Are Non-Jews Allowed to Take On Mitzvot? - Episode 61
Rav Avi: Hi, and welcome to Responsa Radio, where you ask and we answer questions of Jewish law in modern times! I'm Rabbi Avi Killip, here with Rabbi Ethan Tucker, Rosh Yeshiva at Hadar, a center for higher Jewish learning based in New York City. How are you doing?
Rav Eitan: I'm doing great, Avi, how are you?
Rav Avi: I'm good! It's been, actually, a little while since we recorded — I'm curious, what's new with halakhah these days?
Rav Eitan: Well, you know, the more it changes, the more it stays the same.
Rav Avi: I just started learning Chullin as part of Daf Yomi, and I have to say, it's not for the faint of heart!
Rav Eitan: Yeah, and it's gonna be Chullin for a long time!
Rav Avi: Yeah, I'm in it for the long haul with this one. Gonna be a lot of blood and guts.
Rav Eitan: Yeah. Well, I hope you have a lot of charts and color pictures.
Rav Avi: Yes, I saw, there's a new illuminated version — I opted not, actually, to study out of that one. Alright, we have an interesting question today. I'm curious to see how this question will end up being relevant and meaningful to a lot of our listeners, because the question actually comes from someone who is not Jewish. And I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that actually a lot of our listeners probably are Jewish, although if you're not, this is maybe a good question for you, and a good signal to say that halakhah is not speaking, you know, or questions of halakhah do not come up, necessarily, only in situations where there are only Jews around. And while we have had some questions in that vein, we haven't had a question specifically sent in by someone who does not identify as Jewish.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, great! Alright, let's hear it, what's it about?
Rav Avi: We'll see where it takes us. The questioner writes: "I am not Jewish, but I am seriously interested in converting. To what extent is it appropriate for a non-Jew to observe Jewish practice, and does it make a difference if I'm considering conversion? Can I, and should I, keep kosher, observe shabbat, take on Jewish prayer practices? Do I need to concern myself with halakhah at all?"
Rav Eitan: That's a really interesting question. Obviously the part that has to do with conversion comes up all the time, when people are going through that process and figuring out what they take on when. But I do really actually want to start where the questioner begins, which is before we even get to that, I'm not Jewish, and I'm kind of interested and intrigued by Judaism and Jewish practice, and even halakhah, and I'm trying to figure out how I might integrate that in my life. So maybe let's start there, with, well, what do we think about non-Jews performing mitzvot? What does the tradition say about that? And here I think it is actually interesting that there are, unsurprisingly, competing strands in the tradition about that question. You have a kind of more universalist strand, that sort of imagines, maybe, that the Jewish people are given the task of the mitzvot, but maybe they're sort of like an invitation to the whole world to participate. And then you have a notion more of like an inheritance, something that's sort of unique to the Jewish people, and that's meant to be unique, and you could become Jewish, but until you have, you really shouldn't be involved there.
Rav Avi: So maybe there's an underlying question here of, what do we even think is the ideal? Would the ideal be that everybody in the world is observing shabbat and keeping kosher? Or is that actually something for Jews in particular to do, and davka, specifically we wouldn't want non-Jews. Or it's not theirs, it's not their place?
Rav Eitan: That's right. So let me throw out two texts that, I think, get to these two poles. We'll start first with the Sifrah, early midrash on the book of Vayyikra, Leviticus, and it has a version that's quoted in the Talmud also. It's picking up on this interesting phrase that the Torah uses at one point to describe G-d's laws, and it says about them, asher ya'aseh otam ha'adam v'khai bahem. Which means, what a person should do in order to live by. And the midrash here picks up on the fact that the noun used to describe, kind of, the subject there, who's performing the mitzvot, is "adam," is this kind of general term for human being. And the Sifrah says, you know, how do you know that a gentile who does the Torah, literally "oseh et haTorah," so it seems like kind of performing the mitzvot in some way, is as significant as a high priest? Because the Torah doesn't say that Israelite or that a priest will do, or that a Levite will do, but rather, what an "adam" will do. A human being. And therefore there seems to be some value to the notion that any human being would do the mitzvot and they would give them life.
Rav Avi: Yeah. And this text pulls that out. They want to read it that way.
Rav Eitan: Yeah. That's right. And so, "goy v'oseh et haTorah harei hu k'kohen gadol," a gentile who kind of acts out Torah is like a high priest. Right? So that — I think we can see that's pretty far on one end of the theoretical spectrum we might entertain.
Rav Avi: Yeah, it's quite the statement. It makes me think — it's particularly interesting because even within Jews, there are laws that are specifically for priests, and within priests, there are laws that are particularly for the high priest. Which makes me think it's a particularly interesting statement to make, not just to say about mitzvot in general, but, you know, even the most selective of mitzvot.
Rav Eitan: Yeah. That's right. No, I think it's, it's clearly an unusual and powerful statement from that perspective. Okay. Shift gears. Let's go to the Talmud in Sanhedrin. And there you have the following two statements by Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan, two later sages. Reish Lakish says a gentile who observes shabbat, chayav mitah.
Rav Avi: Okay, pretty extreme on the other end.
Rav Eitan: Pretty extreme on the other end. And Rabbi Yochanan says a gentile who engages the Torah, sheosek baTorah — we'll come back to that in one second — also, chayav mitah. Liable for death. He gives a proof text for that, which is Moses commanded us the Torah as an inheritance, Torah tzivah lanu Moshe morashah — it's an inheritance for us, and not for them. Lanu morashah, v'lo lahem. So these are two statements, one about shabbat, one about Torah, I would say it's not totally clear whether the language of osek baTorah is meant to be any engagement with Torah including practice, or more likely that osek baTorah actually means learning Torah, and you are talking here about not just any mitzvah, but the mitzvah of talmud Torah, to actually study. And that's the inheritance. However we read it, and we can talk that out a little, there's a notion here that there are at least some things, if not everything, in the kind of Jewish canon of practice, that are meant to be for Jews only.
Rav Avi: Yeah. So this is pretty striking — I think I'm struck that it's, it really goes beyond "do I have to?" to the "you shouldn't." So much so that it's punishable, I guess, it's the ultimate offense. So I'm curious what you — what is at the heart of the sin, here, the problem, it's stealing, it's a proprietary issue?
Rav Eitan: Yeah. This is a great question. I want to kind of loop back to it at the end — I actually think some of the contemporary discourse around cultural appropriation may actually be helpful for understanding, at least, some of the emotional dimensions here. But technically, I would say, at this point, the puzzle is basically as follows: you have these two statements in the Talmud about shabbat and about la'asok baTorah, probably to study Torah — how much are those exceptional, and how much are those exemplary? So you might read these as very targeted, oh, there's a verse about Torah study which says it's an inheritance for the Jewish people, so that's off-limits. Shabbat observance prohibition for gentiles, that statement, he says, well, there's a verse in the Torah that says that day and night, you know, the sort of order of creation will never stop after the flood, imagining that somehow humanity has responsibility to kind of keep the world going non-stop, and unless you're a Jew commanded to observe shabbat, you shouldn't really ever be taking a day off in that way. That might be a very local claim about shabbat and about Torah study. Or, these might be archetypes for saying the whole Jewish system of Torah and mitzvot is fundamentally kind of private and parochial.
Rav Avi: Yeah, it does, it does really resonate for me with the contemporary conversations — I am thinking in particular about a certain narrative that has come out in the past few years, where people said you should invite non-Jews to your seders, and there was a pushback movement to that that said no, you know, churches shouldn't be holding seders, seders are for Jews, and it's wrong to, for non-Jews to take that on as an image. I'm curious, and I hope this will come out as we continue the conversation — where it feels different when somebody is firmly in the camp of non-Jew versus they are moving towards the camp of Jew, if that blurs that line.
Rav Eitan: Yeah. We'll get to that, and I think that that may in fact be quite different. Let me share what the Talmud does in the little bit of synthesis here, and then what Maimonides does, kind of following up, which I think are kind of our main anchors for where this conversation ends up. So the Talmud actually pits at least a version of the two poles against each other. It quotes those positions of Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan cracking down on shabbat observance and seemingly Torah study by gentiles, and it says hey, but what about that text that said all human beings who observe the Torah are like high priests? Doesn't that go against it?
But he puts it in a slightly different way — instead of talking about someone who does or performs the Torah, goy v'oseh et haTorah, here that text reads "nokhri b'osek baTorah" — that other verb of kind of busying or engaging, that in the Babylonian Talmud generally refers to intellectual engagement. Which makes it sound like, when they make that a kind of tension here in the discussion, that the only thing they're kind of bothered by is that there's one text that says you shouldn't study Torah, and another text that says yeah, anyone can study Torah. And they resolve it by essentially saying yeah, gentiles shouldn't study Torah broadly, but they can study Torah about the Seven Noahide Commandments, or the sort of laws and materials around what it is to be a basic, decent human being, that might happen to be in the Jewish canon, but are not particularly targeted to a Jewish audience. And the result of doing that is actually the Talmud kind of leaves open and unclear what do we think about gentile performance of other mitzvot. Learning seems like they're very skittish about it, and also shabbat, but beyond that, it's not clear.
Rav Avi: So just clarify for us the play on "oseh" and "osek" — which one is which?
Rav Eitan: Yeah, so, "oseh" seems like it's about performing, doing something, doing physical things or refraining from physical things. This would be something like keeping kosher, shabbat, Jewish ritual practices, all the things that the questioner asks about. "Osek" is more about jumping into a beit midrash or being a part of kind of a culture of learning and discussion, but that feels like it might be much more theoretical. So the bottom line of the Talmud seems to be studying Torah is some kind of uniquely Jewish enterprise, at least when it's about specifically Jewish mitzvot and specifically Jewish topics. That's point one. Point two: shabbat seems to be somewhat problematic if we accept Reish Lakish's articulation that gentiles shouldn't rest on shabbat, but it's left a little bit vague what we do with all the other mitzvot, and whether gentiles can, could, should in some way, ideally, observe them.
Rav Avi: Does that come into play at all with interfaith — you know I was referencing interfaith seders, but it sounds like interfaith Torah study actually would be more of a problem for this text. And I think a lot of people who raise an eyebrow about the interfaith seder would never think to complain or be concerned about interfaith Torah study.
Rav Eitan: Yeah. It definitely is. We may have to come back to this in a future episode, because I feel like actually that's a whole rich and fascinating topic on its own. There are other verses that get invoked for that, that G-d somehow delivers the divine word to Jacob and the rules and statutes to Israel — magid d'varav l'yaakov, chukav u'mishpotav l'yisrael — and traditions that say "to Israel and not to the gentiles" and understand that to be part of the intellectual process of Torah. I agree with you, that's a sort of shocking text for many people who, certainly in the contemporary kind of pluralistic, North American kind of marketplace of ideas assume that the one thing you can always do is discuss and learn things from people. And it's not so simple, for reasons I think we may loop back to on what does it mean for something to be kind of particular and owned by me in some way.
Rav Avi: Yeah. Okay. But we'll stay in the realm of practice for now, since that was the question.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, so let's stay in the realm of practice, and see what Maimonides does here — maybe we can take apart together kind of what is motivating the complexity here. So Maimonides basically tries to kind of codify everything here and split the difference. So he comes out and he says —
Rav Avi: Like a good posek.
Rav Eitan: Like a good posek. A gentile who studies Torah is liable to the death penalty. A gentile who observes shabbat, liable to the death penalty. But then he adds something interesting, which I think may be helpful to us. He says, here's the general rule: you don't allow them to make up their own new religion, and to kind of invent their own scheme of mitzvot based on what seems right to them.
Rav Avi: Wow.
Rav Eitan: They should either convert and accept all the mitzvot, or stay to be gentiles who observe the Seven Noahide Laws, and just be righteous and good people who merit the world to come for doing that. In other words, what Maimonides is kind of seeing as the root of the problem here is a certain kind of, like, selecting from the buffet of mitzvot, creating your decaf latte with whatever on top that you like of these sort of, you know, normative commitments that morph into kind of your own personalized religious practice. This is where I'm curious to hear what you think. I hear some overtones of the cultural appropriation concern, where it's, if you want to join me in doing this, welcome, come on in. If you're talking about taking the thing that I relate to as sort of covenantally binding as something that might bring you some added meaning on a Tuesday, I'm feeling like you're actually degrading it.
Rav Avi: Yeah. That's really fascinating. I definitely agree with you, I hear those echoes. You know, the images that come to mind right at this moment — maybe not great examples because they are rituals as opposed to laws, minhagim as opposed to halakhot, but I think about how non-Jewish weddings, and by that I mean weddings that have no Jewish partner and potentially no Jews attending, sometimes there will still be a smashing of the glass at the end, or a chuppah, you know, a wedding canopy, or even hora dancing, because those three images are just awesome, and they have actually become part of American culture in some ways, through movies and cinema and images, that people are like, yeah, I want a piece of that — this feels like it's Maimonides' way of saying no, you don't get to just pick and choose and take a little taste of our culture and our religion unless you are seeing it in its bigger picture, and seeing it in its entirety.
Rav Eitan: Yeah. I think that's really a great way of articulating it, and it's therefore not surprising that Rambam then in the very next paragraph kind of swings back to another statement that at first sounds like it's saying something totally different, but I think really fits: he then says, yeah, but of course a gentile who wants to do any of the mitzvot, in order, literally, l'kabel sakhar, to get reward, which I think here means something like, they see here there's some kind of value to doing that mitzvah, and they would like to participate in it, and something good will come of it to the world, to G-d, to them — then you don't stop that person from doing that, even, you know, as long as it's done sort of in its proper way, k'hilkhatah, and that is kind of the meaning of the other statement of, if someone wants to participate in the mitzvot and kind of do them for real and do them on their own terms, well then there's actually something very powerful and important about that. Now, I think he's a little bit walking a tightrope here, because on the one hand, I think whether we call it cultural appropriation or something else, he's afraid of mitzvot being kind of used for some other purpose. On the other hand, he feels like any basic, universal vision that Judaism has for humanity can't kind of see it as bad if people are doing mitzvot for the right reasons. And that's his effort to kind of hold those two together.
Rav Avi: Yeah. I have to say, I love that. I love that next line, and I feel like it is — I hear it exactly the way you're reading it, him saying if you understand that it is a mitzvah, if you understand it as a commandment, and that's why you want to do it, then you're doing it for the right reason. The only problem, or the only transgression, would be to do the activity without an underlying understanding of it as part of service of G-d or our mitzvot as a commitment or as a series of commitments instead of in a fun activity or lighting shabbos candles because you wanted light.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, he has actually a great formulation in one responsum, which is, you know, as you would imagine, a little sort of theologically heavy-handed in a medieval way, but I think gets to this — he basically says yeah, a gentile can do any mitzvah they want, as long as they do it while acknowledging the prophecy of Moshe our teacher. But which is a way of kind of saying, are you doing this because — I like what you said before — you're seeing the whole picture, you're kind of seeing, oh, this is part of a tradition of revelation and kind of things being passed on throughout the generation — right now I'm, like, connecting deeply to this thing that I kind of get, it's part of this larger package, and I'm feeling drawn to that, I'm feeling in awe of that, I'm feeling like I'd like to be a part of that. That feels different — I think he's trying to distinguish that from, that seems cool, you know, I might like to do that. I'm not sure how much I buy into the whole larger thing here, but that piece seems like it would fit in with my life. That's the line Rambam's trying to draw. And again, it's not sort of all warm and fuzzy and welcome everyone in. It's sort of, we do have some universalist vision here, we do really want people to be able to feel like they can come in, and these things have kind of an integrity of their own that's independent of how people engage with them.
Rav Avi: I hesitate to ask this question, because I'm nervous about where it could take us in a conversation, but I also think it's here and I want to acknowledge it and hear your thoughts. Obviously if I was to say to you, what does Rambam think about Jews who treat mitzvot this way and are choosing one-off things because it seems fun and not seeing it as a bigger picture of something, I may be able to presume that Rambam would not be excited about that idea. But I'm curious whether we think, you know, as the two of us sitting here now, whether we think there is something in this statement from Rambam that speaks to the way that Jews treat mitzvot, and/or whether we would say no, actually the way Jews treat mitzvot is fundamentally different from the way that non-Jews treat mitzvot, and that maybe just by being Jewish, you know, that by being born Jewish, we're gonna question your motives a little less or your intent matters less, and it's just, it's just good for you to do mitzvahs. Just good for you to fulfill commandments. I don't know, I both hesitate to bring it up, because I think it's a sticky area, and I'm curious what you think.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, I mean, I think — I think there is a hierarchy that's always present between being kind of committed to something in a sort of, like, enthusiastic self-authored way, as opposed to just doing something because, like, you have to, or someone expects it of you. And, right, the former is always better. It's always considered to be better to say yeah, I'm doing this because it's the most amazing thing, et cetera, et cetera. But there is, I think, a difference that starts in rabbinic sources and goes all the way through to Maimonides, and that I would sign onto also, which is that yeah, part of the covenant between G-d and the jewish people does mean that there's a kind of a multi-generational, non-negotiable being locked into sort of the story and expectation of mitzvot for people who are a part of the Jewish people in a way that does not have an analog to someone who is thinking about whether or not this is something they want to take on. Now, even someone who's born Jewish, I think there's no question, as I said, that the move from feeling like you're stuck with something to feeling like you would author it yourself is a deeply important part of the tradition itself, right? It's the move from serving out of fear as opposed to serving out of love. Avodah mi'yirah to avodah mi'ahavah.
Rav Avi: Yeah.
Rav Eitan: But there is an element here — look, it goes to the inheritance language that we heard earlier. It's different to have something that you've inherited from the past, as opposed to something that you're encountering and deciding if you want to integrate into your life. Practically, kind of experientially, are there Jews who may be ancestrally Jewish, but in terms of any number of given mitzvot, it's not really an inheritance for them, like they weren't raised doing it, it wasn't expected of them — yeah, I think that's clearly right. Part of the almost mysterious picture of, like, a covenant with a people that's multi-generational is sometimes telling people, yeah, you know, this may not be something you've sort of focused on inheriting, but it's your birthright in a certain kind of way, that it's not for others.
Rav Avi: Yeah. Maybe I'll bring us back to the Rambam text, the text from Maimonides, because I really see the questioner in that last framing from Maimonides, where the questioner actually phrased, what is my role as a non-Jew doing commandments, or observing mitzvot? And I think that Maimonides is already in that very early text seeing that the person who's writing this question is in a fundamentally different category. It is not as simple as, they're a non-Jewish person observing Jewish laws; they are in this sort of in-between category of non-Jew who wants s'khar, and what does it mean to be a non-Jew who wants, you know, s'khar, being the reward, or wanting into the good stuff of what the bigger picture is of halakhah. And that's really surprising and exciting to me, to find this person in that language from Maimonides.
Rav Eitan: Yeah. So let me jump, actually, to another text, which also loops back to the questioner's shade on the question of, well, okay, I'm not Jewish and I'm asking this question, but I'm also potentially interested in converting, and asking whether that makes a difference. And this is an amazing text from the Sefer Chasidim, it's from medieval Germany, Rabbi Yehuda HeChasid, and his students kind of have a whole set of traditions that come together in this work. And get this, here's the case they're talking about: someone who's coming to convert to Judaism, and they've already basically started to kind of get into observing mitzvot, they're like yeah, I want to sign up for this, this is the way of life I want to live, the positive mitzvot, the restrictive mitzvot, and they say, I want to be circumcised, I'm ready to go. And then there's some character here, who apparently was hanging out with this person, who was routinely offering the person treif, non-kosher food.
Rav Avi: There usually is such a character, I would say!
Rav Eitan: And saying, well, you know, he hasn't been circumcised yet, he hasn't immersed, so he's a nokhri, he's a gentile, and, you know, why should I care about that? In a way, you can actually hear this person as carrying out some of the logic of, you know, a more extreme interpretation of Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, like, this person is not in the world of mitzvot yet, so let's not play some charade as if they can kind of take it on! Until they convert, which is great if they do that, I'd like some clarity here of, like, they're not Jewish, right? So this question comes, basically, to this text, and the answer is kind of striking. It says, how could you possibly feed that person non-kosher food if they've already basically committed to taking on the mitzvot. Eikh yitakhekh la'achilot neveilot u'treifot? In other words, the move that's being made here is to say, it's one thing to say that gentiles are not obligated in mitzvot.
Okay, that's a sort of fundamental principle of the entire rabbinic system of understanding how these work. It's another thing to say that you are going to disregard as completely irrelevant commitments that someone has already begun to take on because they haven't gotten all the way across the finish line. And the Sefer Chasidim here actually seems to be saying no, there is this moment — I don't know if we can even kind of pinpoint it, but there is this moment where you see that the person has started to take on a commitment to act a certain way, where even if the person is not yet a Jew, their mitzvot have kind of like enough self-referential integrity to them that you can't be undermining that and feeding them non-kosher food.
Rav Avi: So it's almost, it's an acknowledgement, really, that there is a category of converting. I am in the process of converting. I've heard this come up in the modern context with people who feel outraged when somebody who is in the process of converting is asked in a synagogue environment to do something that we might call the shabbos goy role, when there is a moment that you ask someone, hey, could you turn off that light switch, because I know you haven't converted yet — that that can be deeply off-putting and troubling to the person who is there converting because they feel like, hey, I'm not in a non-Jew role; I'm in the process of becoming a Jew role, which is a fundamentally different place.
Rav Eitan: Right. Now what is interesting, taking that example for a minute, what you're still left not totally resolved by the Sefer Chasidim text is, well sure, he said, hey, you can't just feed that person treif food. But shabbat, you recall, is the subject of this very specific statement in the Talmud of, hey, that is something that we keep, like, very special for the Jewish people. This leads to debates among rabbis who are shepherding people through conversion — should you actually be sure, until you finalize the conversion by going to the mikvah, to every shabbat do something that violates shabbat that week? And you have some rabbis for whom, yeah, that's the standard. They'll say you should be totally observing shabbat, but, I don't know, you know, carry some object outside of an eruv. Or turn on a light once, you know, towards the end of shabbat. And interestingly, you have others who invoke this Sefer Chasidim more broadly, who are like, no, you don't do that, you're trying to get the person up to this standard, and that statement of Rabbi Yochanan is about not someone who is not yet Jewish observing shabbat, but it's actually about something very different, which is someone who is showing no inclination or direction to becoming Jewish deciding that they're going to do shabbat in the way that Rambam talks about, sort of, like, making up their own religion. Almost yes, are you culturally appropriating something? Or are you trying to enter a culture?
Rav Avi: It sounds like you're saying this is still a live question, that rabbis are still giving different answers on.
Rav Eitan: On the shabbat piece, for sure. Yeah. So I think going back to, you know, what's the answer to our questioner, I think for sure when we're in the zone of someone moving to potentially convert to Judaism, so obviously the adoption of the mitzvot and their practice is not just allowed — I think it really is sort of almost unimaginable that it's not an intrinsic part of the process, with this one question of, like, should shabbat look a little different after the moment you've converted than before? My own personal inclination is that I don't feel the strong pull of requiring that breaking until the last minute, but I kind of respect it and get it in the sense of, there ought to be something that's deeply meaningful and kind of looks different on the other side of the conversion process.
But I think the thing that I hope we've opened up is that even when you are not headed towards conversion, there is this meaningful space that's opened up in the conversation for what it's like to think of mitzvot as something that a much broader human population should tap into, but with some real kind of protectiveness around the integrity of the mitzvot on their own terms. And I think it's something that Jews have also been rightly worried about as a minority throughout history. It's very easy for minorities to have their practices kind of dissected, picked apart, and kind of used by majority cultures at their convenience, and some of the ferocity in the statements of Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish are really about saying, hey, you know, shabbat is not just like something nice that we do — this is, like, the lifeblood of who we are. You want to join that, great, we can talk, but don't trivialize this as kind of a spiritual practice, because it's much more than that to us.
Rav Avi: Yeah. This feels like a great example of moments when, you know, I think even 10 obviously, definitely 20 years ago, if there wasn't the language of cultural appropriation flying around, that feels to me like such the right definition for the phenomenon that Rambam is concerned with here, that I almost can't imagine trying to have this conversation about this text without that phrase and concept, although obviously many generations of Jews did do that. It sounds like Rambam is telling us cultural appropriation is real, and that's not what conversion is. When non-Jews are converting to Judaism, that's different. It's just different. And the fact that it's different doesn't mean that the cultural appropriation is any less serious or concerning.
Rav Eitan: Yeah, and even when gentiles who are not converting are doing something with, to take your phrase again, the whole picture in mind, in his language the nevuah of Moshe Rabbenu, Moses' prophecy and sort of the larger mosaic of the Torah, then you've got the possibility of people joining into your culture. But it's really dependent on that larger view.
Rav Avi: Yeah. I wonder if that, to come back to the seder idea, is the difference between inviting non-Jews to your seder versus there being a church holding a seder all on their own, without any Jews present. And maybe that helps give language for the distinction between why one seems like a great idea, and one feels uncomfortable to us.
Rav Eitan: Yeah. And I think the last thing I would say about this — I mean, we could talk about this in such depth — is that the other thing about shabbat and the Torah, which are these two things that get singled out, is the question of, you know, some mitzvot, I think, kind of feel almost more sacred than others. Like, they're all holy, but they're things where you feel like you may be trespassing on something. I mean, I remember very vividly at one point when there was some kind of music video that Madonna made that involved her putting on tefillin.
Rav Avi: Yeah!
Rav Eitan: And feeling totally violated by that. Right? Feeling like that was literally, kind of, taking the sacred and making it mundane. Like it was a profaning in some way, in a way that, you know, I think tefillin in particular, right, it's an example where you feel like that's a holy object, you sort of don't engage with that unless you're doing it in this larger framework, in a way that, like, other mitzvot, I don't feel the same way if someone's sitting in a sukkah, even though it's not any less of a Biblical command. But I think it's interesting to probe, also, which mitzvot trigger that notion of profaning the sacred for us, if people feel like they're using them as opposed to performing them.
Rav Avi: Yeah, back to the oseh/to do versus osek/to interact with or to study, to engage with. I want to thank the listener who sent in this question for listening and for sending us the question, and I hope if anyone is listening to this podcast thinking, you know, I've had a question and I haven't been sure if this is really the right audience or the right address, that you'll consider actually sending us your questions, and we would love to hear from you.
Rav Avi: Responsa Radio is a project of the Hadar Institute and Jewish Public Media. Thanks to Annah Leah Bernstein Simpson for producing this podcast and to Noa Gendler for editing this episode. Have a halakhic question you'd like answered on the show? Email us at [email protected] You can also leave us a message at (215) 297-4254.