I would like to share with you two different English translations of the same passage(s) from the above Halacha:

עַכּוּ''ם שֶׁעָסַק בַּתּוֹרָה חַיָּב מִיתָה. (...) וְאִם עָסַק בַּתּוֹרָה אוֹ שָׁבַת אוֹ חִדֵּשׁ דָּבָר.‏

"A non-Jew who busied himself with Torah is liable with his life. [...]If a non-Jew busied himself with Torah or made Shabbos or made up something new [...] Trans. Reuven Brauner 2012 Sefaria

"A gentile who studies the Torah is obligated to die. [...] If a gentile studies the Torah, makes a Sabbath, or creates a religious practice [...] Trans. Eliyahu Touger

Which one is more accurate?

Thanks, Thomas

  • 3
    The first is a literal translation, the second is idiomatic
    – Joel K
    Jun 20, 2021 at 5:51
  • Would the first not seem to leave room for low-level studies?
    – user25706
    Jun 20, 2021 at 6:51
  • 1
    Neither, עכו"ם is Oved Kokhavim uMazalot, lit. Serving the stars and mazals, "Idolater." Otherwise why wouldn't Rambam write Goy. Jun 21, 2021 at 3:20
  • But what was the original.. In some places "Goy" was censored out for "Akum" .. according to schechter.edu/food-cooked-by-non-jews Jun 21, 2021 at 13:34
  • Thank you Nissim.
    – user25706
    Jun 21, 2021 at 15:39

1 Answer 1


Regarding accuracy, Joel's comment above explains the disparity between the translations. I understand the second one to be the more accurate one at the end of the day, including any level/intensity of study. (I would actually suggest that "engages in" would be the best translation for עסק in this context. This is the translation used by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the Koren Siddur the same phrase in Birchas HaTorah.)

Rambam in his responsa (#524 in the mechon Yerushalayim edition, printed in part here) explains that one of the main reasons for this law is a concern that a non-Jew's beliefs regarding the validity of the Torah will lead him to misinterpret and misuse it, eventually leading Jews astray. I think this concern is applicable regardless of intensity of study. There is also a responsa from Rabbi Akiva Eiger (1st collection, #41) which assumes that the prohibition applies to basic study, discussing teaching scripture and the prayer book to a non-jew interested in conversion but prevented from doing so by European law in his day.

  • What this means then, is: It is God's will, revealed at Mt. Sinai, that nobody who does not convert to orthodox Judaism should ever read a single word in Tanach, and if he does will be divinely retributed. Correct?
    – user25706
    Jun 20, 2021 at 14:00
  • I think it is slightly more complicated. The notes to his responsa reference to others that distinguish between Tanach and Torah sh'baal peh, I can send them a little later. I am also not sure Rambam would be as stringent as R Akiva Eiger regarding the stage at which one can teach Torah. In his responsa he rules that a Jew can teach Torah (seems to be talking about Tanach) to a non Jew as 1) He can be sure to explain it properly and 2) it is possible he will convert (seemingly even if this is not his initial goal) Jun 20, 2021 at 14:23

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