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The Gemara (Sanhedrin 58a) declared that a non-Jew is liable to death for learning Torah (at least the parts not relevant to him practically). If you read the passuk תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה literally, “The Torah did Moshe command us as an inheritance,” then if a non-Jew learns Torah, he’s in violation of theft; if you expound מורשה as מאורשה, then you get “The Torah did Moshe command us as a wife,” and then the non-Jew is in violation of adultery.

In practice, what should one’s response be if and when a non-Jew approaches him asking about some area of Halacha? Should the Jew explain it to him, perhaps as simply as possible without all the esoteric details, or should he not explain it at all, politely explaining why (while not quoting the above Gemara, as that would also be teaching him Torah)?

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  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/59704. This is not a dupe; you can look at this question as asking regarding the premise of that question, if you wish, but it’s certainly not asking that question itself.
    – DonielF
    Oct 18, 2018 at 14:34
  • I can't imagine that there is a problem explaining the general parameters of the halacha to a Gentile. There are numerous practical examples where that would be necessary. E.g. - Numerous kosher stores hire Gentile workers to handle the food. It would be necessary to explain some general rules such as don't mix the meat with the dairy. Sometimes at work, a Jew needs to explain why he needs to leave early on Friday afternoons.
    – DanF
    Oct 18, 2018 at 17:50
  • @DanF It could be argued in such cases that they fall under “relevant to them” that it should be permissible. In my case the guy is just curious.
    – DonielF
    Oct 18, 2018 at 21:04
  • I can't imagine that there's a problem with satisfying curiosity. I have told Gentiles about Pirkei Avot with a caution that many of the adages apply just to Jews. But, many apply to humanity (e.g. - distance from a bad neighbor.) If you think about it, why was there a commandment to write the Torah on stones in 70 languages?
    – DanF
    Oct 18, 2018 at 23:10

3 Answers 3

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R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg has a responsum that deals with this question. It is a lengthy responsum (and you should read it in it's entirety if you can) but one key point is what he derives from Rambam's wording of this rule:

Shu"t Seridei Eish 2:90 (Mosad Harav Kook edition)

יוצא מדבריו שהאיסור הוא רק בעושה לשם מצוה ומתכוון לחדש דת אבל לא בלומד מאהבת חכמה או להכיר תורתם של ישראל וכמו בשבת שאם ישב בטל אינו עובר אלא רק בקבע יום לשביתה כמו שכתב שם אם עשאהו לעצמו כמו שבת (ועיין ברדב"ז שם שכתב כן) כן הדבר בתורה שהאיסור הוא רק אם קבע את הלימוד לשם מצוה והרי הוסיף בזה על שבע מצותיו וחידש את דתם שלא כפי המצווה עליו

It comes out from his words that the prohibition is only when [the non-Jew] does it for the sake of the mitzvah and intends to originate religion, but not if he learns out of love of wisdom or to recognize the Torah of Israel. And just like with Shabbat where if [the non-Jew] sat doing nothing he does not violate [the prohibition of a non-Jew observing Shabbat] unless he designates the day for resting, as he writes there "if he made it for himself as Shabbat" (and see Radvaz there who writes this), so too it is with Torah – the prohibition is only if he designates the learning for the sake of the mitzvah, by which he is adding to the seven mitzvot and originating religion not in accordance with what was commanded to him.

He reiterates this later as well:

מכל מקום האיסור הוא רק אם הוא קובע הלימוד בתור מצוה ונוהג בעצמו מנהג ישראל וכן בשבת אם קובע יום מיוחד לשביתה כנ"ל משא"כ אם הוא יושב בטל מתוך עצלות או לומד תורה מתוך אהבת חכמה כמו שלומדים שאר חכמות או מתוך רצון גרידא להכיר תורתן של ישראל אז אין שום איסור לא על העכו"ם ולא על ישראל המלמדו

Nevertheless, the prohibition is only if [the non-Jew] designates the learning as a manifestation of a mitzvah, and acts with himself [according to] the custom of Israel. And so too with Shabbat, if he designates a specific day for resting, as mentioned earlier. As opposed to if he just sits doing nothing out of laziness, or he learns Torah out of love of wisdom like learning other branches of wisdom or out of simple desire to recognize the Torah of Israel, the there is no prohibition – not on the non-Jew, nor on the Jew who teaches him.

He also adds that even in a situation where it is forbidden for the non-Jew to learn, it is probably not forbidden for the Jew to teach him:

ולפי דעתי אין איסור על המלמד אפילו במקום שמתכוון העכו"ם לשם מצוה שאין זה דומה לנתינת יין לנזיר דהתם היין הוא המכשול משא"כ הכא אין התורה המכשול אלא הקביעות והכוונה לחדש דת ויש לפלפל בזה

And in my opinion there is no prohibition on the teacher even in a situation where the non-Jew intends it for the sake of the mitzvah, for this is not comparable to giving wine to a nazir where the wine [itself] is the stumbling block, whereas here it it is not the Torah that is the stumbling block but the designation and intent to originate religion [that is the stumbling block]. And there is what to discuss about this.

So in sum, according to R. Weinberg's understanding of Rambam there would be no problem with a non-Jew asking a Jew to explain some area of halacha, unless the non-Jew is doing it because he wants to fulfill the mitzvah of learning Torah, and even then there would probably be no problem for the Jew to provide the explanation because by teaching him Torah he is not providing him with the forbidden object, as the forbidden object in this case is the non-Jew's intent.

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  • You're great at finding sources, but frankly - from this source - is it clear for you why and what Talmud Torah a Goy is capitally liable for? How a Goy can intend for a Mitzvah if he admits he's not commanded? But otherwise, he repeats my answer, which I think states it more clearly.
    – Al Berko
    Oct 18, 2018 at 19:07
  • BTW, what he calls "מצווה" is #2 on my list, as I said a Goy can not intend to perform a Mitzvah but can intend to get in close relations to G-d which G-d forbids (unless he converts).
    – Al Berko
    Oct 18, 2018 at 19:14
  • @AlBerko They're not quite the same answer, though there is some similarity. In any case, I started my answer before you posted yours so I had not seen it yet when I posted mine.
    – Alex
    Oct 18, 2018 at 19:48
  • What's unclear about the aspect of "for the sake of the mitzvah" is the practical example I mentioned in my 1st comment. Briefly - What if a Jewish woman needs to teach a Gentile home-worker not to mix meat and dairy dishes in her home. Is that considered fulfilling a mitzvah of "keeping kashrut" for the Gentile?
    – DanF
    Oct 19, 2018 at 16:42
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    Wonderful! I tell my Gentile houseworker not to mix meat and dairy. While passing the stove, she accidentally dropped a piece of cheese into the meat pot. I tell her not to worry because it's batul beshishim (I explain the term in Spanish so she can understand.) Did she learn Torah, then?
    – DanF
    Oct 19, 2018 at 19:09
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I'm a non-Jew, so please forgive me if I have erred regarding anything here, or accidentally omitted anything which ruins my point, or overlooked these points in the answers to other similar questions.

The Gemara compares a gentile studying Torah to adultery or theft. But these can only be true if the gentile (even if we assume gentile means all non-Jews) is taking the Torah for his own, ie. depriving Its rightful owners. A non-Jewish believer of G-d that accepts that the Torah isn't his, and who studies it for non-selfish reasons has committed no theft. He has done nothing to erode the Jewish connection to the Torah (and perhaps his adoration strengthens the Jewish connection, for perception is dependent on the views of one's company). One may appreciate the possession of one's superior without having committed theft. This is also what the same Gemara suggests later:

"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 Gemara answers: There, in the baraita, the reference is to a gentile who engages in the study of their seven mitzvot. It is a mitzva for a gentile to study the halakhot that pertain to the seven Noahide mitzvot, and when he does so he is highly regarded."

Rabbi Meir's objection and the Gemara's reconciliation of that objection forces us to adopt a particular meaning of "study." As a non-Jew who learns of the Noahide Laws and doesn't keep them cannot be called a High Priest (per Rabbi Meir's quoted definition), so a non-Jew who studies Torah but doesn't adopt any Mitzva that doesn't apply to him cannot run afoul of the Gemara's prohibition. He is not "studying" by the Gemara's definition of "studying" (as that definition appears to me in the text anyway).

This is the exact manner that both the RAMBAM and R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (quoted by Alex in his answer to this question) interpret it, and therefore there is no contradiction with the Gemara. Furthermore, it seems this is the only way to reconcile this Gemara with a commonly (though perhaps not exclusively) given purpose of exile: converts (Gemara Pesachim 87b, explained by Yaaros Dvash (r'Yonasan Eibeshitz) 8,16). If Torah cannot be taught to any non-Jew, then all converts are impossible, unless they decide to convert while still blind to the Torah and their future obligations, which I know no orthodox Rabbi would tolerate.

So by this analysis of the Gemara, the parameters of the prohibition against a non-Jew studying Torah only concern study for the sake of performing a Mitzva beyond the non-Jews seven Mitzvot.

ואמר ר' יוחנן עובד כוכבים שעוסק בתורה חייב מיתה שנאמר (דברים לג, ד) תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה לנו מורשה ולא להם וליחשבה גבי שבע מצות מ"ד מורשה מיגזל קא גזיל לה מאן דאמר מאורסה דינו כנערה המאורסה דבסקילה 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 התם בשבע מצות דידהו:

Sanhedrin 59a: "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. The Gemara challenges: But if so, let the tanna count this prohibition among the seven Noahide mitzvot. The Gemara explains: According to the one who says that the verse is referring to the Torah as an inheritance, this prohibition is included in the prohibition of robbery, as a gentile who studies Torah robs the Jewish people of it. According to the one who says that the verse is referring to the Torah as betrothed, as the spelling of the Hebrew word for betrothed [me’orasa], is similar to that of the word for inheritance [morasha], the punishment of a gentile who studies Torah is like that of one who engages in intercourse with a betrothed young woman, which is execution by stoning. 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. The Gemara answers: There, in the baraita, the reference is to a gentile who engages in the study of their seven mitzvot. It is a mitzva for a gentile to study the halakhot that pertain to the seven Noahide mitzvot, and when he does so he is highly regarded."

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  • This appears to be a new question rather than an answer to this one. For this reason it might get closed, in which case you should resubmit as a new question, ideally with a strong summary upfront as it is quite long
    – mbloch
    May 16 at 4:26
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Learning Torah is manifested in two parts:

  1. Knowing it, remembering it and fulfilling it in practice. This is not different from any other profession or science - one studies it to know it and to implement the knowledge in his life.

  2. Enjoying the process of studying the Torah as a mean to get close to G-d (some sort of metaphorical intimate relations between G-d and the Jews). This part is solely intended for the Jewish people and a Non-Jew that would study it in this way would be liable to the death penalty as one that would have relations with a Jewish woman.

Therefore Gentiles are not only permitted to study the Torah extensively in the first way, but, according to the Gemmorah in Kiddushin and Rambam in Hichot Talmud Torah, they are rewarded for that as ones that are not commanded but still perform the commandment. So any Gentile that wants to KNOW more is welcomed.

There are, however, parts of the Jewish tradition called the "Sod", like the "intimate parts of the Torah" that are forbidden to be taught to the Gentiles. This does not include any practical Halachot.


It seems that the same reasoning applies to [the Sugya of] women and the study of the Torah.

PS. Not many people understand this distinction as the [common] Litvakes approach is almost exclusively intellectual, based on the meticulous study. On the contrary, the Chassidic approach is "כיוון שחסידים הם תורתן משתמרת", as he stories about BaSH"T go.

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    This answer would be a great deal more valuable if any of its assertions were backed up with sources.
    – Isaac Moses
    Oct 18, 2018 at 18:35
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Isaac Moses
    Oct 18, 2018 at 19:12
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    This sounds like a troll answer. Perhaps it isn't.
    – Joshua
    Oct 18, 2018 at 22:30

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