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The gemara Avodah Zara (20) explains that praising a non-Jew is a violation of "lo sechaneim", and this is quoted in the Rambam (Hil. Avodah Zara 10:6) and the Shulchan Aruch (Y"D 151, and Shach s.k. 18 says that this applies to all non-Jews).

However, it seems like we aren't so careful about this. After all, Chazal themselves praised Antoninus and Dama ben Nesinah, and it seems like no one, from Rishonim (such as the Rambam's praises of Aristotle) to today, has any serious issue with this. Does anyone know of a source that discusses these specific cases or has a list of 'kulos' that would cover the common practice?

I know of a few exceptions (such the Shulchan Aruch there allows it if it's meant as a praise of Hashem or Jews) and the most widely applicable is probably that of R. Moshe Shterbach (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 4:197) who allows praising a non-Jew whom one doesn't know personally, but it seems like there must be more leniencies.

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V'Gam Charvonah Zachur LaTov though some say it was Eliyahu jtf.org/forum/index.php?topic=56317.5;wap2 – ray Mar 14 '14 at 6:41
@ray Nice, well put indeed (appropriate that he should be added as an afterthought just as in the song!) – Matt Mar 14 '14 at 16:54
To add to this: "One who says something wise is called a chacham, even if he's not a Jew"- Megillah daf 16 amud aleph. – Avram Levitt Mar 16 '14 at 17:22
Sounds like you want source only, not a chidush? – user6591 Mar 29 at 0:44

The Rambam in Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 10:1 states that the seven nations are included in the prohibition of lo techaneim, but Jews and Gerei Toshav are not. This seemingly leaves generic idol worship up in the air. The context of the verse in Deuteronomy is clearly restricted to the seven nations, although most Rishonim seem to extend it to all Idolators.

Society today has few idolaters in the classical sense of the word, and with all the murkiness around the law, for the sake of peace (Eivah), like many other laws involving relationships with non-jews, many rabbanim I have come into contact with are lenient. (As per the Shach's klalei hora'ah that state in a time of need one can rely on even a da'at yachid (single opinion) in the Rishonim.

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"for the sake of peace" means Darkhei Shalom, not Mishum Eivah. – Double AA Mar 18 '14 at 5:47
Re: Hilkhot Avodah Zarah 10:1: Although Shiv'ah Amamin is used here (and presumably in most printed editions), the Mechon Mamre edition (here) uses Ovdei Avodah Zarah and Goy instead, and even Eliyahu Touger's translation (here) uses the more generic "idolaters" and "gentiles". – Tamir Evan Mar 18 '14 at 7:49
The context of the next verse in Deuteronomy is also "clearly restricted to the seven nations" with regard to marrying into them. Does that mean we could be lenient on that (Lo Ta'aseh 52 and Isurei Bi'ah 12:1) too? – Tamir Evan Mar 18 '14 at 8:24
Thanks, I'm aware of the implications of the verse's context, which I why I noted in the question that the Shach 151:18 says that this applies to all non-Jews. Do you know of any post-Shakh halakhic source which supports your position? – Matt Mar 18 '14 at 21:04
@Matt: see the Chiddushei ha-Meiri (Beit Habechirah), Avoda Zara 20a for a clear rishon. I don't see how you could conceivably construe this as not a sha'at hadchak.Additionally, in my understanding of the Torah's hashkafah, "deracheha darchei noam v'chol netivoteha shalom." As such, before looking for chumrot here (because the Shach and Netziv are both clearly machmir), I will rely on the leniencies of the the Meiri as paskened by Rav Henkin, the Seridei Eish, and my own personal posek. – Yehuda Mar 21 '14 at 4:12

I knew a Rav in Jerusalem who would refer to Shakespeare and other great gentile authors, only semi-sarcastically, as "moreinu v'rabbenu." I've never heard that one isn't supposed to praise a gentile. We don't poskin directly from the gemara.

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Of course we don't pasken directly from the gemara. But when that gemara is quoted by the Rif, Rosh, and Rambam, then codified in the Shulchan Aruch, and discussed by the nosei keilim and in contemporary teshuvah literature... – Matt Mar 17 '14 at 3:41

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