כ״ב באלול ה׳תשע״ז (September 13, 2017)

Sanhedrin 59a-b: The Prohibition of Learning Torah

As we learned in the discussion on yesterday’s daf, aside from keeping the sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ – the seven Noachide laws – non-Jews are also prohibited from keeping Shabbat or from studying Torah. The latter prohibition is based on the passage (Devarim 33:4) Torah tziva lanu Moshe morasha – Moses commanded the Torah to us as an inheritance.

On today’s daf the Gemara asks why the prohibition forbidding non-Jews from learning Torah is not included as one of the sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ. Two answers are suggested, both of them based on the source of the prohibition, the verse Torah tziva lanu Moshe morasha. Some understand the word morasha homiletically to mean me’orasa – like an engaged woman. Thus, the Jewish people have a relationship with the Torah that is special and unique – like an engaged woman who is permitted to a single individual and forbidden to all others. Others understand the word morasha in its ordinary meaning, that is, it is an inheritance. Thus it has been given to the Jewish people as a family heirloom that cannot be taken (i.e. stolen) by anyone else. Both of these explanations would have the prohibition included among the existing sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ.

The Gemara points out that the ruling forbidding non-Jews from studying Torah stands in apparent contradiction with the teaching of Rabbi Meir who teaches that a non-Jew who studies Torah should be treated like a . This is based on the passage (Vayikra 18:5) that says that we must perform the laws of the Torah, which “if a man does, he shall live by them” – asher ya’aseh otam ha-adam ve-ḥai bahem – and the terminology used is the generic ha-adam – “a man” – rather than Jewish people, like kohanim, levi’im and yisra’elim. Thus the credit given to someone who studies apparently applies even to non-Jews.

The Gemara responds that a non-Jew receives such honor and credit only if he studies those parts of the Torah that apply to him, i.e. the sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ themselves.

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