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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Vayishlach -The Rosh Yeshiva Responds – Supporting Non-Jews in Need

by Rabbi Dov Linzer (Posted on November 30, 2023)
Topics: Rosh Yeshiva Responds, Sefer Breishit, Torah, Vayishlach

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וַיָּבֹא יַעֲקֹב שָׁלֵם עִיר שְׁכֶם אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן… וַיִּחַן אֶת פְּנֵי הָעִיר:

“Jacob arrived safe in the city of Shechem which is in the land of Canaan…and he encamped before the city.” (Breishit 33:18).

What is the meaning of va’yichen (‘he encamped,’ but also ‘he performed gracious acts’)? Rav said: Jacob established a currency for them. And Shmuel said: He established marketplaces for them. And Rabbi Yoḥanan said: He established bathhouses for them. (Shabbat 33b)

QUESTION–New York, NY

Is there a concern of lo techaneim (in the sense of giving free gifts to non-Jews) in supporting campaigns to help non-Jewish victims of terrible injustice (such as the Uyghars)?

ANSWER

Definitely not. I think first we have to make it clear that when it comes to the prohibition of giving praise or gifts that the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 20a) derives from the verse lo techanem, “you shall not show them favor,” (Devarim 7:2), then as far as I am concerned, we need to totally embrace the position that this only applies to those who worship avoda zara, that is, genuine idolaters (Sefer HaChinukh 426; Rashba, Teshuvah, 1:8; Yabia Omer, YD 10:41; and Rav Kook, Mishpat Kohen 63).

Even when dealing with members of a religion which could be classified as avoda zara, I would say — following the Me’iri (Avodah Zarah 20a, s.v. kevar) — that this prohibition only applies if their religion does not subscribe to basic ethical norms.

I acknowledge that that Tosafot (Avodah Zarah 20a, s.v. amar), the Shulchan Arukh (YD 151:11) and Shakh (YD 151:18) all rule that the prohibition applies to all non-Jews. Nevertheless, based on our fundamental approach to the larger world, positive attitude towards non-Jews, and affirmation that “praised is the human being who was created in the Divine image” (Avot 3:14), we have a religious and moral obligation to follow the ruling that gives narrow scope to this prohibition.

It should also be noted that according to many poskim this application of lo techaneim is of a Rabbinic, and not Biblical, nature. And there are also a number of poskim who reject the position in the Gemara that interprets lo techanem to be referring to a prohibition against giving gifts, altogether (Tosafot Eiruvin 64b s.v. velamadnu, Tosafot Rabbeinu Elchanan, 20b).

As to giving tzedakah, that is permitted according to everyone based on the principle of darkhei Shalom, “ways of peace,” which is specifically applied to the obligation to give tzedakah to non-Jews (see Tosefta Gitin 3:13-14, Gitin 61a; Yerushalmi Demai 4:3 — which drops the phrase “alongside the Jewish poor” –; Yerushalmi Gitin 4:9, and Yerushalmi Avodah Zarah 1:3).

Darkhei Shalom is often understood to mean that we should be nice to non-Jews so that they will be nice to us, but I believe that it is articulating a much more fundamental religious principle: an obligation to adopt behaviors that serve to create the type of peaceful, collaborative society in which we want to live. Reflecting this understanding, Rambam writes (Mishneh Torah Melakhim 10:12) that “ways of peace,” refers to the ways of the Torah, which is called shalom:

Our Sages commanded us to visit the gentiles when ill, to bury their dead in addition to the Jewish dead, and support their poor in addition to the Jewish poor for the sake of peace. Behold, the verse states: ‘God is good to all and His mercies extend over all His works’ (Psalms 145:9) and it further states: ‘The Torah’s ways are pleasant ways and all its paths are peace.’ (Proverbs 3:17).