#03: R. Lipshutz's Attitude towards Non-Jews
the Torah's ritual law applies mostly in an exclusively Jewish context, ethical
obligations bear a more universal quality.
Pirkei Avot, a tractate dedicated primarily to ethical
responsibilities, thus may address the gentile world as well; ethical maxims in
Avot might provide guidance for non–Jews along with Jews. Additionally, the ethical demands made
upon Jews can also apply to their social interaction with gentiles. No rabbinic commentator developed this
theme as extensively as R. Lipschutz.
background will provide a linguistic frame of reference for R. Lipshutz's
comments. R. Shimon bar Yochai taught that
non-Jewish cadavers do not convey ritual impurity to other items or people
located in the same building with them (tumat ohel). The biblical verse about cadavers
conveying impurity in this manner speaks of "adam" (Bamidbar
19:14), a term that excludes gentiles.
The Rabbis, however, disagree with R. Shimon (Yevamot 61a).
does R. Shimon
think that the term "adam" excludes gentiles? R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes offers the simplest
non-Jews are people just as Jews are.
However, the Jewish legal code addresses the Jewish people, so it employs
"adam" in a more restricted sense.
In the same way, a teacher might use the term "everyone" but only refer
to the students in that class and not those in other classes or outside the
(s.v. ve-ain) point out a contradictory passage. The gemara (Sanhedrin 59a)
states that a gentile who studies Torah is like the High Priest because the
verse refers to "ha-adam," a term that includes non-Jews. Rabbenu Tam suggests that the term
"ha-adam" includes gentiles, whereas the term "adam" excludes
them. These semantic issues
will help us understand R. Lipshutz’s commentary.
said that one should love "ha-beriyot" (Avot 1:12). R. Lipshutz suggests that the term
"ha-beriyot" encompasses more than the term "adam"; it includes
non-Jews along with Jews. It
also instructs the teacher to speak compassionately towards the weaker students
in his class. Hillel advises us to
adopt a loving posture towards every person we encounter (Yakhin,
stated that a person should greet "et kol ha-adam" with a friendly
countenance (Avot 1:15).
Basing himself on Rabbenu Tam’s distinction, R. Lipshutz suggests that
Shammai employed the term "ha-adam" to include all - rich and poor, Jew
and gentile (Yakhin, Avot 1:59).
According to R. Lipshutz, the long-term rivals, Shammai and Hillel, both
agreed that non–Jews deserve friendly treatment, either love or at least a
Rabbenu Tam’s distinction may cause difficulty with a later mishna. R. Akiva taught: "Beloved is man
(adam), who was created in the image of God. An extra love was made known to
him that he was created in the image if God, as it says, 'He made man in the
image of God' (Beresihit 9:6).”
Since R. Akiva says uses the phrase "adam," one might suggest that
he speaks only about Jews. Yet we
normally assume that God created all of humanity in His image. R. Lipshutz says that the correct text
for this mishna should read "ha-adam," as gentiles are clearly
included. The next line of the same
mishna says, "Beloved is Israel," indicating that the previous
line referred to a different and broader group. R. Akiva cites a verse spoken by God
immediately after the flood, when He addresses humanity as a whole, and not Jews
lowered the hanging bodies of the king of Ai and of the five Canaanite kings
before nightfall (Yehoshua 8:29, 10:26). The prohibition not to leave bodies
hanging overnight stems from the fact that those bodies belong to beings created
in the image of God; this example indicates that gentiles also bear the divine
image (Yakhin, Avot 3:88).
Lipshutz's Boaz commentary on this mishna (Avot 3:1)
includes one of the most remarkable rabbinic passages on this issues. He questions R. Shimon’s statement that the term
"adam" excludes gentiles: could R. Shimon possibly think that gentiles
are comparable to animals? The Jewish people's status as a "treasure among the
nations" (Shemot 19:5) would be meaningless if the other nations did not
have significant worth.
Furthermore, animals do not receive reward and punishment, but pious
gentiles enter the world–to-come (Sanhedrin 105a). Obviously, R. Shimon would not equate gentiles with
does not do justice to the following section, so I will translate an extended
section of R. Lipshutz's commentary.
without the holy words of our sages who told us this [i.e., that pious gentiles
merit olam ha-ba], we would know this from our intellect because “God is
just in all His ways and benevolent in all His deeds.” We see that many pious gentiles
recognize the Creator, believe in the divinity of Scripture, act compassionately
toward Israel, and some have done great
things for entire world. The pious
[Edward] Jenner invented the vaccine that saves tens of thousands of people from
disease [namely, smallpox], death and disability. [Sir Francis] Drake brought the potato
to Europe, which has prevented famine on
several occasions. [Johannes]
Guttenberg invented the printing press.
of them never received their reward in this world, like the pious [Johannes]
Reuchlin who risked his life to prevent the burning of the Talmud, which had
been commanded by Emperor Maximilian in 1509 due to the incitement of the
apostate [Johann] Pfefferkorn, who made an evil accord with the priests. Reuchlin exerted every effort to oppose
this and convinced the Emperor to retract this decree. Due to this, his enemies the priests
pursued him and made his life bitter until he died under pressure with a broken
you imagine that these great deeds will not be rewarded in olam
ha-ba? God does not withhold
the reward of any creature. Even if
you say that these pious ones who keep the seven Noachide commandments would not
have the status of a ger toshav (resident alien) because they never made
a formal acceptance before a court or because we do not accept gerei
toshav in our day, since they do not act like Esau, they have a portion in
Lipshutz's sense of divine justice emerges quite powerfully from this
selection. Decent people who did
great things for humanity surely receive eternal reward. It is inconceivable that technicalities
regarding the formal acceptance of resident aliens could hold back such reward
from the deserving.
universalistic orientation also emerges clearly. There are gentiles of outstanding
character and achievement, and there is no reason to deny this truth. Note further that the good deeds listed
extend far beyond being kind to the Jewish community; saving gentiles from
disease or famine also commands great respect. This, too, reflects a more
question regarding R. Shimon's statement thus remains in effect. R. Lipshutz explains that Jews and
gentiles each have an advantage.
Israel's advantage is the unique
divine revelation bestowed upon them.
Human intellect can achieve great things, but it can not match the
supernal wisdom of the Torah.
Conversely, gentile achievements in ethics and religion are purely the
products of their own free choices and their own efforts.
distinction mirrors the difference between the first man and subsequent
generations. Human beings enter the
world as little babies who need to struggle to learn new skills. In contrast, Adam was created as a fully
formed adult. Thus, the term
"adam" refers to those whom God raised up to a higher level; this is why
R. Shimon said
that it only encompasses Jews, the beneficiaries of revelation. "Ha-adam" cannot be talking about
a particular person, because we do not employ the definitive article when
referring to a specific person.
This term has the broader meaning of humanity and, of course, it includes
above reveals R. Lipshutz's positive orientation towards the best of the
non–Jewish world. He reads
statement in a way that does not insult that world. More strikingly, he states that our
great advantage of revelation carries with it implications beyond the
advantages. It implies that the
gentiles deserve special credit for their accomplishments absent the supreme
advantage of revelation.
mishna in Avot strengthens this point. R. Elazar ben Azariah taught: "If there
is no Torah, there is no decency" (Avot 3:17). One could read this line as suggesting
that decent behavior does not exist outside the community of observant
Jews. As we have already seen, R.
Lipshutz contends that reality belies such a reading. Here, too, he points out that there are
pious and moral gentiles who do not observe the six hundred and thirteen
commandments. He argues that
"Torah" in this mishna means belief in revelation, reward and punishment,
and immortality. Decent gentiles
share these beliefs even if they do not put on tefillin or keep
Shabbat. In this sense, such people
have Torah and can have moral decency (Yakhin, Avot 3:114).
the above formulation does not account for ethically sensitive secularists, and
were R. Lipshutz still alive, we would have to ask him about this. Leaving this question aside, we can
identify further confirmation of his attitude towards the broader world, as two
more sources outside of Avot provide more evidence about R. Lipshutz's
Jew whose ox gores the ox of a gentile is exempt from paying damages
(Bava Kama 4:3). This
leads to two ethical questions. Why
does a Jew have more financial responsibility when his ox damages the ox of
another Jew? Where is the fairness
of the above ruling, given that we charge the gentile when his ox gores that
belonging to the Jew? R.
Lipshutz argues that rational morality would not clearly obligate the ox’s owner
for damages committed by his ox in any situation, as the causal relationship
between the owner and the damages is weak (Yakhin, Bava Kama 4:16). This reflects a common strategy to
explain halakhic discrepancies between treatment of Jews and gentiles. The Torah demands basic moral treatment
for all, but commands that we go beyond the norm for fellow Jews.
an approach may explain why the prohibition of lending money with interest
applies only to other Jews.
Interest is rationally defensible, as having money for a period of time
truly is worth money, but the Torah demands that we go one step further for our
brethren. R. Lipshutz adopts
a similar approach regarding responsibilities for damages cause by a person's
are gentiles responsible for the damages caused by their animals? R. Lipshutz echoes Rambam's explanation
(Hilkhot Nizkei Mamon 8:5).
Since Torah law does not apply to them, they have no incentive to watch
their animals; if we did not impose liability upon them, society would suffer
(Yakhin, Bava Kama 4:17). In
other words, Jews must watch their animals whether or not they will be held
liable if their ox gores a gentile ox.
This is not the case for gentiles, so Halakha makes them liable.
the Boaz section of the commentary (Boaz, Bava Kama 4:1), R.
Lipshutz emphasizes the prohibition of theft from a non–Jew and of retaining
money mistakenly given to us by a gentile.
He cites the Be'er ha-Golah of R. Moshe Rivkes (Choshen
Mishpat 348) that no good comes from those who take advantage of the
monetary mistakes of gentiles. On
the contrary, those who return mistaken money sanctify the name of God and will
find greater business success as well.
R. Lipshutz adds that the two hundred years between R. Rivkes and himself
have only strengthened that point.
Our "brethren among the nations" accept monotheism, recognize the
sanctity of scripture, observe the Noachide laws, protect Jews, and support the
Jewish poor. How can we behave towards them in an ungrateful fashion? R. Lipshutz appreciates the benefits
that modernity bestowed upon the Jews and contends that these benefits demand
more scrupulous honesty in our business transactions with the broader
mishna in Sanhedrin (10:1) famously states that all Jews have a
portion in the world–to–come, with a handful of exceptions. What about gentiles? The Rambam rules that the pious among
the nations also achieve this exalted state (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuva
3:5). In theory, this entry might be restricted to a very small group. R. Lipshutz infers, however, from the
mishna's specific exclusion of Bilaam that even the average among the
gentiles makes it to olam ha-ba.
The gemara (Sanhedrin 105a) utilized the exclusion of
Bilaam to infer that some non –Jews make it. R. Lipshutz takes this further and
contends that a significant portion of them make it (Yakhin,
in the same commentary R. Lipschutz goes on to posit an inherent difference
between Jew and gentile. Wicked
gentiles receive their punishment and are destined to extinction. Jews who have committed serious crimes
also receive punishments, but their upper soul remains and returns to the
proximity of God. Apparently, a
rabbinic thinker can believe in some intrinsic difference between Jew and
gentile, and yet adopt a positive orientation towards the non–Jewish world. R. Avraham Yitzchak ha-Kohen Kook
represents another example of this phenomenon, although the degree of difference
between peoples is far more pronounced in his thought than in that of R.
growing rights that emancipation granted Jews probably influenced R. Lipshutz's
thought. While anti– Semitism
certainly lived on well into the nineteenth century, gratitude for decent
treatment afforded by gentiles is morally obligatory. As mentioned in earlier lectures, R.
Lipshutz saw value in secular studies, another point related to one's
orientation towards non–Jews.
If you view the non–Jewish world as decent, you are more likely to be
interested in their ideas.
Conversely, if you find their ideas profound, you are more likely to see
the people themselves as decent.
R. Lipshutz represents a powerful voice in our tradition for recognizing
the decency in gentile society and the important ideas in their intellectual