Forget Shabbat - Shabbat 68
Who would be someone who wouldn’t know what Shabbat is but still be expected to observe it? After all, non-Jews are not required to observe Shabbat, so if they don’t know what it is it doesn’t matter. Rab and Samuel agree that someone not knowing what Shabbat is must be a case like a child taken captive among nokhrim [strangers, Gentiles], or someone who converted to Judaism while still among nokhrim. But it could be the case for either of those examples that they DID know what Shabbat was at one time – the child from their early experience or the convert from early instruction. In that case, some feel they should be liable as anyone else who just forgot that it was Shabbat, but others would not blame them for their violations.
The experience of “hidden children” during the Holocaust has strong echoes of this discussion – some of those children were given to other families so young that they forgot what it meant to be Jewish. And they certainly could not observe Shabbat while hiding among non-Jewish families, even if they remembered what they were supposed to do and not do. And the “convert” example could connect for us with people who discover that their parents or grandparents had been Jews and they never knew it – Stephen Dubner’s Turbulent Souls: A Catholic Son’s Return to his Jewish Family tells his own story of being raised by devout Catholics in upstate New York who were both born Jews in New York City and abandoned it. Or former Secretary of State Madeline Albright would be another. From an ethnic point of view, we are glad they have discovered their roots. From a Jewish law perspective, as we’ve seen, it can raise different challenges.
Rabbi Adam Chalom