Gentiles Are Human

Written by Gil Student

The Accusation
Non-Jews are Not Human Baba Mezia 114a-114b. Only Jews are human ("Only ye are designated men").

The idea that only Jews are human and not gentiles runs contrary to a number of fundamental Jewish principles. According to the Talmud, gentiles ARE human and the complicated texts quoted to prove the accusation are misinterpreted, as we shall see.

The Texts
Talmud Bava Metzia 114b

Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said: The graves of gentiles do not cause ritual impurity in a dwelling as it says (Ezekiel 34:31) "Now, you [Israel] are My sheep , the sheep of My pasture, you are Man (Adam)…" You [Israel, the subject of the verse] are called Man (Adam) and gentiles are not called Man (Adam).

Talmud Keritot 6b

One who uses the official anointing oil [that has been consecrated] to smear on an animal or vessels is innocent of violating the holiness of the oil, to smear on gentiles or corpses is innocent. Certainly an animal and vessels as it say (Exodus 30:32) "It shall not be smeared on flesh of man (Adam)…" and an animal and vessels are not man. One who smears on corpses is also innocent since it is dead it is called a corpse and not a man. However, why is one who smears on gentiles innocent? They are men! No, as it says (Ezekiel 34:31) "Now, you [Israel] are My sheep , the sheep of My pasture, you are Man (Adam)…" You [Israel, the subject of the verse] are called Man (Adam) and gentiles are not called Man (Adam).

The relevance of the first passage is that causing ritual impurity in a dwelling is derived from Numbers 19: 14 "This is the teaching regarding a man (Adam) who would die in a tent…" Since the Talmud learns from Ezekiel that the term for man, Adam, only applies to Jews the verse regarding ritual impurity must also only refer to Jew who are called Adam.

Similarly, the second passage learns from Exodus 30:32 that only one who smears on a man (Adam) is liable. Since only Jews are called Adam, only one who smears on a Jew is liable.

There are those who infer from these passages that the Talmud considers gentiles to be sub-human. After all, if the Talmud says that gentiles are not called man they must be considered sub-human [for some reason the suggestion that they are super-human is never offered].

Here are two other passages which seem to contradict the above passage. After quoting them we will reconcile all of the passages and show that the Talmud does not consider gentiles to be sub-human.

Talmud Gittin 47a

A gentile has the ability to purchase land in Israel in order to dig holes and caves as it says (Psalms 115:16) "As for the heavens, the heavens are the Lord's; but the earth He has given to mankind (Bnei Adam=sons of Adam)."

Talmud Avodah Zarah 3a

Rabbi Meir would say: How do we know that even a gentile who engages in the study of Torah is like a Jewish high priest? We learn from the verse (Leviticus 18:5) "which man (HaAdam=the man) shall do [i.e. study] and by which he shall live [in the afterlife]."

We see from Gittin that the Talmud considers the phrase Bnei Adam (sons of man) to refer also to gentiles. We see from Avodah Zarah that the Talmud considers the term HaAdam (the man) to refer also to gentiles. Clearly, gentiles are considered human. Why then does the Talmud in Bava Metzia understand that gentiles are not considered Adam (man)?

The explanation is that these are different terms and only a superficial reading would render the term Adam in Bava Metzia as man. Gentiles are absolutely considered human as biology clearly dictates; there are no physiological differences between Jews and gentiles. All people are ultimately descended from the same ancestors, Noah and Adam.

However, the Jews, as a unified nation, are one organic entity. We are obligated to treat each other as close family members and are responsible for each other's actions.

When the Talmud sees the Hebrew word Adam it sees an allusion to Adam of Genesis 1-5 who was at one time the only person. The Talmud understands this as referring to the Jewish people who are an organic unit like one person. Gentiles do not have this organic national bond with each other and are therefore excluded from this concept.

Other terms referring to people, Bnei Adam (sons of Adam) or HaAdam (the man), are understood to refer to the species homo sapien of which gentiles are obviously members just as Jews are.

Thus, with regard to ritual impurity and holy oil, which are uniquely Jewish concepts, the Talmud sees an exclusion to all those who are not part of the organic Jewish nation. With regard to practical matters such as the purchase of land or individual matters such as spiritual status, gentiles are included. An understanding of all of the relevant passages in the Talmud shows that Gentiles are considered human but not Jewish and the accusations against the Talmud are false.

See also Tosafot Yevamot 61a s.v. Ve'Ein; Ra'avan #317; R. Israel Lifshitz, Tiferet Yisrael (Boaz), Avot 3:14; R. Tzvi Hirsch Chajes, Hagahot Maharatz Chajes, Yevamot 61a.

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