Can Righteous Gentiles study the Torah?
It is said that Noachides are not allowed allowed to study Gemarah, but what about Rashi Commentary on Torah? Is it recommended? I also want to know if a noachide is free to study all the midrashim? If Maimonides "The Guide for the Perplexed" is not considered a religious work but a philosophical book, is a noachide permitted to read from it although it seem to contain references to Gemarah? I also wonder about "Everyman's Talmud" by Abraham Cohen...is it wrong to read it.
There have been many words written on this subject, both within the “Noahide community” and elsewhere, but seemingly little in the way of either justification or definite answers. This webpage represents my blatherings on the subject, based on the research and thinking I've done. If I'm wrong... that's between Hashem and my damaged soul.
Obviously I can't definitively answer the question because I'm not a rabbi. On the other hand, I needed a definite answer, and what I found on the 'net was about sixty different, mostly-vague answers. This webpage represents one definite answer.
When I say study, I mean personal study as in “read”. Not learn from a Rabbi, or take a class in. There are definite restrictions on what materials Jews are permitted to teach to Gentiles, but I have no opinions on those restrictions.
So what's the answer?
In short: wholeheartedly, unabashedly, absolutely certainly, yes!
You can read anything you want, though some of it you probably won't benefit from, some of it you won't understand, and some of it may even lead you astray. (That kablablablah stuff in particular can be very misleading. You should be aware that anything wholeheartedly embraced by Hollywood bozos is probably not worth paying attention to. The only way to validly learn Kabbalah is to be taught by a rabbi well-versed in the subject.)
Part of being a TOG/Righteous Gentile is learning about how to obey the seven commandments, and how Noahides fit into Judaism. That means not only memorizing the commandments themselves, but understanding the thought processes involved and the ramifications of the laws. In turn, that means, at a minimum, studying the entire Torah.
It's not enough to know “Do not murder”. There's an understanding required behind this simple commandment, because you're expected to obey not only the letter of the law, but the spirit. Murder may mean different things to different people, for example. And there are questions such as ‘Is abortion murder?’, ‘What about euthanasia?’, “Is causing indirect death a murder for Bnei Noah?”
That goes for the other commandments. What is idolatry? Blashphemy? Are there precise definitions of these things? How can I be certain I'm not blaspheming unless I really understand the spirit of what was intended here?
And one also needs a pretty decent understanding of basic Judaism. There are certain acts which are forbidden to TOGs, such as celebrating the Sabbath in exactly the same way as in Judaism, or wearing tefillin. But if one doesn't know how the Jews celebrate the Sabbath, then one might accidentally celebrate it and thus violate this rule. Someday I may be tempted to strap a leather box to my head with some sections of the Torah in it; that would be a no-no.
The only way to know the spirit intended thereof, to be able to answer the questions knowledgeably and correctly, and to know what to do in most situations, is study. Sure, you can rely on a rabbi or some other religious figure for advice (and that especially makes sense for the really complex questions). But, it's ultimately up to you to decide if the given answer truly fits in with the teachings of the Torah.
Lest someone think I am speaking of, say, Reform Judaism versus traditional beliefs, I believe that one needs to follow the Torah and the Oral Torah as given. And to learn the true meaning of these things requires study with a traditional rabbi, not someone from one of the offshoot denominations. I'm merely suggesting that you shouldn't rely completely on what someone else tells you about it. (In particular, you should pay no attention to what I say on the subject! I'm perenially confused, and maybe should not have written all that.)
And there's a lot more than halakah (Torah law) to being religious. Spirituality plays an essential part, and study is of great assistance here as well: study of the Torah, and of other related materials.
Well-meaning but unhelpful religious figureheads
Many people are not comfortable with skeptical thinking, especially christians; yet Jewish belief welcomes and encourages it, by and large.
Merely because someone in a kippah and tallit (or worse, someone merely suggesting they know what the heck they're talking about... like me) volunteers the ‘helpful’ advice “You can't drink orange drinks on Tuesdays!” doesn't mean you can't drink orange drinks on Tuesdays. There's nothing anywhere in the Torah or Oral Torah which says anything about not drinking orange drinks on Tuesdays.
While it's a sin for them to teach you things which are incorrect, it's at least partly incumbent upon the listener to decide if they are, indeed, correct. Otherwise, you're not following the law as given in the Torah; you're following the law as given by some guy in a kippah and a tallit.
You also need to be able to reject crustacean missionaries. You can't do that successfully without a solid grounding in the basics.
So... exactly what can TOGs study?
A more realistic example of what I'm talking about is, in fact, the question on what a TOG is allowed to study. There is discussion in the Talmud about this, but it appears to be divisive. One sage votes for the death penalty to Gentiles who study the Torah. (Seriously.) Another states that a Gentile who studies the Torah ‘is as a High Priest’.
The current view seems to be that Torah study for TOGs (which presumably would include appropriate portions of the Talmud, and the Rabbahs, etc.) is a blessing, not a sin. Yet others insist that TOGs are only allowed to study the portions of the Torah which directly apply to them: in particular, the first twelve chapters of Genesis or only that which directly applies to the Seven Noahide Laws. Still others argue that Gentiles should never be permitted to read the Torah, but instead rely solely on materials written by rabbinical authorities which specifically address the Noahide Commandments.
The latter opinions are the moral equivalent of someone wearing a kippah and tallit coming up to you and saying “You can't drink...” By this view one would not even be allowed to read the part of the Talmud which states you can't study it!
Without such study we have no way to determine what is legitimate teaching. Yet we must not merely take someone's word for it, because doing the wrong thing would be a Very Bad Thing. Ultimately it's my destiny at stake.
Worse, we end up with a situation where someone is continually telling you “In this secret book you're not allowed to read, it says...” which neither makes for a believable understanding of the laws, nor encourages any sort of spiritual belief.
And consider this: Noah made sacrifices. Noah was, of course, the first Noahide. The implication is that Noahides are allowed to make sacrifices (at least a subset). He also had to know which animals were clean, and the correct way to perform the sacrifices. That implies a lot of Torah knowledge.
The restriction on Torah study is not that we shouldn't study it in the sense of reading it. It's that we should study Torah with a given purpose in mind, be it better understanding of the Seven Commandments or just to gain a better spiritual understanding. Studying the Torah with the intent of converting Jews to, say, christianity, is what the sage who suggested the death penalty had in mind.
TOGs shouldn't study as Jews are required to, because that is a special mitzvah between the Jews and Hashem; just as TOGs shouldn't wear tefillin or tallitot. Study for a purpose; don't study because you think you have to.
Rabbi Zvi Freedman (Chabad)
Is there an established study programme how to teach Noachides?
Q. Is there any established study programme or any structure whatsoever how to teach Noachides according to the teachings of the Rebbes of Lubavitch or any other true source? How to start? Which books to read? How to live?
A. There’s been a lot of discussion on this topic — with little resolution. A collection of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s talks have been printed (in Hebrew) in “Kol Ba’ei Olam”. Your local Chabad rabbi (visit chabad.com to locate him) is likely to have that book. The only explicit statement of the Rebbe concerning study (of which I am aware) is that the second book of Tanya (order at kehotonline.com) is something all people need to know.
The halachah is that a gentile is not permitted to occupy himself in Torah the same way a Jew does. Yet the Talmud also states that a gentile who is occupied in Torah attains that which the High Priest does not attain. How do we reconcile these two? The Jew studies all aspects of Torah whether they are of practical relevance to him or not — just for the sake of being immersed in Torah. The BN studies Torah to know and to understand his path. In a footnote, the Rebbe mentions that according to the Meiri, a Talmudic commentator, most of the Torah is of concern to a BN.
Concerning prayer: When the Rebbe’s emissaries told him their plans to present the Prime Minister of Canada with a silver kiddush cup, the Rebbe replied: “What is he supposed to do with it? Rather, give him a siddur (Jewish prayer book), since there are plenty of things in there for him to say.”
There is a careful balance here: We don’t want to create a new religion. Neither do we want BN to be emulating the practices that are specific to Jewish people. But every person needs to grow spiritually, and that requires daily discipline.
My sense tells me that in each part of the world, a BN will have a different approach, and they will each bring their particular wisdom into their practice. The Jewish people have always found much to learn from every culture we've come in contact with. The Talmud praises the Greeks for their sciences and beautiful language, the Persians for their modesty, the Romans for the honor they gave their fathers. In each culture, there are different sparks of the Divine which need to be used towards a Divine end. Therefore, it would seem counter - productive to provide a detailed prescription at this point.
From my understanding of what is expected of a BN, I have put together some suggestions. Your comments are welcome:
What to learn:
- The Bible with classic Jewish commentaries (including the talks of the Rebbe, which are specific to our day and age), excluding those parts dealing with commands specific to the Jewish people;
- The thirteen principles of the faith from Maimonides;
- The Book of Knowledge of Maimonides;
- Laws dealing with property and personal damages, including slander, gossip, verbal abuse, verbal pledges, cruelty to animals;
- The second book of Tanya (this was explicitly mentioned by the Rebbe), as well as selections from the first; and
- Stories of tzadikim.
Morning prayer (all these in translation):
- Modeh Ani—optional
- Study and meditation
- Adon Olam—optional
- Psalms of Praise (as in the siddur) — optional
- Shma Yisrael — first paragraph (this was an instruction of Rav Azulai, father of the Birchei Yosef, to a Ben Noach in his time)
- Psalm 100 — optional
- Recitation of the Noahide Creed — optional