Saturday, May 17, 2008

Teaching Torah to non-Jews . . . a dilemma

In a recent post on Hirhurim Musings, Rabbi Student kindly referenced my interview in the Commentator. In the comments about the interview, the issue of teaching Torah to non-Jews was raised. You can read the short post here and the comments here. Note that only some of the comments to this post deal with my Commentator interview.

In one of the comments, Professor Lawrence Kaplan makes reference to J. David Bleich writing on this issue. After a quick google search, I found that Rabbi Bleich had written on the issue in Tradition magazine in 1980 (I assume that this is the essay Prof. Kaplan was referencing).

In reading through the article (I have included quotes below), it seems that at least instruction on the seven Noahide laws should not be a problem or concern. What is interesting is that one of the things that I have learned from Rabbi Shlomo Singer's shiurim is that you can't divide up the Talmud. He is fond of saying, it is "one page" -- all sections, all issues are interconnected. While I haven't heard Rabbi Rosensweig say this, certainly in how he moves throughout the entire Talmud in nearly every shiur, he seems to make the same case.

With all this in mind, I must admit I feel justified in continuing my exploration and study, particularly since I do feel it helps me look at everyday life with new eyes, while at the same time helping me come closer to God, by coming closer to the Torah.

Below are some quotes from the opening and closing pages of
J. David Bleich's, "Survey of Recent Halakhic Periodical Literature: Teaching Torah to Non-Jews" (Tradition, 18 (2), Summar 1980.

The prohibition against teaching Torah to non-Jews is well known to students of Jewish law. Equally well known is the role of Abraham as the "father of the multitude of nations," entrusted with the sacred task of carrying the teaching of monotheism to idolatrous peoples. A person unfamiliar with the extensive rabbinical literature devoted to this topic may perceive a certain tension, and perhaps even contradiction, between a recognized need to disseminate religious truths and an almost xenophobic reluctance to share the greatest repository of such truth—the Torah. Yet even a cursory examination of the relevant sources dispels the notion that while the community of Israel jealously guards its spiritual wealth, it refuses to share these riches with others. On the contrary, it is unique among Western religions in its willingness to share its teachings without seeking to impose its observations. This necessarily involves a vocation of teaching despite the stricture against teaching Torah to non-Jews. The latter, while based on substantive philosophical considerations and of definite halachic import, admits of sufficiently broad exclusions to assure that Israel remains true to its role as a lamp unto the nations. p192

In the medieval period no less a personage than Rambam entirely Christianity from this prohibition, while in the last century Rabbi Israel Salanter, the acclaimed founder of the Mussar movement, actually mounted a campaign for the incorporation of talmudic studies in the curricula of European schools and universities. p193

It seems to this writer that, while there exists no obligation to volunteer information (although it may well be laudable to do so), there is an obligation to respond to a request for information. Jews are commanded to disseminate Torah as widely as possible among their fellow Jews, but there is no obligation to seize the initiative in teaching the seven commandments to Noachides. Nevertheless, when information or advice is solicited there is a definite obligation to respond. When the non-Jew take the initiative in posing a query, the Jew must respond to the best of his ability. p203

Despite the absence of a specific obligation to influence non-Jews to abide by the provisions of the Noachide Code, the attempt to do so is entirely legitimate. Apart from our universal concern, fear lest “the world becomes corrupt,” as Rambam puts it, is also very much a matter of Jewish concern and self-interest. Disintegration of the moral fabric of society affects everyone. Particularly in our age we can not insulate ourselves against the pervasive cultural forces that mold human conduct. Jews have every interest in promoting a positive moral climate.

Accordingly, Jews should certainly not hesitate to make the teachings of Judaism as they bear on contemporary mores more readily accessible to fellow citizens. That is the most direct means available to us for exercising a positive influence in improving the more atmosphere in which we all live. p203





19 comments:

GSK+ said...

In this matter, as in so many others, I'd again commend Lloyd Gaston, "Paul and the Torah", University of British Columbia Press,

Anonymous said...

I am a graduate of Yeshiva College and an avid reader of the Hirhurim blog and found your interview with the Commentator to be most interesting. I had not known of your blog, but since the reference on Hirhurim have through quite a bit of it. I just wanted to let you know that you are an inspiration to many. Your intellect, curiosity, and continuous search for Truth and meaning in life are an incredible breath of fresh air. I look forward to learning more from your writings.

Jeff Wild said...

Dear gsk+,

I just registered at www.questia.com -- it is an online book service that has Gaston's work. I will finally have access to it.

Thanks for the comment.
Jeff

Jeff Wild said...

Dear anonymous,

All I can say is "Thank you" -- I am glad you find my writings interesting. I hope you will share other comments or things that you may be reading or exploring. It would be great to have a dialogue.

With blessings for life, peace and all good things,

Jeff

Michael Katz said...

Rabbi Bleich has an extensive treatment on this subject in his Comtemporary Halachik Problems (I think it is the first volume.) This is probably a more extensive treatment than the article in Tradition.

TJ said...

"...[I]t is "one page" -- all sections, all issues are interconnected. While I haven't heard Rabbi Rosensweig say this, certainly in how he moves throughout the entire Talmud in nearly every shiur, he seems to make the same case.

With all this in mind, I must admit I feel justified in continuing my exploration and study, particularly since I do feel it helps me look at everyday life with new eyes, while at the same time helping me come closer to God, by coming closer to the Torah."

Rabbi Avishai David, a close student of Rav Soloveitchik, relates that he was once walking with the Rav when they were accosted by an irate woman complaining that many rabbinic authorities restrict halakhic instruction for women to those topics that pertain to them. The woman railed against the injustice of a religious system that could so callously exclude women from its wisdom.

The Rav immediately went on the offensive, incisively and methodically demonstrating by example that almost all areas of halakha are relevant to women as well as men. He then challenged the woman to come back to him after mastering nearly the entire Torah. The Rav then proceeded to walk along, leaving the poor woman dumbstruck.

Jeff Wild said...

Dear Michael,

Thanks for the reference to Rabbi Bleich's more complete analysis.

Jeff

Jeff Wild said...

Dear TJ,

Definitely a great story and I may be a bit dense, but I hope you shared that story to say to be that Rav Soloveitchik might have encouraged me to learn nearly the entire Torah and come back to him when I did.

What a great honor that would have been.

With blessings for life, peace and all good things,

Jeff

Anonymous said...

"I hope you shared that story to say to be that Rav Soloveitchik might have encouraged me to learn nearly the entire Torah and come back to him when I did."

Yes, insofar as a wide ranging knowledge of halakha is required to fully understand the "sheva mitzvot b'nei Noach." As far as non-halakhic aspects of the Torah, there is plenty there that pertains to b'nei Noach, both directly and indirectly.

Although there are perhaps more halakhic principles that can be applied to the halakha observance of a Jewish woman than to that of a non-Jew, I would venture to say that the realm of pertinent halakhic study for a non-Jew is far, far broader than one might assume on first glance. No doubt you can vouch for that.

I think a lesson here is that neither a Jew's nor a non-Jew's halakhic study should be purely academic. A person should possess a profound connection to the Torah that he studies.

Daniel K said...

I recently heard a shiur by Rabbi Hanan Balk (available @ YU Torah) who explained the different halachic perspectives. As Im a Christian myself with great interest in Rabbinic literature Ive found this to be a very interesting shiur and will surely use it to get my Yeshiva friends to teach me Torah:) To save you some time, these are some of the perspectives highlighted in the lecture:
1. The Meiri says that its permissible for a non-Jew to study Torah as long as he does it for the sake of performing mitzvot (the ones that apply) and not for the sake of learning Torah.
2. Rabbi Weinberg (Seridei Eish) says its permissible for a non-Jew to study Torah as long as is it for the sake of a pure intellectual pursuit and not for performing mitzvot.(also Rabbi Yisrael Salanter holds this view and even wanted to introduce the study of Talmud in non-Jewish universities, although his motive was also to get the Jews that left Torah observance for secular studies back.)
3.The Rambam says in one of his letters(?)that its permitted to teach a Christian Torah as Christians hold it to be 'from heaven'. Ive asked a Yeshiva friend if this would include oral Torah yet he was hesitant with this and stated that the Rambam is always clear in his wording, thus meaning written Torah only, yet its a start:)

The Rambams view leaves me a bit confused as many things in scripture are illuminated through the Sages, who obviously are cited in the Talmud. So assuming that their illumination is a necessity for understanding the text how does one expect a non-Jew to understand/grasp the Torah in a proper way without their guidance, which he is prohibited to learn?

Im enjoying your blog and wish you good luck with your studies,

Daniel K

Jeff Wild said...

Dear Daniel,

Thanks so much for the comments. I would like to hear more about your interest in Rabbinic literature. What draws you to it?

Warmly,
Jeff

Daniel K said...

Dear Jeff,

My interest in Rabbinic literature has been sparked about a year ago when I read several articles that put Jesus back into 2nd Temple Judaism. This was eye-opening to me and since then Ive become an example of the Rambam's motive for teaching Torah to Christians:) (well sort of:P)
Especially Orthodox Jewish Professors David Flusser and Pinchas Lapide were illuminating as they showed the 'historical' Jesus, and disassembled the layers of anti-Semitism and a general anti-Torah eisegese that is, as I believe, present in the Church Fathers. Needless to say I didnt agree with everything they said, or else there wouldnt be much use in calling myself a Christian, but many dogma's have been torn down by them and I now have a great love for the Torah, the Sages and moreover the Jewish people as whole.
While in Israel last summer I met some Modern-Orthodox Jews and they told me about Rav Soloveichik and Torah U'Madda, Ive found this concept to be phenomenal and am in some way trying to incorporate this in my own lifestyle (as circumstances permit).
My interest today is mainly on the Rishonim and their explanations of the Tanach. I find their explanations to be very interesting and cant wait till my Hebrew is good enough to start studying Mikraot Gedolot. I too am a frequent listener to YU Torah and sometimes think of sneaking into YU like Yentl:P But no worries YU students, that wont happen:)
Especially Rabbi Jeremy Wieder’s series on Intro to the Bible Ive found to be interesting. His rational approach coupled with vast knowledge of Rabbinic literature make him a great teacher.

Hope Ive answered your question and who knows in about 10yrs I might join you in Talmudic studies:)

Blessings,

Daniel K

Jeff Wild said...

Dear Daniel,

As I said in the Commentator interview, I first became interested in Judaism because my ex-wife was Jewish (probably 17 years ago). And at that time there was a real explosion in the interest in the Jewishness of Jesus, with authors like Dominic Crossan (a bit too radical), Marcus Borg and John Meier ("A Marginal Jew") writing about the historical Jesus.

I found it very interesting and in some ways deeply challenging -- since in many ways it seemed to say that Jesus was simply trying to reform Judaism and not create something new. I am not interested in that debate, but it did get me interested in Judaism, particularly because, though I was raised Catholic, I did not have an especially strong relationship with Jesus.

Recently, I read a book by Daniel Boyarin, that you might be interested in. Boyarin is a rabbi and his book Border Lines is quite intriguing. Here is a description:

The historical separation between Judaism and Christianity is often figured as a clearly defined break of a single entity into two separate religions. Following this model, there would have been one religion known as Judaism before the birth of Christ, which then took on a hybrid identity. Even before its subsequent division, certain beliefs and practices of this composite would have been identifiable as Christian or Jewish.In Border Lines, however, Daniel Boyarin makes a striking case for a very different way of thinking about the historical development that is the partition of Judaeo-Christianity.

There were no characteristics or features that could be described as uniquely Jewish or Christian in late antiquity, Boyarin argues. Rather, Jesus-following Jews and Jews who did not follow Jesus lived on a cultural map in which beliefs, such as that in a second divine being, and practices, such as keeping kosher or maintaining the Sabbath, were widely and variably distributed. The ultimate distinctions between Judaism and Christianity were imposed from above by "border-makers," heresiologists anxious to construct a discrete identity for Christianity. By defining some beliefs and practices as Christian and others as Jewish or heretical, they moved ideas, behaviors, and people to one side or another of an artificial border—and, Boyarin significantly contends, invented the very notion of religion.


You mention that it might take 10 years before you are studying the Talmud with me. You seem to be more familiar with the texts than I, and with Artscroll's help it is really quite easy to begin to swim in the sea of the Talmud. You should take a try sometime.

With blessings for peace, life and all good things,

Jeff

Daniel K said...

Hi Jeff,

Tnx for your reply. I was actually just reading a volume that in some ways confirms Boyarin's picture (Oskar Skarsaune, Jewish Believers in Jesus, 2007). Although the author does not go to the extent that Boyarin goes, he confirms Boyarin's assesment that border lines were mainly imposed from above.
With regard to Talmudic study, it will still take some time as my aim is to study the literature in its original languages. Currently Im studying Biblical Hebrew and slowly taking on Chumash and Rashi which is already quite difficult so Gemara study is really a long term goal. So until that time Ill drop by overhere to learn from you. Also I read some comments by you on the work of Rav Soloveichik zt"l, Halakhic Man, it sounds like a very interesting book so I might consider buying it. If you would choose between Halakhic man and the Lonely man of faith which would you choose?

Have a good week,

Daniel K

Jeff Wild said...

Dear Daniel,

Wow. Good luck with the Biblical Hebrew. I took a year of it about 20 years ago and have forgotten basically all of it.

I would definitely recommend Halakhic Man, it truly is a masterpiece and is the reason I started studying Judasim again about 4 years ago.

Warmly,
Jeff

Christian4Moses said...

Dear Jeff,

Ive just read the first section of Halakhic Man and think its gonna be a interesting read. I was in Israel last week and was at a familys house who are modern-orthodox. I told them I was interested in the approach of Rav Soloveitchik zt"l and was about to read Halakhic man. The man responded by telling me how great Rav Soloveitchik was and how high he esteemed him and pulled several books of Rav Soloveitchik which were all worn by heavy usage:P

Blessings,

Daniel K

PS Ive bought my first two masechtot (Berachot and Bava Kamma) but they are fully Hebrew/Aramaic so it will take some time for me to get down to them.

Jeff Wild said...

Dear Daniel,

Your dedication is very inspiring. You still might consider the Artscroll editions, since they also include the Aramaic and Hebrew -- though the masechtot you just mentioned take up 5 volumes I think.

Please share some thoughts about Halachic Man.

Warmly,
Jeff

Christian for Moses said...

Hi Jeff,

Ive posted my first post on Halakhic Man, feel free to comment.

Daniel

Anonymous said...

A non Jew should not be taught Torah because such a person is at a disadvantage when compared to Jews who have a wide variety of resources like the Mishneh, the oral and written laws, the Talmud , and any number of materials . A non Jew has none of these resources such a person has only personal experiences to depend on and such experiences are more difficult to learn from . But if the non Jew still succeeds then he is worthy to be the High Priest and judge the nation.