Talmud/On gentiles

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A complete set of the Babylonian Talmud.

There are many passages about gentiles in the Talmud. The term "gentile", in this context, means "non-Jew". Some passages, notably Sanhedrin 56a:24, depict gentiles in a positive light and accord them the status of a ger toshav if they abide by the Noahide Laws. However, there are a great many passages that describe gentiles in less favorable terms: for example, Bava Kamma 113b:10 states that it is permitted to profit from a business error of a gentile.

This page quotes some of the most famous passages about gentiles in the Talmud, both the good and the bad. Each quote is sourced with a link to Sefaria.org, a free digital library of Jewish texts. For more information, see the Wikipedia articles on Gentile and Ger toshav.

Quotes from the Talmud[edit]

Sanhedrin[edit]

"The descendants of Noah, i.e., all of humanity, were commanded to observe seven mitzvot." (Sanhedrin 56a:24)
  • The descendants of Noah, i.e., all of humanity, were commanded to observe seven mitzvot: The mitzva of establishing courts of judgment; and the prohibition against blessing, i.e., cursing, the name of God; and the prohibition of idol worship; and the prohibition against forbidden sexual relations; and the prohibition of bloodshed; and the prohibition of robbery; and the prohibition against eating a limb from a living animal.
    • Sanhedrin 56a:24
    • These seven laws are referred to as the Noahide Laws. They are considered to be binding on all of humanity (i.e., all the descendants of Noah).
  • Rabbi Yoḥanan says: A gentile who engages in Torah study is liable to receive the death penalty; as it is stated: "Moses commanded us a law [torah], an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob" (Deuteronomy 33:4), indicating that it is an inheritance for us, and not for them.
  • The Gemara explains: According to the one who says that the verse is referring to the Torah as an inheritance, this prohibition is included in the prohibition of robbery, as a gentile who studies Torah robs the Jewish people of it. According to the one who says that the verse is referring to the Torah as betrothed, as the spelling of the Hebrew word for betrothed [me'orasa], is similar to that of the word for inheritance [morasha], the punishment of a gentile who studies Torah is like that of one who engages in intercourse with a betrothed young woman, which is execution by stoning.
  • With regard to bloodshed, if a gentile murders another gentile, or a gentile murders a Jew, he is liable. If a Jew murders a gentile, he is exempt.
  • With regard to robbery, the term permitted is relevant, as it is permitted for a Jew to rob a gentile.
  • It is necessary only to teach the halakha of one who withholds the wages of a hired laborer; for a gentile to do so to another gentile and for a gentile to do so to a Jew is prohibited, but for a Jew to do so to a gentile is permitted.

Bava Kamma[edit]

  • From where is it derived that it is permitted to retain the lost item of a gentile? It is derived from a verse, as it is stated with regard to the mitzva of returning a lost item: "With every lost thing of your brother's" (Deuteronomy 22:3), indicating that it is only to your brother that you return a lost item, but you do not return a lost item to a gentile.
"Shmuel included one additional dinar in the payment so that the gentile would not realize his mistake." (Bava Kamma 113b:10)
  • Shmuel says that it is permitted to financially benefit from a business error of a gentile, i.e., it need not be returned. The Gemara notes that this is like that incident where Shmuel purchased a golden bowl [lakna] from a gentile in exchange [bemar] for the price of an iron bowl, which was four dinars, and Shmuel included one additional dinar in the payment so that the gentile would not realize his mistake.
  • Rav Kahana purchased one hundred and twenty barrels from a gentile for the price of one hundred barrels, and he included one additional dinar in the payment. Rav Kahana said to him: Take note that I am relying upon you to check that the transaction has been carried out properly.
  • Ravina and a gentile purchased a palm tree together in order to chop it up and split the wood between them. Ravina said to his attendant: Hurry and precede the gentile so that you can bring my share of the wood from the trunk of the tree, which is thicker than the upper part of the tree, as the gentile knows only the number of logs that he is due to receive and will not realize that you are taking thicker pieces.
"If they are owned by a gentile, bring some to me, but if they are owned by a Jew, do not bring me any." (Bava Kamma 113b:12)
  • Rav Ashi was traveling on the road and he saw a branch of a grapevine in an orchard, and there were clusters of grapes hanging on it. He said to his attendant: Go see to whom these clusters belong. If they are owned by a gentile, bring some to me, but if they are owned by a Jew, do not bring me any. A certain gentile who was sitting in the orchard overheard Rav Ashi's instructions. The gentile said to him: Is it permitted to steal the property of a gentile? Rav Ashi said to him: A gentile takes money for his grapes, and I intended to pay for them, but a Jew does not take money for his grapes and I did not want to take them without paying for them.
  • In the case of a Jew and a gentile who approach the court for judgment in a legal dispute, if you can vindicate the Jew under Jewish law, vindicate him, and say to the gentile: This is our law. If he can be vindicated under gentile law, vindicate him, and say to the gentile: This is your law. And if it is not possible to vindicate him under either system of law, one approaches the case circuitously, seeking a justification to vindicate the Jew.

Avodah Zarah[edit]

"Since the Jew can provide a legitimate excuse for refusing to aid the gentile, there is no need to extract him from the pit." (Avodah Zarah 26a:16)
  • It is prohibited to raise a gentile from a pit even in exchange for payment, because one can say an excuse to him, such as: My son is standing on the roof and I must go use this ladder to help him down from the roof. Alternatively, he can say to him: A time has been appointed for me to appear in the courthouse [bei davar] and I must attend to this matter. Since the Jew can provide a legitimate excuse for refusing to aid the gentile, there is no need to extract him from the pit.
  • If there was a ledge in the pit, a Jew scrapes it off so that the one in the pit cannot ascend from it, as the Jew employs a pretext and says that he is removing the ledge so that animals do not descend upon the one in the pit while he is trapped in the pit.
  • If there was a stone at the mouth of the well that one had fallen into, a Jew covers it and says that he is covering the opening in order to pass his animals over it. Ravina said: One can learn from here that if there was a ladder in the pit, a Jew removes it and says: I require the ladder to lower my son from the roof.
  • On the three days before the festivals of gentiles the following actions are prohibited, as they would bring joy to the gentile, who would subsequently give thanks to his object of idol worship on his festival: It is prohibited to engage in business with them; to lend items to them or to borrow items from them; to lend money to them or to borrow money from them; and to repay debts owed to them or to collect repayment of debts from them. Rabbi Yehuda says: One may collect repayment of debts from them because this causes the gentile distress.

Yevamot[edit]

"The offspring of a male gentile is considered no more related to him than the offspring of donkeys and horses." (Yevamot 98a:3)
  • The Merciful One dispossesses the male gentile of his offspring, as it is written with regard to Egyptians: "Whose flesh is the flesh of donkeys, and whose semen is the semen of horses" (Ezekiel 23:20), i.e., the offspring of a male gentile is considered no more related to him than the offspring of donkeys and horses.

Soferim[edit]

  • Kill the best of the gentiles in time of war; crush the brain of the best of serpents. The most worthy of women indulges in witchcraft. Happy is he who does the will of the Omnipresent.
    • Soferim 15:10
    • Variant: "Kill the best of the heathens in time of war." Some sources substitute the term בנים (benim, "boys") for the term גויים (goyim, "gentiles"), which is then translated as "heathens" rather than "gentiles". The original text uses the term goyim, which is a derogatory term for gentiles.

Keritot[edit]

"Gentiles are not called adam." (Keritot 6b:20)
  • As it is written: "And you My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, are people [adam]" (Ezekiel 34:31), from which it is derived that you, the Jewish people, are called adam, but gentiles are not called adam.
    • Keritot 6b:20
    • Variant: "'And you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, are man' (Ezekiel 34:31), which teaches that you, i.e., the Jewish people, are called 'man', but gentiles are not called 'man'."
    • Beyond its use as the name of the first man, adam (Hebrew: אָדָם‎) is also used as a pronoun, individually as "a human" and in a collective sense as "mankind".

Quotes about the Talmud[edit]

  • Once upon a time, under pressure of censorship, printers would inscribe in the flyleaves of volumes of the Talmud: "Whatever may be written herein about gentiles does not refer to the gentiles of today, but to gentiles of times past." Today, the flyleaves of our books bear a similar inscription, albeit an invisible one: "Whatever may be written herein about Jews does not refer to the Jews of today, but to Jews who lived in other times." So we are able to sit down and study Torah, Talmud, books of ethics, or books of faith without considering their relevance to our lives. Whatever is written there does not apply to us or to our generation, but only to other people, other times. We must expunge from those invisible prologues the notion that the words are written about someone else, about others, about anyone but us. Whether the book is a volume of Torah, a tractate of the Talmud, or a tract of faith, the opposite must be inscribed: "Whatever is written herein refers only to me; is written for me and obligates me. First and foremost, the content is addressed to me."

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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