The purpose of these articles are to cover issues of controversy with regards to Bnei Noach and the Laws for them; things that I see posing a danger to those sincere non-Jews who want to get close to the G-d of Israel. Primarily I want to clarify the issues with regards to the ‘Ger’ controversies. I intend to go through all of the sources that are involved and give easy to understand explanations.
Before starting there is one issue I need to address. There have been a number of actions reported to me that I consider inappropriate. I would like to address my remarks to those who respect me and will listen to me. There is no excuse for threats, or attacking those who disagree with you. Calling Rabbi Katz degrading names or worse is not acceptable and is close to a Chillul HaShem. I am publicly repudiating such behavior and I am asking that from this point on it should stop.
Someone may say to me, but look what they say about you or about X? My only answer to that is that among pious Jews it was the custom to learn the work called Tomer Devorah by the Remak during Ellul and Tishrei. In the first chapter he tells of how to apply the 13 midos of Rachamim. One is that of not answering those that denigrate you, but the opposite accept without response, and this is spiritually beneficial. If you are shamed and don’t respond then HaShem will be mashpia on you Chesed and Rachamim from the 13 midos.
I would ask of Rabbi Dovid Katz he should ask of his followers to act in the same way. However whether they do or not, I will say this. I will not forgive anyone who will answer any personal attacks on me in kind. That is all I will say on this subject.
This article will be an introduction and foundation to what will come after it. It will be a discussion of the halachic process in Judaism. Essentially I will answer the question of how do we get from a passage in the Talmud to a Rabbinic decision on what may or may not be done.
All Jewish law traces itself back to the Talmud. How this plays out in a practical manner is interesting. I am forced to simplify things here, but what follows is a good overview of how it is done. (I learned in a Kollel for Halacha, and this is based on what we did there and if you look at the responsa literature that is how they work.)
The Talmud has two types of commentaries. First you have Rashi and Tosephus, with others of that period like the Ritva, Ramban and Rashba. (There are more but these are the main ones we hear of from the period we call the Rishonim.) Their main goal is to explain what it is that the Talmud is saying and the views of those Rabbis quoted there. Tosephus is slightly different in that he tries to reconcile conflicting views in the Talmud or Rashi. (The Tosephus were from Rashi’s descendants and Talmidim.)
The second are the halachic commentaries, primarily the Rif, Ran, and Rosh. (For Ashkenazim I can add the Mordechai.) The Rif is sometimes called Talmud Katan (small Talmud). He goes through every tractate and excerpts the conclusions that lead to the halacha. The Ran is the main commentary on the Rif. The Rosh is similar to the Rif but he has more discussion about the Talmud and quotes from other sources like Rashi and Tosephus.
Outside of the Talmud are a number of important works, but usually only the Rambam is learned. The Rambam is like a Kitzur Shulchan Aruch of the Talmud. An important commentary on the Rambam is the Ravad, who points out when he disagrees with the conclusion the Rambam has. Besides that there are other commentaries: Kesif Mishnah from Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch; also the Maggid Mishnah and Lechem Mishnah. These later commentaries discuss the sources used by the Rambam.
Other important outside works that impact halchah are Smag (Sefer Mitzvahs Gadol); Smak (Sefer Mitzvos Katan) and many responsa works from the Gaonim and Rishonim. For Ashekenazim the Sefer Maharil is important for establishing the customs of Ashkenaz.
While the Rambam was the first major composition trying to systematize halacha, in some senses the more important is the Arbah Turim (sometimes just called the Tur). This was compiled by the son of the Rosh and was organized into 4 sections covering all of Jewish life and law as it applies today. (The Shulchan Aruch would later follow this division and use the same chapters.) In each chapter he brings the major views on the halachos. There are a number of primary commentaries on the Tur. First is the Beis Yosef, by Rabbi Yosef Karo (this is key to understanding what he says in Shulchan Aruch.); Darkei Moshe by the Rema (author of the glosses to Shulchan Aruch); the Bach one of the Gadolim of Ashkenaz and the Drishah/Perishah a running commentary on the Tur.
By learning the Tur and its commentaries; the Talmud and all the accumulated discussions and applications of these principles for over 1000 years; the halachic issues are brought together and we see where the Rabbis are going on almost all of the issues that will appear in Shulchan Aruch.
The basic sefer of Jewish Law today is the Shulchan Aruch. It has two parts: The Shulchan Aruch itself by Rabbi Yosef Karo and glosses on it by the Rema, representing where the custom in Ashkenaz is different. The reason for that is that when the Shulchan Aruch first came out there was a problem. In deciding what the Halacha would be Rabbi Yosef Karo took the majority view of the three major Rabbis: Rif, Rosh and Rambam. The problem was that this did not reflect practice in the lands of Ashkenaz which had halachic traditions that were different. The Rema by adding his glosses made the Shulchan Aruch a work that could be used by all Jews. If one has learned from the Talmud through the earlier sources to the Tur, when you look at the Shulchan Aruch there are rarely any new ideas.
The Shulchan Aruch was not enough by itself so there were added a number of commentaries to clarify, and at times to point out alternate practices. Some of the main ones are these: Mogan Avraham, Taz, Shach, Bar Heitiv, Pri Magadim.
Later other rabbis came along and wrote modified Shulchan Aruchs to take into consideration these commentaries and other issues. The three main ones are Mishnah Berura, Aruch HaShulchan and Shulchan Aruch Harav.
When it comes to deciding on what the halacha is a Rabbi will need to be familiar with the Talmud and all the sources that are key to understanding the Shulchan Aruch. If not what he will say will not reflect what the true Halacha is.
However with regards to the laws of Noah it is not as simple. Those laws which have a similarity to Jewish law can be found the same way as Jewish law, following the tradition of the halacha from the Talmud to Shulchan Aruch. But in many cases the tradition stops with the Rambam, and is picked up in other sources outside of the Tur. In that case we turn to the commentaries on the Talmud and Rambam, and later Responsa works.
When looking at the above sources, especially when it refers to the 7 laws, we find many times that there are disagreements as to what to follow.
In Jewish law there are some general principles that come into play. For example, if it is a Biblical law as opposed to a rabbinic one, we will be more stringent. If the majority or consensus is that it is forbidden, we will forbid it, unless in cases of emergency. If a minority forbid, the pious will refrain from that action even though strictly speaking it is allowed.
In the overwhelming majority of the cases the disagreements of the rabbis are based on how they understand these rules to play out, or where there is a local custom to act different than the rule. This is actually why there is disagreement among the scholars of the Laws of Noah as to the application of the laws in many situations.
Why is ‘Ger’ is different? Why don’t those Rabbis who disagree with it see it as the same as any other Rabbinic disagreement? I have heard this asked in different forms, and it is a valid question. There are two reasons for this:
1. Having read Katz’ books and also listened to many of his videos on the subject the biggest problem is that he is very unclear about what he is trying to say. His followers are even more unclear. Being familiar with the sources and reading his stuff, I am at times confused as to his point. Does he agree with the majority or not and why? The Appendix of his new book is certainly an attempt to rectify this, but there are problems, which I will address in later articles.
Just to exemplify this point let’s look at this: What is the difference between a ‘ger’ and a ‘Noahide’? The only practical difference seems to be that the former rejects Shituff and the later does not. But I don’t understand that. Many of us involved with Noahides say that a Noahide MUST reject Shituff. I will devote a whole article on this subject later. But even those who maintain that the Halacha is according to those who say it is not forbidden, do not maintain it is allowed. They will also tell a Noahide that he should not have that false belief. So what is the difference? If there is, Katz’ writing is so poor that no one can figure out what the difference is.
2. More importantly, all the Rabbis I know who are involved read the same texts, and understand them basically the same way except in a few cases where the problem is an ambiguity of the wording and not a fundamental reading of the text. That is not the case with Katz. He will many times say a text says something, but when the text is looked at what he claims it says is not there.
Let me give an example which was asked of me a few days ago. In The World of the Ger on page 34 Katz claims that the Vilna Gaon maintained that the halacha was that a ger toshiv living in Israel was required to keep the mitzvos including circumcision. His source was from the work of the Vilna Gaon called Adras Eliyahu on Deuteronomy 32:9. Here is the text in the Hebrew original:
I will translate it, but before that we need to know two things: First is that according to Judaism there are 70 nations and each one has his own ‘prince’ or angel overseeing it. (See Daniel 10:13)
The second is that in 2 Kings 17 we are told that after the people were exiled from the northern kingdom the Assyrians brought in a foreign people who were idol worshippers, But they were attacked by wild animals, which they believed was caused by their not worshipping the god of that land. So they instituted worship of their old gods and also the God of Israel.
Now here is the text:
“Because the Lord's portion is His people Jacob, the lot of His inheritance.” Above there is a portion (land) for each prince. Each prince of a people has chosen to take his own people.
And He took the land of Israel as His portion and gave it as a gift to Israel, as it says “all those who live outside the land (of Israel) are like those who have no god’ (Kesubos 110b) because they are under the princes (of those lands.)
But in the land of Israel there is no control over her by the 70 princes therefore even the nations (goyim) who dwell in the land of Israel need to keep all the mitzvos as it says with regards to the Kitim, “(they do not know) the law of the god of the land.” (2 Kings 17:26).
This is what it means, “because the Lord's portion is His people”, what HaShem takes as His portion (the land of Israel) He gives to His people.
If we look at the text in the Tenach these people were still idol worshippers, and not ‘gerei toshiv’. Also there was no halachic requirement for them, just a question of self-preservation. This passage has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of ‘ger’ and proves nothing. This is typical of the many sources that are cited, as we shall see in later articles.
In the next article I will deal with something the Ger people make a big issue of; that is the word: ‘Noahide’. Following that I will start to deal with some of the main sources used to support the ideas of ‘Ger’. I will then look carefully at the book Laws of Ger Toshiv. I will start in the Appendix and then go back to the text. While doing this I will try to touch on many issues of importance and disagreement. I will address any questions that people will pose to me.
I hope that this has been helpful and look forward to further discussions with you.