supernal torah

Non-Jews and the Mitzvot: A Brief Commentary On One Orthodox Jewish Perspective

Moshe also does not need me to clarify for him. Nonetheless, I think his point is unexpected and worth considering, in that he is saying that many mitzvot aren’t inherently valuable, they’re only valuable as part of a particular relationship with Hashem. It’s not that he objects or is bothered by non-Jews doing them, he’s saying that in these areas, the differences between Jews and non-Jews are such that these actions are literally meaningless for them.

-Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein
“Do Non-Jews Get Reward for Mitzvot?”
Torah Musings

Now before anyone flips out, I want to say that I found a link to this article on Facebook, and that “Torah Musings” is an Orthodox Jewish venue, so please take that perspective into consideration. In fact, their About states in part:

Torah Musings is a window into the Orthodox Jewish intellectual’s world, providing sophisticated but popular textual studies, important news stories and associated commentary from the perspective of an Orthodox Judaism that is intellectually open and halakhically conservative.

rothstein
Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein

Further, the disclaimer at the very bottom of Rabbi Rothstein’s article says:

The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.

Again, please keep in mind that the contents of this write-up, including the portions quoted here on my blog, are crafted within the conceptual and intellectual confines of Orthodox Judaism and are the educated opinions of R. Rothstein specifically.

So don’t lynch me or hang me in effigy just for reporting something I find interesting and, I believe, relevant.

Almost three months ago, in an effort to distance myself from some of the angst we find in certain corners of Messianic Judaism regarding Gentiles, identity, and mitzvot, I wrote and published What’s Yours is Yours. Really, if a Gentile in Jewish space is a problem, I’ll bow out.

Among other related articles, I also subsequently published Should Non-Jews Study the Torah and I concluded “yes,” with the proviso that studying Torah did not make one automatically obligated to perform each and every possible mitzvah described therein.

But having, to the best of my understanding and ability, examined the Messianic Jewish viewpoints (yes, there are more than one) as well as Hebrew Roots’ and Christianity’s opinions on the topic, how can I resist investigating how this Orthodox Jewish Rabbi answers the question he has asked?

As you can see from the above-quoted paragraph, R. Rothstein, in examining the “original responsum, Iggerot Moshe Orach Chayyim 6;2,” states that Moshe’s opinion would be that while we are not forbidden from performing the mitzvot, because many or most of them are directly linked to the (Sinai) covenant relationship Hashem has with the Jewish people, laying tefillin, wearing tzitzit, or building and living in a sukkah are simply meaningless to us relative to actually fulfilling these mitzvot, because non-Jews, even those living as Noahides, are not part of that covenant.

solomon's templeIs that the final word?

R. Rothstein reviewed the opinions of multiple authorities and they all differ somewhat in how strict they rule in this area.

1. Schepansky had noted that Rambam, in his Mishnah Commentary to Terumot 3;9, explained that even though non-Jews are not obligated in giving terumah, they still get reward for doing so, which is why the terumah they designate qualifies as actual terumah.

2. Moshe labels it one of the exceptions, donations to hekdesh (anything having to do with the Temple) and charity, examples he proves from the Talmudic assumption that Balak is rewarded for his sacrifices and Baba Batra 4a’s view that Nevuchadnezzar’s giving charity was effective. Non-Jews are also rewarded for appropriate speech, as Rashi says on Bereshit 19;39, where Lot’s younger daughter was more circumspect about her son’s paternity. Nevuchadnezzar also gets rewarded for the three steps he takes to hear the word of Hashem.

Those are all examples of non-Jews taking intuitively decent and good actions. When it comes to that which the Torah nonintuitively legislates for Jews, such as Shabbat, holidays, tefillin, tzitzit, sukkah, lulav, shofar, kosher, shatnez and anything like that, R. Moshe reverts to his view that these mitzvot only have value as a Jewish response to Hashem’s command.

This suggests that certain mitzvot might actually have meaning when performed by non-Jews, such as making an offering at or donations to the Temple (which currently does not exist), or other actions that any reasonable person would intuitively understand are morally good or right. On the other hand, those mitzvot that we would not intuitively realize are good, such and laying tefillin or donning a tallit gadol when praying, actions that are specifically associated with the Jewish people and their (Sinai) covenant relationship with Hashem, simply mean nothing to Hashem when we perform them, because we non-Jews stand outside the (Sinai) covenant.

Orthodox JewsI know pretty much who is going to object to all this, but please remember that these opinions are coming from an Orthodox Jewish source, so you can’t necessarily hang blame either on me or on any authorities existing within Messianic Judaism.

You’ll need to click the link I provided above to get the full gist of what R. Rothstein has composed, but he does cite other authorities who believe a non-Jew may receive a reward for performing mitzvot voluntarily, although this probably doesn’t include the previously mentioned observances specifically associated with Judaism. Some have even suggested that the non-Jew may receive a greater reward, but this is a minority opinion and possibly considered erroneous by the majority of authorities.

The article concludes:

In that sense, R. Moshe is actually being more lenient towards non-Jews, in that in his view they are not missing out on a good. For R. Moshe, a non-Jew who keeps the Noahides is doing all s/he should do, not just all the Torah happened to let him or her know about. It’s not that they are too benighted to know the wonders of our mitzvot, it’s that those mitzvot don’t apply to them, unless and until they decide to convert.

In other words, it is understood that Gentiles may recognize the beauty of all of the mitzvot once we study Torah and become aware of them, however that recognition goes not make us obligated unless we choose to convert to Judaism.

This is more or less what I’d expect given an Orthodox Jewish perspective, and is actually more liberal than I would have previously imagined.

Now the question is, from the viewpoint of disciples of Rav Yeshua and my understanding of our graciously being allowed to partake in some of the blessings of the New Covenant by Hashem’s mercy and through the symbolic sacrifice of our Rav, does this change anything as far as non-Jewish disciples, the mitzvot, and their significance?

That’s the $64,000 question.

And it’s one that A) I’ve answered before, and B), that I don’t intend to hash out again in this blog post.

rainbowI am writing this “mediation” and providing links to the source material because I find it fascinating that Orthodox Judaism would even pose the question for serious, scholarly debate. If it’s a question that Orthodox Jewish authorities find necessary to ask, given that they see non-Jews as subject only to the covenant Hashem made with Noah (see Genesis 9), how much more so should it be a question within Messianic Judaism, given that Hashem has allowed even the non-Jew to become a disciple of Yeshua by mercy and grace?

You can read other articles Rabbi Rothstein has written for Torah Musings as well as at the Orthodox Union (OU) and The Times of Israel to gain greater insights into his perspectives.

I know this will probably ruffle someone’s feathers, but really, I’m just publishing this as a matter of interest as to how wider Judaism considers a matter that is, from my point of view, highly relevant to non-Jews who are “Judaicly aware” and who are or have been involved in either the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots communities.

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9 thoughts on “Non-Jews and the Mitzvot: A Brief Commentary On One Orthodox Jewish Perspective”

  1. There shall be one Torah for the ger as well as the native born. Multiple places in the Torah.

    Period.

    The opinions of a man that run contrary to the Word of YHVW only serve to demonstrate that like me, he still doesn’t have it all figured out.

  2. Pete, you need to read my blog post more carefully. I posted this because I found it fascinating that Orthodox Judaism is considering this question and frankly, they don’t have to. I didn’t post this information to (necessarily) advocate for the information presented by Rabbi Rothstein.

  3. I understand your fascination, I just posted my opinion of his opinion. Traditions run deep, but Abba is radically changing them all around us in our day.

    There is one Torah for kol basar.

  4. I’m sure we could so get into how I believe everyone has a tradition for interpreting the Bible and how I believe no one has an unfiltered view or understanding to the Scriptures, Pete.

  5. Shavua Tov! I am reasonably certain we went ’round this discussion yet again not more than two or three articles ago, pointing out that within the Torah there are various categories known as torot (instructions, teachings), mitzvot (commandments), ‘hukim (laws, rules) and mishpatim (decisions, judgments). Some of these apply only to women, some only to lepers, some only to those under a Nazirite vow, some only to Cohanic priests, some to only Levites, and so on. A statement like “one Torah for kol basar” is only true for a few of these torot, etc; and it is patently false if taken as a generalization for all of Torah. Someone making such a statement is indicating ignorance of the big picture that comprehends the whole of Torah. Such ignorance could be deliberate or it could be innocent naiveté — or it could even be deliberately disingenuous to cover an agenda antagonistic toward the Jews of the covenant. But we will presume better of our friendly neighborhood Pete who drops in here from time to time.

    Nonetheless, I also found R.Rothstein’s perspective interesting, as you describe it James; and I find it not entirely surprising that it corresponds reasonably closely with my own. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Thank you for sharing that discussion (and additional writings) at the link/s, James. It is interesting to think about. Now, reverting to noachide teachings, or even to “intuition” (noted in the article), I was dismayed and even shocked by one of the candidates in the debate a few days ago. As “appropriate speech” is acknowledged to be rewarded (and as such speech is obviously worthwhile anyway), It seems to me he may have put a nail in the coffin of his candidacy (candidacies — running for President as well as to keep a Senate seat for KY).

    From just reading Genesis nine, I get “being fruitful and replenishing destroyed earth,” not eating meat “with blood” (but eating meat), and life for life. Then, subsequently, in a little storyline that is a bit comparable (though quite different) to the one noted for appropriate speech (that of the younger daughter of Lot) there is a grave consequence for laughing at your [naked and compromised] father.

    The candidate I have in mind insulted — to say the least as his choice of wording wasn’t mild — seniors and their parents (“after WWII”) along with kids (and having babies). The guy (candidate) and his dad (also political) are doctors and “conservative.”

  7. @PL: I shared the article specifically because it rendered an Orthodox Jewish perspective on a matter we commonly discuss.

    @Marleen: Even as disciples of Rav Yeshua, I feel the life we are called to lead is comprised of many mitzvoth, and the challenge is to discover them and to fulfill them as consistent with our role and identity as non-Jewish devotees of our Rav.

  8. I agree* with that, James. As a parent, I mostly wanted my children to learn from example. And, with not a large accumulation of rules, I wanted to teach then to decide to think (and clearly). That included paying attention to what words coming from their mouths mean. Partly, that involved a category of words that were ruled out (one of few rules). Even while mature persons might properly apply these words, such wording shouldn’t be thrown around. Other customarily “bad” words could bring a “talking to” upon you, but sentiments like “damn” and “go to h…” (terminologies which can be picked up all over the place despite their absence in the home) brought clear punishment. Add to that: I think adults are counterproductive to be negative about kids.

    * Although I say I didn’t want a lot of “rules” for my children, I also believe (and have said here recently) that there can’t be enough rules [etc.]. That’s why thinking matters. And “discovery” applies. We are saying kinda the same thing different ways.

  9. That is really some thought-provoking reading at the Orthodox Union site (haven’t used the links for the other ones yet, except for the one article in full that you quoted from in the above meditation). One detail pertaining to The Exodus and “Egypt-related Mitzvot” is the relation of honest business dealings or proper weights and measures and more to Jews remembering the Exodus (and, at times, specifically The Exodus or Passover as a distinct point and not “only” Hashem) is that the story (though not explicitly) shows Hashem sorts things out even when you think you are getting away with them. It was the God of Israel Who sorted out who were in fact the firstborn (not always obvious to humans) in Egypt.* While laws against theft and cheating are common (for order), to be so bold as to skirt proper protocol (in Israel) to cheat others (against Torah instruction) is to deny faith in G-d.

    * As I just write, now, it occurs to me weeping and pain over “the firstborn” at that time could be as much over finding some Egyptian firstborn were not firstborn as over deaths of firstborn.

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