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Judaic sources on the attitude towards gentiles

By Leon Zilberstein et al.

Posted December 18, 2003

Contents

  • Preface
  • Summary of halachic rulings on the attitude towards gentiles
    1. Killing gentiles and saving their lives
    2. Robbing, cheating and returning lost items to a gentile
    3. Business relations
    4. The place of gentiles in Jewish political and judicial systems
    5. Gentile culture
    6. Emotional and social attitude towards gentiles
    7. Psychological Profile of the Gentiles
    8. Miscellaneous
    9. Metaphysical opinions on the gentiles
  • On the attitude towards gentiles -- with sources (pdf format)
  • On the attitude towards gentiles -- with sources (html format, Visual Hebrew)
  • Appendix: Judaism on gentiles granted the status of ger toshav
  • Preface

    This work represents a concise outline (or suma) of basic religious laws that determine the attitude toward non-Jews on the part of Jews and Judaism. This suma is bolstered by a series of major relevant excerpts from classical Jewish halachic sources (far from complete, indeed, patently incomplete), which form the foundation of the precepts in question.

    Within the limited scope of this paper we could not conduct a detailed analysis of all the halachic concepts contained in Jewish literature regarding the different issues raised here. Nevertheless, we have tried to select and present to the reader a more or less complete set of authoritative views (in their original textual form) on each specific issue. It is important to stress that the views in question were culled from key written works by leading Jewish lawgivers or from major (collective) Jewish religious sources, above all the Talmud. In some instances we also cite particularly relevant views expressed by contemporary authorities. We have summed up these pronouncements and formulated our summary in a simple yet compelling fashion. To be sure, this summary does not reflect every nuance of the complex issues dealt with in the original sources; it does, however, give an unambiguous outline of the existing range of views and practical imperatives created by classical Orthodox Judaism.

    We have devoted a special Appendix to the issue of gentiles granted the status of ger toshav and a separate section to the rather problematic issue of diverse terminology used in Jewish literature to define and classify non-Jews. Without making any attempt to supplant this section, we would nevertheless like to make an important observation. Jewish law reserves a separate category for those gentiles defined by the term (ger toshav); according to most views, this group is made up of gentiles who observe the seven Noachide commandments (this definition will be examined in somewhat more detail below). In principle, only this type of gentile has an inalienable right to live (or -- to life) according to Jewish law. Only they enjoy certain legal leniences in terms of their property rights. Only they may (or even must) be saved by a Jew when they are drowning in a river, for example. On the other hand, Jewish law reserves a separate category for those gentiles who are explicitly idolaters, treating them with particular disdain: under Jewish law they are to be put to death, at least in theory. Even though the laws applicable exclusively to gentiles granted the status of ger toshav, the laws applicable to idolaters only, and the laws applicable to all gentiles (including those in the ger toshav category) differ greatly, covering a widerange of legal attitudes towards those who fall into these categories, we consider it essential to emphasize two important points.

    First, according to the overwhelming majority of accepted views most of today's gentiles cannot be considered ger toshav. Christians as a group are viewed as idolaters, and as such (at least in theory) are punishable by death. What is more, it seems that even under the most "lenient" contemporary approach, billions of basically decent and respectable gentiles are categorized by the Jewish law as definite idolaters (or persons of the same negative status), and thus they are not entitled to the prestigious status of ger toshav. This applies to all Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and so on.

    Second, even a ger toshav (in fact, even a gentile convert to Judaism) is explicitly discriminated against under Jewish law, as we will see below.

    The problem of terminology employed by Jewish sources in classifying gentiles.

    In this context, we are obliged to touch, at least in passing, upon the crucial issue of terminology. Halachic literature uses a wide assortment of different terms to denote "gentiles." To an extent, this variety has a historical character, owing to the fact that Jewish religious literature was created over a lengthy period of time. However, the main reason for this terminological diversity was the natural semantic tendency to classify gentiles (based on one principle or another) in the context of issues and concepts relevant at the time. For example, the word (goy) is usually translated as "gentile"; (ben Noach) as a descendant of Noah, i.e. a member of mankind; (kna'ani) as Canaanite, i.e. a member of one of the nations which inhabited Canaan prior to the arrival of the Israelites; (kuti) usually as one belonging to the heretical Samaritan minority, or simply a "heretic"; (oved avodah zarah) or (akum, an acronym of oved kochavim umazalot, i.e. "one who worships stars and constellations") as "idolater"; (nochri) as "stranger," "alien"; (ger toshav) as "a stranger who permanently resides among Jews." Some of these terms are random and interchangeable; on the whole, however, they retain their distinct halachic meaning and are used accordingly in various contexts.

    The problem of terminology is complicated even more by the censorship (either external, gentile, or internal, Jewish) that was often applied to Jewish texts, replacing the original terms with others considered less offensive in a given period or location. In most cases, the original term can be clearly inferred from the context. Frequently, however, it is impossible to determine with sufficient certainty whether the term before us is the original or one which has been replaced due to censorship. As a result, we cannot be sure which category of gentiles is covered by the law in question: the one specified by the censored text or a different (usually wider) group defined by some other term which had been in the original text. Therefore researchers of Jewish religious law are constrained to search out the original, uncensored sources for this purpose. Fortunately, it is relatively easy today: most classical Jewish works have been reconstructed and published in their original version, based on ancient manuscripts and early printed editions.

    Most of the texts used in our research were taken from the Bar-Ilan Responsa CD version 9 and DBS CD version 9. However, we discovered (somewhat to our surprise) that the use of these versions did not solve the problem entirely: the CD texts of the Mishnah, Talmud, Maimonides' Mishneh-Torah, the Tur, and the Shulchan Aruch contained numerous traces of censored passages. As a result, we had to meticulously compare these texts with the existing uncensored versions, and to correct them whenever necessary. Our corrections were based on the following editions (unless explicitly noted otherwise in the quoted passage):

    Mishneh-Torah -- based on the Shabtai Frankel edition.

    The Babylonian Talmud (inc. the Rashi and Tosafot commentaries) -- mostly based on the Steinzaltz edition; treatises which are not included in the Steinzaltz edition are based on the original printed version of the Talmud (Venice, 1520-1523).

    Mishnah -- based on the edition with Maimonides' commentaries, published in Jerusalem in 1963 by R. Joseph Kapakh.

    Tur and Beit-Yosef (commentaries by R. Yosef Caro to Tur) -- based on the Jerusalem edition of the four sections of the complete Tur, 1998.

    Shulchan Aruch -- based on the Krakow edition of 1578 (the first edition of Shulchan Aruch with Rama commentaries).

    Wherever we revised the available standard text by removing the censored corrections, the following signs were used: the original uncensored text was placed in square brackets ([original text]), while the text following censoring (to be omitted) was enclosed in carats (<censored correction>).

    However, finding the correct (original) term is the first and easiest part in the task of interpreting the text. The real difficulty lays in determining the exact meaning of a given term in each book, each specific case, each new context. The problem is that identical terms are used in different texts (or even in different opinions brought in the same text). The most common instance is the word goy, which refers in some cases to all gentiles and only to idolatrous gentiles in others.

    In some instances, the differences in meaning are more subtle. Even when the basic meaning of a term is fairly clear, there may be uncertainty as to what precisely makes a gentile fall into a particular category. For example, a ger toshav (the closest a gentile can come to the status of a Jew without actual conversion) is a gentile who fulfills the seven Noachide commandments. However, there are endless discussions in Jewish literature as to the precise meaning of this definition. There are divergent opinions regarding the following questions: when a gentile wishes to become a ger toshav, must he make a formal court declaration of his intention to fulfill the Noachide commandments, or is it enough to observe them in practice? Does he have to observe these commandments out of his belief in Judaism, or is it sufficient that he practices them as ethical standards?

    Halachic sources exhibit a wide divergence of opinions concerning these issues. On the one hand, some authorities believe that today no gentile can become a ger toshav even in theory, since this status is applicable only when the laws and commandments related to the notion of yovel ("the fiftieth year," when, for example, land sold by Jews reverts to its former owners) are in force. According to this opinion, even a gentile who observes the seven Noachide commandments out of his belief in Judaism is not eligible for the status of ger toshav today. On the opposite extreme, there is the view that any gentile who professes a monotheistic religion, including Christianity, can be considered as ger toshav even today.

    To be sure, there is no shortage of intermediate views. For example, a number of authorities believe that the prestigious status of ger toshav may be conferred only on genuine monotheists like the Moslems, but certainly not on Christians. However, there is more. Some of those who hold the latter view assert that the Moslems at least, being genuine monotheists, are entitled to the full status of ger toshav, with all the rights and privileges implied therein; others claim that a Moslem is only partially entitled to the status of ger toshav, applicable only in the context of certain halachic rules but not in general.

    In short, the issues we have raised are highly complex, and there is no way to discuss them in every detail within the framework of this paper.

    In our suma we have consistently translated the terms goy, nochri, and ben Noach as "gentile"; the same goes for the terms kna'ani, kuti and akum, whenever it was obvious that these "specific" terms were used in lieu of more general ones for reasons of censorship. Only in those cases where the sources explicitly state that the law applies solely to idolaters in the literal sense of the word or where this conclusion is clearly implied, or where the sources stress that the law equally applies to gentiles having the status of ger toshav did we reflect these terminological niceties in our translation.

    Summary of halachic rulings on the attitude towards gentiles

    1. Killing gentiles and saving their lives

    1.1) In principle, every person practicing idolatry (whether a gentile or a Jew) should be put to death by a court of law. Idolatry is attributing divinity to any object (physical or spiritual) other than the one and only G-d, whether this is done through ritual (such as prayer, offerings of incense, or the like) or by a mere statement of faith.

    Several contemporary religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism, are undoubtedly considered idolatry. As for Christianity, there is a dispute among Halachic authorities, but the vast majority consider it idolatry as well. Islam, on the other hand, is not considered idolatry.

    In a situation (such as we have now) where there is no Jewish court of law which can sentence people to death, to corporal punishment, or even to the fines prescribed by the Torah, and which therefore can not judge a man for the sin of idolatry:

    It is permissible (and even commanded) for anyone to kill idolatrous Jews (and those Jews, including atheists and agnostics, who publicly reject the divine authority of Halacha) anywhere and anytime it is possible. However, contemporary Halachic authorities have ruled that this law doesn't apply nowadays.

    1.2) Killing a gentile (even an idolater, without a court hearing) in peaceful times is forbidden. (According to most opinions, during a war any person from the gentile enemy nations may be killed.) However, a Jew who murders a gentile (even in peaceful times and even intentionally) is not punishable by death in the human courts (under normal circumstances). According to some opinions he is not punishable at all (under normal circumstances) by the human courts. But a gentile who kills a Jew, even purely by accident and unintentionally, must be put to death. This applies to a ger toshav as well. There is a single opinion according to which a ger toshav who killed a Jew by accident is not put to death, but only goes into exile (like a Jew who killed by accident).

    1.3) It is forbidden to save a gentile who is in mortal danger or cure him from a fatal condition, even for payment, unless there is a danger that a failure to do so will cause animosity towards Jews. According to one opinion it is permissible to save a gentile in mortal danger, but one doesn't have an obligation to do so. This law doesn't apply to a ger toshav, whom Jews have an obligation to sustain.

    1.4) A Jew is forbidden to assist a gentile woman in labor. If a Jewish woman works as a midwife, she is obliged to assist in the childbirth to avoid antagonizing the gentiles, but only on a weekday and only for a fee. A Jewish woman is forbidden to breastfeed a gentile baby (except when this is vital to her own health). It is permitted to assist a ger toshav woman in labor (on a weekday) and to breastfeed a ger toshav baby.

    1.5) It is forbidden to desecrate the Shabbat to save the life of a gentile, unless there is a danger that a failure to do so will cause animosity. There are different opinions whether this law applies to a ger toshav.

    1.6) A gentile woman in labor must not be given assistance on Shabbat, even if no Shabbat violation is involved. One is allowed to assist a ger toshav woman in labor on Shabbat, but only if no severe Shabbat violation is involved.

    1.7) Contemporary practical rulings regarding the previous items

    Today a few Rabbinical authorities claim that the danger of provoking gentile animosity by not saving a gentile's life is so great that this consideration applies automatically in any case where there are witnesses (and according to some opinions even where there are no witnesses), and even on Shabbat.

    Therefore a Jew who encounters a gentile in danger in a place where there are witnesses (and according to some opinions even where there are no witnesses), and no other person has yet assisted the gentile, must save him, even when it involves violating the Shabbat.

    However, a Jewish doctor must try to avoid a situation in which he will have to violate the Sabbath by treating gentiles. Therefore a Jewish doctor is forbidden to work in a hospital that serves only gentiles if he must work on Shabbat. Similarly, a Jewish doctor should use any legal means at his disposal to avoid working on Shabbat in a hospital with a mixed, mostly gentile, patient base; in a hospital with mostly Jewish patients he is not obligated to avoid working on Shabbat, but in any case, it is recommended that this sort of hospital employ gentile doctors to treat gentile patients on Shabbat.

    1.8) If a Jew is chasing a gentile in order to murder him, it is forbidden to kill the Jew in order to save the gentile, even if there is no other way to save the gentile's life. A person who kills the Jewish pursuer in order to save the gentile's life must be put to death. But if a gentile (or a Jew) is chasing a Jew in order to murder him, one must kill the pursuer in order to save the pursued person (if there is no other way to save his life). This law applies to a ger toshav as well.

    1.9) In a case where someone orders a Jew to kill some innocent person or else he will himself be killed: If the person he is ordered to kill is a Jew then he must not kill him,even if it will result in his own death. If the person he is ordered to kill is a gentile, then it is permissible to kill him to save the life of the Jew (in this situation).It appears that this law applies even if the person whom the Jew is ordered to kill is a ger toshav.

    1.10) If an animal owned by a Jew kills a Jew then the animal is killed and its owner is required to pay compensations to the family of the victim. But if an animal owned by a Jew kills a gentile, killing the animal is not required and its owner is not required to pay any indemnity. It appears this law applies even when the victim is a ger toshav. It is not clear what is to be done in a case where an animal owned by a gentile kills a Jew.

    2. Robbing, cheating and returning lost items to a gentile

    2.1) According to some halachic sources, robbing and stealing from a gentile is permissible in principle, and forbidden only because (and when) there is a danger that it will cause the profaning of God's name or that it may cause harm to Jews. Other sources disagree and claim that robbing and stealing from a gentile is forbidden in any situation. It appears that robbing and stealing from a ger toshav is forbidden by the Torah, according to all opinions.

    2.2) In a commercial transaction, if a Jew charges an exorbitant price or conceals the low quality of the goods from a gentile customer he does not owe the gentile any compensation (as he would owe a Jewish customer). According to some opinions, it appears that this law is not applied to a ger toshav; it is forbidden to cheat him and therefore he must be compensated if he is cheated. In any case, it is clear that if a gentile charges an exorbitant price or conceals the low quality of the goods from a Jewish customer, he owes the Jew compensation.

    2.3) When a Jew owes money to a gentile who has passed away, the Jew is not obliged to repay the debt to the heirs, provided the latter do not know about the debt. If the heirs ask the Jew whether he owed money to the deceased, it is even permissible to lie to them and deny the debt (provided the Jew knows for sure that they do not know about the debt, so that the name of G-d will not be profaned by his lie).

    2.4) In a commercial transaction, if a gentile makes a mistake in a Jew's favor (for example, if he gives back extra change), the money does not have to be returned to him, though it would to a Jew who made a similar mistake. Some commentators even say that a gentile may be actively and intentionally misled and deceived during a commercial transaction, provided he does not notice (and therefore God's name is not profaned). Others disagree and say that a Jew may only passively benefit from a gentile's mistake, but may not actively and intentionally mislead him.

    2.5) According to most opinions if a gentile loses something, it is forbidden to return it to him. Considerations such as compassion or sympathy for his loss do not make the return permissible. But if a Jew who found the lost item presumes that its return will glorify the name of G-d (for as a result the gentiles will glorify the Jewish people and their religion) it is permissible and even a commandment to return it to a gentile. Furthermore, if there is a danger that not returning it will cause the profanation of G-d's name or may cause harm to Jews, then it must be returned to the gentile.

    3. Business relations

    3.1) It is forbidden for a Jew to consume some food products made by a gentile (even where there are no equivalent products made by Jews): wine, most milk products, and most kinds of food cooked or roasted by a gentile. This law applies to a ger toshav as well.

    3.2) According to some opinions, it is forbidden to buy bread from a gentile baker even where there is no Jewish baker. Others permit buying bread from a gentile baker, but only where there is no Jewish baker. And some permit buying bread from a gentile baker even where there is a Jewish baker.

    3.3) In all business transactions -- purchase and sale, hiring, lending money etc. -- a Jew must be given precedence over a gentile, even when this causes minor financial losses.

    3.4) According to one opinion, it's a special Torah commandment to take high interest on loans to a gentile. Also according to this same opinion, one mustn't forgive the debt of a gentile or postpone its payment date. Others also prohibit lending money without interest to a gentile but do not see this prohibition as a special commandment [whereas it is forbidden to lend money with interest to (or borrow from) a Jew]. According to some opinions, in some conditions where lending money to a gentile may cause affinity between him and the Jew and cause the Jew to be influenced by the ways of the gentiles, it is forbidden to lend money to a gentile altogether. With regard to a ger toshav: according to all opinions it is permitted to lend him money at interest.

    3.5) According to some opinions it is permissible to delay the wages of a gentile. According to other opinions it may not be permissible. It is forbidden to delay the payment of the wages of a ger toshav, but the prohibition is less severe than that of delaying a Jew's wages.

    3.6) A gentile doesn't inherit from his Jewish father (for example, when the father converted after the son was born or the son is the child of a Jew from a gentile woman).

    4. The place of gentiles in Jewish political and judicial systems

    4.1) A gentile (and even a convert to Judaism) cannot be appointed to the throne or to any other executive governmental position over Jews. A gentile cannot be a judge in a Jewish court of law. Even a convert to Judaism cannot serve as a judge in cases that may result in capital punishment, and according to most opinions a convert cannot judge Jews from birth, even in cases regarding financial matters. (He may, according to all opinions, judge other converts on financial matters.)

    4.2) A gentile is not considered a valid witness in a Jewish court of law. This applies to a ger toshav as well.

    4.3) Even a convert to Judaism is not allowed to bear witness concerning anything that happened prior to his conversion.

    4.4) A gentile, as opposed to a Jew, can be easily sentenced to death in a court of law. This can be done by a single judge, based on the testimony of a single witness or on the defendant's own admission, with no prior warning, even if the witness is a relative [of either the judge or the victim]. This applies to a ger toshav as well. According to one opinion, if a Jew sees a gentile transgressing any of the Noachide commandments he can kill the gentile on the spot without bringing him to court, but most opinions disagree and say that even a gentile can be sentenced to death only in a court of law.

    4.5) In a lawsuit between a Jew and a gentile, the legal process is as follows: If non-Jewish laws benefit the Jewish party, the ruling is based on them, and the gentiles are told "Such are your own laws!" However, when the Jewish party benefits more from Jewish laws, the ruling is made accordingly, and the gentiles are told "Such are our laws." It seems that this law does not apply to a ger toshav, who is always judged according to the non-Jewish laws -- even if they benefit him.

    4.6) If an animal owned by a Jew damages a gentile's property, the Jew is not required to pay any indemnity. But when an animal owned by a gentile damages a Jew's property, the gentile is obliged to pay full compensation. According to some opinions this law applies to a ger toshav as well; according to other opinions it doesn't apply to a ger toshav.

    4.7) A gentile (including a ger toshav) who robs or steals from a Jew (or anyone else) must be sentenced to death, whereas a Jew who robs or steals from a gentile (or a Jew) is never sentenced to death. A Jew who steals from a gentile (including a ger toshav) must pay back only the sum that he stole, whereas a Jew who steals from a Jew must pay back at least twice the sum he stole.

    4.8) The death penalty may be imposed on one (Jew or gentile) who abducts a Jew, but not on a Jew who abducts a gentile.

    5. Gentile culture

    5.1) The gentiles mustn't found a new religion and invent their own commandments. The only religious options they have are to obey the Noachide commands or convert to Judaism.

    5.2) A gentile must not observe the Shabbat, and he also must not establish for himself a religious festival or a religious day of rest. If he does he is to be beaten in punishment (and according to one opinion he is to be executed in punishment). According to one opinion he must not even establish for himself a secular day of rest or intentionally rest for a whole day. According to most opinions this applies to a ger toshav as well.

    5.3) A gentile must not study the Torah. If he does he is to be beaten in punishment. This applies to a ger toshav as well.

    6. Emotional and social attitude towards gentiles

    6.1) A Jew passing gentile graves or seeing a multitude of gentiles must declare: "Your mother shall be sore confounded; she that bare you shall be ashamed: behold, the hindermost of the nations shall be a wilderness, a dry land, and a desert" (Jeremiah 50:12). A Jew passing a church (and according to one opinion any gentile residence) must say: "The Lord will destroy the house of the proud" (Proverbs 15:25).

    6.2) The injunction against harboring hatred in one's heart applies solely to Jews.

    6.3) A Jew is not required to mourn (e.g. sit shiva) for his gentile brother, sister (that is, the offspring of his father from a gentile woman), son, or daughter (that is, his offspring from a gentile woman). A proselyte doesn't have to mourn over his gentile mother and father.

    6.4) In respect to a gentile, the law permits revenge and rancor. Similarly, the commandment "Love thy fellow as thyself" does not apply to gentiles.

    6.5) The injunction against slander applies only in respect to slandering a Jew.

    6.6) It is forbidden to give a gift to a gentile unless one is familiar with him and can therefore expect to get favors in return. This law does not apply to gifts given to an unfamiliar ger toshav -- it is permissible to give him a gift unconditionally.

    6.7) It is forbidden to praise or bless a gentile.

    6.8) It is forbidden to sell real estate to a gentile in the Land of Israel. Some kinds of real estate are not even to be rented to a gentile in the Land of Israel. This law does not preclude transactions between a Jew and a ger toshav. According to a certain opinion, when the political situation allows it the Jews mustn't even let a gentile pass through our land on his way elsewhere unless he is a ger toshav.

    6.9) A Jew must not take charity from a gentile in public, for this would be considered an embarrassment and would cause the profanation of G-d's name. A Jew may take charity from a gentile in public only if he cannot get any charity either from a Jew (in public or in private) or from a gentile in private.

    6.10) A Jew must pray every day "Blessed be the Lord for not making me a gentile."

    6.11) A Jew and a gentile mustn't be buried side by side, even if the gentile is a ger toshav. If a Jew was buried next to a gentile it is permissible to take the Jew's body out of his grave and reinter it, even if the new grave is by the side of a secular Jew.

    7. Psychological Profile of the Gentiles

    7.1) According to some sources, cruelty and vengefulness exist only amongst the gentiles.

    7.2) Early Halachic sources say that gentiles are suspected of a predeliction to murder, and therefore one must take certain precautions when associating with them. For example, it is forbidden to stay alone with a gentile, it is forbidden to get a haircut from a gentile barber except under certain conditions, etc. Later Halachic sources claim that this suspicion doesn't apply in general these days.

    7.3) Many Halachic sources before the era of the Shulchan Aruch say that gentiles are suspected of having sexual intercourse with animals, and therefore a Jew must not leave his livestock in their care. Later Halachic sources claim that this suspicion doesn't apply today, since today gentile societies also consider bestiality an abomination.

    8. Miscellaneous

    8.1) A Jewish slave owner was allowed to compel his Hebrew slave (if the slave was sold by a court of law on account of his being a thief and if the slave already had a wife and children) to have intercourse with the owner's gentile female slave in order to increase the number of his gentile slaves.

    8.2) According to certain sources, a Jew is permitted to convert a found gentile boy into a gentile slave.

    8.3) It is forbidden to free a gentile slave, unless this is neccesary to enable the fulfilment of a mitzva (such as completing a minyan) or if the slave was injured in an irreversible manner in one of certain important organs.

    8.4) According to one opinion, a gentile woman who had a sexual relations with a Jewish man is sentenced to death, as is the case when a Jew has sexual relations with an animal (the animal is killed because it enabled a Jew to sin, even though it is not a sin for the animal itself). Other commentators reject this comparison and therefore the woman is not sentenced to death. In any case, the Jewish man who had sexual relations with a gentile woman is not sentenced to death in court, but if he committed the act in public, he may be killed during its commission. (Similarly, a gentile man who had sexual relations with an unmarried Jewish woman is not sentenced to death.)

    8.5) According to most opinions, during a war against gentiles a Jewish man was allowed to have sexual intercourse with a gentile captive woman (though only once), even if she was married and even against her will. According to some opinions it seems that he was not allowed to have sexual intercourse with a captive gentile woman at all before he married her. In either case he could marry her only if she converted to Judaism. If she didn't want to convert she had to sit in his house for a period of time ranging from a month to a year, during which time she had to shave her hair and mourn. During this time it was possible to try to convince her to convert. If at the end of this period she still didn't want to convert, then according to some opinions it was possible to convert her against her will, and according to some opinions even to marry her against her will. According to other opinions it wasn't possible to convert her or marry her against her will, but she had at least to accept the 7 Noachide commandments and then she had to be set free. If she refused to abandon idolatry then she was sentenced to death (as are all idolaters).

    8.6) The injunction against the desecration of the body of a Jew is more severe than the injunction against the desecration of the body of a gentile. In fact, according to some opinions it is possible that there is no injunction against desecration of the body of a gentile. For this reason, according to some opinions it is permitted to operate on dead gentiles in order to study medicine, but it is forbidden to do the same on dead Jews (and this seems to be the dominant practice today). However, according to some opinions it is forbidden to operate on dead gentiles as well, and, on the other hand, according to other opinions it is also permissible to operate on dead Jews in order to study medicine.

    8.7) A gentile woman can breastfeed a Jewish baby, but according to some opinions this is permitted only when there is no other way to feed him. According to all opinions, if there is another way to feed him it is recommended not to feed him from a gentile woman since it can have a bad influence on his soul (even if the gentile woman eats only kosher food).

    8.8) A Jew mustn't eat an animal that was slaughtered by a gentile, even if it was done according to all other rules established by Jewish law. This applies even if the gentile is a ger toshav.

    8.9) According to most opinions a gentile cannot circumcise a Jew, even in the presence of other Jews. According to some opinions, if a Jew was circumcised by a gentile the Jew has to undergo a second ritual of "symbolic circumcision."

    8.10) Tzitzit, a Torah scroll, tefillin, and a mezuza that were made by a gentile are invalid.

    8.11) According to certain sources there are physiological differences between Jews and gentiles, and therefore medical statements that were proved correct for gentiles are not considered automatically correct for Jews. According to some of these sources the gentile physiology is innately different ("their flesh is as the flesh of asses"), and according to other sources the differences come from the fact that the gentiles eat non-kosher food.

    9. Metaphysical opinions on the gentiles

    9.1) Jews are complete human beings. Gentiles, on the other hand, are human beings, but not complete human beings. The difference between the Jewish nation and other nations is analogous to the difference between soul and matter, or between Man and other animals.

    9.2) The difference between a Jewish soul and a gentile one is larger and deeper than the difference between the anima of an animal and that of a human, since the latter is only quantitative whereas the former is qualitative.

    9.3) Jews possess two souls: the earthly soul combines both good and bad, while the other one is part of the Almighty. Gentiles have only one soul, and it comes from a sphere that is all bad. The earthly soul of Jews comes from the same sphere as the anima of clean animals. The earthly soul of gentiles comes from the same sphere as the anima of unclean animals.

    9.4) According to some opinions only Jews are made in G-d's image. According to other opinions gentiles are also made in G-d's image.

    9.5) Gentiles are creatures occupying a very base level. They would not exist were it not for Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden.

    9.6) In the case of Jews, the Lord regards a good thought as a deed but doesn't regard a bad thought as a deed. In the case of gentiles the opposite is true: the Lord doesn't regard a good thought as a deed but does regard a bad thought as a deed.

    Appendix: Judaism on gentiles granted the status of ger toshav

    The concept of ger toshav (hereinafter GT) is of paramount importance to the ethic theory of contemporary Orthodox Judaism. It is by means of this concept that Jewish theologians endeavor to resolve the moral question pertaining to the problematic attitude on the part of Judaism toward those of other faiths.

    In order to analyze the problem of Judaism's attitude to GT it is essential to clarify the theoretical and historical meanings of this concept and to determine its present field of reference. We should keep in mind that the Hebrew term ger toshav is translated as a resident dweller. This concept has a dual meaning: on the one hand it implies an alien who comes from the outside to the Jewish world and hence a dweller (as opposed to host); on the other hand the word resident alludes to the fact that he is more than a guest, but rather someone who has decided to settle in the Jewish world and to accept its laws.

    Historically, the term GT designates a loyal alien residing lawfully in an area under Jewish jurisdiction. During the era of the Kings this term had a purely legal rather than religious connotation, defining the status of a legalized alien. The concept of GT acquired a religious meaning only during those times when Jews resided in cosmopolitan empires -- and that meaning existed simultaneously in two versions.

    The first version was the product of the political evolution of post-Babylonian Judea. As we know, the Persian and Hellenistic monarchs conceded religious and hierocratic rather than political self-rule to Judea -- the same, in fact, as to all the other conquered provinces. Within this framework, the Jews had a certain leeway in imposing their religious views on those of their neighbors who adhered to other faiths. This does not mean that they were entitled to convert gentiles to Judaism by force; however, the cultural predominance of Judaism, the Jerusalem Temple, and the Jewish priesthood became a political reality in Judea. The local gentiles had to define their stance toward the dominant religious cult instituted by imperial law. The majority that defied this cult found itself in natural opposition to the Jerusalem authorities. A certain minority affixed itself to the state religion and adopted Judaism. A considerable number of gentiles chose a third option, that of GT, by refusing to openly profess any other faith without adopting Judaism. This compromise solution enabled those gentiles who were unwilling to sever all ties with their own tradition to live in the Jewish society without being rejected by it. This produced a social stratum of partially Judaized gentiles -- in other words, GT, i.e. gentiles who refused to openly identify with other established religious cults and accepted Judaism as the ruling territorial religion -- short of adopting its rituals.

    The other facet of the concept of GT was a natural offshoot of the second form of Jewish existence -- the Jewish Hellenistic Diaspora. During the last two centuries BCE the Hellenistic world was simultaneously experiencing an intellectual upsurge and a religious crisis, the latter caused by the degeneration of the old pagan cults, so that the Jewish religious experience was of considerable interest to that world. It is a known fact that "Judaization" was a fashionable trend throughout the Mediterranean. A large number of gentiles in the region stretching from Gibraltar to the Tigris converted to Judaism at the time. An even larger portion of non-Jews found themselves, in one way or another, under the Jewish religious influence. Thus the Diaspora Jews lived side by side with gentiles who had voluntarily adopted some of the religious tenets of Judaism -- above all the refusal to worship visible deities and the idea of Sabbath rest -- yet had not converted to Judaism. It was these gentiles who became the second type of GT.

    It is crucial to make a distinction between GT in Judea and those in the Diaspora. While the former identified with Judaism primarily out of pragmatic considerations, the Diaspora GT were motivated mainly by the spiritual quest of the Hellenistic world. While in Judea the GT consisted largely of commoners in search of a comfortable life, in the Diaspora the ranks of GT were joined by scions of distinguished families as well. The Talmudic legends about prominent converts to Judaism were not baseless fiction -- and not a product of the Palestinian soil.

    One way or another, the GT during the Second Temple period were "Judaized" gentiles who had not embraced Judaism for one reason or another. It is unlikely that this "title" was awarded in some sort of formal procedure or followed any clear criteria. In certain cases, the status of GT could have probably been conferred on an incorrigible pagan for invaluable services rendered to the Jewish community (as done today in the case of the "righteous gentiles" -- individuals of every faith who helped the Jews during WWII). As a rule, however, GT were required to make a religious declaration, which more often than not consisted of recognizing the Jewish God as superior to the deities worshipped by other people. Such a GT was allowed access to Jewish society -- not as an equal, but still as someone preferred over other gentile mortals. This probably accounts for the "gentle" definition of GT preserved in the Talmud: "A GT is any gentile who repudiates idolatry."

    The rabbinical overturn altered the meaning of the concept of GT in a radical fashion. It was declared (a) no longer valid (its relevance restricted solely to those times when the laws of yovel were in force), and (b) theoretically, according to some views (if the laws of yovel were in force), applicable to groups of people who never coexisted with Jews. As a result, the concept of GT was transformed from a real social category into a tool of theoretical analysis which served Jewish theoreticians for two millennia.

    Eventually, the Talmud defined the GT as a gentile who, during the time of yovel, consistently performs the seven commandments prescribed by God to the sons of Noah. Moreover, some sages maintained that it is sufficient for a GT to perform a single commandment -- that of renouncing idol-worship. Others added two more commandments to the list, while still others believed that all seven must be observed. The social origins of this concept leave a reminder of themselves in the discussion of the sages, who demand that the GT pledge his commitment to observe the commandments in a Jewish court, or else publicly acknowledge that by renouncing idolatry, he has also accepted the superiority of Judaism to all other religions (actions that are impossible in those places that have no Jewish communities and are unfamiliar with the tenets of Judaism, and most importantly, actions that were never performed by any actual group of Judaized gentiles). Therefore the following contradiction arose in Talmudic times: while the sages debated the eligibility of one or another category of gentiles for the status of GT and the privileges the GT were entitled to as compared to other gentiles, the very phenomenon of GT became an anachronism -- this status could not be practically applied to anyone.

    This situation changed only during what is known as the era of the Rishonim. It was at that time that the applicability of the concept of GT to entire peoples and religious groups that were completely indifferent to it was called into question. Essentially, Jewish thinkers began for the first time to seriously consider the following questions: (a) what are the categories of gentiles with which a Jew is allowed to come into voluntary contact? (b) which types of gentiles are the Jews commanded to harm whenever possible? (c) can [collective] gentile ethic norms be viewed as changing for the better from the standpoint of Judaism?

    Some of the Rishonim utilized the Talmudic principles as the basis for erecting a new theory of GT, one that was adapted to the era of the flowering of world religions. These relatively liberal theoreticians introduced the following axioms: (a) from now on, the cornerstone idea would be not the religious customs of the gentile or even of the group of which he is a member, but rather the theology of the faith professed by this group; (b) the relations between the Jews and other peoples are to be directly contingent on the theology in question. Naturally, the Jewish world was caught up in a heated debate concerning the essence of Christianity and Islam. The majority of Jewish sages -- including those who did not accept the new GT theory-- classified Christianity as idolatry while defining Islam as a legitimate brand of monotheism. A minority exhibited some leniency toward Christianity, pronouncing it a flawed version of monotheism, which, though expressly forbidden to a Jew, probably had no lethal effect on the Jewish soul.

    The natural expectation was that the Jewish sages would promulgate friendly contacts with Moslems, and in part with Christians -- in keeping with the ancient dictums concerning GT. On the other hand, it would have been reasonable to brand those peoples who continued to engage in idolatry as enemies, and even to ostracize them. In fact, quite the opposite took place. The Jewish sages condemned both the Christians and the Moslems, forbidding all dealings with them unless absolutely unavoidable; at the same time, they did not even consider banning contacts (such as business) with blatant idolaters.

    At the same time, a number of Jewish sages engaged in the development of Jewish apologetics declared (usually in their apologetic rather than halachic works) that monotheistic gentiles should not be subjected to all-out property discrimination, that Jews are permitted to treat and assist them and to engage in business relations with them -- as if they enjoyed the status of GT.

    It is crucial to note an important innovation made by 14th century Jewish theoretician Me'iri who, partly for the purposes of apologetic discussion, introduced a new theoretical generalization suitable for modern sociological debates. He decreed that any people adopting a "conventional religion" which "normalizes the moral aspect of their existence" are eligible, unlike all other idolaters, to a status that bears a strong resemblance to that of GT. It is not quite clear whether Me'iri would have been content with a mere declaration of "moral normalization" or whether this normalization was to be put into actual effect; nor is it clear what would happen if a people managed to achieve "moral normalization" while retaining its idolatrous practices. Still, his theory constituted a groundbreaking innovation [1]: not only were both Christians and Moslems recognized as fully reputable gentiles regardless of the subtle points of their theology, Me'iri's definition applied automatically to peoples he had failed to name who profess a more or less "conventional" religion -- all of them are virtual GT.

    Thus in the Middle Ages the concept of GT was reborn in the writings of some Jewish sages, having outlined additional rights granted by Judaism to monotheists as compared to idolaters. These Jewish theologians created a new collective status under which the gentile was immune from persecution and guaranteed tolerable treatment -- though not full equality. The exact rights to be enjoyed by this new GT (hereinafter NGT) were never clearly delineated.

    The question of which gentiles are eligible for the status of NGT, which are manifestly ineligible, and which are "stuck" in an indefinite intermediate limbo is more than a theoretical issue -- it is a political one as well. Since the introduction of the concept of NGT benefits those Jews wishing to have contacts with certain types of gentiles to a far greater extent than it does the gentiles themselves, it is applied in a fairly liberal and encompassing manner -- yet almost invariably without any far-reaching obligations. Thus many orthodox Jewish communities consider the majority of today's Europeans and Americans as NGT, while at the same time requiring their members to shun them and avoid their company. Therefore the granting of the status of NGT is designed more to enable the Jews to function freely within contemporary society than to secure real rights for gentiles.

    We would like to conclude by noting that even though mainstream Orthodox Judaism frequently extends the definition of NGT to include the majority of today's Christians and Moslems, the attempts to "stretch" it over the overwhelming majority of the Third World population have so far ended in failure.

    We should keep in mind that according to the overwhelming majority of Jewish authorities, the genuine status of GT (the one described in the Halacha) is presently inapplicable to any gentile. It is infinitely higher than any possible status of today's gentile who has not accepted every dogma of Judaism without exception. In the Halacha the real status of a gentile is considerably lower than that of GT. Consequently, the halachic summary we have presented, which illustrates the legal status of GT, does not fully reflect the discrimination practiced against NGT by contemporary halachic Judaism, for it describes not so much the actual current attitudes to monotheistic gentiles as to their ancient social prototype. To put it simply, today even the most observant gentile is far from the Talmudic ideal of the ger toshav, whose well-being is to some extent the responsibility of every Jew.This is something that the discerning reader should keep in mind if he wishes to avoid the otherwise inevitable anachronisms and far-fetched semantic interpretations.

    A summary of halachic decrees illustrating the attitude of Judaism to GT[2]

    1) Killing a GT (as well as any other Gentile, in principle, without a court hearing, at least in peaceful times) is forbidden. However, a Jew who murders a gentile (even in peaceful times and even intentionally) is not punishable by death in the human courts. According to some opinions he is not punishable at all by the human courts. But a GT who kills a Jew, even (according to most opinions) purely by accident and unintentionally, must be put to death.

    2) According to some opinions it is forbidden to desecrate the Shabbat to save the life of a GT unless there is a danger of animosity.

    3) In all situations where one must choose to save either a Jew's or a GT's life or where only one of these two lives can be saved, the Jewish life must be chosen. It applies even in a situation where a criminal who is Jewish threatens the GT's life -- even then it is forbidden to kill the Jew in order to save the GT's life.

    4) According to some opinions, if a Jew charges an exorbitant price or conceals the low quality of goods from a GT customer he does not owe the GT any compensation (as he would owe a Jewish customer). In any case, it is clear that if a GT charges an exorbitant price or conceals the low quality of goods from a Jewish customer, he owes the Jew compensation.

    5) According to most opinions it is forbidden for a Jew to consume some food products made by a GT.

    6) According to most opinions, in business transactions a Jew must be given precedence over a GT, even when this causes minor financial losses.

    7) According to many opinions it is forbidden to lend money to GT without interest.

    8) It is forbidden to delay the payment of the wages of a GT, but the prohibition is less severe than that of delaying a Jew's wages.

    9) A GT may not be appointed to any executive governmental position over Jews. For example, he cannot be a judge in a Jewish court of law.

    10 ) A GT is not considered a valid witness in a Jewish court of law.

    11) A GT, as opposed to a Jew, may be easily sentenced to death in a court of law. This may be done by a single judge, based on the testimony of a single witness or his own admission of guilt, with no prior warning, even if the witness is a relative [of either the judge or the victim].

    12) According to some opinions, if an animal owned by a Jew damages a GT's property the Jew is not required to pay any indemnity. But when an animal owned by a GT damages a Jew's property, the GT is obliged to pay full compensation.

    13) A GT who robs or steals from a Jew (or anyone else) must be sentenced to death, whereas no Jew who robs or steals from anyone is ever sentenced to death. A Jew who steals from a GT must pay back only the sum that he stole, whereas a Jew who steals from a Jew must pay back at least twice the sum he stole.

    14) The death penalty may be imposed on a GT who abducts a Jew, but not on a Jew who abducts a GT.

    15) A GT must not observe the Shabbat, and he also must not establish for himself a religious festival or a religious day of rest. If he does he is to be beaten in punishment (and according to one opinion he is to be executed in punishment). According to one opinion he must not even establish for himself a secular day of rest or intentionally rest for a whole day.

    16) A GT must not study the Torah. If he does he is to be beaten in punishment.

    17) A Jew is not required to mourn (e.g. sit shiva) for his GT brother, sister (that is, the offspring of his father from a gentile woman), son or daughter (that is, his offspring from a gentile woman).

    18) A Jew and a GT mustn't be buried side by side.

    19) A Jew is not allowed to eat an animal that was slaughtered by a GT, even if it was done according to all the other rules of Jewish law.


    [1] Mei'ri's works, unappreciated by the Jewish religious world, were virtually forgotten and ignored for six centuries. It was only in the last century that these works -- quite understandably -- sparked a renewed interest.

    [2] All of the halachic decrees cited below represent a direct revision of the preceding chapters of this study.

    Discussion