I have spent over 2 years to this day praying for the Jewish people from the Koren Siddur and Machzorim. I have with my Rebbe's help tried to follow Jewish customs and laws, to my best ability. Furthermore, I and my wife give generously to Jewish orphanages in Israel. We have lost many friends over this. However, I am still a Goy.

A few days ago I came across Tractate Sanhedrin 59a which states that a gentile who studies Torah is liable for death. Am I now liable to be stoned for my devotion to Hashem and the Jewish people?

I don't like this to become an obstacle for me.

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    It doesn't apply to someone learning because he's interested in conversion. And it doesn't apply to all areas of Torah. – Ariel K Sep 27 '12 at 3:00
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    Also, 'liable to death' is an expression used for certain sins, but it doesn't mean there's any punishment from human courts. – Ariel K Sep 27 '12 at 3:01
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    @ArielK - The statement may very well be non-literal, just as someone who neglects to wash before a meal may not be literally liable to a heavenly death penalty (see Eruvin 21b). – Fred Sep 27 '12 at 4:27
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    Thank you for asking this question. I am in the same situation as you. I have been learning Torah for nearly two years. And i abandoned all my friends and family because of this. However the unfortunate thing is that my wife will not convert with me and no Rabbi will agree to help me with the conversion process. I feel like i am in a big hall and i don't know how to come of it. My heart will not allow me to keep the 7 laws, I want more of Hashem, nothing less. I learn from divineinformation.com and other sources. – Binyamin Sep 27 '12 at 8:30
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    My question is not relevant for me personally anymore. I finished my orthodox conversation. Thanks again to all who answered my questions during this time. – Ben Jan 4 '18 at 1:41

Rabbi Chaim Clorfene writes in his popular (and heavily annotated) book, The Path of the Righteous Gentile (p. 42), that B'nei Noach should learn parts of the Torah relevant to their service of God, as well as to the Torah's view on God. He adds that this can be broadly applied, as many areas of Torah "can bring one to greater knowledge concerning the performance of the Seven Noahide Commandments." He continues that "Talmudic or Halakhic study of subjects that pertain exclusively (emphasis added) to the Jew's service of God is forbidden."

The Meiri (Sanhedrin 59a), as paraphrased in this article, writes: "The seven laws of the Righteous Gentile, similar to the 613 laws for the Jew, have many different levels of understanding and many details of application. Most aspects of the Torah are therefore included in them." For example, the Rema rules that non-Jews should abide by halachah in areas of commerce (Shu"t 10). This would imply that a non-Jew should learn most of Choshen Mishpat, a massive undertaking.

The above link also cites Rabbi Eliyahu Touger as writing that, to help one "become aware of G-d's unity... a number of contemporary Sages have suggested the translation of certain basic Chassidic and Kabbalistic texts into English with the intent that they be studied by gentiles."

The linked article concludes with the statement of R' Meir (Bava Kamma 38a, referring to Torah topics that are permissible to learn): "A Gentile who studies Torah is like a High Priest."

Also, from this article: "There is a dispute among poskim whether one may teach a non-Jew Torah if the non-Jew is planning to convert. The Meiri (Sanhedrin 58b) and Maharsha (Shabbos 31a s.v. amar lei mikra) rule that it is permitted, whereas Rabbi Akiva Eiger forbids it (Shu"t #41)." This, of course, only refers to the parts of Torah that would otherwise be forbidden to teach a non-Jew.

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    Are you aware of any dispensations for a soon-to-be-convert? – Double AA Sep 27 '12 at 4:31
  • @DoubleAA - Thanks to you, I just added that at the end of my answer. – Fred Sep 27 '12 at 4:42
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    Excellent and +1. I trust that any Rabbi dealing with such a case would be aware of the issues involved when instructing his students. – Double AA Sep 27 '12 at 4:44
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    @Fred, Thank you for a good answer. You are all very helpful. – Ben Sep 27 '12 at 14:17

To answer your more specific question: no, a Gentile who studies Torah in a forbidden way is still not stoned. The Rambam rules (Milchamot 10:9 and English)

ואם עסק בתורה, או שבת, או חידש דבר--מכין אותו ועונשין אותו, ומודיעין אותו שהוא חייב מיתה על זה; אבל אינו נהרג.‏
If a gentile studies the Torah, makes a Sabbath, or creates a religious practice, a Jewish court should beat him, punish him, and inform him that he is obligated to die. However, he is not to be executed.

I suppose the "death penalty" here is more a statement of severity than a court order.

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    Or death by heavenly court – Michoel Sep 27 '12 at 5:14
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    @Michoel Isn't that too a statement of severity? I mean, we all die by either human or divine decision (most of us nowadays in the latter group). (And I'm not trying to open a discussion about if God has to agree to the human court decision, plus he knows the outcome already etc.) – Double AA Sep 27 '12 at 5:16
  • כרת/מיתה בידי שמים is a specific punishment; i.e. the violator would literally die before 50/60th birthday. See – Michoel Sep 27 '12 at 5:26
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    @Millthorn that depends on the discussion in Fred's excellent answer. I trust that if you are studying under the direction of a qualified rabbi then he will ensure that you come to no harm. – Double AA Sep 27 '12 at 14:52
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    @DoubleAA Thanks, yes I do study with a very qualified Rabbi in Israel, and his Rabbi is Rav Moshe Sternbuch. – Ben Sep 27 '12 at 14:59

Because of the length, I am including this as a separate answer:

As far as a death penalty for studying forbidden topics, the Lechem Mishneh commentary on the Rambam writes that there is no actual death penalty in this case, whether judicial or divine. He writes that it is a non-literal, rabbinic "death penalty" (Hil. Melachim, 10:9; see ad loc where he writes that there are other places [e.g. Hil. Melachim, 10:6] where the death penalty is figurative).

Presumably he means that a figurative death penalty was mentioned in order to convey the significance of the Torah as God's special and intimate bond with the Jewish people (B'rachos 57a), and the gravity of violating that bond. That is why, according to the Rambam, in a time and place where rabbinic courts had legal jurisdiction over the populace, non-Jews who were convicted of studying forbidden topics were liable to be severely chastised and punished by the court, or even flogged (Hil. Melachim, 10:9).

The seemingly hyperbolic choice of words is consistent with the Talmudic approach of emphasis through exaggeration (see Tamid 29a; see also examples from Sotah 10b and Yerushalmi, Pe'ah 4a). In fact, Tosafos discuss a Talmudic statement that a certain act carries a heavenly death penalty, and conclude that the usage of the term "death penalty" in that context is non-literal and "merely symbolic" (Rosh HaShanah 12a, s.v. Tana d'Rabbanan).

Mind you, there are prohibitions that carry an actual heavenly death penalty (see Sanhedrin 83a for a list), though such a penalty is not irrevocable. Unlike with a judicial death penalty, sincere repentance can absolve one of kareis (lit. excision, this punishment is interpreted in different ways) or a divine death penalty (Makkos 13b).


A non-Jew is permitted to observe mitzvos, with the two expeptions of Shabbos and studying Torah, as is explained in Rambam (Hilchos Melachim uMilchamot Chapter 10):

We should not prevent a gentile who desires to perform one of the Torah's mitzvot in order to receive reward from doing so, provided he performs it as required. If he brings an animal to be sacrificed as a burnt offering, we should receive it.

This is certainly the case if you are interested in converting, and are under the guidance of a Orthodox Rabbi.

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    So how is a non-jew expected to study for his conversion? – Double AA Sep 27 '12 at 1:48
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    Thank you Michoel I'm very grateful; but, are you not referring to documents that I'm not allowed to read? – Ben Sep 27 '12 at 2:27
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    From section 7 in the linked chapter it seems to me the problem is learning out halacha from original sources, i.e. innovating (even by recreating what is already known) Torah. But learning accepted practice appears to be permitted. But in any case a Convert-to-be certainly has different rules, because the convert is (supposed to be) guided by a Rav. The original meaning of learn Torah is not just memorize what others have said, but also to learn out concepts from the fundamentals. But this can be a problem if you are creating a religion (i.e. new practice) in the process. – Ariel Sep 27 '12 at 2:44
  • @Ariel Thank you. When you write Torah do you mean both Written Torah and Oral Torah? – Ben Sep 27 '12 at 3:13
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    I mean both, but the restrictions are mainly on the Oral Torah. I believe non-Jews are permitted to study Tanach (as long as they don't try to derive halachot from it, for example by using the 13 rules of exegesis or other types of hermeneutics). (Yay, new word for me :) – Ariel Sep 27 '12 at 3:28

Aside from all the answers provided above, I would like to point out that one's devotion to any cause can best be demonstrated by following the dictates of the cause.

I will give two practical examples:

When my kids want to "help", I always tell them that if they truly want to help, they need to do something that is actually helpful. This means that cleanup time is a time for actually cleaning up, not handling the toys in ways that are just modified playing. When they want to help in the kitchen, they cannot break extra eggs or pour extra ingredients (or unnecessary ingredients). They have to help the grownups follow the actual recipe and cooking process. Helping to build the Sukkah or hang photographs or decorate the house means just that - helping with those processes, not hammering extra nails or using the measuring tape for measuring parts of the house that aren't being modified, when someone needs that measuring tape for a useful purpose - or needs their potentially useful hands to help hold something.

When I was a student in Yeshivah, one of the rabbis admonished the students that their devotion to night-Seder (example for anyone not familiar) was only meritorious if it did not interfere with their ability to get up in the morning for Shaḥarith, which, at the time, was at 6:30am. Any late-night Torah study that kept them from rising in the morning or affected their study later the next day was inspired not by their Yetzer Tov (good inclination), but by the Yetzer HaRa' (evil inclination).

Put plainly, if the desire to do something that a person finds inspirational and feels brings him closer to G-d leads a person to do things that are not in proper service to G-d, then that desire is not coming from a person's good inclination, and a person needs to tap into the good inclination and use the energy there to overcome their evil inclination and serve G-d appropriately.

I see from your comments that you are planning to convert. This is a tremendous challenge, and I wish you much success!


It should be noted that even if you had violated a law subject to the death penalty, and I don't think you have, the death penalty can only be ordered by the Great Sanhedrin -- which doesn't presently exist -- when sitting and hearing cases in the Chamber of Hewn Stone in the Holy Temple -- which also doesn't presently exist. Moreover, the Sanhedrin itself removed itself from the Chamber of Hewn Stone 40 years before the Temple's destruction just so it could not order executions. Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 41a; Talmud Yerushalmi Sahnedrin 1:18a

  • See my answer where I demonstrate the the death penalty in this instance is not a court imposed one anyway. – Double AA Dec 26 '12 at 15:51
  • @Seth J Better? – Double AA Dec 26 '12 at 17:58

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