In Sanhedrin 59a it is written that a Gentile who studies the Torah is liable to receive the death penalty. Maimonides also confirms this in Melachim uMilchamot 8:10.

However, there is an apparent contradiction. In Bava Kamma 38a it is said that a gentile who devotes himself to the study of the Torah is considered a High Priest. In this last case, does it refer to the convert? I ask because Maimonides specifies that the gentile must observe only the “seven mitzvot” Noachids and not the Torah (Melachim uMilchamot 10:9). Since in the Torah, the Noachid laws are not there, where would the gentile read these laws?

So I thought it might actually refer to an actual convert. Or to the portion of the Oral Torah (Sanhedrin 57a which contains these laws).

  • It's ironic because the next few lines in that gemara sanhedrin 59a asks your question and answers it. ( that hes great as cohen gadol for studying his laws but the rest of Torah he's obligated to death)
    – Shlomy
    Jul 3 at 5:12
  • Actually, what I wanted to know is this: In Baba Kamma 38 it says "a gentile who devotes himself to the study of the Torah is considered a High Priest" Since there are no Noachid laws in the Torah (and it is forbidden to study it, Sanhedrin 59b) where these laws noachide read the gentile? Do you mean the portion of the oral Torah, of Sanhedrin 57a? Because the study of the written Torah is forbidden.
    – Ootsutsuki
    Jul 3 at 12:56
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    The noachide laws are derived from a drasha in the torah. But pashtus the gemara is saying they're allowed to learn the laws orally from someone else, like torah shebal peh is supposed to be learned. And after babli was written they can learn it from there as well
    – Shlomy
    Jul 3 at 13:12
  • Also the title of your question then, doesn't match the description.
    – Shlomy
    Jul 3 at 18:34
  • Here's an interesting twist: when you see in the Talmud "someone is liable" you should ask - is there an explicit punishment or not? If yes, this is a Halachic question, if not, this is merely educational, like saying "he should not do that". This is a very common confusion for newcomers to interpret such claims literally, when the Talmudic rabbis did not make this distinction.
    – Al Berko
    Jul 3 at 19:14

1 Answer 1


Interesting question!

The Gemara indeed says:

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.

On this, Shimeon ben Avraham Levi asks nearly the same question as you, namely: there is in the Gemara a great virtue for a Gentile that studies Torah; but it distinguishes between the study of the seven mitzvot of Noach, and the rest of the Torah. So, if a gentile studies only the halachos concering the seven mitzvos, he is considered "a High Priest", according to the Gemara.

וזה המשכו של הפסוק הקודם מגיד דבריו ליעקב חוקיו ומשפטיו לישראל וכן מובא במסכת סנהדרין דף נ"ט ע"א שגם הגוי עצמו מצווה שלא ללמוד תורה ואם לומד תורה חייב מיתה וכך מובא שם בגמרא ואמר רבי יוחנן עובד כוכבים שעוסק בתורה חייב מיתה שנאמר תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה לנו מורשה ולא להם וליחשבה גבי שבע מצות מאן דאמר מורשה מיגזל קא גזיל לה מאן דאמר מאורסה דינו כנערה המאורסה דבסקילה הרי שאיסור תלמוד תורה על הגוי כלול או באיסור גזל או באיסורי עריות בכלל איסור נערה המאורסה ושם הקשתה הגמרא מברייתא שממנה משתמע שיש מעלה גדולה לגוי שלומד תורה ותירצה הגמרא שיש להבחין בין סתם לימוד תורה שזה אסור על הגוי לבין לימוד שבע מצוות בני נח שהעכו"ם חייבין בהן ובלימודם וידיעתם יש מעלה וכך מובא שם בהמשך הגמרא מיתיבי היה רבי מאיר אומר מניין שאפילו נכרי ועוסק בתורה שהוא ככהן גדול שנאמר ויקרא י"ח ה' אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם כהנים לויים וישראלים לא נאמר אלא האדם הא למדת שאפילו נכרי ועוסק בתורה הרי הוא ככהן גדול התם בשבע מצוות דידהו

Rabbi Shimeon ben Avraham Levi cites Psalms 147:19 “He declares his Word to Ya῾aqov, his statutes and his judgments to Yisra᾽el.”. This is also cited by the Talmud in Sanhedrin, in 59a, where the gentile is prohibited to study Torah, and is liable to receive the death penalty. “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.”

However, there seem to be a contraditction, because in the Gemara it says “but rather: A person, indicating that all people are included. You have therefore learned that even a gentile who engages in Torah study is considered like a High Priest.”. This, however, refers to a gentile that studies the Torah which deals with the seven Noachide Laws. (losely translated, still work-in-progress.)

Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld, from DafYomi writes:

Some Acharonim note that the Be'er Sheva's question seems inaccurate. The SHULCHAN ARUCH (YD 267:71) explicitly rules that one may not teach Torah to an Eved Kena'ani (besides the Mitzvos which he is commanded to observe). If this is the law with regard to an Eved Kena'ani -- who undergoes Tevilah in a Mikvah and is commanded to observe non-time-bound positive Mitzvos like a Jewish woman, then how much more so this law applies to an ordinary Nochri. For this reason, a number of Acharonim reject the Be'er Sheva's question, and there seem to be no authorities that take his approach (which the Be'er Sheva himself did not sanction in practice) (emphasis mine).

Concerning the seven mitzvos, see:

The authority of these laws derives from the verse, "And the Lord G‑d commanded it upon the man…" (Gen. 2:16). They were given again to the nations of the world through the teachings of Moses at Marah (Ex. 15:25-16), but are known by the name of Noah because they first became fully applicable in his time, when meat-eating became permitted.

Furthermore, I would highly recommend reading the DafDigest on Chagigah 13. Beginning with the words "who says that the main mitzvah of toiling in Torah is when one delves into clarifying and understanding the intricacies and the details of its laws."

  • Thanks for the reply! Would it be possible, please, to have translated into English the text you quoted in Hebrew by Shimeon ben Avraham Levi? Thanks again, you have been of great help to me.
    – Ootsutsuki
    Jul 2 at 20:30
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    My pleasure. Great to be of help! I do not have time to translate it at this time, but when I do, I'll edit it in.
    – Shmuel
    Jul 2 at 20:34
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    Thank you very much!
    – Ootsutsuki
    Jul 2 at 21:05
  • What is the name of this commentary by Simeon ben Avraham Lev?
    – Ootsutsuki
    Jul 3 at 14:15
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    It is called אהלי שמעון and can be found by clicking on the word "asks" in my answer.
    – Shmuel
    Jul 3 at 15:34

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