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Can A Mechallel Shabbos Be Counted For A Minyan?


This column is dedicated to the refuah sheleimah of Shlomo Eliezer ben Chaya Sarah Elka.

In this week’s parshah we read about the episode of the meraglim. The meraglim were sent to spy on Eretz Canaan to see if it was militarily feasible for the Bnei Yisrael to conquer the land by defeating the nations that were living there.

Ten of twelve spies returned, saying that this would be impossible. As the pasuk says: “lo nuchal la’alos el ha’am, ki chazak hu mimenu – we cannot conquer the nation, for they are stronger than us.” The Gemaras in Sotah 35a, Eruchin 15a, and Menachos 53b say that these ten meraglim became kofrim, as they were referring to the fact that Hashem was unable to conquer the nations of Canaan.

There are two halachos that we derive from the meraglim’s experience. One halacha is found in the Gemara in Sanhedrin 74b that says that if one is forced to perform any aveirah befarhesya (in public) he must not perform the aveirah – even if it means sacrificing his life. This is because any aveirah that is done befarhesya will be a chillul Hashem. One is obligated to give up his life so as not to be mechallel Hashem. The Gemara says that befarhesya is when there are ten people present. The Gemara takes this from the fact that the pasuk by Kiddush/chillul Hashem says “Venikdashti besoch Bnei Yisrael,” and the pasuk by the meraglim says “hivdelu mitoch ha’eidah hara hazos – remove yourself from this bad congregation.” The Gemara makes a gezeirah shavah between these two pesukim, both of which have the same word – “toch.” This tells us that just as concerning the meraglim the pasuk was referring to ten people, by Kiddush/chillul Hashem the pasuk is also referring to ten people. The pasuk by the meraglim was referring to only ten people because we know that two spies, Yehoshua and Kalev, gave good reports about the land. Thus, when the Torah says that one is to remove himself from this bad congregation, we know it was referring to ten people.

The second place where we draw a similar halacha from the meraglim is in the Gemara in Megillah 23b. The Gemara there says that any davar she’bikedushah must be performed in the presence of ten men. The Gemara makes the same gezeirah shavah from the word “toch” in the above mentioned pesukim to reach this halacha.

Rav Moshe Feinstein, in Igros Moshe (Yoreh De’ah 1:70, and Orach Chaim 1:23), rules that regarding both of these halachos (befarhesya and that a davar she’bikedushah requires ten men) a mechallel Shabbos or a kofer would count toward the minyan. This is because the source for both of these halachos is from the meraglim. As the Gemara points out, the ten meraglim that lead us to this halacha were kofrim b’ikar. Therefore, Rav Moshe rules that a mechallel Shabbos can be counted for a minyan b’shas hadchak (when in need).

Rav Moshe was asked that, conceivably, the only aspect that the Gemara wanted to derive from the drasha is the fact that “toch” refers to ten people. Perhaps we cannot draw from the drasha what the necessary status of the people must be, in which case there would be no proof that a mechallel Shabbos could count for a minyan.

Rav Moshe (Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 2:19) responded that the Gemara in Sanhedrin 74b discusses whether, for the halacha of befarhesya needed by chillul Hashem, it would suffice to have nine Jews and one non-Jew. The Gemara responds that since the meraglim were all Jews befarhesya, this requires that there should be ten Jews. So if the drasha was only meant to tell us the amount of people, how can the Gemara use this drasha to require that all of the people be Jewish? We see from this that the people’s status is part of the drasha. Thus, regarding befarhesya that is needed for chillul Hashem, even a mechallel Shabbos should be sufficient to be counted for the minyan. And since the Gemara in Megillah makes the same drasha for a davar she’bikedushah, we can be sure that a mechallel Shabbos can be counted for a minyan for that as well.

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