A variation on this statement is "I can smell a liar a mile away," but the meaning is much the same thing. It's something in the air. It's something you can see inside the person's eyes. When they are bad, they are bad and you feel it.
The apikorais is a very dangerous person for a Jew. In our minds we have this idea that he or she is a person who is deeply hateful and angry, standing there and cursing; making up reasons why you shouldn't follow the Torah; or, God forbid, profaning the holy rituals.
Unfortunately we have a lot of division in Judaism and some will argue that anyone who doesn't call themselves "Orthodox" is by definition a heretic.
I do not think so.
I have a lot of respect for the Open Orthodox movement in Judaism. If you aren't familiar with this, it's a movement that essentially says, we believe in the Torah, we love and have compassion for the Jewish people who struggle with halacha, and we should follow the principle that being a good Jew does not have to be onerous.
Open Orthodoxy probably would never have been necessary had we simply kept Modern Orthodoxy alive, but unfortunately "M.O." people have largely fallen by the wayside and become either very yeshivish or the opposite, hefkervelt.
I grew up Modern Orthodox, with my father coming from a Chasidish family that was essentially very modern by today's standards; my Bubbie and Zayde wore normal clothes, just modest. My mother comes from an Americanized family deriving from Russia and Poland, also normal and American, but very devoutly religious.
We didn't talk about religion as a "thing" in our lives, we just did it. We kept Shabbos and kosher and didn't obsess about it.
Today unfortunately Jews have gone completely extremist, on all sides, and I don't want to get into too much detail here except to say that you have the ultra-Orthodox who shave their women's heads and won't let them drive, and nobody can have Internet-connected cellphones because porn. And on the other extreme you have a community of Jews that not only tolerate halachically impermissible sexual lifestyles (“because there are 613 mitzvos and we do not have to focus on people's bedrooms constantly”) but even celebrate them.
Int his context, we should be worried very much not about the people themselves, who will always be pulled this way and that no matter what time we live in and no matter what the current vogue is at the time. Rather we should worry about the apikorais who comes into this scene and inserts himself as a likable character.
This apikorais, frankly, has a lot of mental issues that he can't solve on his own or through therapy. So he tries to resolve them through acting out on the rest of the community. How?
He puts a hand on the shoulder of the people, and he tells them that everything is OK, it's going to be OK, he understands. He then proceeds to find a source that justifies their behavior, from the minorly wrong to the disgustingly obscene.
This apikorais may be trying to justify the oppression of women through an excessive application of religion. Or he may be going the opposite way, justifying breaking halacha totally, in the name of being "understanding."
You have to have the ability to see through such people--all of them are liars.
Now what is the difference between this apikorais and the person who is simply wrong, someone who doesn't know any better, someone who is well-intentioned?
After all, wrong is wrong.
The difference is that the person who is well-intentioned serves a higher power and will correct their behavior if you can show them that they're on the wrong track.
This is because they genuinely want to serve HaShem, and maybe they just got misdirected somewhere, but their conscience is strong.
The apikorais on the other hand will never be dissuaded, and he can trick a lot of people, who will defend him mightily and say how good of a person he is, and how others should really listen to what he has to say, because he is so charming and his answers hold together.
In halacha there is what the Torah says, and what the Rabbis have interpreted over time, and then there are some other and more intangible things. There is mesorah, tradition, and there are cultural values and norms that are widely held by those who observe halacha.
I heard someone say the other day that "if it would bother most people, it's a problem; if it bothers only you, then you are the problem."
In the same way, if most people would say that a certain thing is against normative halacha, then guess what? IT IS AGAINST HALACHA AND IT IS NOT CONSIDERED RELIGIOUSLY OBSERVANT.
Have a good Shabbos.
Copyright 2017 by Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own. This post is hereby released into the public domain. Creative Commons photo via Pixabay.