It is prohibited for a gentile to study Torah, and if he does so, he is [deserving of death] (see Sanhedrin 59a). A Jew is not allowed to teach him Torah, so as not to be the vehicle by which the gentile sins. What, then, is being added to this ruling in our Gemara from the verse in Tehillim?
According to ” ז ט we can say that the study of Torah which is prohibited for a gentile is the in-depth and careful study of its profundities. This includes the intricate aspects of Torah taught by Moshe to the Jewish people. However, the study of a simple listing of guidelines of Jewish law and general halachos would not cause a gentile to be liable for death. A Jew is, therefore, not in violation of עור לפני for exposing a gentile to such information. Our Gemara teaches that this is still prohibited, nevertheless, based upon the verse in Tehillim.
“Teaching Torah to a gentile”
from “Distinctive Insight” for Ghagiga 13
Daf Yomi Digest for September 21, 2014
Published by the Chicago Center for Torah and Chesed
Disclaimer: I suspect I may be misunderstanding the above-quoted text and it’s source. If anyone can offer clarification, I’d appreciate it. I can only base the following on my current understanding.
I suppose I take it for granted that I can read and study my Bible. I also take it for granted that all of the contents of the Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, are Jewish books, written by Jewish authors for Jewish readers. It was only with the advent of the New Covenant era which has yet to actually arrive, that large numbers of Gentiles were taught the Jewish scriptures as part of the grafted-in population of non-Jews into the First Century C.E. Jewish religious stream originally known as “the Way”.
Of course the prohibition cited in the above-quoted text didn’t exist at that time, at least not in a formal or written manner (and probably not at all as far as I know) and in fact, we see there was some expectation that the Gentile disciples of the Master were expected to learn and study Torah under the authority of Jewish teachers:
For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
–Acts 15:21 (NASB)
I interpret this rather cryptic verse to mean that the Gentiles, though by legal decision (Acts 15) obligated to observe only a subset of the full yoke of Torah incumbent on a Jewish disciple, were nevertheless to hear Torah read in the synagogue on Shabbat and most likely to learn and study Torah with their Jewish teachers and mentors. Such an informational background would be absolutely necessary if the Gentiles, especially those recently having been pagans (as opposed to the God-fearing Gentiles who regularly attended shul) were to make any sense at all of the teachings of the Master and to comprehend how the New Covenant blessings allow for the redemption of the people of the nations through God’s redemption of all of Israel.
But of course something happened between then and now. Gentile Christianity was formed out of the bosom of the early Jewish Messianic movement and proceeded, due to many events and circumstances, to remove itself from having anything to do with Judaism. I’ve said before that the actions and mistakes made by the first Gentile Christians in the Second and Third Centuries have been carried down in some manner or fashion into the current Church such that “studying Torah” is not on any believer’s radar (although there are exceptions which I will address presently).
No doubt a great deal of apprehension and even fear among Jewish people has been inspired by the decidedly nasty behavior of the Church toward the Synagogue over the long centuries, and has only been softened quite recently due to Hitler’s Holocaust.
About 350 years ago, someone asked Rav Avraham Amigo, zt”l, an interesting question. “A notzri who is connected to the authorities has been buying our books in an effort to complete a library of all the basic Torah texts. He has also offered to pay a certain Jew to teach him Torah. It is not clear whether this is preparatory to conversion or because he is seeking a way to undermine the Jewish community. Is it permissible to teach him or sell him seforim?”
The Gadol responded, “It is prohibited to teach him, as we find in the Gemara in Chagiga 13a. However, if there is a potential threat to Jewish life involved, it is definitely permitted to teach him, as we learn from the Gemara in Bava Kama 38b. If it does not appear that there is an element of danger in this case, I forbid teaching him or selling him books. Whether he truly intends to convert is difficult to ascertain because he could endanger himself by showing an interest in Judaism as the citizen of a Catholic country. In any case, the Gemara in Gittin 85a states that conversion is not likely, and we also find many references in Shas that prove that heretics often try to capitalize on whatever little learning they do have to defame the sages and undermine the Jewish community.”
The Rav continued, “In any event, we must guard against the possibility that he will travel where he is unknown and get the confidence of a Jew on the road. The Jew will trust him because he is learned. Once he wins his confidence he may very well kill him. This is the logic of the Gemara in Menachos 43a regarding the prohibition to sell a non-Jew techeiles. If he was wearing techeiles, he could easily fool a Jew on the road and kill him for his possessions!”
“The Torah of the Jewish People”
from “Stories off the Daf” for Chagiga 13
Daf Yomi Digest
When I first read this story I thought it seemed ridiculous that homicide would be the only or primary motivation of a Gentile to desire Jewish learning. But apparently the fear originated somewhere and resulted in essentially blocking off any non-Jews from more than a superficial level of Torah study unless that Gentile person’s intent was to convert to Judaism.
This doesn’t seem very applicable today, though. I can go online and order any Jewish book that’s available for purchase from any number of Jewish or non-Jewish sellers. I can even order all manner of Judaica online including tefillin and a tallit and no one is going to require that I prove that I’m Jewish (which I’m not). Of course, accessing a knowledgable and authentic Torah scholar from which to learn and study might be a bit of a chore, especially within Orthodox Judaism, but on the other hand, I could take online classes through organizations such as the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, and as far as I know, there’s no restriction on any class based solely on being Jewish or Gentile.
I really doubt there’s much of a chance that someone like me studying Torah, in whatever manner I’m able, will result in any physical (or any other kind of) harm coming to a Jewish person.
But notice something else.
“If he was wearing techeiles, he could easily fool a Jew on the road and kill him for his possessions!”
This statement assumes that the hypothetical homicidal Gentile being discussed not only appeared learned in Torah but that, based on a different Gemara, he could be mistaken for a Jew because he was wearing “techeiles” (which is the blue coloring originally commanded [Numbers 15:37-41] that Bnei Yisrael wear as a thread among the tzitzit on the four corners of their clothing). I have to assume that “techeiles” is another way of saying tzitzit in this instance, thus it is not only forbidden to teach a Gentile Torah but to sell him tzitzit (in modern times, probably a tallit with the tzitzit attached) as well for the sake of Jewish safety.
While in the modern era, it seems highly improbable that a Gentile would study Torah and wear tzitzit for the express purpose of waylaying and murdering a Jew for his possessions, that fear originated somewhere at some time in the past and I don’t doubt that such an apprehension “echoes” across the corridors of history and into the present day.
Ten years ago, I was sitting in our local Conservative/Reform synagogue on Shabbat. Mel Gibson’s film Passion of the Christ (2004) was about to be released in theaters across the U.S., and in the discussion was a very real fear of the consequences. Historically, after every passion play, there is a pogrom, and although our little corner of Idaho generally doesn’t see a great deal of anti-Semitism, a shared cultural and genetic fear rapidly filled the room.
While at least locally, nothing happened and the film came and went, that fear comes from somewhere and it persists.
Ever since there have been Jews or Israelites or Hebrews, the rest of the world has been trying to kill them. Two-thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul was actively recruiting Gentiles to enter into and participate in Jewish communal and religious space as co-equals and participants in the benefits of the New Covenant blessings, however, he received a great deal of pushback from Jewish communities and community leaders, even to the point of Paul suffering injury and risking death.
And yet, there were synagogues from Syrian Antioch to Rome where Jews and Gentiles co-mingled in relative peace, studying, worshiping, and associating together, and at least for at time, it seemed to work out.
But not in the long run.
The history would take too long to relate, but the net result is that Jews learned to distrust the Gentile Christians along with all of the other Gentiles in the diaspora, and Gentile Christians for their (our) part, learned to distrust Jewish people.
Hence rulings were issued such as it being forbidden to sell Jewish books and to teach Torah to a Gentile, and the seemingly irrational fear that a Gentile would leverage Jewish learning and a Jewish appearance to do harm to a Jew.
But now we have something interesting going on.
A significant minority population of Gentile Christians are experiencing a renewed interest in Judaism, specifically Messianic Judaism. On the surface, the Messianic Jewish movement seems to be an attempt to do what Paul was trying to do; to bring Gentiles into Jewish community for the mutual study of Torah and the mutual worship of God through faith in the work of Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus).
But that’s not exactly what’s happening. In the days of Paul, the Way was one of many Judaisms in ancient Judea and the diaspora nations, and if Gentiles wanted to join, they had to accept Jewish authority in the synagogue. Gentiles, by definition, were the learners since all knowledge of Messiah was Jewish knowledge. Gentiles were present in Jewish community by the invitation of the Jewish community, and that community defined Gentile legal status and all of the requirements for Gentile entry and participation.
Modern Messianic Judaism, given the past two-thousand years, is not an attempt to re-create the “churches” of Paul. Gentiles have plenty of Christian Churches and a long and rich tradition to draw from. Jewish people discovering the revelation of the identity of Messiah are attempting to maintain Jewish space and community and to carve out a niche for themselves in larger Jewry, one that allows for a fully experienced and realized Jewish lifestyle that acknowledges Messiah as mediator of the New Covenant God (Hebrews 9:15) made with the House of Israel and the House of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31).
And as I said above, a significant portion of Gentiles are leaving churches and are fascinated with a wholly culturally and religious Jewish take on who Jesus is and what it really means to be a disciple of the King of the Jews.
Do you see how confusing this could get (and has gotten)? Jews who don’t want to convert to Christianity and abandon what it is to be a Jew are attempting to develop Jewish communities for Jews in Messiah, but the Gentiles are knocking at the door asking (and sometimes demanding) to be let in and to study Torah. At some visceral level, I can see the old fears kicking in among the Messianic Jews. Can they be a Jewish community if Gentiles are present? What other motivation could some of these Gentiles have for wanting entry?
Even if those fears don’t appear rational to the rest of us, it’s possible the fear, or at least some degree of apprehension, is still there and feels very real.
I don’t know any of this as absolute fact, but I find myself wondering if Jewish opposition to Gentile participation in the larger body of the mitzvot up to and including donning a tallit, laying tefillin, davening with a siddur, and the rest of those behaviors that make a person look “Jewish” (whether they are or not), might have something to do with the same spirit that inspired Chagiga 13?
I don’t know. But if there’s even a hint of that historical fear incorporated in the desire for modern Messianic Jews to have exclusively Jewish community, then we “Messianic Gentiles” might want to take another look at what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
I’m not saying it should be forbidden for Gentiles to study Torah. Far from it. I’m not saying that all Gentiles should be forbidden from having community with Messianic Jews. Far from it. I’m just saying that we should wait for an invitation to enter someone else’s house.
And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
You’re probably reading this “meditation” in the “space” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, that very critical ten day period in Judaism when many observant Jews are attempting to shift the scales of God’s justice toward mercy. It’s also the time when the new year is unfolded before us all shiny, new, and full of potential. After Yom Kippur is Sukkot, then Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, and a new Torah cycle begins on October 18th.
There have been a number of changes in my life that occurred rather abruptly and I’m looking forward to pursuing my studies with renewed zeal and anticipation. Who I study with and how we pursue the Bible and the presence of God, I don’t know yet (as I write this). As with the other changes I’ve experienced like this one, I’ll wait and see what God has in mind.
Secular sources view history in perspectives of their own, predicated on economic, social, and political principals. By contrast, the Torah directs us to view history as the unfolding of the Divine Plan. History is the metamorphosis of man through the stages of destruction and redemption, continuing towards his final redemption in the days of Moshiach. And all such events, the redemptions and destructions, are perceived as fundamental testimony to the presence of the Almighty in this world, and are understood as experiential units in hashgachah pratis, the active force of the Hand of the Almighty. (Rabbi Mordechai Gifter; “Torah Perspectives,” pp.103-4)
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
from his commentary on Torah Portion Ha’azinu, pp.466-7
Growth Through Torah
Addendum: Having written all this, I find that Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann’s FAQ called Responding to Some Questions About Messianic Jews and Torah does an excellent job of addressing matters of Torah for the Messianic Jew. I highly recommend it.