Equally Commanded?

In a recent Facebook post, a lovely (non-Jewish) friend of mine posted a translation of Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) 12:13 to which I objected. The translation read:

“When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: Fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity.”

The only part of the translation I really object to is that last part, “because this is for all humanity.” The Hebrew is כי זה כל האדם, which I would translate as, “for this is the whole man.” This is how JPS translates it here, and as one who has spent most of my life studying the Hebrew language, I agree. The preposition “for” is absent and there is no indication that the אדם here refers to humanity as a whole rather than an individual man. In fact, without interpolating the preposition “for” into the verse, “humanity” doesn’t fit at all. The translation doesn’t work.

The point of the post appeared to be to indicate that non-Jews share equally in the commandments of the Torah, since the verse says they are for all humanity.

So aside from pointing out the mistake in the translation, I also pointed out that even if the translation were correct, the verse does not specify which commands are for all humanity. Judaism recognizes that some commandments are meant for everyone (what are traditionally called the Seven Laws of Noah or Noahide Commandments), while most are meant only for Israel. So to say that God’s commands are for all humanity does not mean that all of God’s commands are for all of humanity. So there remains no evidence that non-Jews share equally in all of the Torah’s commandments.

I was challenged by a commenter that Exodus 12:49 says: “One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.” The Hebrew for “stranger” is ‘ger.’ The implication of this commenter was that “stranger” refers to a non-Jew, while “homeborn” means an Israelite. The Torah says that they share the same law. Is this so?

My response (edited slightly for this medium):

As for Exodus 12:49: The “ger” in that context is a convert to Judaism, not a gentile, as is clear from immediate context. One verse earlier, the Torah speaks of a “ger” who joins the covenant, and thereby becomes like “אזרח הארץ” (a native Israelite). “וְכִי-יָגוּר אִתְּךָ גֵּר, וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח לַיהוָה–הִמּוֹל לוֹ כָל-זָכָר וְאָז יִקְרַב לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ, וְהָיָה כְּאֶזְרַח הָאָרֶץ; וְכָל-עָרֵל, לֹא-יֹאכַל בּוֹ” — “And if a ‘ger’ sojourns with you, and will make a Passover [offering] to Hashem, circumcize for him every male, and then he may come close to do it, and he will be like a native [Israelite] (אזרח הארץ), but no uncircumcized may eat of it.” The Torah only requires circumcision of Israelites and their servants (the Abrahamic Covenant, see Genesis 17:9-14), so this ‘ger’ is one who is becoming an Israelite, as is obvious from the entirety of the verse. The rest of mankind, who are uncircumcised, may NOT eat of the Passover.

Now we can understand the next verse, the one you cite, verse 49: תּוֹרָ֣ה אַחַ֔ת יִהְיֶ֖ה לָֽאֶזְרָ֑ח וְלַגֵּ֖ר הַגָּ֥ר בְּתוֹכְכֶֽם'” — “There shall be one law for the native and for the ‘ger’ who sojourns in your midst.” Both native Israelites and converts share the same status, they have the same law. The word for “law” here is “Torah” (unlike in verse 43 where חוק is used for “law”).

Verse 49 furthermore cannot mean for all mankind, not only from the context of the immediately preceding verse as we have demonstrated, but from two other explicit verses before that. Verse 43: “זֹ֖את חֻקַּ֣ת הַפָּ֑סַח כָּל־בֶּן־נֵכָ֖ר לֹא־יֹ֥אכַל בּֽוֹ׃” — “This is the law of the Passover [offering]: No foreigner shall eat of it.” Verse 45: תּוֹשָׁב וְשָׂכִיר, לֹא-יֹאכַל בּוֹ. — “A resident [alien] or hired servant shall not eat of it.”

Obviously, this commandment is only for Israel, which includes converts, but excludes all others. I commend you for your best of intentions. I am happy to assist you with your study of Scripture, lest you fall prey to dangerous errors in misapprehending Scripture, God forbid. All the best.

[Image credit: AskNoah.org]


3 thoughts on “Equally Commanded?

  1. Good explanation, but then does it means that an Observant Gentile,(he who keeps the 7Noahide laws) enjoys the same Divine righteousness with a Gentile convert ,or put it this way,are the two persons equals ?

    1. Search Scripture for the answer. I don’t know if any indication in Scripture that a righteous gentile is in any way “less” than an Israelite. They are not commanded equally, but if each fulfills one’s respective obligations, why should one be regarded as less righteous? Remember that every within Israel, different segments are commanded differently, for instance, the Kohanim (descendants of Aaron) occupy a specialized status, have special privileges, and have unique commandments that apply only to them. And it is IMPOSSIBLE to “convert” to become a Kohen. Does that make the non-Kohen Israelite “less”? This cannot be. Many of our greatest holy men, prophets and Sages, were not Kohanim (including Moses, Joshua, David and so on). So one’s birthright does not determine one’s righteousness. One’s fulfillment of one’s unique role does, perhaps.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s