I recently watched a video of Rabbi Manis Friedman discussing the obligations responsibilities for Noahides. To crudely summarize his argument: roughly speaking Jews are commanded to bring Heaven down to Earth while non-Jews are commanded to elevate Earth, precisely as G-d commanded Adam HaRishon. Within this perspective, Rabbi Friedman explains that the gentile prohibition of Shabbat exists because the willful adoption of this inapplicable Mitzvot removes the gentile from his obligations to toil in the world for the purpose of uplifting it. If he isn't engaging the world because he falsely binds himself to some Mitzvah, then he is supplanting his own will for G-d's.

I thought I would revisit the Sanhedrin 59a to see if this interpretation is supported by the text (being a relatively unique but insightful opinion, as are most of Rabbi Friedman's). However, I do not know Hebrew, so I was hoping for a little help. According to the Sefaria gloss (also where I sourced the Hebrew and the translation of this Gemara), עוסק means "one who is self employed." Would it be a fair reading of this Gemara to say that the prohibition concerns a "gentile who employs himself in Torah," meaning he adopts Torah as his employment at the expense of his G-d given employment as the descendants of Adam? By contrast, one who sees Torah study as the means to give him strength to carry out his obligations has not rule afoul of the prohibition. He has not employed himself in Torah. This would seem to allow a better understanding of the objection the Gemara cites in the name of Rabbi Meir and it's resolution, that a gentile who is "self-employed" in his Sheva Mitzvot is considered to be a High Priest. The title "High Priest" seems to be most easily interpreted as indicating the strength of an occupation. Likewise, gentile "self-employment" in Torah study is compared to theft and adultery because by doing so, a gentile is attempting steal the occupation of a Jew (bringing Heaven down to Earth) for his own. Needless to say, I'm wondering is this not the simplest way to read this Gemara?

Thanks for your help!

ואמר ר' יוחנן עובד כוכבים שעוסק בתורה חייב מיתה שנאמר (דברים לג, ד) תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה לנו מורשה ולא להם

And Rabbi Yoḥanan says: A gentile who engages in Torah study is liable to receive the death penalty; as it is stated: “Moses commanded us a law [torah], an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4), indicating that it is an inheritance for us, and not for them.

מיתיבי היה ר"מ אומר מניין שאפילו עובד כוכבים ועוסק בתורה שהוא ככהן גדול שנאמר (ויקרא יח, ה) אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם כהנים לוים וישראלים לא נאמר אלא האדם הא למדת שאפילו עובד כוכבים ועוסק בתורה הרי הוא ככהן גדול

The Gemara raises an objection to Rabbi Yoḥanan’s statement from a baraita: Rabbi Meir would say: From where is it derived that even a gentile who engages in Torah study is considered like a High Priest? It is derived from that which is stated: “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My ordinances, which if a man does he shall live by them” (Leviticus 18:5). The phrase: Which if priests, Levites, and Israelites do they shall live by them, is not stated, but rather: “A man,” which indicates mankind in general. You have therefore learned that even a gentile who engages in Torah study is considered like a High Priest.

  • I don't have an explicit source for this but it would be logical to say Rebbi Yochanan is referring to parts of Torah that have no connection to gentiles while Rebbi Meir is referring to any Torah that can be connected to the 7 noahide laws as that would be described by the posuk quoted, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My ordinances, which if a man does he shall live by them” (Leviticus 18:5)
    – Dude
    Jun 3, 2022 at 13:14
  • @Dude The Gemara makes that resolution directly after the section I quoted from (I thought I had quoted that part too but apparently I didn't). My point was that "High Priest" is an occupation, as is "self-employment" in Torah. This interpretation, to me anyway, resolves the issue I had about how "studying" (as I've seen it usually translated) can even be comparable to the occupation of High Priest. Particularly since Leviticus 18:5 is talking about actions, not learning.
    – John
    Jun 3, 2022 at 17:06

1 Answer 1


עוסק does not mean self-employed. It means busy/involved/engaged with. Sefaria can be very useful, but it is also full of errors, as it is a community project. I'm not sure what glosses you are referring to, but they are in error.

Just for example, the Ashkenaz version of the blessing on the Torah recited every morning is

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּ֒שָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לַעֲסֹק בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹרָה:
Blessed are You, Adonoy our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified1 us with His commandments and commanded us to be engrossed in the words of Torah.

Obviously not every person can be self-employed in studying Torah. The word osek just means involved with. That can apply to employment, but is much broader in scope. See here.

  • 1
    On the other hand much ink has been spilled over why we use עוסק in that context and not ללמוד or something more banal. Very plausibly there is a level of engagement that is expected of a Jew which is above and beyond just study. If so, the OP's argument that a gentile may be permitted to study Torah at that lower level stands, once we can define what those levels are.
    – Double AA
    Jun 3, 2022 at 22:13
  • @N.T. Ah shoot. I'm quite familiar with Sefaria but I assumed the dictionary wasn't community sourced, just the translations.
    – John
    Jun 3, 2022 at 23:26
  • @DoubleAA I could be way off here, but doesn't Rabbi Meir's barita and it's reconciliation force a more substantial reading of the Gemara? As it is typically translated, it's difficult to see why Leviticus 18:5 even applies to casual study? Furthermore I would hazard than many prophesies about the time of Moshiach require gentiles to study Torah. Not to even mention the yetzer hara, which in my own personal experience requires Torah to overcome
    – John
    Jun 4, 2022 at 2:28
  • 1
    yes the word עוסק means being involved in but the type of involvement like someone who is involved in their business on a constant basis. I think this understanding of עוסק is what gave them the idea to translate it this way. In the end it doesn't mean an actual occupation but this is probably the basis of their mistake.
    – Dude
    Jun 7, 2022 at 18:04
  • The Talmud was written in Aramaic because it was their equivalent to English. The precise understanding of a word requires fluency in the nuances of the language, plus a background to know what makes sense. So ultimately, the best guide we have to this question is the opinion of the Rabbis who were/are recognized as the leading experts in this area.
    – N.T.
    Jun 9, 2022 at 8:42

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