Dealing with Off the Derech Children - A Response to the Kiryas Yoel Publication

By BJLIfe/Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Posted on 01/16/18

It is a publication authored by two Dayanim from the Satmar community, Rav Getzel Berkowitz Shlita of Kiryas Yoel, and Rav Avrohom Tzvi Vosner Shlita of Satmar in Monsey.  The Sefer is entitled, “M’lo HaNoseh.” It should be noted that both of the Dayanim who authored the new work are world-class Poskim – whose previous works thoroughly, completely, and brilliantly analyze numerous halachic sugyos. Rav Berkowitz’s Sefer Iglei Dvash is a remarkable responsa work that is well-respected among Talmidei Chachomim.  Both Dayanim are of the Rav Aharon faction of Satmar.

The publication in question deals with the halachic implications of children who, r”l, have gone off the derech. It is this author’s view, however, that many of the conclusions found in this work are seriously flawed, and even run counter to the thinking and philosophy of the revered Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt”l.

The authors, although brilliant and erudite Talmidei Chachomim, have, in this author’s opinion, made a number of fundamental errors in the Sefer, specifically in misunderstanding a contradiction in the Rambam upon which they base their rulings.

As a consequence, they have ruled that it is forbidden to show affection to and to attempt to bring closer those who have left Torah observance. They have further ruled that it is forbidden to accept Baalei Teshuvah from among those who have initially left the path of Torah observance.  They forbid to ask about their welfare and to maintain dialogue or conversation with them.


Their rulings were based upon the words of the Rambam in Hilchos Avodah Zarah 2:5. At first glance, the words of the Rambam would seem to indicate that the Halacha may be like what they say – that we neither seek out nor accept an Apikores’ teshuvah. There is, however, a contradictory Rambam found in Hilchos Teshuvah 3:14 that indicates the exact opposite – that we do accept his Teshuvah and seek it out.

There are a number of ways that the commentaries attempt to resolve the contradiction. The Merkeves HaMishna understands the stricter Rambam as dealing with someone who specifically negates the 13 Ikarrim articles of faith, while the more lenient Rambam deals with other issues that the person may have negated. Those who have discussed this Merkeveves HaMishna understand him to mean that one can never be sure if the Teshuvah that this one does regarding the 13 articles of faith - is truly one who did Teshuvah.

The vast majority of the resolutions, however, are predicated upon the fact that the Rambam in Hilchos Avodah Zarah is discussing a case where there is absolutely no hope of the “Apikores” doing a turnaround and or he is not considered to be a Tinok Sh’Nishba – like a child who was kidnapped and raised among non-Jews.


This latter method of resolution fits in with the Midrash Tehillim 65 that states that the gates of Teshuvah are never closed. It cites the verse in Tehillim 65:6, “With awesome deeds, through [Your] charity You shall answer us, G-d of our salvation, the trust of all the distant ends of the earth and the sea.” The Midrash explains that just as the sea is open for all to rinse and bathe so to is Teshuvah open to all to partake. It also fits with Dvarim Rabbah 2:12 that the gates of Teshuvah are forever open.  The point of both of these Midrashim are that the terms "Never" and "Forever" are employed in this regard.  Although Midrashim are not considered halachic per se - if we can resolve a contradiction in the Rambam while fitting in with the import of the Midrashim - it is certainly preferable.


The Chazon Ish writes (in a footnote to Yoreh Deah 2:18) that everyone nowadays has the status of a Tinok Sh’Nishba, a kidnapped child.  Thus, this Rambam is also not to be applied. He cites a proof from the Gemorah in Makkos 8b – where a Kussi goes into exile if he accidentally kills an Yisroel. The fact that he goes into exile demonstrates that he is treated like a child that was kidnapped.  The Chazon Ish thus delineates a change in status of the Kussi from earlier times to later times.


There is also the approach of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik Shlita cited in LeTshuvas HaShana page 329 by his student, Rav Yisroel Rappaport. Rav Dovid Shlita remembered how his father, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik zt”l claimed in reference to relevant that the girsah was changed on account of the censor and that it was, in fact, worthy to seek out their Teshuvah.

It is clear that the Mesorah of Klal Yisroel is to seek out their Teshuvah and to deal nicely with those who have gone off the derech.

Rav Gershon Edelstein Shlita, the current Gadol haDor of the generation and the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ponovech -also clearly understands things in this manner. He has ruled that those that have gone off the derech should be treated with kindness and with great love and attention. This is seen in a question and answer forum on this very topic. See video below:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y41HYbqLCaY?rel=0]


Finally, there is the well known story of a holocaust surviving woman who had asked Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt"l to speak to her no-longer-observant son. The Rebbe approached him and asked what he did for a living. The man answered and the Rebbe then proceeded to ask his advice in various areas in which that man had expertise. He treated him with such respect and dignity that eventually the man came back and did Teshuvah.  He became one of the Rebbe’s most loyal Chassidim. The Satmar Rebbe was a master at Kiruv and would most certainly have agreed with the mainstream understanding of how to resolve these two contradictory Rambams.

Rav Yitzchok Meir Alter (1799-1866) was the very first Gerrer Rebbe and author of the Chidushei HaRim. He writes that Pesach Sheni, is a tikun for those who are perceived as beyond the pale – “B’derech Rechokah” – in his words. They are outside the scope of assistance. To them, to those who could not develop the closeness and Dveikus to Hashem that was emblematic of Pesach is the second chance embodied in Pesach Sheini.

The Psukim in Bahaaloscha tell us: There were men who were impure of the dead, therefore, they could not make the Pesach Korban on that day. They approached Moshe and Aharon on that day. Those men said to him, “We are impure [because of contact] with a dead person; [but] why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of Hashemin its appointed time, with all the children of Israel? Moshe said to them, “Imdu – Wait, and I will hear what Hashem instructs concerning you.”

The Chidushei HaRim writes that Imdu does not mean wait – but rather it means imdu in Teshuvah and Tefillah. It is not too late, just stand and pursue these two Avodahs and Hashem will help you along the way.

The Chidushei HaRim writes that this is the day for the off-the-derech kids that are now in every single one of our communities.


The vast majority of Gedolei Yisroel understand this stiras HaRambam in a way that reflects a loving approach to those that are off-the-derech. This was not just the view of the Chazon Ish, the Chofetz Chaim and the Chiddushei HaRim. It was also the approach of the Divrei Yoel, the Satmar Rebbe. It is also the view of Rav Gershon Edelstein Shlita.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com