What makes a heretic? The notion of heresy to the modern day person conjures up images of religious witch hunts, bans of excommunication, and attempts to stifle dissent and even dialogue. Some may view it as an attempt to consolidate power by casting aspersions on new ideas. Being labelled a heretic today may even be a badge of honour for some testifying to their willingness to challenge dogma, to bring fresh ideas and to express one's views without fear, values that modern man tends to identify with.
Throughout our history some great (and lesser) Rabbis have made it their mission to root out views that were felt to be a threat to traditional Jewish life. A short incomplete list might include the Perushim against the Tzedukim (Talmudic times) Rav Sadiah Gaon (10 th century) against the Karaites, Rav Yaakov Emden (18 th century) against Shabbateanism, The Vilna Gaon (18 th century) against Chassidut , The Chatam Sofer (19 th century) against Reform, The Satmar Rebbe (20 th century) against Zionism. These attempts with rare (though important) exceptions met with limited success and were often in fact, counter productive propelling the dissident movements to much greater prominence. It was the ultimate failure of the ban of the Rabbis of Amsterdam against Baruch Spinoza that led many to re-evaluate the effectiveness of this tool. What all the above "heretics" had in common was their deviance from some aspect of Jewish law or belief - be it the Divinity of the Oral Law and later even the Written Law, or the abandonment of ancient Jewish customs.
Almost all authorities have ruled that these types of "heretics" no longer exist - no matter how deviant their views. Maimonides ruled (Laws of Rebels 3:3) that anyone brought up with heretical notions rather than being shunned should be showered with love. After all one can not be held responsible for or expected to repudiate views that we are inculcated with. The Chazon Ish (perhaps the pre-eminent legal expert in the years just after the creation of the State of Israel) extended this ruling to include all Jews in our era regardless of the fact that they may have had an intensive religious upbringing and attended the finest of Jewish schools. In an era when there are no overt miracles and society as a whole is secular in outlook we must express understanding to all who forsake a Jewish lifestyle.
Yet it appears that there does exist even today "heresy" of a far more dangerous kind. "The wicked child - What do they say? What is this service for you? For you and not him; and since he has excluded himself from the community he has denied the essence ( kafar bikar ) of our faith". The Haggadah teaches that the ultimate heretic is one who does not involve oneself in the Jewish community. One who does not share the joy and feel the pain of our people poses a far greater threat than those whose views might be deemed unacceptable. With the latter one can debate and teach. And even if "unsuccessful" in getting them to change their views there is much that all caring and serious Jews share in common. It is the unaffiliated Jew whom we must be most concerned with. In fact communal identity is so crucial that no level of pious religiosity can compensate for its absence. Maimonides, no doubt basing himself on the Haggadah, codifies the ruling that "One who separates oneself from the community even though one has not (technically) sinned . has no portion in the world to come" (Laws of Repentance 3:11). The excuses of living in a secular society or having been brought up in a non-observant home do not quite operate here. One does not have to be "religious" in order to care for one's people.
The Seder revolves around children and its ultimate goal is to inspire and teach children to dedicate themselves to and learn about Judaism. Nowhere is this more evident than our addressing the "four children" where our ability to properly respond to the differing needs of all Jewish children can go a long way in determining their ultimate dedication to Judaism. Apparently the one value that must be stressed above all others is commitment and dedication to the people of Israel . Whether we are wise, sinful, simple or ignorant we are all part of one people and we must work together so that we can celebrate next year in Jerusalem . Chag kasher V'Sameach.