Letters Nov. 5766
Reader: Rabbi, I am Noachide and I wonder if you can clarify a couple of verses for me concerning the x-ian doctrine of “original sin”. Apparently I am being held responsible for something that happened 5000+ years ago. There is no mention of original sin anywhere in the Tanakh that I can readily discern, however a few of my x-ian friends indicate two verses they say ‘implies’ the doctrine of original sin.
“Indeed I was born with iniquity; with sin my mother conceived me”
“Who can produce a clean thing out of an unclean one? No one!”
I am nowhere near an Orthodox Jewish community, and have to rely on the Internet to stave off unrelenting x-ians. I am still nurturing my logic and reasoning skills and would appreciate any instruction you can give me.
Thank you, Rodney
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: These verses point to the innate, sinful nature of man. Having been created with instincts, man will sin, but he can repent. God deemed it necessary that man possess instincts, but to be used in His service. Invariably, man’s emotions will get the best of him. But with continued strides, man can remove himself more and more from sin, until he perfects himself.
The Talmud (Sabbath 55b) discusses the fact that four men died due to the counsel of the snake. But all others die of their own sin. These four men were sinless. However, death was still “fitting” for them, in a manner. This is a different idea of “original sin”. This means that Adam and Eve demonstrated that man’s nature required mortality as a response. Their sin is in fact representative of the shortcomings of all humans. Due to their sin, God deemed mortality a necessary response, for the good of all men and women. Even if one does not sin, as these four, death is still necessary for man’s well-being. For without death, man eludes himself of his imagined greatness. This leads man to rebellion. In order that all future generations are deterred from erring as Adam and Eve, God rendered man mortal.
We are not “paying the price” for their sin, as understood by other religions. For the Torah openly states God’s justice: “Each man in his own sin shall die”. (Deut. 24:16) The reason we must die is because primordial man demonstrated this human need for mortality, they were the prime example of what all humans are, and need. God made mortality so, as a good for all humans. But God would not make man mortal, until he displayed this need, even though God knew man would sin. God does only what is necessary. This is a foundation of God’s attributes. Only once man sins, does God create the remedy. Causing man to be mortal before he displayed any need for mortality would be an injustice.
Reader: Dear Rabbi, Thank you for your lengthy answer in Jewish Times. It did help me a lot. But I am still troubled by some of the factual conflicts between the Torah and reality. For example, the Universe is clearly much, much older than 5767 years. I understand this can be reconciled with Genesis. But there is a much stronger question: The Flood! A global flood that wiped out all living things just 4000 years ago is impossible. We know of communities that have been in continuous existence for 10 or even 30 thousand years, like the Chinese. So some say that it was only a local flood in Mesopotamia. But it would have had to be much earlier than Noach lived, based on the archaeological record of those areas.
Moreover, many of the places supposedly founded by Noach’s children were in existence long before!!! How can we get around this problem? I have seen discussions of it on blogs, and the internet. But none have satisfied me. I looked at one of the blogs you have quoted in the past, but the rabbi there had a very strange approach that is hard to accept.
What is the answer to this
dilemma? Should I deny my mind?
Thank you, Jonathan
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: You should ask yourself why you accept an account of 30,000 year old civilizations, over accounts of the Torah. Why do you deem those more credible? What is your basis of reasoning?
Gentiles and Torah
Reader: Dear Rabbi, I’ve just joined the Mesora.org Discussions under the screen name NoahideTruth. I have enjoyed the Jewish Times articles and the ones on the site. I have a question though:
As far as my understanding goes, the Torah is not just the 613 commandments that were given to Israel. Based on this truth, what is meant by the study of Torah being off limits to B’nai Noah? As an observant individual, you are well aware that the 7 Laws are the foundation of the Law of God given to Moses. The differences are obvious in the commandments, but the foundation embodied is the same.
I think when Rabbis say that the Noahides can’t study Torah that they should say, “They can’t study the 613 commandments”. This is more precise on what is meant. I know, and every other Noahide knows, that we are not bound by the Law of God to Moses. But the Torah contains more than just that Law. The 7 Laws are also headings with subheadings much like the first 10 words given at Mt. Sinai. We have to recognize the differences that I think are being overlooked when declaring that Noahides can’t study Torah.
Anyway, I just wanted to share this point of view in hopes to know if you agree or disagree on this.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: The Torah verse is Deuteronomy 33:4, “Moses commanded us in Torah, an inheritance to the congregation of Jacob.” This means that it is the “congregation of Jacob” who is bound to Torah, and no others. But God does not play “favorites”, as He created all men and women. How can He not desire the good for everyone, and only offer Torah to the Jew?
The great commentator Nachmanides says the following on this point, “The Rabbis explained, ‘congregation’ is used here and not ‘house of Jacob, or ‘seed of Jacob’, thereby including all those who yearn to cleave to the Torah. Thus ‘congregation’ is used to refer to even the convert. Therefore, both Jew an convert are referred to by God as His ‘congregation’.”
Nachmanides makes it clear that any human being desirous of leading the highest lifestyle as following all 613 commands is welcome, and is in the same footing. One born as “Jew” has no advantage over a convert. The reason Gentiles have but seven commands is not a “limit” to their performances, but a “minimum” requirement to retain a right to life. If a given person cannot comply with at least these seven Noachide laws, then his life is meaningless.
God’s desire that only the Jew study Torah is for good reason. It should be understood why the punishment is so severe, if a gentile learns Torah other than what applies to his seven Noachide Laws. By doing so, the Gentile then blurs the lines of who is a “Torah Authority”, and this done en masse, will destroy Torah, as other Gentiles not fit to teach, will proliferate ignorant rulings. Only by the Rabbi/student relationship is the Torah insured from falling into the hands of those without proper training.
It may be very possible that a Gentile has the same intelligence as a Rabbi. Judaism does not make false claims such as “we are more intelligent than others”, as I have unfortunately heard from ignorant fellow Jews. There is no difference between a Jewish mind and a Gentile mind, or a Jewish soul and a Gentile soul. However, a Gentile is not bound to fulfill the 613 commands. As such, the level of meticulous Torah study and adherence will probably not be found among Gentiles who study Torah for its theoretic beauty alone.
Perhaps it is the Jews’ obligation, which engenders the proper attitude essential for the highest level of Torah study, and thus, Torah leadership. This secures for Jews alone the right to disseminate Torah. I would note that many converts became some of Judaism’s greatest teachers. However, to teach Judaism, one must be one of those people who inherited Torah, through “obligatory” Torah study – and this is only the Jew or the convert.
The preservation of the Torah system by the obligated Jew in fact serves both Jew and Gentile. For without such care to accept the Jew’s designation as the sole Torah authority, other less informed people would corrupt the Torah system, not enabling a Gentile the opportunity to observe Torah accurately, or convert, according to true Torah law. Additionally, any Gentile desirous of accepting more Torah laws is wise to do so and is fully permitted. For through these additional laws, he or she will become more perfected, as is God’s plan for every man and woman. The only laws a Gentile may not observe unless converted, are the Sabbath and Holiday, and I feel Tefillin as well. This is because these laws function to distinguish the Jew from others, as the Torah authority, as we have explained.
The prohibition for Noachides to study Torah, does in fact apply to commands, which he or she is not fulfilling. If however you wish to fulfill additional commands, then you may study them to keep them. A Rabbi also taught that in areas of perfection, a Gentile is allowed to study.