In a recent, strange post from our friend e, he led us to a discussion on “hashkafa.com” (a site I actually know little of) that gives the impression that some of the laws of Judaism are mean to non-Jews, especially those based on the pasuk of “lo teh’onem”. Is the Torah a “mean” religion? k
Well obviously the Torah is very hard on Pagans in Israel who might be influencing the Israelites with their ways. Some of these hard-line rules of the Torah in regards to Israel’s native Pagan inhabitants can be found in the seventh chapter of Deuteronomy. For example verse two tells us not to “show mercy to them” (“לא תחנם”). (The truth is though that this commandment is by far not the “meanest” commandment regarding the ‘seven nations’ .In fact the conquest of Israel in general was to be pretty cruel to the Pagan natives and their religion (for example not to leave women, children, cattle or religious objects alive or unharmed), so I’m not sure why they decided on this command as an example of cruelty to “goyim”.)
The sages of Israel, not only understood this command as applying to further generations, but in accordance with the Verbal Law, listed three more ways to read this verse (based on three variant ways to read the word “תחנם” without making pre-supposed assumptions about what the vowel marks should be): Selling land to Pagans in Israel, giving gifts to Pagans and praising Pagans.
These three laws have been expounded upon in the Talmud and recorded as normative halacha in books such as the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 151), usually referring to said Pagans as “עכו"ם” (an acronym for “עובדי כוכבים ומזלות”). One huuuuge misunderstanding that gets created with these types of halachot though is the question whether they were said only regarding Polytheists but not monotheistic gentiles or if the word “עכום” in the Shulchan Aruch just a thin, censure-related cover-up for the word “גוי”, which obviously also refers to monotheistic gentiles such as the Muslims and the Sikhs (perhaps some forms of Christianity as well)?
My opinion has always sided with the Rambam in this matter, that it’s quite clear that the agenda of the Torah is not to “be mean to goyim”, but to be very stern with polytheists, especially when they have the potential to influence Jews with their theology, which in most cases, also means influencing Jews with a “pre-monotheistic” set of morals. In other words if someone who was born Jewish becomes a polytheist he is hated in G-d’s eyes and deserves to be killed, just like any other polytheist influencing monotheists (“Jews”), and if someone who wasn’t born into “the faith” becomes monotheistic he is beloved by G-d. The Torah is extremely concerned with theology (in the sense of polytheism vs. monotheism), not at all with race and not really with the religion of the gentiles as long as they’re monotheistic. Now, it’s obviously impossible to say that none of the halachot which were said about polytheists refer to monotheistic gentiles, but certainly not these..
In that case then, there should be no lack of praise and friendly interactions between the Jews and their (not necessarily “Jewish”) fellow monotheists (1). That’s about monotheists, but what about polytheists (such as Hindus) or those who’s monotheistic status can be brought into serious question (such as most Christians) (2)? It is clear from the words of the Rambam that since polytheism in general has lost a lot of its attraction to people, even the laws which deal specifically with polytheists are not necessarily applied to the polytheists of today, since the concerns of the Torah in regards to the ‘seven nations’ of Israel can scarcely be said to apply to polytheistic people from India, China or other parts of Asia.
....to be honest, there’s not a whole lot I really know about e personally, but what I do know is that there are religious institutions that give their students far from enough of a background in halacha and its sources with the excuse that the exclusive study of Gemara is precicely the point that the founders of Chassidut didn’t find favor with in the theology of the pre-Chassidic Jews, and that it’s better instead to spend more time either studying the more spiritual aspects of Judaism or learning halacha with the express intent of becoming a rabbi in some far-flung Jewish community. While I admit the world needs rabbis, and that in many places they would be sorely lacking if not for these efforts, I also admit that quickly skimming over the “sea of the Talmud” can lead to a lack of clarity in regards to the foundations of halacha.
(1) It should be noted though that the terrible treatment of the Jews by their neighbors for the past centuries/millennia has lead many Jews to a understandable amount of bitterness to those who hate them. Yet all many can see is the hatred (or rather "healthy suspicion") of the Jews towards the gentiles, and not the millennia of persecution that the gentiles have wrought upon the Jews.
(2) Some consider the "Monistic Theism" of the Hindus and the "Trinitarian monotheism" of the Christians to be more-or-less legitimate forms of monotheism.