gebiet des Islam zu Beginn der Abbasidenzeit" (1938). In Der Manichäismus, edited by Geo Widengren, pp. 418463. Darmstadt, Germany, 1977. A valuable collection of sources on groups regarded as heretical by the Zoroastrian church and still existing in Islamic times.

H. G. Kippenberg (1987 and 2005)


views updated


APOSTASY , term applied by members of the deserted faith for the change of one faith, set of loyalties, and worship for another. The conception of apostasy could not arise in the atmosphere of polytheism practiced in antiquity before the advent of *Hellenism. The Bible frequently condemns those worshiping other gods, but though this is conceived as a heinous transgression it still lacks the totality of apostasy-conversion.

A product of the spread of Hellenistic culture in Ereẓ Israel was the group of Mityavvenim (hellenizers), who according to Jewish sources adopted Hellenistic ways of life and religious worship during the reign of *Antiochusiv Epiphanes in the second century b.c.e. Some scholars take these to be the instigators of his persecution of the Jewish faith. In the Books of the *Maccabees, the Jews who abetted the officials of the Seleucids or joined their armies are described as renegades and apostates. The Tosefta (Suk. 4:28) has preserved the tale of "Miriam of the House of Bilga [a priestly house] who apostatized (שנשתמדה) and married an official of one of the kings of Greece. As the Greeks entered the Temple, Miriam came and struck the top of the altar, saying… 'You have destroyed the property of Israel and did not come to their help in their trouble.'" The woman appears to express disillusionment with the Jewish God. Because of her apostasy, her family was disqualified from certain privileges and symbols of priestly status. *Tiberius Julius Alexander, the nephew of the philosopher *Philo Judaeus, went to the extreme of commanding some of the Roman units during the siege and subsequent destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. As described in the Talmud, the figure of the second-century scholar and teacher Elisha b. Avuyah, who joined the pagan-philosophic camp, disputed with Jewish scholars, and ridiculed the Jewish religion, has a certain grandeur and is accorded a grudging respect.

After the rise of Christianity apostasy became an accompanying phenomenon of Jewish life, a problem between Jews and their neighbors, and a constant source of irritation to the various religious camps as well as to the apostates themselves. The forlorn hope of Judeo-Christians (see *Jewish-Christian sects) of reconciling the Law with the Cross petered out. By the latter half of the second century it had been rejected both by the vast majority of Christians and by Jews. The parting of the ways between church and synagogue had been reached. Acceptance of Christianity that had forsaken the Law was regarded by Jews as apostasy in the fullest sense. The Christian dogmas of Incarnation and Trinity gave to the acceptance of Christianity an idolatrous character (avodah zarah).

The history of ferocious persecutions and systematic humiliations which the Jews subsequently endured for their religion (see *History, Jewish; Church, *Catholic; Jewish *Badge; *Blood Libel; Desecration of the *Host) combined to invest apostasy from Judaism with the character of desertion from the persecuted and a crossing over to the persecuting ruling power. This attitude was enhanced by the fundamental divergence between Jewish and Christian approaches to conversion to the respective faiths, which led Jews to draw a strong moral distinction between apostasy and *proselytism, regarding the two in an entirely different light. As developed in Jewish theory and practice, proselytism to Judaism was made dependent on full and deliberate acceptance of partnership in the Jewish fate and historical consciousness, as well as of belief in its faith and hopes. The attitude to apostasy, however, was conditioned by the Christian missionary approach, which, even when abstaining from the use of threats or forcible coercion, still set out to gain converts by compelling Jews to attend missionary *sermons and involved automatic betterment of the social and legal status of the apostate. This therefore appeared in the Jewish view as a vulgar and essentially nonspiritual attempt to harm souls through moral pressure and promise of material gain. The fear of expulsion or massacre, which always loomed in the background, very often was the root cause of apostasy. Even an apostate whose sincerity was beyond all doubt, like *Abner of Burgos, stated in the 14th century that the starting point for his apostasy was the "revelation" he experienced, in which "I saw the poverty of the Jews, my people, from whom I am descended, who have been oppressed and broken and heavily burdened by taxes throughout their long captivity – this people that has lost its former honor… and there is none to help or sustain them… when I had meditated on the matter, I went to the synagogue weeping sorely and sad at heart. And I prayed… And in a dream, I saw the figure of a tall man who said to me, 'Why dost thou slumber? Hearken unto these words… for I say unto thee that the Jews have remained so long in captivity for their folly and wickedness and because they have no teacher of righteousness through whom they may recognize the truth" (Baer, Spain, 1 (1961), 328–9). To those who gloried in shouldering the burden of the Jewish fate and history, were imbued with love of Jewish culture and way of life, and continued to hope for salvation and the establishment of God's kingdom in the future, such a motivation inevitably appeared the outpourings of a weakling and the self-justification of a traitor. This attitude was strengthened in regard to many apostates who became willing and active virulent enemies of Judaism, like Abner of Burgos himself.

Naturally, apostasy was not always motivated by debased considerations, the historical situation, or meditations of this nature. The autobiography of an apostate of the first half of the 12th century (Hermannus quondam Judaeus, opusculum de conversione sua, ed. by G. Niemeyer, 1963; see *Hermanus Quondan Judaeus) demonstrates the effect of gradual absorption of Christian ideas and acclimatization to the Christian mode of life through everyday contacts and conversation. It brought the author, Judah ha-Levi of Cologne, to convert to Christianity and become a Premonstratensian monk.

In the Islamic environment the problems were much the same; some apostates attained prominent positions in Islamic states and society, the outer expressions of tension caused by apostasy being on a smaller scale (see below Apostasy in Islam). In the perpetual conflict and tensions that existed between Jews and Christians in medieval Europe, conversion from one faith to another, although rare, was still more frequent than either side cared to admit clearly. Thus, on the occasion of a halakhic deliberation in the 12th century, the talmudist Jacob b. Meir *Tam reported: "More than 20 letters of divorce from apostates have been written in Paris and France… and also in Lorraine… I have also seen myself the letter of divorce given by the son-in-law of the late noble R. Jacob the Parnas who has apostatized" (Sefer ha-Yashar, ed. by S. Rosenthal (1898), 45, no. 25).

Some apostates founded influential families whose Jewish origin was well known among Christians, such as the *Pierleoni family in Rome, the patrician Jud family in Cologne, and the *Jozefowicz family in Poland-Lithuania. Certainly not all apostates from Judaism attempted to injure their brethren. When a number of apostates were asked in 1236 whether there was truth in the blood libel, they denied it categorically. Prominent among the apostates who deliberately set out to attack Judaism were Nicholas *Donin in France, Pablo *Christiani, and Hieronymus de Sancta Fide (Joshua *Lorki) in Spain, and Petrus *Nigri (Schwarz) in Germany. These in the 13th to 15th centuries led the attack on Judaism in the theological *disputations, preached against Judaism, and proposed coercive measures to force Jews to adopt Christianity. Other converts who achieved high rank in the church, like Pablo de Santa Maria (Solomon ha-Levi), who became archbishop of Burgos, did everything in their power to combat Judaism. The most virulent representative of anti-Jewish animus was Abner of Burgos, who initiated the intensified persecution of the Jews in Christian Spain during the 14th and 15th centuries by formulating a complete theory that subsumes the necessity for, and justification of, such persecution. He advised the abolition of Jewish *autonomy, arguing with vicious irony that the Messiah would not come to the Jews "until the Jews possess no authority, not even such petty authority as is exercised over them by their rabbis and communal wardens, those coarse creatures who lord it over the people like kings. They hold out vain promises to them in order to keep them under constant control. Only with the elimination of these dignitaries and judges and officers will salvation come to the masses" (polemical tract, Baer, op. cit., 350). In the name of "many discerning Jews," Abner blamed the pope and Christian monarchs for failing to oppress the Jews adequately. The conditions of salvation for the Jews would come only "when many Jewish communities are massacred and the particular generation of Jews is thereby reduced in numbers, some Jews immediately convert to the dominant Christian faith out of fear, and in that way a handful are saved… and the pain of impoverishment will lead to an increase of shamelessness among them, that is, they will no longer be ashamed to profess the truth openly and convert to Christianity" (Baer, op. cit. 353–4). By this means this apostate tried to reinforce his own experience of Jewish weakness and convert it into a terrible reality that would force many more Jews to relinquish their faith.

At the time of the expulsions from Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th century, a sharp distinction was made by Jews between the renegade apostates, whom they considered an evil and the root cause of the wave of persecutions, and the mass of forced converts, the *anusim or *Marranos, whom they still regarded as brethren, though obliged to practice Judaism clandestinely. However, in realization, the program promoted by Abner of Burgos and others like him created a strong revulsion in Christian society against both the Marranos and genuine converts alike. Political events and social attitudes in Christian Spain in the 15th to 16th centuries fomented the concept whereby the "New Christians" were not to be equated with, and trusted as, the "Old Christians" of "pure Christian blood." Thus it could happen that the second general of the Jesuit order, Diego Lainez, had to face opposition within the order because of his Jewish blood.

In the Renaissance and *Reformation environment apostasy occurred in various circumstances. One type of apostate was the rootless intellectual like Flavius *Mithridates, a translator from Hebrew and an influential expositor of Hebrew works. Others were led to convert to Christianity by their superficial contacts with Renaissance circles and the new importance attached by humanists like Johannes *Reuchlin and *Pico della Mirandola to learning Hebrew from Jewish teachers. The impoverished conditions of late medieval Germany gave rise to the opportunist who could change over at least three times from Judaism to Christianity and back again, and who on one occasion of reconversion quoted a proverb he had heard: "lasse dich taufen, ich will dir vil Gulden schaffen" ("Become baptized: I will get you plenty of money"; R. Strauss, Urkunden und Aktenstuecke zur Geschichte der Juden in Regensburg (1960), 64–66). The basic attitude of both Jews and Christians toward apostates did not change with the Reformation. Many of the teachers of Hebrew to Christians were Jews, most of them apostates. They also cooperated in bringing out Reformation translations of the Bible. In his later days, Martin *Luther displayed marked distrust of apostates from Judaism. The attacks on the Talmud made by Johann *Pfefferkorn on the eve of the Reformation and the denunciation poured by Anton *Margarita on Jewish ritual practices and way of life continued in new circumstances the tradition of virulent anti-Jewish hatemongering by apostates.

The stimulus provided by 18th-century Enlightenment, stirrings toward *assimilation on the cultural and social plane, and aspirations to attain *Emancipation, inaugurated a trend toward apostasy in the upper circles of Jewish society in Central and Western Europe. A number of Jews opted for Christianity as the basis of European culture and its most sublime expression, despising their Jewish background and traditional way of life as debased and degraded. Typical was a society intellectual like Rachel *Varnhagen von Ense. Others considered apostasy the most facile and ready way of attaining civil equality as an individual before the Jews as such had achieved emancipation. Moses *Mendelssohn was publicly challenged to become converted if he did not refute the testimony advanced in proof of Christianity (see *Disputations). David *Friedlaender proposed in the name of several "Jewish heads of families" to be permitted to accept Christianity without having to subscribe to its "historical dogmas." Jews also left Judaism because they did not find communal obligations or activity to their taste.

Isaac *D'Israeli stated in 1813 to the board of the Bevis Marks congregation in London, as a reason for his refusal to act as warden, that he was "a person who has always lived out of the sphere of your observation; of retired habits of life; who can never unite in your public worship, because, as now conducted, it disturbs, instead of exciting, religious emotions, a circumstance of general acknowledgment; who has only tolerated some part of your ritual, willing to concede all he can in those matters which he holds to be indifferent." This indifference led him to baptize his illustrious son Benjamin in 1817 while formally remaining a Jew himself, a path taken by many others of a similar frame of mind who had their children baptized at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. The attitude of indifference was reinforced by the view that relegated religion to the status of an element in the universal culture or a cell in the social structure.

From the second half of the 18th century the ties linking the individual with the social unit became loosened in the upper strata of European society. Jews then increasingly absorbed the culture and adopted the language of their environment. Baptism was submitted as the visiting card demanded by Christian society for its price of admission. Many able young Jewish intellectuals, among them men outstanding in their field like the jurist Eduard *Gans, Ludwig *Boerne, and the poet Heinrich *Heine, who had first wanted to use their creative activity in the Jewish framework, left Judaism to be able to work within, and contribute to, European culture and society. In some communities, such as Berlin, more than half of the descendants of the old patrician Jewish families adopted Christianity, including the Mendelssohn family. The majority of these did not claim to be drawn by an essential attraction to Christianity or act under rigorous pressure. Apostasy was regarded as a social formality performed for the sake of culture, society, or career. Many of the sensitive among them bitterly regretted their action. Much of Heinrich Heine's work is dominated by a pervasive longing for Judaism, and a biting irony against himself and his fellow apostates, their snobbery and social climbing by means of Christianity.

Karl *Marx, baptized as a child, later professed contempt for and revulsion against Judaism as the representative of Mammon. In his Christian environment Benjamin Disraeli developed a kind of pride in what he considered the destiny and genius of the Jewish "race." The heroine of his novel Tancred, Eva, sarcastically asks Tancred: "Pray are you of those Franks who worship a Jewess; or of those others who revile her, break her images, and blaspheme her pictures?" When the Christian refers to the punishment of the Jews for crucifying Jesus, Disraeli's Jewess answers with the ancient argument used by Jews in disputations: "Suppose the Jews had not prevailed upon the Romans to crucify Jesus, what would have become of the Atonement?" When the Christian answers that the Crucifixion was preordained," 'Ah,' said the lady, 'preordained by the creator of the World for countless ages! Where then was the inexpiable crime of those who fulfilled the beneficent intention? The holy race supplied the victim and the immolators…. Persecute us! Why if you believed what you profess, you should kneel to us! You raise statues to the hero who saves a country. We have saved the human race, and you persecute us for doing it.'"

Benjamin Disraeli was representative of a group of apostates who considered themselves deeply Christian in a mythical and social sense and in consequence Jewish in a racial and spiritual sense. In the 19th century they were often active in missions to the Jews, like Bishop Michael Solomon *Alexander in Jerusalem, while at the same time being very responsive to Zionism and its aspirations.

With the granting of emancipation to Jews in most of Western and Central Europe the brutal social pressure for the "visiting card of baptism" moderated. On the other hand, many Jewish scholars and scientists, in particular in Germany and Austria, became baptized for the sake of a university career, which was usually closed to a professing Jew. Some deeply committed apostates like the *Ratisbonne brothers in the 19th century founded special religious orders or groups for the propagation of Christianity among Jews. According to statistics available there were 21,000 aspostates in Poland in the 18th century, and 204,500 throughout the world in the 19th. However these figures are exaggerated since they include the Frankists in Poland and the *Cantonists in Russia.

In czarist Russia, up to 1917, there was relentless pressure for social acceptance through baptism. However, Jewish social and moral cohesion was strong and undeniable, and to a certain degree the Jewish cultural level was superior to that of the surrounding population. Here apostasy of a different type developed: people who accepted Christianity for the sake of a government or university career (a number of apostates were employed for *censorship of Hebrew books) but still retained their ties with Jewish society, and a pride in their Jewish origin, like the orientalist Daniel *Chwolson. Apostates like Jacob *Brafman, however, did much to bring discredit on the institutions of Jewish self-government and to provide fuel for antisemitism.

In the 20th century the phenomenon of apostasy became more complex, with deeper implications. While its effects were more subversive for Judaism, it aroused problems of Jewish nationality and culture which were less prominent previously. Boris *Pasternak is representative of the type of apostate who left Judaism because he rebelled against historical and social realities and obligations. After describing the beatings and humiliations to which the Jews were subjected by the Cossacks of the Christian Russian army in his novel Dr. Zhivago, he states concerning the incident he has described, "that, and other incidents like it – of course none of that is worth theorizing about." Having disposed of pogroms and antisemitism by refusing to face them on the intellectual level, he continues that, in regard to "the Jewish question as a whole – there philosophy does enter." The philosophy he perceived – his theory was formulated when World War ii was raging and the Jewish people was being systematically destroyed in the *Holocaust – was that Jewish history is a self-inflicted punishment through refusal to heed that in "this new way of life and of communion, which is born of the heart and is called the Kingdom of God, there are no nations, only persons." Having denied the existence of the question of nations and nationality around the year 1941, Pasternak goes on to accuse "the ordinary run of politicians" who like to have "a nicely restricted group" so that they can deliberate and continue "settling and deciding and getting pity to pay dividends. Well now, what more perfect example can you have of the victims of the mentality than the Jews? Their national idea has forced them, century after century, to be a people and nothing but a people – and the extraordinary thing is that they have been chained to this deadening task all through the centuries when all the rest of the world was being delivered from it by a new force which had come out of their own midst… In whose interests is this voluntary martyrdom?… Why don't the intellectual leaders of the Jewish people ever get beyond facile Weltschmerz and irony? Why don't they – even if they have to burst like a boiler with the pressure of their duty – dismiss this army which is forever fighting and being massacred, nobody knows for what? Why don't they say to them: 'That's enough, stop now. Don't hold on to your identity, don't all get together in a crowd. Disperse. Be with all the rest. You are the first and best Christians in the world. You are the very thing against which you have been turned by the worst and weakest among you'" (Dr. Zhivago (1958), 116–8). Facile antisemitic allusions to the character of the Jewish intellectual, and his looking for gain, are mingled here with a self-righteous denial of Judaism as a religion and an imputation that nationalism is the original and abiding sin of Judaism. Pasternak's resentment toward the religion and community he has abjured is expressed in his poetry on the basis of ancient Pauline symbols, rejecting the "barrenness" of Judaism and substituting another tree for the fertile olive:

Near by stood a fig tree. Fruitless, nothing but branches and leaves. He said to it:

'What joy have I of you?
Of what profit are you, standing there like a post?
'I thirst and hunger and you are barren,
And meeting you is comfortless as granite.
How untalented you are, and how disappointing!
Such you shall remain till the end of time!'
The doomed tree trembled
Like a lightning conductor struck by lightning,
And was consumed to ashes.
If the leaves, branches, roots, trunk,
Had been granted a moment of freedom,
The laws of nature would have intervened.
But a miracle is a miracle, a miracle is God (ibid., 497–8)

Like another apostate, Eugen *Rosenstock-Hussy (for his arguments, see *Disputations), a German of the generation of World War i, Pasternak expresses a categorical and hostile repudiation of Jewish nationalism as the evil archetype of all forms of nationalism. Both men are typical of the modern apostate who joins Christianity as an individual, rejecting communal solidarity as an unwonted yoke, and repudiating Jewish historical continuity, yearning for a mystic penetration of their individuum with the suffering Christian God. In his attitude to Jewish nationalism, Pasternak displays a considerably greater hostility than his German fellow apostate, logical in a man who left Eastern European Jewry in a period of revolution, distress, and annihilation of order.

Another trend in apostasy from Judaism in its modern form is represented by Oswald Rufeisen, who as Brother Daniel entered the Carmelite order in 1945. Born in Poland in 1922, and in his youth an active Zionist, he worked in the wartime underground and saved Jews during the Holocaust. He became a Christian in 1942, but continued to consider himself a Jew. After he became a monk, he wrote to the Polish authorities applying for permission to leave Poland for Ereẓ Israel: "I base this application on the ground of my belonging to the Jewish people, to which I continue to belong although I embraced the Catholic faith in 1942 and joined a monastic order in 1945. I have made this fact clear whenever and wherever it has been raised with me officially… I chose an Order and Chapter in Israel in consideration of the fact that I would receive the leave of my superiors to travel to the land for which I have yearned since my childhood when I was a member of the Zionist youth organization" (High Court Application of Oswald Rufeisen v. The Minister of the Interior (1963), 54–55). In 1962 Brother Daniel appealed to the Israel High Court to be recognized as a Jew under the terms of the Law of Return, which grants Jews settling in Israel automatic citizenship. This application raised the problem of "Who is a Jew?" in Israel in its full modern implications. For the majority, Judge Silberg refused his petition. The judge admitted that Brother Daniel was a Jew according to halakhah, but in rendering judgment stated that the Law of Return is not based on halakhah but on the Jewish national-historical consciousness and the ordinary secular meaning of the term "Jew" as understood by Jews. After referring to the "great psychological difficulty" facing the court due to the deep sympathy and sense of obligation felt for the petitioner, the spokesman for the majority stated: "I have reached the conclusion that what Brother Daniel is asking us to do is to erase the historical and sanctified significance of the term 'Jew' and to deny all the spiritual values for which our people were killed during various periods in our long dispersion. For us to comply with his request would mean to dim the luster and darken the glory of the martyrs who sanctified the Holy Name [*kiddush ha-Shem] in the Middle Ages to the extent of making them quite unrecognizable; it would make our history lose its unbroken continuity and our people begin counting its days from the emancipation which followed the French Revolution. A sacrifice such as this no one is entitled to ask of us, even one so meritorious as the petitioner before this court" (ibid., 1–2). The court stated that in order to be declared a Jew from the point of view of the modern Jewish secular conception of Jewish nationality, adherence to the Jewish religion is not essential. At the same time apostasy to Christianity removes that person from this nationality.

Between the two wings representing current tendencies in apostasy exemplified by Pasternak and Rufeisen stands the middle-of-the-road attitude displayed by the Anglican bishop of Kingston, Hugh Montefiore. The bishop acknowledges loyalty to the memory of his fathers and maintains contact with Anglo-Jewish society without adhering to his Jewish national identity. He and others like him would seem to continue in an attenuated form the attitude of Disraeli. On the other handone wonders if in the hostile attitude to Israel of other apostates there is not the direct continuation of the medieval Jewhating figure of the apostate.

The issues raised by the Rufeisen decision remain very much at the heart of public deliberation in Israel. Essentially the present time marks a return to the core of the historical Jewish position on unity of faith and nation and to consideration of the apostate from this standpoint. Shortly before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Isaac b. Moses *Arama wrote that when "one of the gentile scholars, seeing that Jews were very eager for a letter of divorce to be given by an apostate and he refused… asked… 'Why do you want it from him? As he left his religion it would be proper for them to consider him as if he did not exist. Hence his wife should be considered a widow in every respect…' The answer was: 'Apostasy cannot be of the essence but only accidental, meaning only a change of name or the street where he lives. He cannot change his essence, for he is a Jew… This answer is true according to our religion. This is the meaning of the saying of our Sages, 'Even if he has sinned, he remains of Israel'" (Akedat Yiẓḥak (Venice, 1573), 258b no. 97, Ki-Teẓe). The Jewish sage adds that the Christian will not accept this definition since for him religion is the sole criterion. Prevailing halakhic opinion throughout the ages has always considered the apostate a Jew for all purposes of obligations, ties, and possibilities given to a Jew, but denying him some specific legal rights, in particular in the economic sphere, and in the performance of certain honorary or symbolic acts. In terms of conscience and consensus of opinion Jewish society regarded the apostate up to the 18th century as "dead," as proscribed from the Jewish community, considering him as the very essence of desertion and treason.

At the present time extreme individualism or mysticism are the main paths leading some people away from Judaism. Snobbery and careerism, missionary blandishments and promises, still play some role in bringing about apostasy, but this is diminishing. The passive attitude of the majority of believing Christians at the time of the Holocaust, and even more, the conception of many of the courageous minority who risked their lives to save Jews but insisted on "saving their souls" at the same time, often souls of children in their care, threw into relief the harsh and ugly implications in apostasy. The concept of a multi-religious Jewish nation now facing the people of the State of Israel is tied up with and intersected by the problems and phenomena of historical continuity, mutual toleration, and social cohesion of the unique concept of the people of Israel as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," forming the cohesive religio-national entity that has united Jews and carried their specific message through the ages.

[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]

Decrees of Religious Persecution and Forced Conversion in Jewish Communities in the Diaspora

The periods in history when Jewish communities were the victims of decrees of religious persecution and forced conversions engendered a host of halakhic questions concerning the attitude to Jews who had converted and subsequently returned, or wished to return to the Jewish fold. Jews who abandoned Judaism under duress often expressed a desire to return to their communities.

In Rashi's responsum, (Teshuvot Rashi, Y. Alphenbein ed. New York, 5703, s. 70), we find evidence that within the framework of excommunication edicts (herem) enacted by Rabbi *Gershom ben Judah Me'or ha-Golah in 11th-century Germany, excommunication was decreed for any individual who reminded a repentant apostate of his past. In the same responsum Rashi himself comments:

Repentance reaches as high as the Throne of Glory, and even the most righteous individuals do not reach the level of those who repent, as it is written: "peace, peace to the far and to the near" (Isaiah 50 7, 19).

Regarding the actual process of the repentance, divergent approaches may be found. The responsa of Rabbenu Asher (Rosh) (32, 8; Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel, Germany – France, 13th–14th centuries) reflects a strict approach. The case concerned a group of women forced into apostasy who subsequently escaped and returned to Judaism. Asheri declares that the act of apostasy committed during a period of religious persecution, i.e., at a time when edicts of forced conversion were imposed on Jews, is graver than the act of conversion when there is no such decree, "because it is considered an act committed in public". Accordingly it is insufficient for the offenders to only return to the community. Rather "they require greater remorse, repentance and acceptance of suffering than those who convert in the absence of such a decree".

Rabbi Israel *Isserlein of 15th-century Germany (Terummat Haddeshen 8. 198) adopts a more lenient position: He maintains that a penitent apostate should not be burdened with too many acts of penance and mortification, "because the inclination (of a former apostate) to transgress is greater than the inclination of those who commit other sins," and there is concern that he might "shun his repentance".

A question that gave rise to dispute between halakhic authorities was whether a kohen who became an apostate and subsequently repented, retains his sanctified status as a kohen, entitling him to administer the Priestly blessing and be the first to be called up to the Torah. R. Naturnai Gaon (Otzar ha-Geonim, Gittin, 327, 328) and R. Achai Gaon (ibid., Sotah, 259) ruled that he cannot bless the community or be first to bless the Torah. On the other hand, Rabbenu Gershom (Resp. Rabbenu Gershom Me'or ha-Golah, 4) ruled that after his repentance his status was equivalent to that of all other priests, and that he was entitled to administer the priestly blessing and be the first to be called up to the Torah as a kohen. In explaining this ruling R.Gershom states that it is forbidden to remind him of his past deeds, namely the period of his apostasy, due to the prohibition of affliction by words (Ona'at devarim (see *Ona'ah). If he is forbidden to bless the community, "these is no greater affliction than this". Another reason given by R.Gershom is the desire to "avoid weakening the penitents' motivation". Following the ruling of R.Gershom, the Ashkenazic authorities also ruled leniently in this context. On the other hand, the Eastern authorities (Sephardic) tended to the stricter view. Hence Maimonides rules against a kohen performing the priestly blessing even after recanting (Yad, Hilkhot Nesi'at Kappaim, 15.3; see Haghaot Maimuniyyot, ibid).

With regard to a repentant kohen, Rabbi Jacob "Baal Ha-Turim" (Tur, Orah Hayyim 128) questions whether such individual can administer the priestly blessing. However, with regard to being called up to the Torah, he rules unequivocally that such a kohen may be called up first. Rabbi Joseph Karo rules that we may rely on the opinion of those authorities who permit a kohen who left the faith and subsequently repented to administer the priestly blessing, if only in order "to create an opening for those who would repent". Regarding Maimonides' aforementioned ruling prohibiting such a kohen from performing the priestly blessing even after he has repented, Rabbi Karo maintains that the prohibition does not apply to cases in which the apostasy of the kohen in question was coerced (Bet Yosef, ibid.; Sh. Ar. oḤ 128, 37).

Support for this position can be found in an epistle written by Maimonides called "the Epistle of Apostasy." This epistle was written at a time when the Muslim rulers of Spain forced Jews to declare the truth of Muhammad's prophecy, under penalty of death.

Apostasy to Islam

Few of the Jews of Arabia embraced *Islam in the time of Muhammad. Among them *ʿAbdallah ibn Salām was the most distinguished. They contributed to the exacerbation of relations between Jews and Muslims. In the next generation ʿAbdallah ibn Sabaʾ, from Yemen, a noted partisan of Ali, is reported to have been a Jewish convert. Two other converts, *Kaʿb al-Aḥbār (companion of ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb) and *Wahb ibn Munabbih, also from Yemen, were considered authorities on Jewish lore. The affinities of Jewish and Islamic tenets and lore, coupled with the fact that there were Jews among the early converts to Islam, gave rise, among Jews, to the cycle of legends on the Jewish teachers of Muhammad, and, among Muslims, to the allegation that Jewish converts plotted to undermine Islam from within by sowing deviations and heresies. Jews in later times were faced with the complex problem of how to treat the converts to Islam, especially if they claimed to cleave to Judaism in secret (cf. opinions of *Maimonides and his father *Maimon, e.g., in Iggeret ha-Shemad).

Substantial group conversions of Jews may have taken place in the era of expansion of Islam, especially in Babylonia, but no definite information seems available. Individual and small group conversions, and occasional forced ones, took place throughout the Islamic world over the centuries. It may be assumed that the recurrent promulgation of sumptuary laws and the agitation against non-Muslims (mostly Christians) were accompanied by waves of conversion, as some people sought to escape the effect of persecution and humiliation, and experienced the disintegration of their ancestral loyalites. In Yemen in the 19th and 20th centuries Jewish orphans were often seized to be brought up as Muslims (i.e., in the "natural" religion of man, unobstructed by "misguided" parents). Some converts turned into denunciators and persecutors (see also *disputations). Certain distinguished figures in Islamic society were known to have been Jewish converts or of Jewish extraction (cf. *Ibn Killis, the poet *Ibn Sahl). Al-Isrāʾīlī as a name component is a frequent indication of Jewish origin.

The 12th century was marked by a wave of forced conversions in the wake of the Almohad upheaval (1143) in North Africa and Spain. From the other end of the Islamic world the conversion of a distinguished trio was reported: the philosopher Hibat Allah Abu al-Barakāt, the poet Isaac (son of Abraham) ibn Ezra, and the physician-mathematician *Samau'al b. Judah ibn Abbas. In the 17th century the sect of Muslim crypto-Shabbateans developed (see *Doenmeh) when partisans of the pseudo-messiah *Shabbetai Ẓevi followed the leader's example and embraced Islam. In 1839 the Jews of *Meshed (Iran) were forced to convert, with the result that they continued to live as Jews disguised as Muslims. During the *Damascus Affair (1840), terror and torture forced some to convert. Conversions were festive occasions celebrated inside and outside the mosque, especially if the convert happened to be a prominent person. Conversion stories often laid emphasis on divine intervention and visions as motivations.

[Moshe Perlmann]

In Jewish Law

In Jewish religious law, it is technically impossible for a Jew (born to a Jewish mother or properly converted to Judaism) to change his religion. Even though a Jew undergoes the rites of admission to another religious faith and formally renounces the Jewish religion he remains – as far as the halakhah is concerned – a Jew, albeit a sinner (Sanh. 44a). According to *Naḥmanides this attitude derives from the fact that the covenant between God and Israel was made "with him that standeth here with us today before the Lord our God and also with him that is not with us here today" (Deut. 29:14; Naḥmanides ad loc.). For the born Jew, Judaism is not a matter of choice and for the proselyte it ceases to be one once he has converted. However, persons who did assume another religion or formally renounced Judaism are treated differently by Jewish law from Jews who, even while sinning, have not taken such actions. These people are known in the halakhah as mumar (from the root meaning "to change"), or meshummad (from the root meaning "to persecute or force abandonment of faith"), or apikoros ("heretic"), or kofer ("denier"), or poshe'a Yisrael ("rebellious Jew"). Since in the technical halakhic sense, apostasy is impossible, the above terms are often used very loosely in rabbinic literature.

According to strict halakhah an apostate who reverts to Judaism requires no special ritual since technically he never left it. However, there are authorities who require some symbolic act. He is therefore required to confess his sins and repent of them before a collegium of three rabbis and pronounce that henceforth he will keep the laws of Judaism. Some authorities require ritual immersion in a mikveh as in the case of proselytes (Isserles to Sh. Ar., yd 268:12). The law is considerably more lenient with regard to the reversion of the Marranos and other anusim who were forced to assume another religion against their will or out of fear for their lives, and they are immediately and automatically reaccepted into the community when they express such a desire (Simeon b. Ẓemaḥ Duran, Tashbeẓ (Amsterdam, 1738), 15a–b; Maimonides, Epistle to Yemen, ed. and tr. by A.S. Halkin, 1952).


A marriage, celebrated in accordance with Jewish law between two apostates or an apostate and a Jew, is valid and the parties are husband and wife according to Jewish law (Yev. 30b; Sh. Ar. eh 44:9; Tashbeẓ, loc. cit.; see Mixed *Marriage). Hence, neither of them can contract another marriage with a Jew until their said existing marriage is dissolved by divorce, valid under Jewish law, or death (ibid.). If their marriage was celebrated according to the tenets of another faith, they are not considered married in Jewish law (even if they live together as husband and wife), and consequently they do not require a divorce. Nor, in this case, is there any room for applying the presumption that a person does not have licentious sexual intercourse which is the usual basis for the assumption that the cohabitation (bi'ah) constituted an act of kiddushin, since that presumption applies only in circumstances where there is reason to assume that the parties, in cohabiting together, intended a kiddushin to come about thereby in accordance with Jewish law, a possibility excluded in this case in view of the apostate's denial of the Jewish faith and his contracting the marriage according to the tenets of another faith (for differing views on this point, see Israel b. Pethahiah Isserlein, Terumat ha-Deshen, 1, 64–65, 83–84; Isaac b. Sheshet, Responsa, no. 11; pdr, 7:35, 39–44 as against 54–56).


A child born of an apostate mother is a Jew, regardless of the stage at which she became an apostate, and if he marries a Jewess, even if she is an apostate, the marriage is valid (Maim. Yad, Ishut, 4:15).


Although generally divorce is considered to be to a woman's detriment, since she is deemed to prefer the married state (Yev. 118b), this factor is disregarded when one of the parties is an apostate. Since an apostate wife is suspected as transgressing all the commandments of the Torah, including adultery, she becomes prohibited to her husband (see *Adultery); and, as a married woman, prohibited to any other man. It can therefore be only to her benefit to be released from the bonds of marriage. Similarly, when the husband becomes an apostate: his wife will prefer a divorce to living with an apostate (Isserles, Sh. Ar., eh 140:5; 154:1; Solomon b. Abraham Adret, Responsa, 1162). Hence, even though, generally, a divorce does not take effect until the get ("bill of divorcement") has been delivered to the wife personally, or to an agent appointed by her for this purpose, in accordance with the halakhic rule that "one cannot act to a person's disadvantage without his knowledge or consent" (lit., "in his absence"; Yev. 118b), in this case, however, once the get reaches the hands of the agent, appointed not by the wife, but by the court or by her husband, it takes immediate effect, on the grounds of the opposite rule that "one may confer a benefit upon a person without his knowledge or consent" (Sh. Ar., eh 140:5; Isserlein, Terumat ha-Deshen, 1, 209, 237; (for Levirate Marriage and Ḥaliẓah with regard to an apostate – see *Levirate Marriage).

competency as a witness

Jewish law holds the testimony of an apostate to be unreliable, since he disavows the whole of the Torah and is therefore liable to be untruthful, even though he is considered a Jew from the point of view of his personal status. However, in accordance with the regulations which aim at easing the lot of an *agunah ("deserted wife"), who has to establish death of her husband in order to remarry, the halakhah provides that the testimony of an apostate is admissable for this purpose provided that he makes the revelant statement in the course of casual conversation ("mesi'aḥ lefi tummo") and not as formal evidence.


In strict law, a son is heir to his father by the mere fact of kinship (Num. 27:8; bb 108a and 111a; and Codes) and accordingly his right is retained by the apostate son and for the same reason his father inherits him. However, the apostate having sinned, the court is authorized, if it so sees fit, to penalize him, excluding him from his father's inheritance by way of his portion passing to heirs who have not apostatized on the strength of the rule of Hefker bet din hefker (i.e., the court has the power of expropriation) as well as in order to discourage apostasy (Kid. 18a; and Codes; Asher b. Jehiel, Piskei ha-Rosh to Kid. 22). A contrary opinion quoted by Solomon b. Abraham *Adret in the name of *Hai Gaon (Responsa 292) has not been adopted by the majority of the posekim.

mourning rites

The general opinion of the codifiers is that mourning rites should not be observed at the death of an apostate (Sanh. 6,6; Sh. Ar., yd 345:5) unless, according to some authorities, he met a sudden death in which case it is assumed that he repented (Isserles to Sh. Ar., YD 340; 5; cf. 157 and Ḥm 266:2). It was however customary in some circles to observe the mourning rites at the apostasy of a child.

in the state of israel

The foregoing rules are generally followed in the interpretation of laws with reference to the question of determining the legal status of an apostate, unless the context or the purpose of the law requires a different construction. The question of whether the term "Jew" in the "Law of Return, 1950," which entitled "every Jew" to enter Israel as an immigrant, included an apostate, or whether an apostate could be registered as being of Jewish nationality under the "Registration of Inhabitants Ordinance, No. 50 of 5709 – 1949" (replaced by the "Registration of Population Law, 5725 – 1965"), was decided in the negative by a majority opinion of the Supreme Court (sitting as the High Court of Justice, in the abovementioned case of Rufeisen (Brother Daniel); High Court Case 72/62, pd 16:2428–55).


Legends of apostates abound in Jewish folktales concerning blood libels. Portrayed as a greater enemy to the Jewish people than the Gentile, the apostate is described as the cause of numerous antisemitic persecutions and Jewish communal disasters. In his attempt to prove his worth to the antisemites, he spreads calumnies against the Jews and leads the attacks on them. It was customary to spit three times on the ground when meeting an apostate, and to recite Isaiah 49:17. The figure of the apostate is also ridiculed in many tales which describe his dilemma in the bathhouse where the contrast between the sign of the circumcision and the cross which he wears in the form of a necklace, is revealed. The problem of the apostate's affinity is finally resolved by the decision that he "belongs to the devil." Tales of the repenting apostate, whose conversion to Christianity was originally insincere, are the basis of the Yiddish proverb "A Jew does not abandon his religion."

[Dov Noy]


history: Graetz, Hist, 6 (1949), index; A.D. Nock, Conversion (1933); S.L. Zitron, Meshumodim, 2 vols. (1923); S.M. Ginsburg, Historishe Verk, vol. 2 Meshumodim in Tsarishen Rusland (1946); Baer, Spain, index; H. Heine, Confessio Judaica (Ger., 1925); J. de le Roi, in: Nathanael, 15 (1899), 65–118 (Ger.); N. Samter, Judentaufen im neunzehnten Jahrhundert (1906); P. Browe, Judenmission im Mittelalter und die Paepste (1942). apostasy to islam: I.J. Benjamin, Acht Jahre in Asien und Afrika (1858), 74f.; I. Goldziher, in: rej, 43 (1901), 1ff.; Samauʿal al-Maghrībi, Ifḥam al-Yahūd, ed. and tr. into Eng. by M. Perlmann (1964), 115f./85f.; Revista degli Studi Orientali, 4 (1911–12), 495; W.J. Fischel, in: Zion, 1 (1936), 49–74; idem, in: Commentary, 7 (1949), 28–33; I. Ben-Zvi, in: Zion, 4 (1939), 250–7; Ashtor, Toledot, 1 (1944), 279–91, 303ff.; 309f.; 2 (1951), 88–95; H.Z. Hirschberg, Yisrael be-Arav (1946), 142f., 151f., 174, 176; A.S. Halkin, in: Joshua Starr Memorial Volume (1953), 101–10; S.D. Goitein, Jews and Arabs (19642), 77–84; Baron, Social, 3 (1957), 76ff., 96, 111f., 122ff., 290ff.; A. Ben-Jacob, Yehudei Bavel (1965), index s.v.Hitaslemut, D. Corcos, in: Zion, 32 (1967), 137–60. jewish law: Levi, in: rej, 38 (1899), 106–11, 114–6; Weinberg, in: No'am, 1 (1958), 1–51; Benedikt, ibid., 3 (1960), 241–58; et, 1 (19623), 202; 8 (1957), 443–4; 12 (1967), 162–6; B. Schereschewsky, Dinei Mishpaḥah (19672), 80, 229, 333; M. Elon, Ḥakikah Datit… (1968), 52–53; idem, in: ilr, 4 (1969), 128ff.; Eisenstein, Dinim, 23, 206ff.; S.B. Freehof, Reform Responsa (1960), 192–9; idem, Recent Reform Responsa (1963). 120–37. add. bibliography: M. Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (1988), 92, 542, 546, 633, 1111, 1405, 1418; idem, Jewish Law (1994), 1:103, 2:660, 664, 784, 3:1674, 1690; M. Elon and B. Lifshitz, M. Elon, B. Lifshitz, Mafteah ha-She'elot ve-ha-Teshuvot shel Ḥakhmei Sefarad u-Ẓefon Afrikah, 1 (1986), 247–48, and general index, B. Lifshitz, E. Shohetman, Mafteah ha-She'elot ve-ha-Teshuvot shel Ḥakhmei Ashkenaz, Ẓarefat ve-Italya (1997), 179–81, and general index; O. Ir-Shay, "Mumar ke-Yoresh bi–Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim," in: Shenaton ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri, 11–12 (1984–1986), 435–61; T. Regev, "Ma'amadam shel Kiddushei Mumar bi-Gezerot Tatnu u-be-Gerush Sefarad," in: Geranot, 1 (2001), 97–108; M. Corinaldi, Dinei Ishim, Mishpaḥah ve-YerushahBein Dat le-Medinah (2004), 264–70. folklore: Schwarzbaum, Studies in Jewish and World Folklore (1968), 341–2 and index.


views updated


In the strict, traditional sense of the word, is the gravely sinful act by which one totally abandons, inwardly and outwardly (both corde and ore, in a kind of perversion of Rom 10.10), the Catholic faith in which he has been baptized and which he has heretofore professed (see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 12.1; 10.1; 10.5; Codex iuris canonici c. 1325.2; 188.4; 646.1; 1065.1). Complete and massive disbelief is the immediate term of such an apostasy from the Christian faith. In order to have the sin of apostasy it is not required that the defector find a surrogate for the Christian faith, which he has entirely forsworn, in a non-Christian religion, such as Judaism, Islam, or paganism, much less that he start a new non-Christian religion of his own devising. Even if he remain alienated from religious belief of any kind, and lead a wholly areligious life, he is an apostate from the faith.

It is commonly held that the sin of apostasy differs not in kind but only in degree from the sin of heresy, with apostasy accidentally aggravating heresy's malice by the totality of its rupture with God's word and of its rebellion against His authority (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 12.1 ad 3). However, in the concrete pastoral sense, an apostate differs notably from a heretic in that (1) unlike the heretic who "retains the name of Christian" (1917 Codex iuris canonici c. 1325.2), he abjures and discards that name completely; and (2) while he may pass over to a non-Christian religion, he does not form a rival Christian communion, as heretics often have done.

See Also: faithful; infidel; schism; unity of faith.

Bibliography: a. beugnet, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350) 1.2:160212. j. bouchÉ, Dictionnaire de droit canonique, ed. r. naz, 7 v. (Paris 193564) 1:640652. p. de labriolle, Reallexikon für Antike und Christenum, ed. t. klauser (Stuttgart 1941) 1:550551. g.w.h. lampe, ed., A Patristic Greek Lexikon (Oxford 1961) fasc. 1:208.

[f. x. lawlor]


views updated

29. Apostasy (See also Sacrilege.)

  1. Aholah and Aholibah symbolize Samarias and Jerusalems abandonment to idols. [O.T.: Ezekiel 23:4]
  2. Albigenses heretical sect; advocated Manichaean dualism. [Fr. Hist.: NCE, 53]
  3. Arians 4th-century heretical sect; denied Christs divinity. [Christian Hist.: Brewer Note-Book, 43]
  4. Big-endians heretical group; always break eggs unlawfully at large end. [Br. Lit.: Gullivers Travels ]
  5. Cathari heretical Christian sect in 12th and 13th centuries; professed a neo-Manichaean dualism. [Christian Hist.: EB, II: 639]
  6. Donatists Christian group in North Africa who broke with Catholicism (312). [Christian Hist.: EB, III: 618]
  7. Ebionites 2nd- and 3rd-century Christian ascetic sect that retained a Jewish emphasis. [Christian Hist.: EB, III: 768]
  8. Erastianism doctrine declaring state is superior to the church in ecclesiastical affairs (15241543). [Christian Hist.: EB, III: 937]
  9. Fires of Smithfield Marian martyrs burnt at stake as heretics. [Br. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 1013]
  10. Gnosticism heretical theological movement in Greco-Roman world of 2nd century. [Christian Hist.: EB, IV: 587]
  11. Inquisition Roman Catholic tribunal engaged in combating and suppressing heresy. [Christian Hist.: NCE, 1352]
  12. Jansenism unorthodox Roman Catholic movement of the 17th and 18th centuries led by Cornelius Jansen. [Christian Hist.: EB, V: 515]
  13. Julian the Apostate (331363 ) Roman emperor, educated as a Christian but renounced Christianity when he became emperor. [Rom. Hist.: Benét, 533]
  14. Lollards in late medieval England, a name given to followers of unorthodox philosopher John Wycliffe. [Christian Hist.: EB, VI: 306]
  15. min appellation of any heretic, Jew or non-Jew. [Judaism: Wigoder, 417]
  16. Monophysites heretical Christian sect who questioned the divine and human nature of Jesus. [Christian Hist.: EB, VI: 1003]
  17. Montanism 2nd-century heretical Christian movement led by prophet Montanus. [Christian Hist.: EB, VI: 1012]
  18. Sabellianism 3rd-century Christian heresy led by Sabellius. [Christian Hist.: EB, VIII: 747]


views updated

Apostasy, (Gk., ‘stand away from’). The act or state of rejecting one religious faith for another. Apostasy has been regarded with horror by Jews, although a distinction was always made between apostates who converted for gain and the anusim or Marranos who were forced to convert and tried to maintain their Judaism secretly. According to the halakhah, an apostate remains a Jew: he can contract a valid Jewish marriage, and the child of an apostate mother is considered a Jew. However, as the law stands at present, an apostate Jew is not entitled to immigrate to Israel under the law of Return.

In Christianity, the debate mainly took the form of the ability of one elected to salvation to fall from grace (see e.g. ARMINIUS). In Islam, the issue is extremely prominent, involving the argument whether it requires the death penalty: see MURTADD.


views updated

a·pos·tate / əˈpäsˌtāt; -tit/ • n. a person who renounces a religious or political belief or principle.• adj. abandoning a religious or political belief or principle.DERIVATIVES: ap·o·stat·i·cal / ˌapəˈstatikəl/ adj.


views updated

apostate XIV. — (O)F. apostate or ecclL. apostata — late Gr. apostātēs, f. apostēnai, f. apó APO- + stênai STAND.
So apostasy XIV. — ecclL. — late Gr. apostasíā, for apóstasis defection. apostatize XVI. — medL.


views updated

a·pos·ta·sy / əˈpästəsē/ • n. the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.


views updated

apostate a person who renounces a religious or political belief or principle. Recorded from Middle English, the word comes via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek apostatēs ‘apostate, runaway slave’.