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Dvar Torah Vayeira: Secular Charity

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Guest post by R’ Evan Hoffman

Abraham’s self-imposed mission was to spread the Name of God far and wide. Upon his arrival in the Land of Canaan, he built an altar to God opposite the terebinth of Moreh (Genesis 12:6). He then pitched his tent to the east of Beth-El, built another altar, and called out in the Name of the Lord (Genesis 12:8). After returning home from his brief sojourn in Egypt, he again called out in the Name of the Lord (13:4). Following his separation from Lot, Abraham built his third altar; this one was at Hebron (13:18). While the verbal root kara can have the connotation of quiet or private prayer, in this context it means that Abraham spoke in a loud and public fashion. He familiarized the local citizenry with his conception of the one true God (Bachya 12:8).

According to the Midrash, Abraham began his missionary activity while still in Haran, many years before his journey to the Promised Land. The Bible lists all the people and possessions that Abraham and Sarah took with them on their trek, including “the souls which they had made in Haran (12:5).” Rabbi Elazar ben Zimra noted that man is incapable of manufacturing even animal life, and certainly cannot infuse a human body with a living soul. Only God is capable of such wonders. Therefore, the phrase “the souls which they had made” must refer to the proselytes to monotheism which Abraham and Sarah made through their missionary work (Genesis Rabbah 39). Pseudo-Jonathan similarly renders the verse in similar fashion.

The missionizing aspect of Abraham’s public career heavily influenced the way in which the Midrash and rabbinic commentators understood the tale of Abraham and the three guests who come across his tent. Abraham’s gesture of hospitality is seen as a way to capture the attention of wayfarers and indoctrinate them with correct theology.

In his efforts to have the three men stop at his tent, Abraham offers, “Let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and recline yourselves under the tree (18:4).” Rashi explains that Abraham thought his guests were Arab pagans who worshipped the dust on their feet. Desirous of keeping false gods out of his home, Abraham was insistent that washing should occur before reclining. By contrast, Lot, who was not so careful to distant himself from idolatry, offered his guests the opportunity to recline before washing (19:2).

While Rashi had a favorable view of Abraham’s offer, an embellished version of the story that appears in the Talmud is critical of Abraham. There, the guests angrily accuse Abraham of suspecting them to be dust-worshipping Arabs. They point out to Abraham that he has already sired Ishmael, who will be the progenitor of idolatrous Arab tribes (Bavli BM 86b). This tale reflects the Talmudic dictum, “He who is wrongly suspicious of the righteous is punished with bodily affliction (Bavli Shabbos 97a).”

Kli Yakar was troubled by Rashi’s interpretation. He noted that while some pagans worshipped dust, other pagans worshipped the sun. Yet Abraham did not block the rays of sunlight from entering his abode. Just as sunlight is not rendered forbidden by dint of someone’s idolatrous behavior, neither is dust prohibited because of idolatrous practices. Rather, the verse must be interpreted metaphorically. Abraham wanted these men to repent and remove all flawed religious beliefs from their hearts. The water symbolizes religious purification.

However, a careful reading of the Biblical text (18:2-8) reveals that the story has no religious dimension whatsoever. That layer of meaning has been imposed upon the narrative by expositors and interpreters who approach it with preconceived notions about Abraham. In the text, however, Abraham in fact makes no mention of God, false gods, or any form of religious worship. He offers the comforts of home and a gourmet meal to three strangers – no more and no less.

The lesson to be derived from the story is that kindness extended to any human being, irrespective of his faith, is meritorious. Even if Abraham never engaged his guests in theological discussion, his act of charity and kindness toward them would still have value. The goal of a faith-based benevolent society should be to perform charitable work for its own sake (lishma), and not as a ruse to attract more adherents through subtle (or unsubtle) proselytizing. It is this benign approach that allows a Jewish patient to feel comfortable in a Catholic hospital, and vice versa.

Overt missionizing towards those in need mocks faith. It is likely that, in return for a morsel of food, a starving person will “voluntarily” recite a liturgical formula that he is told by his benefactors is a pre-requisite to his receiving that food. That such a recitation would be insincere to its core is manifest. Abraham certainly wanted his guests to walk away from his home more favorably disposed to Hebrew monotheism. But the best way to instill an appreciation for faith in someone else’s heart is not through mere words. The doing of good deeds, and leading by example, matter more.

The humanitarianism, selfless charity, and kindness of the believer – in a nutshell, behavior that is quintessentially kiddush Hashem — are what impress the non-believer and may, in turn, lead him to embrace faith.

R’ Evan Hoffman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Anshe Sholom of New Rochelle.

  • G*3

    I wholeheartedly agree that charitable work is in inherently a good thing, and that religious organizations should not use charities as a means to proselytize. But this:

    > But the best way to instill an appreciation for faith in someone else’s heart is not through mere words. The doing of good deeds, and leading by example, matter more. The humanitarianism, selfless charity, and kindness of the believer… are what impress the non-believer and may, in turn, lead him to embrace faith.

    Is… interesting. What is this “faith?” And what has the doing of good deeds by religious people have to do with whether or not their religion is correct?

    R’ Hoffman seems to be saying that people can be inspired to accept a religion when they see the generosity and kindness of its adherents. That’s true, but in itself a misleading tactic. Exploiting people’s poor reasoning skills and their tendency to jump from, “These religious people are wonderful” to “I should be a member of their religion” without stopping to ask, “Is their religion true, rather than merely something that can inspire kindness in kind people?” is manipulative.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

      I agree. Perhaps R’ Hoffman will come along and share some more of his wisdom.

  • anonymous

    I disagree. When secular people see religious people engaged in charity, kindness, etc., they will say to themselves ‘this person is kind/thoughtful because of the way they were brought up.’ The way that they were brought up is in large part due to what religious beliefs/practices, or lack thereof was instilled into them from their youth. Making a connection between deeds and faith is not absurd, and they are often powerfully linked. Maybe people are smarter than you think.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

      The point was not that people don’t draw such a conclusion, but rather that it’s not a valid conclusion, despite people drawing it.

      One needn’t be religious to be nice and the various sects of religious people who are all nice are more often than not mutually exclusive of each other.

  • BZ

    I’ve always been confused by our religion’s conflicting views on proselytizing . On the one hand we’re told to discourage non-Jews from seeking conversion. On the other hand we should be a “light onto the nations” and follow the example of people like Abraham. Yes, I know about the 7 Noahide commandments, but are we to urge non-Jews to adopt those or not? And if we truly believe in the One True Faith (TM), how can we tell other people to keep believing things that we know are false (even if they don’t conflict with the Noahide laws)?

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

      The notion that Judaism discourages proselytizing is, according to Telushkin & Prager, a novel idea — in other words, it wasn’t always discouraged. Check out their work Why the Jews?, recommended by R’ Becher, for more on this topic (I think it’s the focus of the last chapter or two).

      I’ve always wondered why gentiles ought to consider what Jews instruct them to do or say or think any more than, say, a Jew ought to consider what a Mulsim or a Mormon would instruct him to do or say or think. But putting that aside for just a second, assuming one could arrive at some reasonable explanation for that, the next step for the gentile in the eyes of the Jew — and in a non-proselytizing Jewish world like we live in today — is not to convert because Judaism doesn’t demand utter conformity from the nations for them to achieve the equavalent of salvation.

      Christianity does not recognize non-Christians as worthy of salvation and ultimately, and by that I mean to refer to eschatological times, there is no role in Christianity for non-Christians. I’m no Christian, but from what I can understand as an outsider, anyone who has not accepted Jesus as the somewhat confusing entity of God, his son and the Messiah is excluded from salvation. What salvation is exactly is particularly slippery — it seems to be that there are more denominations of Christianity than there are views in Orthodox Judaism and even we can’t figure out what’s going to happen when to whom and for how long until the next thing happens. Suffice it to say, though, that from a Christian perspective, non-Chrisitians cannot achieve the greater potential without converting to Christianity. For references, you can check out all the Wikipedia articles on Christianity, but perhaps may focus your initial investigation on such topics as Messiah in Christianity, Salvation in Christianity, Christian eschatology and sacraments of the Catholic Church.

      Judaism, or at least the Judaism of today, maintains that that is not the case — it is not necessary for gentiles to become Jewish in order to achieve whatever potential they ought to. This is no less a slippery subject, really, because what a) Jews may achieve b) gentiles may achieve and c) the difference is hotly debated and of really no use in rigorous debate because most of it is largely speculative based on verses that seem to be interpreted quite loosely. The Five Books of Moses makes little to no mention (and any little is really reading very much into things in a midrashic fashion) and once you get to other Scriptures of the Old Testament, the authoritative nature of the text and the manner in which hard and fast inferences are made is much less unanimously accepted.

      Personally, if I were a gentile and I found Judaism to be thoroughly compelling, I certainly wouldn’t want to latch onto it as an outsider, but that’s just me. I mean, who wants to be an associate member when you can be a full member, assuming the increase in dues isn’t too costly for you?

      • Catholic Mom

        “Christianity does not recognize non-Christians as worthy of salvation ”

        That’s a completely backwards way of stating it. In Christianity, the very possibility of “salvation” (which means “healing”) exists only because of Jesus. In other words, because of the inherently fallible and sinful nature of man (which I don’t think too many folks would argue about) man cut himself off from God, who is the source of all life. Hence man essentially doomed himself. Jesus Christ came to “open to the door to salvation” as it were — to create a way in which man and God could be reconciled and man could re-connect with the source of life and re-gain life — both temporally and eternally. Christianity teaches that the only door to eternal life is Jesus. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” All one has to do to walk through that door is to recognize that it is there. A “Christian” is, by definition, a person who believes that eternal life is possible through Jesus Christ. So it is not that “non-Christians are not worthy” but that “non-Christians don’t know Jesus, hence they don’t know the way to eternal life.”

        On the other hand, there have been many Christian groups that have suggested that although “no man comes to the Father except through me” that does not mean that a man necessarily has to know that this is true to benefit by it. In other words: “No man gets into New York after Hurricane Sandy except on a Greyhound bus” but that doesn’t mean that if you don’t realize you’re on a Greyhound bus, you don’t actually get there. St. Paul says that Jesus opens the gate to eternal life “for all” — so theoretically even for those who don’t realize that this is so. Possibly this recognition could come after death. However, taking no chances on this :) missionaries have always felt that they should do everything possible to enlighten people in THIS world so that they can “know the truth, and the truth will make you free” in the same way that if you discovered a vaccine against all cancers, you would be morally bound to do everything in your power to spread the vaccine and convince others to take it.

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

          “Christianity does not recognize non-Christians as worthy of salvation” That’s a completely backwards way of stating it. In Christianity, the very possibility of “salvation” (which means “healing”) exists only because of Jesus.

          Granted — but this is not a Christian blog. From the Jewish perspective, that’s exactly how it appears.

          In other words, because of the inherently fallible and sinful nature of man (which I don’t think too many folks would argue about) man cut himself off from God, who is the source of all life. Hence man essentially doomed himself. Jesus Christ came to “open to the door to salvation” as it were — to create a way in which man and God could be reconciled and man could re-connect with the source of life and re-gain life — both temporally and eternally. Christianity teaches that the only door to eternal life is Jesus. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” All one has to do to walk through that door is to recognize that it is there. A “Christian” is, by definition, a person who believes that eternal life is possible through Jesus Christ. So it is not that “non-Christians are not worthy” but that “non-Christians don’t know Jesus, hence they don’t know the way to eternal life.”

          That’s exactly what I said, stated as positively as could be, again, from a Christian perspective, which is sort of my point. There’s no reason why a non-Christian should really concern himself with what Christian doctrine and faith says about him, his faith or his actions, the same way I can’t imagine why a gentile concerns himself with how Judaism criticizes his faith or actions.

          On the other hand, there have been many Christian groups that have suggested that although “no man comes to the Father except through me” that does not mean that a man necessarily has to know that this is true to benefit by it. In other words: “No man gets into New York after Hurricane Sandy except on a Greyhound bus” but that doesn’t mean that if you don’t realize you’re on a Greyhound bus, you don’t actually get there. St. Paul says that Jesus opens the gate to eternal life “for all” — so theoretically even for those who don’t realize that this is so. Possibly this recognition could come after death. However, taking no chances on this :) missionaries have always felt that they should do everything possible to enlighten people in THIS world so that they can “know the truth, and the truth will make you free” in the same way that if you discovered a vaccine against all cancers, you would be morally bound to do everything in your power to spread the vaccine and convince others to take it.

          Again, all thoroughly consistent with my point above — all of this is but utter nonsense to a non-believer, as is Jewish theology to its nonbeliver.

          • Catholic Mom

            “Again, all thoroughly consistent with my point above — all of this is but utter nonsense to a non-believer, as is Jewish theology to its nonbeliver.”

            Well, it made sufficient sense to enough people to grow from a tiny cult to the greatest of all world religions. And the originators were entirely Jewish, as were all the first followers. So it was not total nonsense to a lot of Jews. And it was not total nonsense to the millions of non-believers whom they converted.

            • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

              Your use of the word greatest appears as it may have been used as a double entendre — not that it way, but just that it may appear that way to some.

              But supposing all you meant was that Christianity is the largest of all religions, it still doesn’t justify itself by that merit because, at least from the Jewish perspective, it doesn’t take much to be a Christian or to stay a Christian, and so quantity can’t be equated with quality.

              And it may not have been nonsense to Jews but it was to Judaism — original Judaism. Pharisees would contend that anyone who veered toward Christianity was Jewish by name and not by purpose or intent.

              And I think it’s likely a bunch of nonsense to the majority of so-called believers, just like Judaism is nonsense to a majority of its adherents. There’s a lot of dumb people out there doing lots of dumb things and they don’t for a moment really think about why they’re doing it — and a lot of those people are religious people doing religious things.

              So just because more of humanity checks off “Christian” than they check off anything else doesn’t really add up to Christinity being the greatest religion.

              • Catholic Mom

                Only pointing out that saying “all of this is utter nonsense to the non-believer” is clearly something that must be completely qualified to the point where the statement has no meaning. The “non-believers” — including lots of Jews — have found Christianity sufficiently non-nonsense that they have embraced it by the hundreds of millions. How many of those hundreds of millions are “real” Christians (whatever that means) is between them and God. But there are certainly many, many, many millions of people for whom Christianity is a defining part of their identity.

                Unlike Judaism, Christianity is defined by belief, not behavior per se. Putting up a Christmas tree and/or dying Easter eggs doesn’t make you a Christian as the many atheists (and non-Christians) who do this know perfectly well. So it is not the case that there are hoardes of people who would say “I have no idea what Christianity is all about, it doesn’t really mean a thing to me, but I call myself a Christian because I take my kids to see Santa at the mall.” Maybe 100 years ago when people felt that it would be socially scandalous to say they weren’t Christian, but I believe that the vast majority of people today who say they are Christians, are. Whether they are “dumb” or not is beside the point. If “dumbness” were a bar to salvation, who indeed could be saved? :)

            • huh

              “Well, it made sufficient sense to enough people to grow from a tiny cult to the greatest of all world religions.”

              If you mean the largest, perhaps you should take another look at how Christianity became so large. It’s not a pretty picture.

      • BZ

        It’s worse than being an “associate member” in many cases. For example, it is generally accepted that Muslims follow the Noahide laws, so there’s nothing wrong with what they do and it’s fine by us, right?

        But then they believe things that we believe to be false, most importantly that Mohammed was a prophet of G-d and His word was revealed through the Koran (not to mention certain differences regarding biblical stories). Now you might say there’s no prohibition to believe things that are false if those beliefs don’t cause other prohibitions to be transgressed, but shouldn’t we correct them? If we know better, why don’t we tell them that those things didn’t happen? Isn’t ours the one true path (non-Jews may not be required to do everything Jews are required to do, but as far as historical events go, either they happened or they didn’t. There is no middle ground)? Isn’t that the rationale for proselytizing in other religions?

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

          But Muslims do not comply willingly any more than gentiles at large who violate Shabbos are doing so “in compliance” with the pseudo-directive that gentiles not keep the Sabbath. It just happens to be that their lifestyle.

          And on the question of shouldn’t we correct them — universally speaking, though, we are no more correct and correcting them than they are correct and have the potential of correcting us. Thing of it not from the perspective of Judaism as much as from the larger, global perspective of competing, mutually exclusive positions. It’s not just 6 groups of boys who each have their respective clubhouses that prohibit fraternization with non-members at the risk of a serious snowball fight — it’s a whole bunch of groups of people with not only rules for themselves but rules for the non-members groups as well. Yet why should one group care what the other group says? I don’t think they ought to.

          That may be the grounds for proselytizing, but I don’t think much of it holds ground any longer. It used to be that everyone knew there was a God and the arguments were just about what He wore, what He liked to eat and what his favorite color was — I suppose that’s how you could look at the Greek gods; in a sense, it didn’t really matter who stole whose fire and who fathered which fallen god. Then it became whose God demands what from whom and how often — that could be the rise of the Abrahamic faiths.

          But they never really considered a reality without a God. There was never anyone challenging the British court from a position of atheism. Now that secularism is a very strong and very compelling source of argument, it’s no longer just an issue of ‘we know there’s a God and who’s God is the right God?’

          • BZ

            I am kind of lost here. Why does the existence of atheism change how believers think about their beliefs and whether they should impose them on those holding different beliefs?

            Christians think they are correct in their beliefs and therefore getting others to believe the same thing is a good deed to them. Same goes for Islam. It doesn’t matter that it’s nonsense to outside groups. For that matter it should apply equally to atheists if they believe strongly enough that religious people waste their time on meaningless rituals.

            • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

              We’re sort of looking at it from two different perspectives.

              You’re asking, internal within the mind of Judaism, isn’t it a great thing to get outsiders to see things the way Judaism sees it.

              I’m speaking of something entirely different — as a Jew (because I am one) but not from within the mind of Judaism, how do I perceive the notion of suggesting to someone outside your faith that he ought to consider what your faith dictates for his life.

              Sure, each religion dictates for everyone, and if your particular religion is Judaism, there is no exception there. But looking at things from outside any particular religion, I was just saying that I can’t see why anyone on the outside would be interested.

              This all stemmed from the original suggestion made that being kind, charitable and generous to others without an underlying intent on evangelism can itself be powerful evangelism — the recipients of said kindness, charity and generosity ought to see these gifts of unconditional lovingkindness and remark, “Oh how beautiful such-and-such religion is because look how its members act towards others.” And my point was that such an unintentional evangelism might be effective, but is not really based on truth, as it’s merely a generalization.

              Things have sort of spun out of control and we got onto the topic of validity of religion, and from that I was merely stating that there was a time when the validity of one’s religion could be put up against the validity of another’s and the last man standing, so to speak, was victorious. My point was just that such a time is no more, for that was in the day of must-have-God. Now that it’s perfectly socially acceptable to not need God or religion, religion has a very difficult time defending itself, which all the more so might be the obstacle in the path of the proselytizer.

              • BZ

                You’re right, of course, that religion is no longer necessarily the defining characteristic of a person as far as outside observers are concerned, but it often can be. Wearing a cross or a star of David can easily be just a fashion accessory. Wearing a yarmulke can be somewhat more conspicuous. Wearing a black hat and having a long beard or wearing a burqah will almost guarantee that your religion will be your defining characteristic when others look at you.

                And at least 60% of the world still believes in a god or gods of some sort, so “very difficult time defending itself” may be an exaggeration.

                • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

                  Statistics are easy to quote but difficult to apply when particulars are examined.

                  What percentage of that 60% have truly evaluated their affiliations and how many have acted rationally based on the findings of their evaluation?

                  The 3 Abrahamic faiths each preclude the validity of the other 2 — in other words, take any two of them and that entire lot is necessarily living a fallacy. And that’s assuming that one of them are true — it could be that all of them are false. Not to mention the Hindus, which weighs in with only about 940 million followers.

                  You seem to suggest that belief in God can be grouped together as a single unit, but this runs counter to what I was explaining above. It used to be that belief in God was taken for granted — the only question was what instructions that God (or perhaps gods) desired man to live by. You can’t take a poll as to how true religion is by seeing how many people subscribe to all of the religions combined because, to some very large extent, each faith refers to the others as a flase faith, or at least a has-been faith that has been renewed or refurbished and whose followers are following the wrong path.

                  So the largest percentage you can give me, even if everyone who claims to be an adherent to a faith is fully committed, is the number of adherents to the most popular faith. And that’s not really meaningful, because religion is not a popularity contest.

                  I can’t speak for gentiles, but as a Jew, I see how Judaism deflects converts. We’re not out there to build our ranks. If Christianity didn’t do that either, and including forced conversions, it would be much less represented. But even still, popularity is not the issue here — validity is. Personally, I don’t think either Islam or Christianity present valid claims. I think they’re largely silly claims if one looks at history to see how they were each formed.

                  Sure, the adherents of these two religions will say they disagree with Judaism’s claims — but will they say it’s silly? Frankly, I don’t see how they can make such a statement. So if one had to choose a religion, I’d have to go with Judaism over the other 2 Abrahamic faiths — but we don’t have to go with anything in 2012 because, as I said, secularism is on the rise and its here to stay.

                  Universal generalizations are, in general, not applicable to people when it comes to race and religion. It can’t be that all Mormons are this or all blacks are that because there are distributions among all groups. They may not be normal distributions, statistically speaking, but assuming for a moment they are, there will be stingy Jews and there will be generous Jews. Even knowing that someone is Jewish may cause you to interpret their actions as stingy, as the generalization goes. And the same goes for all the generalizations about blacks and Hispanics and Koreans and Irish Catholics and people from Boston or Chicago, etc.

                  You needn’t do anything more than observe the universe to see that people will still make generalizations, and so Judaism came up with the idea of a chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) and a kiddush Hashem (sactification of God’s name). So when someone snaps a photo of a guy with a beard and a yarmulka being escorted out of a federal court house in handcuffs, that looks bad for Jews, but it’s really no representation of Judaism. In a sense, everyone knows it, but people act as if they don’t, much in the same way how people actually trust politicians. The whole notionof politics is that you’ve got to fulfill the will of the majority most of the time but that you can fulfill the will of the minority some of the time, as long as it’s not at the wrong time. It’s difficult to campaign on principles because there are many groups out there and by definition, none will share the same principles — if they did, they’d be the same group. So the politicians or the politician wanna-bes say some of this, backtrack some of that and ultimately fall short of their promises — that’s what politics is all about.

                  Anyway, perhaps I’ve written too much because I can’t remember how I’ve gotten to where I am from where I began. :)

                  • BZ

                    I was responding to your statement that religion as a whole is difficult to defend, by which I take it you mean that the vast majority of people today find religion hard to believe in. So, if 60% of all people are religious, most of them don’t find the idea of religion hard to believe in. It doesn’t matter that each of these religions is exclusive (by the way, that’s not true. I’ve spoken to Hindus who have been telling me that all extant religions are different interpretations of the same absolute truth. No, I don’t know how that works either).

                    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

                      I’m speaking abstractly as somewhat of an omniscient narrator — one can’t judge what is and what is not valid by how many people can be duped into believing in it.

                  • Catholic Mom

                    “The 3 Abrahamic faiths each preclude the validity of the other 2:

                    Well, Christianity doesn’t preclude the validity of Judaism. It thinks the entire OT is the true history of the relationship of God and man up to 2,000 years ago. It just think Judaism walked out of the movie just when the plot got interesting. :)

                    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

                      “Christianity does not preclude the validity of Judaism.”

                      That was only true before belief in Jesus as the Messiah became fundamental, which is no longer the case — to be a Christian, one must accept Jesus was more than just some guy killed on a cross, of which there were thousands, and to be an adherent to the Jewish faith, one must accept that Jesus was just some guy killed on a cross.

  • Teveuen

    What people seem to forget is that one can believe in Judaism without being a Jew. It’s called being a binei noach.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

      We’re not forgetting it — we’re just surprised that such a thing can occur.

      • BZ

        There is a story I recall hearing (but cannot seem to find at present) about a group of non-Jews seeking conversion from a Rebbe (the Lubavicher one?), and being told that they should not pursue conversion for the moment because they will be instrumental in rebuilding the temple, since a non-Jew cannot become tamei (ritually impure). Being a Noahide does have its advantages.