Letters June 2021
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Gentiles vs. Jews
Reader: In one essay you wrote, “The patriarchs were not Jews. They preceded Judaism by centuries. Thus, they were gentiles.” I agree. Abraham was not the first Jew and Judaism did not exist during the days of the patriarchs. Therefore, how did Abraham observe Torah? I am aware that Abraham—according to Rambam—did not have the Torah. He only had eight mitzvot: the Seven Noachide Laws, plus circumcision. What is the source of this Rambam? If this Rambam is correct does this imply that Abraham—a non-Jew—reached perfection without Torah? You wrote: “Noahide laws were G-d’s gift to man to direct him towards a ‘perfect’ life.” Thus, Noahide laws and Torah laws have an identical objective. In another letter you seem to state the opposite:
The 7 Noahide laws are a minimal threshold for one to retain his or her right to life. This is not a system of ‘perfection,’ as a wise Rabbi taught. Rambam comments: Not just the Tribe of Levi, but *any* person in the world whose spirit moves him and who wishes, on his own initiative, to stand before G-d and serve Him by striving to know Him, and who follows the straight path, and removes from his neck the yoke of the manifold calculations that most men are involved with—he becomes sanctified as holy of holies. G-d is his portion and his inheritance forever. He will merit to receive whatever he needs in this life, just as the priests and Levites did. As David said, G-d, you are my inheritance and my cup; you support my way (Ps. 16:5). (MT, Hilkhot Shmitah v’Yovel, 13:13)
Rambam seems to say here that Abraham, a non-Jew, reached perfection without Torah. Although he felt it would be very hard to do and they probably couldn't attain this perfection for long. Thus, Torah is the best guide for life. But the question remains, how do we reconcile this with your statement that one cannot reach perfection without Torah?
Additionally, in your letters (Jewishtimes, May 28) you wrote: "the command of procreation was stated only once to Noahides, and never repeated. Therefore, the Jew alone has this mitzvah." Does this delegitimatize a non-Jew’s existence? Furthermore, I think you wrote somewhere (please correct me if mistaken) that the Noahide laws are no longer binding. If this is true, how does G-d justify their existence? You also wrote in an essay that Noahism is not a religion, but "the minimum amount of Judaism necessary." Does this mean a righteous gentile's religion is Judaism?
Rabbi: You are correct: Noahide laws are a minimal threshold and do not target perfection, which is achievable only through the entire Torah system where one properly adheres to all 613 commands and the 1000s of Rabbinic laws, and does so with the proper attitudes, motives and morals. Torah addresses every facet of human existence, perfecting all his emotions and ideas. Noahide laws do not.
You asked if Abraham—a non-Jew—reached perfection without Torah. Yes, he did. He was a rare person. But the vast majority of mankind needs Torah to attain perfection.
You then asked if the Noahide not possessing the command of procreation delegitimatizes his existence. The answer is that Noahide laws are a bare minimum, and the Noahide may accept the entire Torah just like a Jew. He has the same opportunity as the Jew.
“Noahide laws are no longer binding” must be understood. Talmud Avoda Zara 2b, quoting Havakuk 3:6 says that at one point in history, “God arose, assessed mankind, He ‘saw’ and released the nations from their 7 Noahide commands.” The Talmud asks, “What did God see?” The Talmud answers, “He saw that the nations abandoned the Noahide laws, and therefore God released them from their obligation.” We know this release is not literal, so how do we understand this? The Talmud concludes that as the nations abandoned Noahide laws, any future Noahide who followed the laws would be considered as one “not commanded.” Meaning, once the chain of transmission of Noahide law was broken and no longer transmitted, all future Noahides would not be “following God,” since the transmission that God commanded these laws was lost from society.
Finally, yes: a righteous gentile's religion is Judaism. God gave only one law to all mankind.
Teaching Gentiles Torah?
Reader: If we accept that Jews and non-Jews have identical souls and that life of Torah is the best life for man's soul as it allows him to self-actualize and reach knowledge of God and love of Him, then why don't we actively encourage people to convert to Judaism? Why don't we spread Torah to non-Jews?
Rabbi: We don’t proselytize, as one’s attachment to Torah must be his own free will. More essentially, proselytizing demeans Torah's nature as a reasonable and provable system. To attempt to change others means Torah cannot do that through its sound principles. Rav Hai Gaon too said “I am God” (1st of the 10 Commandments) is in fact not counted as a mitzvah. For commanding one to know God’s existence demeans the obvious truth of His existence. But we certainly must make Torah available for all peoples and teach them, as is God’s will. The intelligent Gentile will care for his soul and he will investigate. He will discover Judaism to be the only religion based on proof and reason. He will abandon his previous religion and follow truth…just as Abraham did. He will say as Jeremiah says, “In truth, our fathers gave us an inheritance of lies” (Jer. 16:19).”
Repentance Required Even without Sinning
Reader: Must a person repent for a sin that did not reach it objective? Say I shoot a gun at a person and I miss: is there no need for teshuvah?
Long Island, NY
Rabbi: One certainly is philosophically corrupt if he attempts murder. And although there is no crime for which the Jewish courts can kill the person, in God’s eyes he is evil and must repent. Maimonides too says that not only for sins, but also for poor character man must repent. The Rishonim too discuss the difference between human relations, and our relationship with God. Although we may not technically sin against man in a given act, we must be concerned with the state of our soul, for which we must answer to God at the end of our days.
Jews: A Light to the Gentiles
Reader: What does it mean for Jews to be a “light to the Gentiles”? Do we Gentiles have a say in defining what it means for the Jewish people to be light unto us?
Rabbi: No. Gentiles have no say in this, and neither do Jews. God alone defines truth, morality and wisdom, the only vehicles which illuminate mankind. A “light to the Gentiles” means to embody God’s truths in action so others may witness these actions and learn from them through dialogue with the Jew, who has toiled for decades through Talmudic study to grasp a small amount of God’s wisdom. God said, “Observe therefore and do them [the commands], for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the people that, when they hear all these statutes, shall say, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people!” (Deut. 4:6) Thus, God wishes the Jew to demonstrate to Gentiles God’s wisdom through following Torah. God wants the good for all.
Reader: Does being a light to Gentiles require you to bless God every day for not being created as a Gentile?
Rabbi: Yes. This Jewish blessing reminds us of our fortunate status to have been born to a family that hopefully studies Torah. But it does not mean a Jew is in any way superior. Just as it is God’s will who is born to Jewish or Gentile parents, it is God’s will that we are a certain gender, a certain height, skin color, degree of intelligence and all other God-given characters. We can’t know with any certainty why God made one person, black, white, female, male, tall or short. But none of these characteristics prevent any person from following God’s Torah. Such characteristics belong to the realm of God’s will; we can’t know this, and it matters none at all. Abraham was born to idolatrous parents, in an age steeped in idolatry. He never complained for having such parents or for being created in that era. He used his God-given nature to live properly. We must mirror him, as this is one reason God includes Abraham in His Bible: he is a lesson for mankind.
We don’t only bless God for being created not as Gentile, but in that series of blessings, we also bless God for not having created us as a servant or a female…who are both Jews. Thus, our thanks has nothing to do with Gentile vs. Jew, but that as a Jewish male, we possess the largest amount of commands, as Gentiles, servants and women have far fewer commands (Rabbi Israel Chait). Again, it is God’s will how we enter life on Earth. But we can choose do take on greater commands even though born as Gentile, servant or female. Be clear: all mankind descends from Adam and Eve. We are all equals. But in His wisdom, God determined how each one of us enters life. Many great Talmudic scholars were converts, and our greatest kings descended from Ruth the convert. Messiah too descends from Ruth.
Reader: Does being light to the Gentiles mean seeing yourselves as "chosen", "different", "having a mission" (thereby implying that Gentiles have no mission)? Does being light to Gentiles mean that Gentiles have lesser rights than the Jews in Eretz Israel, even though one's family has been staying there for generations?
Rabbi: Yes. The Jew has a mission which the Gentile does not…unless he converts. The Jew is punished for violating his mission, whereas the Gentile who performs the same act—like eating non-kosher animals—will not be punished. Regarding rights in Israel, God gave Israel to Jews and He gave Seir to Gentiles (Deut. 2:5). Land in Israel cannot be sold in perpetuity (Lev. 25:23) as God commanded.
Reader: Are Gentiles required to submit to the Jew wholeheartedly without question in order to receive blessings from the God Israel?
Rabbi: No. The Gentile does not submit to a Jew, but to God.
Reader: Just look at Ruth, who loved and obeyed her mother in law without question. When her mother in law asked her to be in a compromising situation with a man unrelated to her in a secluded place, she did so willingly. Is this something a Jewish woman would do even if she is requested by her mother in law?
Rabbi: Seclusion was not yet prohibited, that was a later Davidic law. Naomi advised Ruth on this strategy to subjugate herself at Boaz’s feet at night, which Naomi knew would cause Boaz to have pity on Ruth, and take her for a wife. Naomi was helping Ruth the convert find a husband and shelter. Ruth had free will and could have rejected Naomi’s plan.
Reader: Unfortunately, Ruth is the role model Jews feed to the Gentile mind unwittingly, an indirect message that if you love Hashem, you must obey His people blindly.
Rabbi: This has been rejected above as false.
Reader: The Gentile has to choose between Jesus and the Jew. The Gentile has to choose between the Jew and the Palestinian. Is this the role of the Jewish people, i.e., Rabbinic Jews play as light to us Gentiles? You may not realize it, but you are creating barriers by placing yourselves, your chosen status, pedigree and heritage as "intermediaries" between Gentiles and the God of Israel. Please don’t blame Jesus when you are doing the same thing.
Rabbi: Again, the Gentile submits himself to God, not to the Jew. The Jew does not place himself as an intermediary between a Gentile and God. A Gentile must relate to God directly.
Reader: As a Gentile, my definition of the Jew being light to the nations is this: The Jew has to bring me in a closer relationship with my Creator. The Jew has to inspire and encourage me to serve my Creator and to love His Creations. Unfortunately my encounter with Rabbinical Judaism has brought me further from Him and further from myself.
Rabbi: We have spoken for years, and you never expressed a problem with any answer I ever gave you. If other Rabbis are offering unreasonable positions, you are wise not to contact them further.
Reader: I have watched videos by Messianic Jews, in Eretz Israel, enduring rockets and unrest, yet still teaching me to love and pray for the Palestinians.
Rabbi: Torah has no issue with peace loving Palestinians…only with murderers of any nation or race.
Reader: Messianic Jews are motivated to love their enemies because of Jesus, whom your people have traditionally hated.
Rabbi: Loving an enemy is lethal and foolish. Torah says about one who comes to kill you, that you should arise earlier and kill him first to protect your life. And as Jesus rejected God’s laws, we reject Jesus. “Love” preached by one who contradicts God, spreads poison, not love.
Reader: Messianic Jews inspired me to see the conflict differently, to see God differently, to see myself differently. They are influencing me to discard the heart of stone I developed thanks to my exposure to Rabbinic Jews, and to take on the heart of flesh. Who is the true light to the nations: Rabbinical or Messianic Jews? I am sorry to be sharing my thoughts which you, as a Rabbinical Jew, may find offensive. This is an honest sharing.
Sharon Savage, Malaysia
Rabbi: When seeking truth, we don’t play politics or fear offending our dialogue partner. One’s concern must be solely for brutal truth. Use your mind to see through the martyr philosophy of Jesus and Messianic Jews that causes self harm, and possibly death. Look into yourself too for any bias towards Jesus that is a normal response to being raised as a Christian. Follow truth alone, not your family, peers, comfortable emotions or books.
Gentiles and Torah Laws
Reader: Responding to “Must Gentiles Procreate,” you stated that only the Jewish nation has the mitzvah to procreate after Torah is revealed at Sinai. Does this mean that Gentiles should not procreate or that God does not reward Gentiles who procreate?
Rabbi: It means that Gentiles do not have the command to procreate, nor any law other than the 7 Noahide laws. However, as Maimonides teaches, a Gentile may voluntarily accept all other laws, other than Sabbath. As a Gentile and Jew are equal, both equally benefit from Torah. Talmud teaches that the Gentile nations would not accept Torah. But they were obligated to maintain a minimal level of behavior, coded in the 7 Noahide laws. Abraham and his descendants were the only monotheists, and therefore, the only group suited to accept Torah. But the Jew is not to keep the Torah away from any Gentile desirous of studying and fulfilling the Torah. We are to make it available and share Torah with any Gentile, just as I have been sharing Torah with you these past few years. God teaches many times in Torah that it is one system for both Jew and convert. We are all equals.
Symbolism in Judaism
Reader: Asking about Jewish symbols that could be worn as jewelry…I wasn’t sure if a hamsa was appropriate because it has meaning across different religions and also uncertain origins, but was told it was allowed to be worn by Jews as well and was even a common Jewish symbol. I bought this necklace specifically with the Star of David element to emphasize the Jewishness and not have it be confused with another religion, but now I’m wondering if it is truly representative of Judaism because now I’ve read that the Star of David also has significance in Hindu culture, especially because the eye is in the center of the star (the Hindu star sometimes has a bindu (dot) in the middle, apparently). I don’t want to wear it until I’m sure it’s appropriate as a Jewish symbol. Can someone help me out?
Rabbi: As Rabbi Israel Chait explained, Judaism is divorced from all symbols and symbolism. It’s a unique religion with its foundation firmly cemented in truths, in “ideas,” not symbols. A symbol is that which evokes an emotion, not a principle or Torah fundamental, so symbols are outside the pale of Torah. The star of David is not authentic, as it has pagan roots. Mystical Jews incorporated it into Jewish culture and it slowly was adopted as authentic. Jewelry has no prohibitions unless it is idolatrous or superstitious, like the red bendel worn to ward off the "evil eye,” a popular superstition. Other than the High Priest, adornments of precious metals and stones are not part of Jewish law, and therefore, not prohibited or obligated.
Disloyal Minorities II
Reader: Responding to Rabbi Reuven's article "Disloyal minorities" where he shared his views on the civil unrest in "mixed cities" in Israel that occurred recently. I find Rabbi Mann's views on Arab minorities in Israel problematic. Instead of questioning the political power granted to them, he should be questioning if there are weaknesses in how Arab Israelis are regarded in Israeli society. There are views of these Arabs being regarded as second class citizens. Has Rabbi Reuven Mann looked into this?
In my opinion, Rabbi Mann’s take on these unrests reminds me of the civil unrests in the US as a result of George Floyd's murder last year. Is it right to question the political rights given to African American just because they do not seem to share "American values”? Rabbi Mann's take on the civil unrest in Israel is problematic .
The Youtube video below shows the response of Israeli Jews on whether they see non Jews as equal to them. Most of those interviewed respond that non Jews, especially those residing in present day Israel, do not have the same rights as the Jews there. The common reason given is that they (the Jews) are chosen and given a mission by God, thereby having a higher status. https://youtu.be/OOFRNGlEB6k
Rabbi Mann Responds: I am talking about the many Israeli Arabs who enjoy full rights of Israeli citizenship and have the best living conditions of Arabs anywhere in the world. Not only that but they can serve in the Knesset and indeed have their own parties. In addition unlike Jews and other Israeli Arabs who do serve, they are exempt from military service.
I make it clear that I am not opposed to Arab rights in Israel. All I am saying is that they should be loyal to the state that grants them their rights and free lifestyle. And especially in the Knesset; does it make sense to give political power to people who identify with Israel’s enemies, who refuse to recognize its legitimacy as a Jewish state and want to dismantle that?
To summarize: I am not opposed to Arabs and believe that they should be treated as fairly as Jews. But my point is that the rights Israel grants to any citizen—Jew or Arab—must be based on their recognition of the legitimacy of the state and loyalty to it. And certainly you should not be allowed in the Knesset if you do not recognize the legitimacy of the state and support it. I also agree with your point that Israel should seek to improve the living conditions of all her citizens, Arab as well as Jews. Hope this offers some clarification.