Gentiles Learning Torah II


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Reader: Dear Mesora,

I read your publication weekly and thoroughly enjoy it. In addition I often quote the Jewish Times in classes I teach.


Although I am not a judge, I take issue with your response concerning a reader’s question about a Gentile attending Torah classes on Shabbat. You said a Gentile could not learn Torah, outside of his 7 Noachide commands. In Maimonides’ ruling in his Law of Kings  (Chap. 10 Law 9) he uses the verb “asak” (to “labor” in) not the word “lamad”, which means to learn. The gentile must not, according to Maimonides, “ labor in” teaching the Noahide commandments. This appears to mean that the gentile may not teach Torah professionally. However, to “learn” Torah, it is my understanding that it is not at all prohibited.  


Mesora: See the Maharsha on Talmud Chagiga 13a. There, he says a Gentile who “learns” Torah other than his 7 is punishable with death. He uses “ha-lomade” (learns) not “asak” (indulges). The Maharsha clearly defines the prohibition as a Gentile learning Torah, outside of his 7 Noachide Laws.


Reader: You then correctly explain the severity for this prohibition - as Maimonides also implies - that this prohibition on Gentiles studying Torah is for the goal of not “blurring the line” of who is a Torah authority. Maimonides goes on to explain, and you seem to concur, that the prohibition applies to a Gentile who seeks to establish any additional commandment in addition to the 7 Noachides.


This clearly suggests that the prohibition for the gentile is not to teach - nor propagate - Torah to others, or establish oneself as an authority on Torah. This is not a prohibition for the gentile to learn Torah for himself.  

As such, this prohibition would not seem to apply to a Gentile who attends classes about Judaism. In the next Law in halacha (law) 10:10 Maimonides goes on to state that for a gentile who wants to fulfill any “mitvza”  (in addition to the Noahide Mitzvot) in order to receive reward - he is not prevented from properly doing so. 


Mesora: Rabbi Reuven Mann suggested that Maimonides’ halacha 10:9 addresses a prohibition for learning “for the sake of learning”, whereas halacha 10:10 addresses learning “for the sake of performing”. In the latter case, no prohibition exists. Rabbi Mann suggested that the prohibition is for a Gentile, is to study Torah as an end in itself, i.e., for the mitzvah of “limud Torah”. But to study so as to know how to perform mitzvos, no prohibition exists. These are Rabbi Mann’s words. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l states in his letters (Yoreh Daya II, Siman 7) that this law 10:10 refers only to non-recurring mitzvos. But should a Gentile wish to continue performing a certain miztva in addition to his 7 Laws, he is not allowed. This makes sense, as this would appear as a creation of a new religion: he is practicing something other than 7 Noachide Laws.


I reviewed many, and some lengthy letters of Rav Moshe Feinstein, and did not find where he permits a Gentile to learn other than his 7 Noachide Laws, or for a Jew to teach Torah to a Gentile outside of the 7. (One exception is outlined below.)


Reader: Maimonides also states that the gentile may go on to accept all the Mitzvot and convert to Judaism. How would this be possible if he were prohibited from learning Torah?


Mesora: The Rabbis address this point, teaching that for exclusive purposes of conversion, the prohibition on a Gentile to study is not applicable.


I hope the Rabbis explanations are not misconstrued. Torah is a completely righteous system. The prohibition on Gentiles to study is not a prohibition on them, as much as it is an appointment of the Rabbis. Through such a prohibition, the Rabbis and the Jewish nation remain the exclusive teachers of Judaism, and so should it be: they are the ones who received the proper facts and methods of interpretations. And should a Gentile enjoy the Torah so much, he may convert, enjoying the study of Torah as one of the Jewish people. In reality, there is no limitation placed on any person who desires to study.