Friday, January 19, 2007

Muslims and Christians: May one teach them Torah? A Rambam Responsum

On the subject of Torah min Hashamayim there is a fascinating responsum by Rambam (Blau edition #149):

שו"ת הרמב"ם סימן קמט

השאלה הל"א שאלה מאמר ר' יוחנן (סנהדרין נ"ט א') גוי שעסק בתורה חייב מיתה, האם זה הלכה והחייב כל בר ישראל להמנע (מללמדו) דבר מן המצות חוץ משבע מצות או להעמידו עליהן, אם לאו?

התשובה היא בלא ספק הלכה . וכאשר יד ישראל תקיפה עליהם, מונעים אותו מתלמוד תורה עד שיתגייר. אבל לא יהרג, אם עסק בתורה, לפי שאמר חייב מיתה ולא אמר נהרג כמו שאמרו( סנהדרין נ"ז א', ) על שבע מצות בן נח נהרג. ומותר ללמד המצות לנוצרים ולמשכם אל דתנו, ואינו מותר דבר מזה לישמעאלים, לפי מה שידוע לכם על אמונתם, שתורה זו אינה מן השמים, וכאשר ילמדום דבר מן כתוביה (וימצאוהו) מתנגד למה שבדו הם מלבם לפי ערבוב הסיפורים ובלבול העניינים אשר באו להם, (הרי) לא תהיה זו ראיה אצלם, שטעות בידיהם, אלא יפרשוה לפי הקדמותיהם המופסדות ויוכלו להשיב עלינו בזה בטענתם ויטעו כל גר וישראל, שאין לו דעת, ויהיה זה מכשול לישראל האסורין ביניהם בעונותם. אבל הערלים (ר"ל הנוצרים) מאמינים בנוסח התורה שלא נשתנה, ורק מגלים בה פנים בפרושם המופסד ומפרשים זאת בפירושים, שהם ידועים בהם, ואם יעמידום על הפרוש הנכון, אפשר שיחזרו למוטב, ואפילו לא יחזרו, כשרוצים שיחזרו, לא יבוא לנו מזה מכשול ולא ימצאו בכתוביהם דבר שונה מכתובינו.

This is a fascinating Teshuvah and I will paraphrase it with my comments.

The question is whether it is permitted to teach a non Jew Torah?

Rambam answers that it is so Halachikally. When we Jews are in control, we may not teach them until they decide to convert. Although the rule is formulated as "Chayav Mita", Rambam makes a distinction between "Neherag", which would be a legal obligation to punish with death while this formulation only reports a fact; he will die but it is not up to the courts to implement.

He distinguishes between Christians and Muslims. The Muslims do not accept the divinity of the Torah. That being the case should the Torah contradict their confused traditions, they will have no problem explaining the Torah in a way that would make it compatible with their traditions. That would risk confusing uneducated Jews and converts becoming an obstacle for those who are living among them, under their jurisdiction. This point is very much in agreement with Rambam’s general understanding that the idea of divinity of the Torah is to make it immutable. No future prophet can change it. Muslims who deny Moshe’s superiority and thus the divinity of his Torah would accept future prophetic changes.

On the other hand the Christians do believe in the divinity of the Torah, they believe that Moshe had a special relationship with prophecy. They also believe that the current Torah we have is the original one. They only interpret it according to their beliefs. They see the Mitzvot as allegorical rather than practical. Interpretations can be shown as erroneous and there is always the possibility they will see the light. Should they not see the light, they will have little impact on even the uneducated among us.

The last sentence is quite interesting. Rambam says the version of the Old Testament the Christians have is similar to our version. I am no expert in that field and I leave that to the specialist to decide what edition Rambam had in front of him. Was there an Arabic version of the Bible written by Christians in his times? Was he referring to the Latin one? Greek or Aramaic? the Septuagint?

I also wonder how Rambam would have felt after Wellhausen came up with his DH theory? Would he still agree to teach Christians?

Shabbat Shalom.


  1. David,
    This is very interesting especially in light of Rambam's well known position regarding Christianity and Islam constituting Avodah Zara, where Christianity is theologically much more problematic. Yet ironically, it is them and not the Moslems that we can teach Torah to.
    Have a good Shabbos

  2. This goes back to the fact that we share a Scripture with the Christians and the belief in Unity with the Muslims. Rambam's view of the Unity of God is a lot closer to the Moslem view than that, let's say of the Kabblists, and still he does not advocate teaching them. However, we can teach Christians because we share a conceptual language which we can apply in the everyday life of Faith. The meaning behinds the terms may be different - atonement, faith, redemption, mean different things to a christian than to a Jew. Still, even though we do not agree on definitions we share the vocabulary -so we can talk. With the Muslims we cannot communicate because we do not share a conceptual langauge inasmuch as it resides in a text. For them, on the level of the text, our experience is corrupt and only theirs is fully correct. To put is simply - they do not believe that we have anything to teach them, not the case with the Cristians.

    The lesson here is clear, religion resides in sharing a text and a devotional life, not in philosophical reasoning and shared theological assumption.

  3. The Rambam instructed to teach the Christians exactly because of the case of Wellhausen. If we would teach Wellhausen that Elohim and HAWA"YA are names designating different attributes of the same God and not different idols, he would never have erred as he did (perhaps this is what happened with all heresies, including early Christianity).

    With the Muslims, however, we have no common denominator, and therefore no subject of discussion. What's amazing is Rambam's wisdom, and pellucidity in that the idea of a Jew to be misled into Christianity (Jews4Jesus) has never crossed his mind, while Jews being misled into Islam (Jews4Allah) constituted a possibility!

    I can say from personal experience that he is right (not that he, peace be upon him, is in need of my confirmation). I know an uneducated Jew who never doubted Christianity's distorted interpretation of the Scriptures, but has an affection for Islamic traditions, which in turn distort the Jewish ones he already knew.