Is the paradigm of Da' Mah LeHashiv limited to heretical Jews, and that of the restriction on teaching Torah to non-Jews limited only to non-Jews (excluding heretical Jews), such that there is never an instance in which one might need to use advanced Jewish texts to defend Judaism against a heretical non-Jew, or might be prohibited from citing similarly advanced passages that require background to understand correctly when engaged in defending Judaism agaist heretical Jews?

Example 1. A non-Jew approaches his Jewish colleague at work to engage in casual conversation lamenting the decline in society's "Judaeo-Christian values" with specific examples being contrary to Jewish law that is unenforceable without a Sanhedrin. May the Jew correct the non-Jew and explain the complexities of Jewish law and the limitations of enforcement?

Example 2. A secular Jew approaches an Orthodox colleague and laments the "Radical Christian" theology that believes in "hocus pocus", saying that, even though he's not religious, he can respect his Orthodox colleague's lifestyle because, "at least Orthodox Judaism doesn't believe in resurrection or a physical/literal afterlife." May the Orthodox colleague engage the secular Jew in a discussion of Perek Helek and the divergence of opinions between Rambam and Ramban, et al?

  • What is "the paradigm of Da' Mah LeHashiv"? And what does it have to do with either of your examples? (Just for reference, I assume one translates the phrase as "know how to answer [a heretic]", meaning that one should himself know how to answer a heretic, but I don't see what that has to do with actually getting into an argument -- the pshat is not to actually argue (just 'to know') and many poskim, e.g. R. Soloveitchik, hold one cannot argue theology with 'others') Please explain what you really mean clearly.
    – Curiouser
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 17:16
  • @Curiouser, my assumption was that you are required to defend Judaism against heretics. I believe the Rav's objection was not with engaging in defense of Judaism from heretics, but with voluntarily delving into theological discussions with movements that seek to redefine Judaism (not undermine it; at least not in their view) because doing so, at least publicly, might give them an air of legitimacy and erode the legitimacy of those who uphold Torah values.
    – Seth J
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 18:16
  • @ SethJ Do you have a source for your view? As I explained in my comment, the pshat of the phrase you quoted is "to know", not "to defend". Hence I asked you to explain what this "paradigm" is? Perhaps with sources? Otherwise it is impossible to answer your question.
    – Curiouser
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 18:29
  • @curiouser I'm fairly certain there is a requirement to defend Judaism. I'm slightly less certain it is directly related to this. I will look for a source to clarify this.
    – Seth J
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 20:11

1 Answer 1


The Rambam in his commentary on the mishneh in Avos (2:14) writes that the idea of answering the apikoros applies only to non-Jewish apikoros, but a Jewish apikoros is so much worse in terms of disparaging and disgracing (the Torah), that it is not appropriate to argue with him at all, since he is beyond repair and beyond healing.

[יג] אמר: למד דברים שתשיב בהם על האפיקורוסים מן האומות, ותתווכח עמהם ותענה להם אם יקשו לך. ואמרו: "לא שנו אלא אפיקורוס גוי, אבל ישראל כל שכן דפקר", רצונו לומר: שהוא יוסיף זלזול ולגלוג, ולפיכך אין ראוי לדון עמו כלל, לפי שהוא לא יתוקן, ואין לו רפואה כלל, "כל באיה לא ישובון ולא י(ס)[ש]יגו אורחות חיים" +משלי ב יט+. ואמר, ועם היותך לומד דעות האומות כדי שתדע איך תשיב עליהם, היזהר שלא ידבק בדעתך דבר מזה, ודע כי אשר תעבוד לפניו ידע צפונותיך, והוא אומרו: ודע לפני מי אתה עמל.

The source of the Rambam is the gemara in Sanhedrin 38b. But, see Rashi there

כל שכן דפקר טפי. שהרי הכיר וכפר ומתוך כך מדקדק ולא תוכל להשיבו דבר המקובל לו

who indicates that the reason the Jew is in a worse condition is that he knew originally and then denied. So perhaps this wouldn't apply to a Jew who didn't deny in any intellectual fashion.

  • So... Just the opposite of what I thought. So then how do you handle the restriction against teaching non-Jews Torah?
    – Seth J
    Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 1:50

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