Gentiles Following Reason, and thus, Torah

Moshe Ben-Chaim


Reader: There is one problem which I have not been able to resolve, and which pertains to all rationalist interpretations of the Torah: Reason is non-denomination - anyone who has ever used it understands this - and so an interpretation which is rationally persuasive must be so to all. This means that the laws of the Torah, if rational, should appeal and apply to all. To be sure, this can be qualified - certain festivals and Eidim (I like Hirsch's classification of the laws) need only apply to Jews since they testify to particular events in our national history alone. Yet, with respect to other laws, one would believe that they apply to non-Jews as well. From Kashruth to Taharath Hamishapahah, if these are reasonable, especially given some of the reasons proposed by our commentators, they should be adopted by non-Jews. Note that I am not questioning the potential of non-Jews to convert - they need not accept the Torah in its entirety; they could adopt our Hukkim, Mishpatim, Toroth, and Mitzvoth etc., while not accepting the Eidim or any law which is clearly relevant to Israel alone. Yet, Judaism is not an expansionist religion and does not seek to impose any of its laws upon non-Jews, who are expected to abide by the Seven Noahide laws alone. The non-Jew who lives up to these laws has fulfilled his role, and merits reward and favour in God's eyes - the Talmud often refers to righteous Gentiles, who merit a place in the World to Come. Rather, our Sages describe a non-Jew (not a convert) who accepts our laws upon himself, claiming to have received them at Sinai, as worthy of death. How can this apparent conflict be resolved?

Thank You, Tyron (South Africa).


Mesora: Gentiles being worthy of death is applicable (according to Maimonides, laws of Kings 10:9-10) only with regards to studying Torah, which does not apply to their seven Noachide laws. (See Talmud Sanhedrin 59a)


It would not be true to say that a Gentile received the Torah at Sinai. That statement alone is riddled with potential and actual destructive sentiments. Any lie is. This would seem to be the concern of the Rabbis. Allowing such a lie would damage the credibility of the Torah, Moses, and God, as it distorts the perfect events orchestrated by God for imbuing mankind with His ideals, and setting up the unique distinction of the Jewish nation. In order to insulate the Torah system for the meticulous adherence to God's goals, a nation was formed with highly stylized and precise laws. These laws are to be studied, interpreted and taught only by those sanctioned by the very command of the Torah, I mean the Rabbis. These Rabbis are to be the scholars and the teachers of the Torah to all mankind. Even if a Gentile would not claim to have received the laws at Sinai, but would keep them as a Jew - without converting - this again dilutes the role of the Jew, as he is no longer the sole source of Torah dissemination. Others will be misled by the fully, Torah observant Gentile who did not convert, thinking there are other Torah authorities. The Torah system is built with protective laws empowering only select individuals with the proper Rabbinical tutelage to lead the masses. The observing Gentile is not one of these select individuals, or authorities.


Your statement that reason applies at all times is of course accurate. But this does not mean that reasonable laws given to a Jew are to be followed by a non-Jew. Knowledge does not equate with obligatory observance. Yes, the Gentile may decide to observe and realize the same perfection as the Jew by observing the 613 Torah laws, and to do so he must convert if he is so moved. But he is not commanded, as is the Jew. Even though laws may be reasonable to the Gentile - may this be - he is no more obligated to follow them by such understanding, nor is he allowed. A wise Gentile will of course see the perfections of the laws just as a wise Jew would, and is certainly free to live his life in accordance with his reason. But as the Talmud and Maimonides teach, Torah study outside the 7 Noachide Laws is punishable with death.


We derive a lesson from such severity meted out to gentiles who study Torah. God determined that only a select group - the Rabbis - trained under tutelage of those most prized teachers might fill the role of Torah authorities. Yes, death is a severe response to gentiles studying Torah, but corruption of God's word is a severe offense.