21 September 2016

It Doesn't Get Any Clearer Than This

18 Elul 5776

Just so we have things straight in our own minds (me included)...

The Rambam in Hilchot Melachim u'Milchamoteihem (The Laws of Kings and Their Wars), Chapter 10, Halachah 9:
"A gentile who studies Torah is liable to the death penalty. They should be involved in the study of their Seven Mitzvot only."
(Commentary: A gentile who studies Torah - Other than the Seven Mitzvot
is liable to the death penalty - At the hand of God. Sanhedrin 59a comments: Deuteronomy 33:4 states: "The Torah which Moses commanded us is the heritage of the Children of Israel." "It is our heritage and not theirs." The passage continues, noting the connection between the words מורשה and מאורסה, "betrothed", and explains that a gentile's study of Torah is equivalent to adultery.)
"Similarly, a gentile who rests, even on a weekday, observing that day as a Sabbath, is liable to the death penalty. Needless to say, [he is liable for that punishment] if he creates a festival for himself.
The general principle governing these matters is: They are not to be allowed to originate a new religion or create mitzvot for themselves based on their own decisions. They may either become righteous converts and accept all the Mitzvot or retain their statutes without adding to [or] detracting from them.
If [a gentile] studies Torah, makes a Sabbath, or creates a [religious] practice, a [Jewish court] should beat him, punish him, and inform him that he is liable to the death penalty. However, he is not to be executed."
The Rambam in Hilchot Melachim u'Milchamoteihem (The Laws of Kings and Their Wars), Chapter 10, Halachah 10:
"We should not prevent a gentile (Ben-Noach) who desires to perform one of the Torah's Mitzvot in order to receive reward, from doing so, [provided] he performs it as required."
Commentary: We should not prevent a gentile who desires to perform one of the Torah's Mitzvot - i.e. one of the 613 Mitzvot commanded to the Jews aside from Torah study and the Sabbath.
in order to receive reward - A person who is not commanded to fulfill a mitzvah receives less reward for its observance than one who is commanded. Nevertheless, even in the latter instance, God acknowledges the person's deeds and grants him blessing.
A gentile may only fulfill mitzvot for the sake of reward. He is forbidden to accept them as obligations incumbent upon him. Thus, his intent must be the very opposite of that of a Jew who serves God for His sake and not for his own.
...[provided he perform it as required - He must perform the mitzvah in all of its particulars as required by Jewish law. The Radbaz explains that mitzvot which require holiness and purity, as for example, tefillin and mezuzah, should be withheld from gentiles.

The following comes from Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim at the Mesora.org website:

Gentiles and Torah Study:
Maimonides’ Subtle Lesson

Reader: I read your posts on gentiles studying Torah. I disagree [that Noachides are prohibited].
Everything I have read regarding restrictions on Torah study only applies to “idolaters”...not Noachides. The Talmud and Rambam refer to Star Worshippers (Ovade Kochavim). I know that this term was a result of the Christian censors, however, I also know that in the Temani manuscripts of the Mishneh Torah the term is “AKuM” (Star Worshipper). These manuscripts are free of the many errors of the Vilna edition. The Rambam makes a point to distinguish between a “Noachide” and an “idolater”. See his Laws of Sabbath 29:25, and Laws of Blessings 9:9 (7), Laws of Forbidden Foods 11:5 (8 in Vilna versions), and Laws of Forbidden Foods 11:2 (4). It is in Laws of Forbidden Foods 11:8 that the Rambam takes special pains to point out that unless he clarifies the term Star Worshipper it is used to refer to an idolater: “And every place that says ‘Star Worshipper’ unqualified, behold, this is a servant of idolatry.”

As far as I can tell this is very clear. Please correct me if I am wrong, but please quote sources so that I can study the issue, and so I can tell others the correct teaching. Thank you for your time.

A Noachide

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: You quote Maimonides Laws of Forbidden Foods 11:8: “And every place that says ‘Star Worshipper’ unqualified, behold, this is a servant of idolatry.” Your intent was to suggest that Maimonides maintains there exists two distinct individuals: a Star Worshipper, and a Noachide. From that first step, you wished to deduce that since Maimonides says (in Laws of Kings) that only a “Star Worshiper” is prohibited in Torah study, this is limited to a Star Worshipper, and thereby permits a Noachide to study. But you did not read the opening words of that law (Forbidden Foods 11:8) where Maimonides makes clear that his definitions are for “that” section of Laws of Forbidden Foods alone. Therefore, you cannot transpose his use of terminology onto other areas, since he openly limits his terms to that section.

Furthermore, if your position is correct that the prohibition of Torah study applies exclusively to idolaters, and not to Noachides, why do we find no laws concerning “Noachide” Torah study? The answer is because the prohibition of Torah study applied to “idolaters” in fact refers to ALL non-Jews, Noachides included. (I explained before that the reason behind this law is to maintain the Jew as the sole authority of Torah. Since the Jew alone is required to practice all of Torah, he is best suited to teach it, as his obligatory practice enforces greater attention to the Torah’s demands. This is not a racist law, but a practical law, which aims at insuring Torah for all people).

Now, a proof for my argument is derived from Talmud Sanhedrin 59a. It states there that an idolater who studies Torah is culpable of death. But that very Talmudic portion then asks, “Why is this prohibition not an eighth ‘Noachide’ law?” Consider carefully: this Talmudic question cannot be asked, if this portion were not including Noachides in the general term “Star Worshipper”. The Talmud is clearly referring to all Gentiles including Noachides, with its general reference of “idolater”.

The Talmud continues, “A Star Worshipper who studies Torah is akin to a Jewish High Priest; but this is no contradiction to the former threat of death for his Torah study: this latter praise applies to his study of his 7 Noachide laws.” Thus, the Talmud first condemns the Star Worshipper for Torah study, and then praises him for Torah study. The apparent contradiction is removed: the condemnation applies to one who studies more than his 7 Noachide Laws, and the praise applies to one who studies only his 7 laws. We thereby prove that the Talmud’s use of Star Worshipper is synonymous with Noachide, in this case.

In other areas you mentioned such as Laws of Forbidden Foods, Maimonides uses the terms Star Worshipper and Noachide differently, referring to two exclusive individuals. However, in his Laws of Kings he uses these two terms as referring to one single person; not separate individuals, but two “statuses” within that person! I will explain.

Regarding a Jew benefiting from idolatrous wine outlined in Laws of Forbidden Foods, there is a difference between a Star Worshipper’s wine, and the wine belonging to a Noachide. The Star Worshipper’s wine has greater prohibitions, understandably. Here, Star Worshipper and Noachide refer to two distinct people.

This distinction, you have carried over to all areas, but in error. You feel that the Talmud and Maimonides’ prohibition on Torah study is on Star Worshipers “alone”. I have disproved your position from Maimonides’ opening statement in Forbidden Foods 11:8, and from Talmud Sanhedrin…but there is more to learn here.

While researching your question, I realized an in interesting pattern in Maimonides’ classification. In his Laws of Kings (Chap. 10) Maimonides switches off between referring to a “Noachide” and a “Star Worshipper”. In that section when discussing any of the 7 Noachide Laws, he refers to the Gentile as “Noachide”. And when he discusses laws pertaining to anything other than the Noachide Laws, he uses the term “Star Worshipper”. On the surface, this might seem to support your theory, but I believe he switches his term for another lesson, which is quite insightful, and novel.

The 7 Noachide Laws include murder, stealing, cursing God, and others. When Maimonides outlined these 7 laws, he refers to the Gentile as “Noachide.” But there exists other laws for every Gentile.

A Gentile cannot study most Torah sections, he cannot observe the Sabbath, and he cannot smite a Jew. When Maimonides discusses these laws, which are not subsumed under the 7 Noachide Laws, but are equally binding, Maimonides refers to the Gentile as a “Star Worshipper”. The question is why Maimonides switches his term? Why is he not consistent in his terminology? The fact that he is referring to the same individual is proved from Laws of Kings 10:9: “A Star Worshipper who is engaged in Torah study is culpable of death, and he should only engage in his 7 Laws.” The words “his 7 laws” proves that in this section, unlike his Laws of Forbidden Foods, Maimonides refers to “one” person as both a Noachide, and a Star Worshipper. He is intent on distinguishing roles within one person.

The reason for this distinction I believe is as follows. Maimonides intends to educate the reader as to what “status” in Gentiles generates certain laws. In as much as one desires a right-to-life, he must observe a minimal set of laws, 7 Noachide Laws. If any one of these laws of broken, the person is punished with death. Even if this Gentile steals a penny, he is killed, whereas a Jew would not be. Why is this so? What is the justice? The reasoning is as we said; these 7 laws are a minimal system, which earns the observer a right to continued existence. If one cannot observe at a minimum, these 7 laws, then he has fallen below the threshold of God’s minimum standard of human life. He must be killed. But if a Jew stole a penny, he has not fallen below the threshold, since he has 612 others to keep him inline. God would be as lenient with this Gentile, if he chose to observe the 613 Commandments. God is equally just to all humans. This explains why Maimonides uses the term Noachide when addressing the 7 laws, since it is with these 7 that a Gentile earns his right-to-life; exactly what the Noachide Laws target.

But when discussing the Gentile’s prohibition of observing the Sabbath, Torah study and smiting the Jew, Maimonides switches his term to “Star Worshipper”. Why is that?

The reasoning is that here, Maimonides is no longer addressing laws regulating a Gentiles “right-to-life”, but other laws; laws that “obscure the boundary of Jew and non-Jew”. If a Gentile observes Sabbath, and studies Torah, he in fact renders himself to an onlooker ostensibly as a Jew: he acts like a Jew resting on the seventh day, and he partakes of the Jew’s unique role as Torah educator with his study of more than his 7 Noachide Laws. This is not a lack in fulfilling his Noachide role, since the Gentile is in fact doing ‘more’ with these two commands. No…the violation committed here with Sabbath observance and Torah study is regarding his role as Star Worshipper. His status as Noachide does not enter the picture, but the other status does: i.e., his status of “non-Jew”, or “Star Worshiper”, which was the original classification that offset the first Jew who was monotheistic.

Maimonides is exact. He uses the term Star Worshipper when addressing a Gentile’s violation in Sabbath observance and Torah study, since with these infractions, the Gentile is not failing in his “Noachide” role, but in his “Star Worshipper” role…a role which is diametrically opposite to the role of Jew. Just as a Star Worshipper opposes monotheism, so too, a Gentile who wishes to dilute the uniqueness of the Jew by copying his Sabbath ad Torah, equally destroys the Jew’s role, and monotheism. Similarly, Maimonides uses the term Star Worshipper when addressing the laws about a Gentile smiting a Jew, for the same reason.

The Jewish “ideology” must be preserved by the Gentile’s refrain from mimicking our primary commands of Sabbath, and Torah study. And the Jewish “body” is preserved by the Gentiles’ refrain from physically assaulting a Jew. And when a Gentile does not take care to preserve the Jew, that Gentile is failing due to his attachment to a “Star Worshipper” inclination. Appropriately, Maimonides calls that person a Star Worshipper, since these three laws address the preservation of the Jew so as to help the world oppose polytheism. Maimonides’ intent is to underscore the capacity in the Gentile that generates this violation. The Gentile who observes Sabbath destroys the Jew by obscuring the Jew’s role. Since this Gentile is not abandoning any of his 7 Noachide Laws, his violation is not in terms of his right-to-life “Noachide” status. Therefore, Maimonides does not address him as a Noachide. That status plays no role.

But when a Gentile fails to uphold all 7 Noachide laws, Maimonides now refers to him as a Noachide, that is, one who should have observed these 7 laws at a minimum. Here, he fails to uphold such a minimal system; he is referred to as a “Noachide who failed.” Failing to observe the law of stealing for example is not due to Star Worship tendencies, but to a Noachide right-to-life issue.

We now realize that Maimonides, in one section, will use the terms Star Worshipper and Noachide as referring to two individuals; and in Laws of Kings, he uses the same terms to refer to two statuses in a “single” person. This explains why there is no discussion about a Noachide studying Torah, since he is the identical person described in the prohibition of Torah study by “Star Worshippers” . Maimonides and the Talmud refer to a Gentile with a few references, thereby teaching the additional insight that certain sins are blameful due to certain roles for which we shirk responsibility.

When a teen fails to accurately compute geometry basics, we blame him for being a poor “student”, since it is his studies that we address. And when the same person does not visit his father who is sick in bed, the parent would be incorrect to say, “What a poor student you are”. For in this capacity, the blame addresses his role as a “child”. The appropriate blame would be “you are not a good son”.

So too here, Maimonides teaches us by changing a reference to the same Gentile, indicating his “capacity” or status that is to blame for his infraction.


  1. Excellent post Devash, thank you for all that hard work. Enlightening. Anonymiss

    1. Thanks. I hope the readers find it useful and enlightening.

    2. I certainly do! Thanks much!

  2. Have you also seen the Halacha in Rambam, laws of kings, that anyone who doesn't believe in and HOPE/ANTICIPATE (l'chakos) for the arrival of Moshiach is a denier of Torah, Moshe and all the prophets? This is obviously teaching us that as a matter of LAW we do not say he will come in G-D's time whenever, we must anticipate and hope that it will happen every day, today. All the best!

    1. Bring your quote and we'll see precisely what it says. You keep talking as if I've said Mashiach can't come any day or that we should not anticipate his coming every day. Nothing could be further from the truth. All I said is that whenever it is that he comes, it won't be because we are locating the lost tribes or taking the 'gospel' to the gentiles (God forbid) and as a consequence of trying to force God's hand,we neglect the very job we were sent here to do.


    1. In future time, the King Moshiach [1] will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty. He will rebuild the [Beis Ha]Mikdash and gather in the dispersed remnant of Israel. Then, in his days, all the statutes will be reinstituted as in former times. We will offer sacrifices and observe the Sabbatical and Jubilee years according to all their particulars set forth in the Torah.

    Whoever does not believe in him, or does not await his coming, denies not only [the statements of] the other prophets, but also [those of] the Torah and of Moshe, our teacher, for the Torah attests to his coming, stating: [Devarim 30:3-5]

    1. Nu? Who disagrees with this?

  4. No one can disagree with elio57's comment. Yasher koach! May he (Moshiach) come now!


    1. Amen! Neither do I disagree with it. I only meant by this post to point out that we don't "bring" Mashiach, HKB"H sends him. If we are deserving, he comes early, if we are not, still he will come, but at the end; however, even in that case, it comes earlier than the absolute end. And just like Shabbat comes at the end of the week witout regard to what we do during the week, sothe geulah is guaranteed to come no matter what and no one can stop it.

      However, Mashiach is the conduit for the geulah, not us. We can't get tired of waiting for it to come and think we must then go out and make it happen, because this is exactly what led to the building of the golden calf. And there are many very questionable activities being carried out by Jews today in the mistaken idea that WE have to BRING the redemption. And it is distracting many good Jews from being busy doing the very thing that can actually hasten it in its time: Torah, mitzvot, and gemilut chasadim!

      Maybe some think I am nitpicking the language ehre, but I don't think so. I think this is a very important point and distinction.

    2. I agree with you there, Devash. And I would also ask whether we who live in the Land would be in a position to tell others (i.e., the nations and the Jews who live in them) what to do before we do all we can to obey what haShem has told us ourselves.

      On the other hand, the Jews among the nations might want to ask themselves and haShem why they have chosen to leave themselves, or are in the position to be left, out of the best opportunity to come home in many hundreds of years. I did not write the foregoing to absolve any Jew of his or her responsibility.

      We all have to be ready for when Mashiach is revealed. When we are lined up, everything and everyone else will line up, too.

      Too much to comment on, but not enough time to do it. Just know that I am following these important conversations.

    3. Thanks, CDG. And thanks for sparing the time to comment. It's much appreciated. And that goes for everyone!

  5. While understanding the rationale behind the prohibition of rest of the world observing a day of Shabbat or worship in the Rambam's "The Laws of Kings and Their Wars", where would a secular day of rest or weekend with no religious significance stand as would assume that would still be permitted for the rest of the world as a human necessity?

  6. He says they should work every day and in practice, that is what most non-Jews do. Even the ones who hold that it has some religious significance for them, as soon as they get home again, it's business as usual. It actually didn't used to be that way, however. I remember when everything had to close down on Sunday by law. And if you dared to do any kind of Saturday stuff (mowing grass, etc.) on Sunday, you were considerted a "heathen". That situation no longer exists. But in its place now, churches are shifting over to Fri nite/Sat and lighting candles and doing kidush...

    1. Agree it is concerning regarding the churches.

      While at present the line between work and rest days has increasingly become blurred, short of events coming to a head soon it seems the trend towards automation (looking at it as a tool rather then something inherently good or bad) will mean much of humanity will inevitably be laid off and left without purpose prior to the Messianic Era (where the Rambam says entire occupation of the world will be only to know God).