Letters May 2021
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Must Gentiles Procreate?
Reader: I have a question which no one can answer. At Sinai, Moses repeated the Oral “Noahide” laws which did not include procreation as it did at one time. My question is how do we know that Moses did or did not repeat the law of procreation? The Torah does not show what he said. Please help me on this if you can.
Thank you, Bill
Sturgeon Bay, WI
Rabbi: Talmud Sanhedrin 59b addresses your question:
Laws given to Noahides [prior to the era of Torah] which were repeated at Sinai apply to both Noahide (gentile) and Jews. But isn’t there the mitzva of procreation, which was stated with regard to the descendants of Noah? As it is written: “And you, be fruitful and multiply, swarm in the land and multiply in it” (Gen. 9:7). And it was repeated at Sinai, in the verse: “Go say to them: Return to your tents” (Deut. 5:26), when the Jewish men were commanded to resume conjugal relations with their wives after having been commanded to separate from them in preparation for the giving of the Torah. [Thus, the mitzva of procreation should apply equally to gentiles.] Nevertheless, the mitzva of procreation was stated for the Jewish people and not for the descendants of Noah.
We see that Moses did in fact refer to procreation at Sinai, thereby satisfying the condition of making a law obligatory for Noahides. Why then are Noahides not commanded in this mitzvah? The Talmud answers that what Moses discussed at Sinai was not the core command of procreation found only in Genesis—“Be fruitful and multiply”—but Moses addressed a mere isolated detail: after Revelation ended, procreation may now resume. Thus, the “core” command of procreation was stated only once to Noahides (to Adam), and never repeated. Therefore, the Jew alone has this mitzvah.
Were Future Souls at Sinai?
Reader: Shalom. I read your response to a letter entitled “False Ideas on Conversion.” My question is rather simple. Being that Judaism is both a faith and a nation, would it not be impossible to join a “nation” if one did not already be Jewish or possess a Jewish Soul? Deut. 29:13,14 states:
I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God [at Sinai] and with those who are not with us here this day.
Who is that group that God refers to as “not here today”? Also Talmud (Shevuot 39a) explains that this refers to future converts, whose souls were also at Sinai. Talmud says there, “A convert who comes to convert…” This begs the question: why does it say a “convert” who comes to convert? Rather, it should say a “gentile” who comes to convert! The reason is because the future convert already has a Jewish spark/soul inside of him. Peace & Blessings.
Rabbi: Talmud does not say future souls attended Sinai. It says future generations will be obligated in Torah. As my friend Benjamin Kaplan mentioned, “those who are not here today” means that exactly: those not yet born, and hence, not at Sinai. They weren’t born, and their souls were not yet of this earth. To suggest their souls were at Sinai is to deny Torah’s words, “they were not present.” The meaning is simply that future generations receive Torah obligation just as those real attendees.
Your second suggestion, “future converts have a Jewish spark/soul inside of them” is also false. God did not create different souls: some with “sparks” or Torah inclinations, and some without. This would violate God’s principle of Reward and Punishment, as this suggests that God made it easier for some people to follow His will (future converts), and He made it more difficult for others. God credits us only for our free will decisions, and not with our predisposition prior to birth…this notion of a “spark.” Such predisposition in theory is therefore wrong, and factually, it is not a truth. Every human must decide to study Torah, to recognize truths, and to overcome his or her emotions to follow what his/her mind dictates is true. We are credited only for what we do in life—not for anything prior—and we each have equal free will to sin or perform the good. No one does the good without free will. No one sins without free will. Sparks don’t exist.
Joining the Jewish nation is open to every human and simply means that one follows Torah. No one is barred in any manner…not due to lineage, race or previous sins.
But we can give an explanation for the midrash (allegory):
R. Johanan asked, “Why is it written, ‘Who does great things past finding; yea, marvelous things without number’ (Job 9:10)? You should know that every soul, from Adam to the end of the world, was formed during the six days of creation, and that all of them were present in the Garden of Eden and [also] at the time of the giving of the Torah, as it is said, ‘With him that stands here with us this day, and also with him that is not here with us this day’ (Deut. 29:14).” (Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei 3)
What distinguishes the era of the Garden of Eden? It was the time prior to God’s altering the human psyche when He implanted a newly created morality in us. In the garden, Adam and Eve were not embarrassed at their nudity (Gen. 2:25); they yet did not possess morality. They were on a higher level of existence, occupied only with truths, not with what’s right or wrong morally. “All souls of mankind were in the Garden” metaphorically means that all mankind possesses that duplicate capacity: later generations were not created with compromised souls. That is, just as Adam and Eve possessed a base perfected state capable of pondering great truths, and were later altered by receiving the additional moral faculty, we today also possess both components. Do not think we have fewer faculties than Adam and Eve. But the literal meaning that “all souls were in the Garden” is false.
What is meant by “all souls existed at the giving of Torah”? This means that those people literally present at Sinai had no greater evidence of Revelation than later generations. “I will come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you forever” (Exod. 19:9). God told Moses that Revelation at Sinai will contain an eternal, undeniable proof of His existence and of Moses’ authority. An eternal proof means that later generations are equated to Sinai’s attendees…as if later generations stood at Sinai.
Alcohol and Pork
Reader: My first question is about drinking [alcohol] with non-Jews. Talmud says one should not drink with non-Jews and gives some reasons like intermarriage. Personally I drink rarely like for festivals, recreation and happy occasions. There is a difference when I drink with believers and unbelievers. When I drink with believers the conversation is always about Hashem and the Torah and is really gratifying. But when I drink with unbelievers mostly there is unwanted talks and no productivity except some rare happy times. What is the advice regarding drinking with non-Jews?
Rabbi: We don’t drink with anyone but Jews for the reason you gave: lest we forge identification with them and marry their daughters: intermarriage.
Reader: A Jew who ate pork later came to know it is forbidden, repented and abstained from eating pork ever again. But he still thinks about the memory and taste of eating pork in a positive way or relishes the moment but does do the action [eat pork]. As memories are impossible to delete, is this wrong?
Rabbi: Thoughts of sin do not equate to sin (Kiddushin 39b). Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, “Don’t say, ‘I dislike pork.’ But say, ‘I enjoy it, but God forbade it’” (Sifra Kedoshim, 20:26). Meaning, we don’t deny real desires or create taboos. We are to accept reality—real desires—but in action, we follow God. Denying anything real is against Torah. We all possess emotions and strong energies; many thoughts are unavoidable, and thus, not sin. But acting on those thoughts would be sinful.