Does heresy rule out achievement and contribution?

Greg Leake emails about our latest Torah talk: Hi Luke and Rabbs,

When the Sikhs are wearing their ceremonial garb in your neighborhood and they are walking around near you guys in your Orthodox garb, it must look like a movie set.

Rabbi Rabbs, I did not realize how wide-sweeping your view of Jewish heresy was. It sounds as if a significant number of Jews who have contributed to the world’s knowledge would actually be considered heretics from your point of view. Luke likes to refer to the many Jews who have demonstrated accomplishments in their fields, sometimes acquiring prestigious prizes like the Nobel. If these achievements are in the sciences, I guess this automatically means that they would be de facto heretics inasmuch as they would be aligned with the scientific world view of creation (and of course the dinosaurs). You mentioned that Spinoza was a heretic. (Did you know that Gershom Scholem was angry at Spinoza because the philosopher used kabbalistic ideas without attribution?)

And naturally earlier on you were a little dismissive of the words ontology and epistemology, and so my presumption is that Jews who have contributed to philosophy in addition to Spinoza would be regarded as heretics as well. This takes in a significant number of Jewish thinkers and scientists who have become household names and whose accomplishments are appreciated worldwide.

So my question is supposing you do regard people who have made dramatic breakthroughs in human knowledge as heretics because they were not being Torah-observant, do you still see a value in their work and contribution? Or in other words, could it ever be that because someone is a heretic it still does not negate their contribution? Could that contribution even outweigh the fact that they were a heretic? Or is it simply the fact that if one is a heretic, they are simply irredemible despite the fact that by the rest of the world they are considered a giant.

Luke, I want to thank you and extend my appreciation for your fervent and patriotic endorsement of America. You even said that if your veins were cut they would bleed American blood.

Inidentally, to help qualify these remarks, let me briefly comment on the fact that Americans have mostly been spoken of in respect to their immigrant status on this blog. Ellis Island, the “Salad Bowl” concept. and Luke now I have thanked you for your American patriotism.

We’re not all immigrants. My family hs been in American since the days of Plymouth Rock. On my father’s side I have Cherokee blood. My wife’s family has been in America so that she would qualify to be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), women who can trace their ancestry to our founding revolution.

We are not immigrants, and our families have fought in all the wars and built our institutions. Members of our family have been chased by Indians and have contributed to social, business, government and military life since before America was a country.

We are designed to be a melting pot, and Luke, when I was a kid they used to say that people from Australia and Texans understood each other and saw eye to eye. So my appreciation of your patriotism is not coming from an immigrant who likes the United States. It comes from someone whose family helped build the country.


Greg, thank you for your continued enthusiasm for our show and for the latest installment of your valued feedback.

I think you might’ve jumped to incorrect conclusions regarding what I said about heresy. Not everything in science and philosophy is heretical. The only philosophies and scientific theories that are problematic are those that contradict Torah. Judaism obviously rejects all such notions. Here is an excellent article expounding on that.

I would advise all Jews, including our friend Levi, to study that article carefully.

Many Jews made important contributions to the scientific world, such as Einstein and Beckman. To the best of my knowledge, none of the work from those two giants ever conflicted with Torah. They were not heretics, and neither were most of the many renown Jewish scientists.

Now, just for the sake of discussion, let’s say a Jew started the theory of evolution — an idea that is pure heresy. Chances are that they have no clue what Judaism is, as they probably grew up with no Torah education. Thus, it would be difficult to label that person as a heretic even though they espouse heresy.

However, when a learned Jew, someone that grows up learning Torah and says the Torah is the truth, turns around and claims that Judaism has room for such heretical theories, then that is another story. That is very dangerous, and the Jewish community is forced to take action.

I believe that was the case with Spinoza and that is the recent case with Slifkin.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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