by Mark S. Railey
Feb. 7, 2021
According to the Talmud, are non-Jews permitted to study Torah?
Sanhedrin (59a) states that "A heathen who studies the Torah deserves death, for it is written, Moses commanded us a law for an inheritance; it is our inheritance, not theirs".
But, another passage states: "even a heathen who occupies himself with Torah study is equal to a High Priest" (Baba Kama 38a).
The Answer is “Yes! Non-Jews are permitted to study Torah!”
Why is Sanhedrin 59a so negative that the heathen deserves death? This is a debate tactic “deserves death” is an extremism implying indignation. The better reading/understanding would be “If a heathen could study Torah (how disgusting they would fumble it not knowing God!) then how much more should we study Torah since it is given as our inheritance as the children of God!
The passage in Baba Kama 39a means “even someone who is base and does not know God but who spends time studying the Torah is just like a High Priest because the study of Torah levels everyone before God.”
How do we know this is the right interpretation? Because Jews believe that in heaven there is a place where you can study Torah. (Note: Many Christians also believe that the Bible is eternal! But back to the Talmud...). That means, even ones so righteous as to merit heaven can still spend eternity studying Torah. So, in the light of the beginning of eternity, a heathen studying Torah is for all practical measures, starting at the same level as a High Priest. If they both make it into heaven, they would both be essentially at the beginning of their eternal study of Torah.
Thus the Talmud affirms that everyone can study Torah!
For further study, test this: 1. Israel has a mission to teach Torah to gentiles. 2. One of the major tasks of the Messiah will be to teach Torah to the nations. 3. Christians/the nations are commanded to study/teach others Torah. 4. God is calling his children to study Torah.