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Thought for the Day: Teaching/Learning Torah, A Uniquely Jewish Activity

In case you haven't noticed, I often start a TftD with a personal anecdote.  Today, though, I am saving the personal anecdote till the end, since it helped me understand an interesting halacha.  Instead, I'll start of with halachic anecdotes I heard from R' Fuerst, shlita.

Anecdote #1: A frum Israeli soldier was scheduled for a watch on the first night of Pesach.  He would have time to do the seder and say the Hagadah; that wasn't the problem.  His problem was that it isn't much fun to saying the Hagadah to himself.  While we don't usually worry if a mitzvah is fun to perform or not, the recitation of the Hagadah is a bit different.  The whole mitzvah is to engage even/especially the children and bring them -- and ourselves -- to a sense of wonder and excitement about the tremendous fortune with which we have been blessed by being Jewish.  The soldier was not going to be alone, but would be on duty with another soldier who was non-Jewish.  He wanted to know if it he could explain the seder to his non-Jewish friend.  He was told, no.  Even though non-Jews are also obligated to believe in G-d and the miraculous events surrounding Klal Yisrael's redemption from the slavery of Mitzrayim and receiving the Torah.  But, no; he may not learn the Hagadah with a non-Jew.

Anecdote #2:  A certain talmid chacham was getting older and his eye sight we failing badly.  He needed someone to read the gemara to him.  Try as he might, he was not able to find a Jew with the necessary skills and time in his schedule to help.  He was, however, able to find a non-Jew.  Even though it is forbidden to teach the Oral Law to a non-Jew, he asked if this would be permitted, so that he would be able to learn.  The answer in this case was: 100% permitted.

Why the seemingly contradictory p'sak halacha in the two cases?  In the first case, the essence of the mitzvah is the exchange of ideas.  Since it is forbidden to teach the Oral Law to a non-Jew, he can't participate in that activity.  In the second case, the essence of the mitzvah is to learn from the words.  The talmid chacham is doing that himself when he hears the words and contemplates their meaning, consequences, and connections.  The fact that that non-Jew may be doing that himself is not a problem.

Underlying all this, though, is the fact that it is forbidden for a Jew to teach the Oral Law to a non-Jew.  I wondered why.  It is intellectually stimulating and is beautifully logical; what's the harm?  That's the harm.

In college, I started as a chemistry major.  After a year or so, I (and my professors) realized that I was a physicist at heart; I made known that I was switching majors.  There was one last chemistry class that I wanted to take, however: glass blowing.  I really enjoyed experimental science and thought it would be so cool to even be able to make my own glassware.  I was denied admission to the class.  Why?  I was told, "We are not teaching glass blowing as an arts and crafts project; we are teaching it as an aid to chemists to get their job done.  You have decided to be a physicist, so you don't need this training."  End of story.

Learning and teaching Torah is not an intellectual exercise.  It is rather the life blood of being Jewish.  We are not teaching and learning Torah for its intellectual stimulation nor to appreciate its beautiful, delicate, and intricate logic.  A non-Jew has decided to be not Jewish; so he has no connection to Torah.  Not a condemnation, just the facts.

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