Am I better off as a gentile or a Jew?

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reader: I understand that the Jewish soul is not superior to the gentile soul, and that the Jew is commanded to follow 613 commandments, while the gentile has only the 7 Noachide laws. Since there are so many laws a Jew must follow — a number of which have as their punishment the loss of the world to come — it appears that the gentile has an easier path to the world to come than the Jew! For the Jew, it’s quite easy to violate many of these laws, especially the prohibitions of various types of speech and numerous Sabbath prohibitions. 

Based on this, what is the advantage of being a Jew? A gentile can have all the luxuries of this world (no kosher laws) and easily earn the afterlife, but a Jew who struggles here, may end with suffering or no afterlife. Since every man sins and repentance can be quite difficult, suffering is guaranteed. Please try and enlighten me here as this has been bothering me for a long time. Thanks.

Rabbi: There are a number of issues: 

1. What are God’s rights?

2. What is the afterlife?

3. What earns us the afterlife, and is it equal for all? 

4. What sins forfeits the afterlife, and why?  

5. What is the Jew’s advantage?

6. Risk vs. Gain


1. God’s Rights

As Creator, He alone determines what is just, for He created “justice.” But God also designed man with the faculty of intellect so we can recognize His justice. Many times, this requires that we abandon our subjective views and adopt new understandings and new ideas of justice. When younger, we might think that all acts of killing are wrong. But as we study God’s justice, we learn that such an opinion is false, and that certain individuals and nations must be killed. Similarly, we might think that the path to the afterlife with fewer risks is preferred. But new considerations can change that view. I will explain.

2. What is the afterlife? 

We must bear in mind the prophet’s words, “No eye has seen it, except You [God] (Isaiah 64:3).”  That being said, we do know the afterlife is the state of the soul no longer relating to the body. Its is a state with no physical limitations such as sleep, eating, and tiring, as we are no longer physical. The rabbis teach that in the afterlife, people who have attained a level of knowledge and attachment to truth will enjoy a great pleasure in greater knowledge. 

3. What earns us the afterlife, and is it equal for all? 

 Maimonides teaches that the level of enjoyment, or the “portion” of the afterlife is proportional to one’s knowledge. But this experience is available only to the person who has grasped fundamental truths concerning God.

4. What sins forfeits the afterlife, and why? 

Maimonides teaches that one who does not know his 13 Principles, will forfeit the afterlife. These are listed in english here:

Through certain sins as well we will forfeit the afterlife. 

Sins that forfeit the afterlife are those that fundamentally corrupt our souls. Afterlife is the state of the soul where man’s attachment to God and His wisdom excels beyond earthly limitation. But if one is ignorant of God, or worse, thinks God is an idol or any other idolatrous notion, then he has no attachment to the true God, and thus, cannot experience the afterlife. The soul must have become attached to fundamental truths during life, for it to survive in the afterlife. But if a man or woman chased lusts and did not engage their minds in wisdom of God, His Torah and science, the Rabbis teach he is already as one who is dead, even during life. He is akin to a animal which has no soul.

One must recognize that the 613 laws — the Bible (Torah) — was not given until year 2448. What was God’s plan? Apparently, God’s will for Adam, Eve, their children, and all mankind until Moses, was that we were each to follow our intellects to arrive at God’s will. God designed man that he possesses senses and reason, the two tools that tell man what is true. With these tools alone, throughout time, many people lived highly intellectual lives, and some rose to the heights of Aristotles, Freuds and Einsteins. So first off, man is perfectly equipped by his very design to reach high levels and earn the afterlife. This still applies. Why then did God’s plan change that He gave a formal religion, a Torah? In His goodness, God granted al future generations an advancement — a means other that scientific study and philosophy — where man can more readily and quickly learn what are human perfections. Abraham and his children were unique, and did not require a Torah system, but most of mankind did. With time, new civilizations veered from God; many idolatrous cultures arose. The Torah was now required to redirect mankind to the path of truth, explaining why Torah includes numerous prohibitions against idolatrous rites and beliefs and its myriad of expressions. 


Gentiles are not precluded from the same good offered to the Jew. It is God’s will that all mankind recognize Judaism and the Torah as God’s only religion, and this will be so in the messianic era. But until then, the Jew’s obligation is to make the Torah available to all mankind. There is nothing preventing a gentile from using his or her mind to investigate the world religions to determine that Judaism is the only true religion, and enjoy the benefit in all its laws and principles. But why was the Jew alone commanded in 613 laws? For it was the Jew alone who was monotheistic at that time in history. All peoples were immersed in idolatry. But Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants held fast to monotheism. To preserve the truth for mankind, God selected the man (Abraham) who demonstrated his free choice of monotheism. God made his descending 12 Tribes numerous, and gave them the Torah on Mt. Sinai 3300 years ago. 

Torah is a system of perfection. The 7 Noachide laws are not. The latter are a minimal system that earns the gentile a right to life. If a gentile cannot adhere to these 7 minimal laws, then he has fallen below the threshold of God’s tolerance and he forfeits his life. As such, this minimal system does not earn the gentile a share in the afterlife equal to one who toils over the 613 commandments. One who observes the 7 Noachide laws cannot attain the perfection of one observing 613 laws. The afterlife for each is far afield.

5. What is the Jew’s advantage?

You asked of God’s justice, saying a Jew has many areas wherein he can stumble and lose the afterlife. The answer is that in general, this is equally so for a gentile. As both Jew and gentile are perfect equals (we all descend from Noah) our corruptions are the same. That is, for the most part, the same act that causes the Jew to lose the afterlife (viz., idolatry) will cause the gentile to lose it as well.  

But there are distinctions, as you stated, wherein violation does not forfeit the Jew’s afterlife, and some violations that do.

The Jew is punished for eating non-kosher, whereas the gentile is not obligated in kosher laws. This distinction is in the area of perfection, where God desires the teachers of His Torah to be of a certain high degree of character. Maintaining a control over our appetite refines our psyches and sublimates our instinctual energies. This has a goal of making the Jew — the Torah’s teachers — more suited for Torah study. If the Jew would not control his appetite and lusts, he would not find it within his tolerance to submit to hours upon hours of Torah study and have the knowledge to teach the nations. 

 A gentile is not obligated in circumcision, and if a Jew does not ensure he is circumcised, he will forfeit his afterlife. God desires a great benefit for all people. Starting with the world’s teachers, the Jew, God’s plan is that he identifies with Abraham, the first man to receive the command of circumcision. God wants man to hold in high esteem the life of Abraham, the gentile. Even post Sinai (after Torah was formulated) our blessing when circumcising our sons states, “to enter him (the son) into the treaty of Abraham our father.” If I recall my Rabbi’s lesson, this blessing highlights a man (Abraham) who achieved perfection without a Torah, a higher level of human perfection. Thus, a gentile who selects such perfected acts without obligation surpasses the Jew in this regard. Maimonides teaches that circumcision diminishes sexual sensation for both genders. With less of a sexual attachment, the Jew is again more suited to sublimate his energies to the higher pursuit of knowledge, which offers man the greatest fulfillment. Torah study is also the greatest command, for in its pursuit, man elevates his highest element, his soul. He attains greater wisdom of God. And this too is open to a gentile; he is to study his laws, and if he takes on more than his minimal 7 laws, which he is allowed to do, he is to study those laws too. And he can convert to attain equal status to a Jew, and enjoy the same portion of the afterlife. 

But you are right regarding this law, the Jew can fatally stumble where the gentile can not. But this is God’s will, that a single nation be held to higher standards for the sake of mankind. Holding the Jew to observe circumcision teaches the world that sensual pursuits are not the goal of mankind. God determined this lesson be taught by a nation who places such value on this command, and accepts the loss of the afterlife in its violation. But God informs us of this loss, so we are wise to not violate this command. 

6. Risk must be measured against gain. 

While the gentile has fewer chances to lose his afterlife, remaining with 7 laws does not provide him perfection of his soul, but only a right to earthly life, and an afterlife of small measure. 

You asked, “Is there an advantage of being a Jew?” Certainly, for by following more commands, man earns greater perfection and a qualitatively greater afterlife. Gentiles may convert to enjoy the most perfected life. Nothing holds them back from enjoying the best life equal to a Jew, and nothing prevents a Jew from sinning and forfeiting the afterlife in the same manner as a gentile through grievous sins. 

Should the gentle prefer to remain with less opportunity to lose the afterlife, or become a Jew with those risks — risks he can easily avoid — and enjoy the greatest afterlife through 613 commands and greater Torah study?  When considering the eternal state of the afterlife, is it not wiser to invest effort now, and secure a greater eternal existence, and not a lesser external existence? Both, the intelligent gentile and the intelligent Jew will choose to follow the 613 system. 

In the end, God has no favorites, as He willed each human to exist, each with equal potential. We cannot answer why God caused one soul to be born to gentiles and another to Jews. But that is irrelevant: God wants the good for all mankind, and His Torah is available to all who seek it. We must not feel it unjust that God gave the Jew “more chances to lose the afterlife.” Rather, we must feel fortunate that He created us as Jew with the heritage that will ensure the greatest afterlife possible, and this can be achieved with little toil…for it relies mostly on Torah study. The intelligent gentile will convert. The prophet describes the future, when the gentiles will cleave to Torah.  


Prior to Torah, to live properly, man was to engage his mind alone. However, civilizations corrupted themselves with sins that forfeited their afterlives. It was God’s kindness to redirect man back to truth and away from sin that He gave a Torah; a guide for all mankind taught by a people bound by its many laws. This Torah contains great deterrents from evil, i.e., the loss of the afterlife for sinners. This deterrent will curb future generations from reaching the severity of sin committed by the Egyptians, Canaanites and others. Viewing the risks alone (loss of afterlife), we might have one attitude towards the Jew’s many obligations and high degree of scrutiny. But viewing the potential obtained through Torah, and the good it offers mankind, do we not recognize the benefits of deterrents, and also, that we have the free will to avoid risks and select God’s great gift?

But Torah does not focus on the afterlife. For by doing so, one does not focus on the here and now, i.e., Torah study for its own immense pleasure. It is vital to recognize that regardless of the afterlife, one’s earthly life is of a qualitatively greater experience when following God’s commands, which by definition, requires study so as to grasp their purposes. For human perfection is not achieved physically, through the brute act of a command. Human perfection resides in the soul, and our souls are perfected through thought. One should live an earthly life where we are compelled by our love for truth; to investigate truth and live by it, without thought of reward. Ironically, when we live not for any reward, our lives are most enjoyable, and our reward increases. This is because attachment to truth can only exist when the attachment has no ulterior motive. 

The benefit of the life following 613 commands and their profundity is therefore found first in our earthly existence, where we are amazed by God’s wisdom and compelled to study it out of curiosity alone. This in turn earns us a great afterlife, a life of soul alone, where our soul which reaches great levels here, lives eternally in the attachment to God and His wisdom.

Rabbi Israel Chait offered this reply: “Your question is that the Jew has more opportunities to lose the world to come. But this is not simply a quantitative situation. A person who had the benefit of Torah, in violating a major crime [he] is committing a much worse crime since he is on a higher level, he loses more. At the same time, if he doesn’t violate, he has more reward.”  Rabbi Chait’s words are in line with the Sages’ words, “The righteous are judged by a hair’s breadth.” God holds higher level people to a higher standard. This is because they should know better, and also because “Those whom God loves does He rebuke (Proverbs 3:12)” — God desires to refine the righteous.