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I have read that there is a halacha that a non-Jew may not observe Shabbat. This seems to stem from the gemara cited here and the Rambam listed here.

But the gemara only seems to be saying that a non-Jew may not cease his productive employment out of laziness [sheshavat] (the Schottenstein reads "an idolater who ceased working for an entire day" as opposed to the translation in the linked answer which reads "A heathen who keeps a day of rest" and this answer which reads " A non-Jew who observes Shabbos"). In fact, the Schottenstein explains Ravina's elaboration that even a Monday would qualify to point out that the issue is not the religious observance of the Sabbath but any choice not to work for any day.

The Rambam says (in Hilchot Melachim 10:9) "וכן גוי ששבת--אפילו ביום מימות החול--אם עשה אותו לעצמו כמו שבת" a non-Jew sheshavat, even on a weekday. He then explains "if he made it for himself as a Sabbath" so the reasoning has to be religious: he did it for religious reasons but not as part of observing a Jewish sabbath. He continues "אין מניחין אותן לחדש דת, ולעשות מצוות לעצמן מדעתן" "They are not to be allowed to originate a new religion or create mitzvot for themselves based on their own decisions" (translation from here). The Rambam also says a line later, "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." This is at odds with Ravina's statement but can't be a blanket condemnation of all Torah related behavior of the non-Jew because a convert can study the Torah, at least parts of it. It also can't be a blanket condemnation because the Rambam, then writes, "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." He is not creating a religious practice, just following Jewish law, so it is OK (and he doesn't say "except for observing the Sabbath).

So the problem according to the Rambam still has to be doing these things in an effort to create his own religious practice, not in an effort to observe them as mitzvot.

So how do these two sources (one about laziness and one about crafting a new religion) develop into the idea that a non-Jew who wants to rest or observe the Sabbath (as part of a process of Jewish belief, or at least, not in an expression of laziness) is not allowed to? I don't see a citation to the Shulchan Aruch in this regard. No where in the gemara's statement is there mention of melacha being the issue so carrying a pen wouldn't address Ravina's point and if one was in the process of converting, the Rambam's concern wouldn't be present.

The other aspect, that the Sabbath is a unique covenant between God and the Jews so non-Jew cannot participate in it, seems not to connect with either of the potential sources. And since observance requires both Shamor and Zachor, a non-Jew should be able to "rest" completely and just not make Kiddush.

Then how/where did the statement of the gemara and the Rambam turn into the conventional wisdom which leads to jokes like this? How did a concern about laziness or about making a new religion turn into a prohibition against keeping a sincere and proper Sabbath on the path to conversion?

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    Re: "(and he doesn't say 'except for observing the Sabbath')": It should be pointed out that when the translation says, "[w]e should not prevent a gentile who desires to perform one of the Torah's mitzvot in order to receive reward from doing so", it's leaving out the word "משאר" that's in the original: "בן נח שרצה לעשות מצוה משאר מצות התורה כדי לקבל שכר אין מונעין אותו לעשותה". A more accurate translation would be: "We should not prevent a gentile who desires to perform one of the rest of the Torah's mitzvot in order to receive reward from doing so." – Tamir Evan Feb 13 '18 at 19:12
  • @TamirEvan in the flow (especially as that line refers to him as a Ben Noach), I saw the reference to "other than the 7 mitzvot bnei Noach" not "other than the Shabbat." – rosends Feb 13 '18 at 19:40
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    Well, I see it as flowing from "...או יעמוד בתורתו ולא יוסיף ולא יגרע ואם עסק בתורה או שבת או חדש דבר מכין אותו ועונשין אותו ומודיעין אותו שהוא חייב מיתה על זה אבל אינו נהרג" which comes right before it, making "of the rest of the Torah's mitzvot" to be to the exclusion of his Torah (the 7 mitzvot bnei Noach), studying Torah (outside his 7), making the Shabbat, and creating a religious practice that were just mentioned in the preceding Halakhah. Also, if he meant only to exclude the 7 mitzvot bnei Noach, why not just say "מצוה ממצוות התורה", without "משאר" (like the translation did). – Tamir Evan Feb 13 '18 at 20:28
  • Because the 7 mitzvot are also in the Torah, so sh'ar is the rest outside of those, signified by his status as Ben No'ach. – rosends Feb 13 '18 at 21:12
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    In the previous Halakhah, who is required to "אלא או יהיה גר צדק ויקבל כל המצות או יעמוד בתורתו ולא יוסיף ולא יגרע" ("[t]hey may either become righteous converts and accept all the mitzvot or retain their statutes without adding or detracting from them")? If it's a Ben Noach, then it is he that "ואם עסק בתורה או שבת או חדש דבר מכין אותו ועונשין אותו ומודיעין אותו שהוא חייב מיתה על זה" ("If [he] 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"). ... – Tamir Evan Feb 14 '18 at 7:38
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This is not a real answer to your question, but a couple of considerations to take into account (the way I deal with this issue):

  • Keeping Shabbos for a gentile is not a real prohibition, like the 7 Noahide laws. As Shabbos is considered to be Israel's spouse (as in Br"R 11,8 "אמר לה הקב"ה: כנסת ישראל היא בן זוגך"), this hints metaphorically to infidelity. Same with Torah. So even though Rambam rules it in Halachah, I treat it as "Hashkofoh" - the Jewish outlook.

  • This very Halachah contradicts two of other Halochos: 1. according to Rambam, as the gentiles ARE judged according to OUR laws, they need to learn our laws (the Oral Torah). 2. Rambam rules that one that's not commanded does have merit when fulfilling a Mitzvah.

  • "Keeping Shabbos", unlike overriding, is impossible to prove. One can witness one lighting a match, but one can not witness "not lighting a match". As gentiles are not judged according to their intentions, but their deeds, they can not be judged according to their lack of deeds.

  • This ruling does not apply to converts anyway, especially in our time, that they are required to prove keeping Mitzvot for a long period of time. In the ancient time that was not required and gentiles could convert overnight.

  • Rambam refers to a hypothetical situation when "יד ישראל תקפיה", and is not applicable practically. Maybe that's the reason Shu"A doesn't bring it.

  • It is a common misconception, that bothered me a lot, but finally gave me peace of mind when dealing with Rambam (and Gemmorah) statements - we should differentiate a cause (סיבה) from an "excuse"/interpretation (תירוץ). In most cases, when dealing with Gemmorah Rabbis interpret it instead of explaining it. It always sounds plausible but often is a bit shallow, that allows the Rabbis themselves to refute one another, that would be impossible if they brought real answers, under "אילו ואילו דברי א' חיים".
    Rambam was a great educator and made a big effort to speak in a persuasive manner to people of his generation, thus providing his own interpretations, not backed up by Gemmoro or preceding Rabbis. This is why I do not accept his interpretations literally, but try to test the hypothesis against other rulings and topics. If it is consistent - it might hint on a cause, but if it is not (see #2) I don't treat it as a real explanation but as just an opinion.

This should address your question of "a concern about laziness or about making a new religion turn into a prohibition against keeping a sincere and proper Sabbath"

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    As you yourself admit, “this is not a real answer to your question.” – DonielF May 14 '18 at 22:35
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    "even though Rambam rules it in Halachah, I treat it as "Hashkofoh" - did you really mean to write this? do you apply this to many other areas? – mbloch May 15 '18 at 4:15

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