GENTILE


GENTILE, non-Jew. It was only during the later Second Temple period that a sharp distinction and a barrier of separation was erected between the Jew and the gentile. The prohibition of marriage, which in the Bible was limited to the seven Canaanite nations (Deut. 7:1–4), was extended, following the reforms of Ezra, to include all non-Jews; the acceptance of monotheism was made the distinguishing mark of the Jew (Meg. 13a, Esth. R. 6:2); the Jews were regarded as having completely discarded *idolatry which was, however, uniformly characteristic of the non-Jew. In addition to that the low moral, social, and ethical standards of the surrounding gentiles were continuously emphasized, and social contact with them was regarded as being a pernicious social and moral influence. As a result, during this period the world was regarded as divided, insofar as peoples were concerned, into the Jewish people and the "nations of the world," and insofar as individuals were concerned, into "the Jew" and the idolater ("oved kokhavim u-mazzalot," usually abbreviated to "akkum," literally "a worshiper of stars and planets" but applied to all idolaters). Only considerations of humanity, such as relief of their poor, visiting their sick, affording them last rites (Git. 61a), and discretion ("one greets a gentile on their festivals for the sake of peace" – Tosef. Av. Zar. 1:3) were reasons for breaking the otherwise impenetrable barrier. As a result, the conception of and the attitude toward the non-Jew from the Talmudic period onward are strikingly different from that during the biblical period.

For the biblical period see *Stranger.

In the Talmud

Since talmudic literature spans over half a millennium, covering a wide geographic area, attitudes toward gentiles expressed in it vary considerably. In fact, it reveals a whole spectrum of opinions from the extreme antipathy of the tormented Jew of Hadrian's time – e.g., Simeon b. Yoḥai's statement: The best of gentiles should be killed (TJ, Kid. 4:11, 66c) – to the moderate views expressed in the more friendly atmosphere of early Sassanid Babylon – witness Samuel's making no distinction between Israel and the nations on the Day of Judgment (TJ, RH 1:3, 57a). Thus all such statements must be seen in their specific geographical-historical context. Nevertheless, in general it may be said that the Jew's attitude toward the gentile was largely conditioned by the gentile's attitude toward him (see Esth. R. 2:3), so that a gentile's friendship to a Jew would be warmly and uninhibitedly reciprocated (see BK 38a, and witness the relationships between Meir and Avnimos ha-Gardi, Judah ha-Nasi and Antoninus, Samuel and Sapor, etc.).

Jewish antipathy to the gentile in talmudic times stemmed from a number of causes and functioned on several levels. Thus, gentiles were condemned for their cruelty to Jews (see BK 117a; Av. Zar. 25b, etc.), their morals were considered reprehensible (Yev. 98a; Av. Zar. 22b; Song R. 6:8, etc.), and throughout the period one finds reiterated the (theological) accusation that though they were offered the Torah, they rejected it (Av. Zar. 2b; Tanḥ. B., Deut. 54, etc.). Thus, the Jewish antipathy to the gentile was not due to the fact that he was of non-Jewish stock, i.e., it was not a racial prejudice, but rather motivated by their idolatry, moral laxity, and other such faults (see Av. Zar. 17a–b). Those that were righteous (by Jewish standards), however, were fully entitled to the rewards of the world-to-come (Tosef., Sanh. 13:2; BB 10b), and a further distinction was made by Johanan who declared that gentiles outside Palestine were not really idolaters, but only blind followers of their ancestral customs (Ḥul. 13b).

Terms

In rabbinic literature the distinction between gentile (goi, akkum) and Christian (noẓeri) has frequently been obscured by textual alterations necessitated by the vigilance of censors. Thus "Egyptian," "Amalekite," "Zadokite" (= Sadducee) and kuti (Samaritan) often stand in place of the original noẓeri, as well as goi, akkum, etc. (see Paḥad Yiẓḥak, S.V. Goi). Probably when Resh Lakish stated that a gentile (akkum etc., in existing texts) who observed the Sabbath is punishable by death (Sanh. 58b), he had in mind Christians (see A. Weiss, in Bar Ilan, 1 (1963), 143–8, xxxi–ii). The same may be so in the case of R. Ammi who ruled that one may not teach a gentile Torah (Ḥag. 13a; cf. Sanh. 59a). Numerous anti-Christian polemic passages only make real sense after noẓeri has been restored in place of the spurious kuti or ẓedoki, etc.

In Law

The gentile figures very widely in talmudic law, in various legal categories, such as laws of personal status, marriage and inheritance, proselytization, laws of accession, contract, agency, evidence and damages, purity and impurity, laws concerning the types of property, and offerings he may present to the Temple, to name but a few. The basic assumption is that all non-Jews are subject to certain universal laws, religious, moral, and social (called the seven *Noachide laws): (1) institution of courts of justice; (2) idolatry; (3) blasphemy; (4) incest; (5) homicide; (6) robbery; (7) eating the limb of a living animal, and according to other opinions, castration, mixing of breeds, witchcraft, etc. (Sanh. 56a–b, et al.).

Thus the gentile is a legal personality in Jewish law, and though sometimes discriminated against, is generally treated equitably. Thus, the Talmud relates that once the Roman government sent two officials to learn the Jewish law. After careful study, they said: "We have scrutinized all your laws and found them just (emet), except for the following instance. You say that if a Jew's ox gores that of a gentile, the owner is free from damages, while if a gentile's ox gores that of a Jew, he is obliged to pay damages. But if, as you say, 'neighbor' (in Ex. 21:35) excludes the gentile, then he should be free even when his ox gores that of a Jew. And if, on the other hand 'neighbor' includes the gentile, then the Jew should have to pay damages when his ox gores that of a gentile …" (BK 38a).

Where there is legal discrimination against a gentile, it is usually based on objective reasoning, such as the fact that he does not subscribe to the Jewish "social contract" (non-reciprocity). Thus, the Talmud rules that the commandment to restore lost property to its owner (Deut. 22:1–3) does not apply when the gentile is the owner (BK 113b). This is because gentiles do not act reciprocally in such cases. Similarly, a gentile cannot act as witness (BK 15a) because (according to one opinion) he is dishonest and unreliable (cf. Bek. 13b). Here it should be noted that Jews suspected of the same faults were liable to identical discrimination. Other apparently discriminating rulings were intended to discourage intimacy with the non-Jew, or, in other words, primarily to guard the Jews from the dangers of assimilation, such as the interdict against non-Jewish wines and cooked foods, etc. In practice discrimination against gentiles was frowned upon and even forbidden as it might jeopardize friendly relations (mi-penei darkhei shalom, Git. 5:8–9; mi-penei eivah, Av. Zar. 26a) and bring about a profanation of the Divine Name (ḥillul ha-Shem, BK 113b) – so much so, that the Talmud enjoins that gentile poor be supported with charity like Jewish poor (Git. 61a) and does not even tolerate the charging of interest to gentiles (BM 70b).

[Daniel Sperber]

In the Middle Ages

The talmudic laws, referred to above, whose purpose was to minimize contacts between Jews and idolaters ran counter to the social and economic realities of Jewish life in the Middle Ages. Unlike the talmudic period, Jews no longer lived in compact, economically self-sufficient communities. (This historical explanation for lifting many of the talmudic restrictions on Jewish-gentile relationships was already put forth by the tosafists; see Tos. to Av. Zar. 15a, beg. Eimor.) Economic – and, as a result, a measure of social – contact with non-Jews was an inevitable necessity. Hence, in daily life, many of the talmudic restrictions in this area simply became dead letters. Taking this fact into cognizance, R. Menahem Meiri could write: "In our times, no one observes these practices, neither gaon, rabbi, sage, pietist, nor pseudo-pietist" (Bet ha-Beḥirah, Av. Zar. introd.). Under the circumstances, the halakhists of the period were confronted with the problem of reconciling talmudic law with common practice that patently ignored it. Among the tosafists, this was accomplished by a process of dialectically reinterpreting the talmudic sources. Each specific law was reinterpreted so as to make it conform to the current practice. For example, the talmudic law prohibiting business dealings with gentiles on their festivals was construed as in consonance with doing business with Christians on Sundays (Tos. to Av. Zar. 2a, beg. Asur). Rashi (quoted in Or Zaru'a, Sanh. 2a) declares that such dealings are forbidden only on Christmas and Easter. A similar attitude is taken by the tosafist R. Elhanan in the matter of renting to a Christian a house owned by a Jew (Tos. to Av. Zar. 21a beg. Af; see also Tos. to Av. Zar 13a beg. Kal va-ḥomer). Occasionally the discrepancy between law and practice was overcome by drawing a distinction between idolaters referred to in the Talmud and Christians who reside outside the land of Israel (Maharam of Rothenburg, Resp., ed. Berlin, no. 386). While the tosafists declare that "we are certain that the Christians do not worship idols" (Tos. to Av. Zar. 2a beg. Asur), an attitude already adumbrated by R. Gershom, they fail to apply the principle categorically. The hesitation of the medieval halakhists to fully accept the implications of an absolute distinction between a Christian and an idolater is apparent in their legal discussions. The prominent tosafist R. Isaac of Dampierre held that since Christians could not be regarded as strict monotheists, according to the halakhah they come under the category of Noachides who are not enjoined against trinitarian belief (Tos. to San. 63b beg. Asur; Tos. to Bek. 2b beg. Shema). Confronted by the exigencies of daily life, the medieval halakhists tended toward leniency in such talmudic prohibitions as the use of gentile bread, butter, and wine. R. Menahem Meiri constitutes the single significant exception to the attitude of the halakhists. Strongly influenced by the rationalistic philosophy of his time, he drew a basic distinction between idolaters and between Christians and Muslims. The latter, he writes, are "peoples disciplined by religion" and, on principle, are to be regarded as Jews insofar as economic and social relations with them are concerned. In these matters, no invidious distinctions are to be made between Jews and Christians (Bet ha-Beḥirah, BK 113b; ibid., Av. Zar. 20a). He hesitates however in his practical decisions to waive all the ancient restrictions lest their total abolition lead to a loss of Jewish identity. Maimonides in his role as halakhist offers a position that is at odds both with that of the medieval decisors and with that of R. Menahem Meiri. He flatly states (Yad, Akum 9:4) – deleted by censors in the ordinary editions – that the talmudic limitations on Jewish-pagan relations are applicable in his own time. Moralistic literature of the period, notably, Sefer Ḥasidim, displays a marked ambivalence. In a number of instances, it goes far beyond talmudic law in warning against any contact with Christianity and its ritual objects. Thus, while the tosafists broadly qualify and virtually abolish the prohibition against dealing in the ritual objects of an alien faith, Sefer Ḥasidim makes the prohibition absolute. Yet, in its moral teachings, the book exhorts to an ethical scrupulosity in dealings with a gentile who observes the seven Noachide commandments. Such a person, it is averred, should be more honored than a Jew who does not engage in the study of Torah. However, such moral promptings were frequently motivated by considerations of expediency. Nevertheless, in a significant passage (no. 58), the book holds up a noble act performed by a Christian as one most worthy of emulation by Jews. A motive frequently invoked in warning against unethical acts committed by Jews toward Christians is that of ḥillul ha-Shem (desecration of God's name; no. 1080). Despite a social atmosphere saturated with Christian contempt, repression, and persecution of Jews, R. Moses of Coucy could write: "We have already explained concerning the remnant of Israel that they are not to deceive any one whether Christian or Muslim. Thus, the Holy One, Blessed be He, scatters Israel among the nations so that proselytes shall be gathered unto them; so long as they behave deceitfully toward them (non-Jews), who will cleave to them? Jews should not lie either to a Jew or to a gentile, nor mislead them in any matter" (Semag Asayim no. 82).

[Theodore Friedman]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

IN THE TALMUD: G.F. Moore, Judaism, 1 (1946), 274–5, 339, 453; 2 (1946), 75; B.M.H. Uzid, in: Ha-Torah ve-ha-Medinah, 4 (1952), 9–21; ET, 5 (1953), 286–366; E.E. Urbach, in: IEJ, 9 (1959), 149–65, 229–45; M.D. Herr, in: Sefer Zikkaron le-Binyamin De Vries (1968), 149–59; E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal (1969), 482–3, 488–9. IN THE MIDDLE AGES: J. Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (1961); Y.F. Baer, in: Zion, 3 (1937/38), 37–41; E.E. Urbach, Ba'alei ha-Tosafot (19552), index, S.V. Avodah Zarah; G. Tchernovitz, Ha-Yaḥas Bein Yisrael la-Goyim le-fi ha-Rambam (1950).


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.