Talmud, Gentiles & Torah – Part 2

“Rabbi Meir said: From where do we know that even a non-Jew who engages in the study of Torah is like a High Priest? For the verse states (Leviticus 18:5): ‘And you shall keep my statutes, and my judgments, which if a man does, he shall live in them.’ The verse does not speak of ‘priests, Levites and Israelites,’ but rather says, ‘a man,’ which includes non-Jews. Thus you learn from here that even a non-Jew who engages in the study of Torah is like a High Priest.”
b. Sanhedrin 59a, Steinsaltz translation

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9 thoughts on “Talmud, Gentiles & Torah – Part 2”

  1. What is the whole story behind this quote? What is the context and conclusion of the argument? Let’s review the whole thing together.


  2. No response to this? I think there is more to this part of Talmud than is mentioned here and that its not really fair to only present one side. What about the other side and what about the conclusion of the argument?


  3. Andrew – sorry for the delayed response. I have been out of town.

    As you are probably aware, the Talmud isn’t about decisive conclusions. It is about looking at a subject from multiple perspectives. Adin Steinsaltz himself says in his excellent work The Essential Talmud, “The Talmud is perhaps the only sacred book in all of world culture that permits and even encourages the students to question it” (p. 9).

    It is also about challenging the interpretation of the conclusions. What is the conclusion here? It is four words in the ancient tongue: “התם בשבע מצות דידהו” — “There, with their seven laws.” One interpretation of this conclusion is that non-Jews are only on the level of High Priest when they study the “seven Noahide laws.” However, it could just as easily be interpretted to mean that this obligation to study Torah is bound to the non-Jew in the same manner that “the seven” is bound upon them.

    Hope that helps.

  4. It seems to me that all Rabbonim agree that a non-Jew should not study Torah like a Jew. I know there are some differences in regards to the exact things that are forbidden to study, but it seems all interpretations see this Talmud text as teaching a non-Jew should study mainly what applies to them, which means the noachide laws according to halakhah.

    To only quote part of this, seems to be mis-representing the text, at least how it has been interpreted as a whole in halakhah. That was my point. Thanks for the reply. I hope all is well with you and family.


  5. It should be also noted that Maimonides says a non-Jew who studies Torah like a Jew is worthy of death. Pretty serious stuff. I don’t understand it, honestly, nor do I agree…however, Maimonides is a well-respected codifier of Jewish law.


  6. Andrew – Is re-reading the text misrepresenting it? At least one camp is arguing for the responsibility of non-Jews to study Torah. The conclusion is ambiguous and open for re-interpretation.

    Also, Ramamb talks out both sides of his mouth. In one moment he says allow a non-Jew to fulfill as many of the mitzvot as they want, while in the next moment he supports the concensus of the death penalty for the same. Go figure.

    Btw – the death penalty in these cases is via the “heavenly court,” not the earthly court. That’s a bit of a relief.

  7. Okay Darren,

    I don’t mean to accuse you of misrepresenting the text. I just wanted to make sure the whole part was discussed because people should know the other side and the conclusions of halakhah.

    Rambam says non-Jews can voluntarily observe mitsvot if they are already faithfully obeying the 7 noachide laws and if they do these mitsvot according to halakhah. He says the exceptions to these optional mitsvot is Shabbat observance (complete shabbat observance according to halakhah) and Torah study. Many have pointed out that the Torah study he refers to here is obviously not the study of the Torah necessary to know how to fulfill a mitsvah that is allowed for a non-Jew as an option, but must refer to studying Gemara or how the halakhot are derived..in other words, studying Torah like a Jew in Yeshiva.

    All agree that TaNaKh is fine to study for everyone and one Rambamist website for noachides I read said that studying Mishneh Torah so a non-Jew can learn how to fulfill an optional Torah teaching is allowed and recommended.

    Are we the only two that are here or what? What happened to all the guys that used to comment here?


  8. Good stuff, Andrew. I appreciate you taking the time to post. I haven’t been real consistent in posting, so traffic has slumped off. Glad to see a die-hard!


  9. http://en.wikinoah.org/index.php/Optional_observances_for_non-Jews

    Darren, check out that page..specifically the last part about the Court for B’nei Noach and Rabbi Yoel Schwartz. They have ruled that a non-Jew can take on ANY other mitzvah they want as a voluntary observance as long as they are faithful to the 7 laws of Noach to start with. This was wonderful and amazing news to me. This is a legit Beit Din from Jerusalem with just as much authority or more than any other Beit Din I know of. After all, they are part of the Nascent Sanhedrin and will probably be involved in any serious moves forward in the efforts to completely re-establish the Sanhedrin authority in the land.


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