Talmud on gentiles

references to gentiles (non-Jews) in the Talmud
The neutrality of this article is disputed.
Please see the relevant discussion on the talk page.

The Babylonian Talmud is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law and Jewish theology. It contains the teachings and disputes in opinion between rabbis on a wide variety of subjects.

A complete set of the Babylonian Talmud.

The term "gentile", in this context, means "non-Jew". It is always important to read the entire section of the Talmud before forming an opinion.

Quotes

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Positive views

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The Talmud contains a number of passages that depict gentiles in a positive light. For example, according to the discussion in Sanhedrin 59a:2–4, it is righteous for a gentile to engage in Torah study.

Noahide laws

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"The descendants of Noah, i.e., all of humanity, were commanded to observe seven mitzvot." (Sanhedrin 56a:24)
  • תנו רבנן שבע מצות נצטוו בני נח דינין וברכת השם ע״ז גילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים וגזל ואבר מן החי
    • Sanhedrin 56a:24
    • Translation:
      • 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.
    • Comments:
      • This important passage lists the seven Noahide Laws, which are considered to be binding on all of humanity (i.e., all the descendants of Noah).

Torah study

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"That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study." (Shabbat 31a:6)
  • שׁוּב מַעֲשֶׂה בְּגוֹי אֶחָד שֶׁבָּא לִפְנֵי שַׁמַּאי. אָמַר לוֹ׃ גַּיְּירֵנִי עַל מְנָת שֶׁתְּלַמְּדֵנִי כׇּל הַתּוֹרָה כּוּלָּהּ כְּשֶׁאֲנִי עוֹמֵד עַל רֶגֶל אַחַת! דְּחָפוֹ בְּאַמַּת הַבִּנְיָן שֶׁבְּיָדוֹ. בָּא לִפְנֵי הִלֵּל, גַּיְירֵיהּ. אָמַר לוֹ׃ דַּעֲלָךְ סְנֵי לְחַבְרָךְ לָא תַּעֲבֵיד — זוֹ הִיא כׇּל הַתּוֹרָה כּוּלָּהּ, וְאִידַּךְ פֵּירוּשָׁהּ הוּא, זִיל גְּמוֹר.‏
    • Shabbat 31a:6
    • Translation:
      • There was another incident involving one gentile who came before Shammai and said to Shammai: Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot. Shammai pushed him away with the builder's cubit in his hand. This was a common measuring stick and Shammai was a builder by trade. The same gentile came before Hillel. He converted him and said to him: That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.
    • Comments:
      • This principle is sometimes referred to as the "Silver Rule".
  • ר״מ אומר מניין שאפילו עובד כוכבים ועוסק בתורה שהוא ככהן גדול שנאמר (ויקרא יח, ה) אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם כהנים לוים וישראלים לא נאמר אלא האדם הא למדת שאפילו עובד כוכבים ועוסק בתורה הרי הוא ככהן גדול
    • Sanhedrin 59a:4
    • Translation:
      • Rabbi Meir would say: From where is it derived that even a gentile who engages in Torah study is considered like a High Priest? It is derived from that which is stated: "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My ordinances, which if a man does he shall live by them" (Leviticus 18:5). The phrase: Which if priests, Levites, and Israelites do they shall live by them, is not stated, but rather: "A man," which indicates mankind in general. You have therefore learned that even a gentile who engages in Torah study is considered like a High Priest.
  • התם בשבע מצות דידהו׃
    • Sanhedrin 59a:5
    • Translation:
      • The Gemara answers: There, in the baraita, the reference is to a gentile who engages in the study of their seven mitzvot. It is a mitzva for a gentile to study the halakhot that pertain to the seven Noahide mitzvot, and when he does so he is highly regarded.
    • Comments:
      • Sanhedrin 59a:2–4 contains a discussion arguing for and against the proposition that gentiles are permitted to study the Torah. The discussion ends on a positive note, namely, that a gentile who studies the Torah is highly regarded (i.e., "like a High Priest").

Property

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  • אֲבָל יֵשׁ קִנְיָן לְגוֹי בְּאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל לַחְפּוֹר בָּהּ בּוֹרוֹת שִׁיחִין וּמְעָרוֹת, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר׃ ״הַשָּׁמַיִם שָׁמַיִם לַה׳ וְהָאָרֶץ נָתַן לִבְנֵי אָדָם״.‏
    • Gittin 47a:8
    • Translation:
      • [A] gentile does have, however, the capability of acquisition of land in Eretz Yisrael to allow him to dig pits, ditches, and caves in the land he has purchased, as it is stated: "The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; but the earth has He given to the children of men" (Psalms 115:16).

Negative views

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The Talmud also contains passages that depict gentiles negatively. One possible reason for this may be subconscious racist tendencies on the part of the sages.[1] It should be noted that some of these views are articulated for the sake of discussion and are refuted by other views.

Prayer

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  • תניא היה ר״מ אומר חייב אדם לברך שלש ברכות בכל יום אלו הן שעשאני ישראל שלא עשאני אשה שלא עשאני בור
    • Menachot 43b:17
    • Translations:
      • It is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Meir would say: A man is obligated to recite three blessings every day praising God for His kindnesses, and these blessings are: Who did not make me a gentile; Who did not make me a woman; and Who did not make me an ignoramus.

Adam

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  • לאיי דכתיב (יחזקאל לד, לא) ואתן צאני צאן מרעיתי אדם אתם אתם קרויין אדם ואין העובדי כוכבים קרויין אדם
    • Keritot 6b:20
    • Translation:
      • 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.
    • Comments:
      • 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".

Donkeys

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  • אַפְקוֹרֵי אַפְקְרֵיהּ רַחֲמָנָא לְזַרְעֵיהּ, דִּכְתִיב׃ ״בְּשַׂר חֲמוֹרִים בְּשָׂרָם וְזִרְמַת סוּסִים זִרְמָתָם״.‏
    • Yevamot 98a:3
    • Translation:
      • 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.
  • כִּי הֲוָה נָפֵיק, אֲמַר לֵיהּ הַהוּא גַּבְרָא: עָבֵיד רַחֲמָנָא נִיסָּא לְשַׁקָּרֵי הָכִי? אֲמַר לֵיהּ: רָשָׁע, לָאו חֲמָרֵי אִיקְּרוּ? דִּכְתִיב: ״אֲשֶׁר בְּשַׂר חֲמוֹרִים בְּשָׂרָם״. חַזְיֵיהּ דְּקָאָזֵיל לְמֵימְרָא לְהוּ דִּקְרִינְהוּ חֲמָרֵי, אֲמַר: הַאי רוֹדֵף הוּא. וְהַתּוֹרָה אָמְרָה: אִם בָּא לְהׇרְגְּךָ — הַשְׁכֵּם לְהׇרְגוֹ. מַחְיֵיהּ בְּקוּלְפָא וְקַטְלֵיהּ.‏
    • Berakhot 58a:15
    • Translation:
      • As he was leaving, that man said to Rabbi Sheila: Does God perform such miracles for liars? He replied: Scoundrel! Aren't gentiles called donkeys? As it is written: "Whose flesh is as the flesh of donkeys" (Ezekiel 23:20). Rabbi Sheila saw that he was going to tell the Persian authorities that he called them donkeys. He said: This man has the legal status of a pursuer. He seeks to have me killed. And the Torah said: If one comes to kill you, kill him first. He struck him with the staff and killed him.
  • אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה: גּוֹי עָרוֹם אָסוּר לִקְרוֹת קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע כְּנֶגְדּוֹ. מַאי אִירְיָא גּוֹי? אֲפִילּוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל נָמֵי! יִשְׂרָאֵל פְּשִׁיטָא לֵיהּ דְּאָסוּר, אֶלָּא גּוֹי אִיצְטְרִיכָא לֵיהּ מַהוּ דְתֵימָא, הוֹאִיל וּכְתִיב בְּהוּ ״אֲשֶׁר בְּשַׂר חֲמוֹרִים בְּשָׂרָם״, אֵימָא כַּחֲמוֹר בְּעָלְמָא הוּא, קָא מַשְׁמַע לַן דְּאִינְהוּ נָמֵי אִיקְּרוּ עֶרְוָה, דִּכְתִיב: ״וְעֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם לֹא רָאוּ״.‏
    • Berakhot 25b:11
    • Translation:
      • Rav Yehuda said: Opposite a naked gentile, it is forbidden to recite Shema. The Gemara asks: Why did Rav Yehuda discuss particularly the case of a gentile? Even with regard to a Jew it is also prohibited. The Gemara replies: Opposite the nakedness of a Jew, it is obvious that it is prohibited; however, opposite the nakedness of a gentile, it was necessary for him to say. Lest you say that since it is written about gentiles: "Their flesh is the flesh of donkeys" (Ezekiel 23:20), say that his nakedness is like that of a mere donkey and does not constitute nakedness. Rav Yehuda taught us that their nakedness is also considered nakedness, as it is written regarding the sons of Noah: "And their father's nakedness they did not see" (Genesis 9:23). Although Noah predated Abraham and was consequently not Jewish, his nakedness is mentioned.
    • Comments:
      • Here, the Ezekiel passage is understood figuratively, insofar as to argue that the Shema may be recited in front of a naked gentile.

Business

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  • אָמַר שְׁמוּאֵל: טָעוּתוֹ מוּתֶּרֶת. כִּי הָא דִּשְׁמוּאֵל זְבַן מִגּוֹי לָקָנָא דְּדַהֲבָא בְּמַר דְּפַרְזְלָא – בְּאַרְבַּע זוּזֵי, וְאַבְלַע לֵיהּ חַד זוּזָא.‏
    • Bava Kamma 113b:10
    • Translation:
      • 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.
  • רָבִינָא זְבַן דִּיקְלָא הוּא וְגוֹי לְצַלָּחָא, אֲמַר לֵיהּ לְשַׁמָּעֵיהּ: קְדֵם וְאַיְיתִי מֵעִיקָּרוֹ, דְּגוֹי מִנְיָינָא יָדַע.‏
    • Bava Kamma 113b:11
    • Translation:
      • 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.
  • מתני׳ לפני אידיהן של עובדי כוכבים שלשה ימים אסור לשאת ולתת עמהם להשאילן ולשאול מהן להלוותן וללוות מהן לפורען ולפרוע מהן רבי יהודה אומר נפרעין מהן מפני שמיצר הוא לו אמרו לו אע״פ שמיצר הוא עכשיו שמח הוא לאחר זמן׃
    • Avodah Zarah 2a:1
    • Translation:
      • 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.
  • יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹי שֶׁבָּאוּ לַדִּין, אִם אַתָּה יָכוֹל לְזַכּוֹתוֹ בְּדִינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – זַכֵּהוּ, וֶאֱמוֹר לוֹ: כָּךְ דִּינֵינוּ. בְּדִינֵי גּוֹיִם – זַכֵּהוּ וֶאֱמוֹר לוֹ: כָּךְ דִּינְכֶם. וְאִם לָאו, בָּאִין עָלָיו בַּעֲקִיפִין; דִּבְרֵי רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל. רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אוֹמֵר: אֵין בָּאִין עָלָיו בַּעֲקִיפִין, מִפְּנֵי קִידּוּשׁ הַשֵּׁם.‏
    • Bava Kamma 113a:21
    • Translation:
      • 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.
    • Comments:
      • It is important to remember that the Talmud was written at a time when Jews could not expect to receive fair treatment from non-Jewish courts.

Property

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  • מִנַּיִן לַאֲבֵידַת הַגּוֹי שֶׁהִיא מוּתֶּרֶת? שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר׃ ״לְכׇל אֲבֵדַת אָחִיךָ״ – לְאָחִיךָ אַתָּה מַחְזִיר, וְאִי אַתָּה מַחְזִיר לְגוֹי.‏
    • Bava Kamma 113b:8
    • Translation:
      • 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.
  • רַב אָשֵׁי הֲוָה קָאָזֵיל בְּאוֹרְחָא, חֲזָא שִׁיבְשָׁא דְגוּפְנָא בְּפַרְדֵּיסָא, וּתְלוּ בַּהּ קִיטּוּפֵי דְּעִינְבֵי. אֲמַר לֵיהּ לְשַׁמָּעֵיהּ: זִיל חֲזִי, אִי דְּגוֹי נִינְהוּ – אַיְיתִי. אִי דְּיִשְׂרָאֵל נִינְהוּ – לָא אַיְיתִי לִי. שְׁמַע הָהוּא גּוֹי דַּהֲוָה יָתֵיב בְּפַרְדֵּיסָא, אֲמַר לֵיהּ: דְּגוֹי שְׁרֵי?! אֲמַר לֵיהּ: גּוֹי שָׁקֵיל דְּמֵי, יִשְׂרָאֵל לָא שָׁקֵיל דְּמֵי.‏
    • Bava Kamma 113b:12
    • Translation:
      • 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.
  • רַב הוּנָא זְבֵן אַרְעָא מִגּוֹי, אֲתָא יִשְׂרָאֵל אַחֵר רָפֵיק בַּהּ פּוּרְתָּא. אֲתָא לְקַמֵּיהּ דְּרַב נַחְמָן, אוֹקְמַהּ בִּידֵיהּ. אֲמַר לֵיהּ׃ מַאי דַּעְתָּיךְ? דְּאָמַר שְׁמוּאֵל׃ נִכְסֵי גּוֹי הֲרֵי הֵן כְּמִדְבָּר, וְכׇל הַמַּחְזִיק בָּהֶם זָכָה?
    • Bava Batra 54b:5
    • Translation:
      • The Gemara relates: Rav Huna purchased land from a gentile. Another Jew came and plowed it slightly. Rav Huna and that Jew came before Rav Naḥman, who established the property in the possession of the latter. Rav Huna said to Rav Naḥman: What are you thinking in issuing this ruling? Is it because Shmuel says that the property of a gentile is like a desert, and anyone who takes possession of it has acquired it?

Help

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  • אמר ליה אביי יכול לומר לו קאי ברי אאיגרא אי נמי נקיטא לי זימנא לבי דואר
    • Avodah Zarah 26a:16
    • Translation:
      • 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.
  • אמר מר היו מורידין אבל לא מעלין השתא אחותי מחתינן אסוקי מיבעי אמר רב יוסף בר חמא אמר רב ששת לא נצרכא שאם היתה מעלה בבור מגררה דנקיט ליה עילא ואמר לא תיחות חיותא עלויה
    • Avodah Zarah 26b:6
    • Translation:
      • [I]f 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.
  • רבה ורב יוסף דאמרי תרוייהו לא נצרכא שאם היתה אבן על פי הבאר מכסה אמר לעבורי חיותא עילויה רבינא אמר שאם היה סולם מסלקו אמר בעינא לאחותי ברי מאיגרא
    • Avodah Zarah 26b:7
    • Translation:
      • [I]f 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.
    • Comments:
      • There is an argument as to whether these passages mean that there is no obligation to help a gentile in danger, or that there is a prohibition against helping them.[2]

Quotes about the Talmud

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"[T]he bodies [of Jews and non-Jews] should be considered as completely different species. This is the reason why the Talmud states that there is an halachic difference in attitude about the bodies of non-Jews: 'their bodies are in vain.'" (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Gatherings of Conversations)
  • Judaic sources, including from Tanach and the Talmud, speak of the Messianic Era in which Gentiles will serve the Jewish People. … When the Messiah shall come, the Gentiles will recognize and embrace their task in this world. They will ensure that God can have his special relationship with His Chosen Nation, perhaps by prioritizing Jewish community services or the like.
  • The difference between a Jewish and a non-Jewish person stems from the common expression: "Let us differentiate." Thus, we do not have a case of profound change in which a person is merely on a superior level. Rather, we have a case of "let us differentiate" between totally different species. This is what needs to be said about the body: the body of a Jewish person is of a totally different quality from the body of [members] of all nations of the world. … The difference of the inner quality, however, is so great that the bodies should be considered as completely different species. This is the reason why the Talmud states that there is an halachic difference in attitude about the bodies of non-Jews: "their bodies are in vain." … An even greater difference exists in regard to the soul. Two contrary types of soul exist, a non-Jewish soul comes from three satanic spheres, while the Jewish soul stems from holiness. … A Jew was not created as a means for some [other] purpose; he himself is the purpose, since the substance of all [divine] emanations was created only to serve the Jews. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" [Genesis 1:1] means that [the heavens and the earth] were created for the sake of the Jews, who are called the "beginning."

References

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  1. "As a general approach it can be said that the sages, just like the rest of society of that time, had subconscious racist tendencies that influenced their legislation and remarks on gentiles." "The Jewish Attitude towards Gentiles", Jewish Belief Reimagined, 2018-12-02.
  2. "There is an argument amongst the commentators whether there's merely no obligation or that one should specifically not save them." "The Jewish Attitude towards Gentiles", Jewish Belief Reimagined, 2018-12-02.

See also

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