Parsahat חקת – Bamidbar 19:14 – Non-Jews Learning Torah

Bamidbar 19:14: This is the law: if a man {adam] dies in a tent, anyone entering the tent and anything in the tent shall be unclean for seven days.

Gemora Yevamot 61a: We learn in a Beraitha that Shimon Bar Yochai says that the graves of non-Jews do not impart levitical uncleanness by an ohel [tent methodology], for it is said, [In Ezekiel 34] “And ye My sheep the sheep of My pasture, are men”; you are called men but the non-Jews are not called men.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #67:

Many commentators had difficulty explaining this Gemora. Tosafot additionally asks [how this Gemora can make sense] regarding the many places [in the Gemora] where the word “adam” specifically does include non-Jews. Further, Tosafot ask [a challenge to this Gemora] based on the Gemora in Sanhedrin 59a where it says that even a non-Jew who occupies himself with [the study of] is as great as a high priest (Cohen). We learn this teaching from the verse that says “these are the commandments that the man (ha’adam) should do, that he may live through them”. The teaching continues that the verse does not say, “That the Cohanim, Leviim or Israelim should do them rather it says “ha’adam” to teach that even a non-Jew who learns Torah is as great as a high priest”. Tosafot then answer their question by quoting Rabbenu Tam and stating that there is a distinction between the word “adam” [man] and the word “ha’adam” [the man] and they state that the word “ha’adam” [the man] would include non-Jews [but the word “adam” would not.] Apparently these words of Tosafot are only based on a tradition that they heard, since how can this distinction make sense logically? Many commenters have already tried to understand this explanation of the Tosafot; the commenters have toiled and labored to find a source for the Tosafot’s opinion.

It is [perhaps] possible to explain that the word “the” doesn’t apply [or make sense] when applied to a proper noun such as “the Moshe” or “the Aaron”. On the other hand the word “the” does make sense when applied to a word that includes a general category such as “the city”, “the river”, “the mountain”, “the valley”. This being the case it is possible to say that when “man” is written without “the”, it describes a particular noun, Israel [Jews] while when it is written “the man”, it includes a more general category such as the nations of the world. This explanation is a little forced.

This previous paragraph I have written just as an effort to explain and make sense of the words of Rabbenu Tam, which are apparently very astounding [and difficult to understand]. However, according to the truth, it appears that the simple understanding of the Gemora is not to imply that non-Jews are not included in the word “man”. How could that make sense? Behold this word is used to discuss the health of the body and the soul of the human species. Further, we find in many many verses where the word “man” even describes only non-Jews.

Rather, what our Gemora is saying is that in the places where God is speaking to the Jews regarding Torah and [ritual] commandments and He uses the word “man”, it is to be understood as meaning Jews and not non-Jews since they are not included in the [ritual] commandments. The Gemora then utilizes the verse in Ezekiel to say that the Jews are called “man”. However, this verse is not brought as a proof text rather as a hint or general allusion. This is also the opinion of the “Gritz Chiyut”. The particulars of the laws regarding levitical uncleanliness and non-Jews are explained in Yoreh Deah Section 372.

Editor’s note: The Torah Temimah, in this note, discusses Jewish views regarding non-Jews. In other notes, he makes the point, emphatically, that the term idolaters used the Gemora does not apply to the non-Jews of modern times but rather to the “wild people of Africa and other faraway places” who have not accepted the Seven Noachide Laws. The Torah Temimah equates the Seven Noachide Laws as an acceptance of the basic social contract that binds society together. Thus, he makes the statement that for civil laws in the modern era, Halacha regarding Jews and non-Jews is equal. For religious laws, he says that it is logical that Jewish ritual law distinguishes between Jew and non-Jew.

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