Sunday, August 05, 2012

Tiferet Yisrael - Jews and non-Jews

Over Shabbat I was reading Rabbi Binyamin Lau's book on the Sages (vol. 2) and found a footnote which sent me to a Tiferet Yisrael in Pirkei Avot. In his commentary there, Rav Lifschitz challenges some assumptions about the difference between Jews and non-Jews. I decided to try to translate it - but I only managed the first half (so far - perhaps more to follow). I strongly suggest that you look at it yourselves (if you don't already know it) and remember to quote it next time you hear someone make a statement about how Jews are inherently superior to non-Jews.
I also find his examples of 'righteous gentiles' very interesting. It seems that advancing the world technologically earns a place in Olam HaBa (according to Tiferes Yisrael). Also interesting is that he thinks the invention of the printing press has made the world a better place. I suppose 400 years after its invention it was easier to see the merit of printed books, but when the printing press was first invented it was considered to be as dangerous as the internet is considered to day (though I doubt they had a 'kenes' in NY against the printing press - mainly because America wasn't invented yet - this was 50 years before Columbus!)

Anyway, here is my (unedited) attempt at translating. I have used the Zecher Chanoch Mishna for the translation.

Tiferet Yisrael (Boaz) on Avot 3:14

Says the commentator: Since we are discussing this topic, let us say something which it is a mitzvah to publicise. My whole life I have been troubled by the statement of the Sages in Yevamot (ibid) which says “you are called ‘Adam’ but non-Jews are not called ‘Adam’.”
I find this difficult – could you think that the Sages would say about an idolater who is in the image of God, as we have explained, that he is considered like an animal? Furthermore, if so, what does it mean when God says, “You shall be more treasured by Me than all the nations”? If all the other nations are only like animals, then this verse is only saying that “You shall be more treasured by Me than all the animals, and all the monkeys who resemble humans with their form.” Furthermore, if so all their actions would be like the actions of animals, who are incapable of receiving reward or punishment. This contradicts what we know that the righteous of the non-Jewish nations have a portion in the World-to-Come (based on Sanhedrin 105 and Rambam chapter 8 of ‘Laws of Kings’).
Even without the holy mouths of our Sages, who tell us this, we would already know from logic, because God is just in all His ways, and righteous in all His deeds. We see many of them are righteous. Not only do they recognise the Creator of Genesis, and believe in His Torah that it is Divine, and they also do kindness like Yisrael. Some have done extraordinary good things for the inhabitants of the world, like the righteous Jenner who invented the vaccine (for smallpox) which saves hundreds of thousand of people from illness, death or disfiguration. And Drake (Sir Francis Drake 1540-1596) who brought the potato to Europe, and thus prevented famine many times. Or Guttenberg who invented the printing press. Several of them were not paid at all in this world, like the righteous Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522), who was prepared to lay down his life to prevent the burning of the Talmud. This was commaned by Caesar (Holy Roman Emporer) Maximillian (I) in the year 5262 through the activism of the heretic Pfefferkorn (1469-1523) and the priests, his wicked group. This Reuchlin risked his life and based on his claims he persuaded the Caesar to retract his decree. Because of this he was hounded and the priests, his enemies, made his life a misery. They pressured him until eventually he died in dire straits and broken hearted.
Could we think that all these great deeds would not be repaid in the World-to-Come, behind the ‘curtain’ – Heaven forbid! God does not withhold the reward of any creature.
If you would suggest that even though these righteous people kept all the seven mitzvoth of Bnei Noach (from Sanhedrin 56b), nevertheless they do not have the status of ‘Ger Toshav’ since they did not accept these mitzvoth before three Rabbis (based on Avoda Zara 64b). Furthermore, we do not accept Ger Toshav nowadays, only at the time that the mitzvah of Yovel applies (Erechin 29a). Even so, since they did not act like Esav, they have reward in the World-to-Come (based on Avoda Zara 10b).

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