In his final speech to the Jewish people, Moshe Rabbeinu includes several warnings concerning Jewish contact with the other nations that they will encounter in the Land of Israel. In Devarim 7:2 he admonishes the Jews to "not make a treaty with them and give them no quarter ("lo techanem"); do not intermarry with them..." The general gist of this section of the speech is clearly that the Jews should avoid any significant contact with the other nations, lest they become too friendly and eventually assimilate with them.

The gemara in Avodah Zara 20a picks up on the phrase "lo techanem," and derives three laws from it, based on potential roots for the word. The first is that we may not sell them land (from "chaniyah" - giving them a place to reside). The second is that we may not praise them in any way (from "chein" - acting gracefully). The final law is that we may not give them gifts (from "chinam" - giving things for free). Our Chabura this week will focus on each of these laws individually.

Before beginning, a couple of points that apply across the board. The first issue is which nations are included in these prohibitions? From the context of the verse, it would seem that only those seven nations that inhabited Israel at that time (C'naani, Chiti, Chivi, Yevusi, Emori, Perizi, Girgashi) are subject to these bans. Thus, since these nations no longer exist today, this law is essentially outdated. Tosafot there note that although the verses are talking specifically about these seven nations, there is no practical reason why these three laws in particular would not apply to any nations at any time (unlike the prohibition of making a treaty with them, which clearly was a directive for the immediate future of the Jewish people). Thus, all nations are included in this law for eternity. Rosh and many others cite the Tosefta that says that the prohibition applies only when one is commenting on a non-Jew or an idol that he does not recognize. However, when one is speaking to his neighbor this law does not apply, since the act then takes on a nature of being somewhat like a sale and not simply a random act of kindness. Meiri refines this further and states that the prohibition refers specifically to Pagans, but not to other religions (I may be wrong in my reading of the Meiri, but this is what he seems to say). Finally, the Sdei Chemed cites both Rashba and Ralbag, who claim in a vein similar to that of the Meiri that the law only applies to those nations who worship idolatry, but not to adherents of Islam (to what extent this position was influenced by the society in which they lived, i.e. among the Arabs, is a matter for discussion outside the scope of this forum). Taking the contrary view, the Beit Yoseif (C.M. 249) forbade dealings with the Arabs as well.

One other point. The punishment for violating this law is lashes as by other prohibitions. However, since several laws are derived from one phrase, this is technically what is known as a "lav she-bichlalot," namely a series of negative commandments all coming from the same source, a category which is specifically excluded from the penalty of lashes! In answer to this problem, the Minchat Chinuch points out that in reality they are not three separate issues, but really are three manifestations of one main issue, namely the idea that we must keep ourselves separate from those nations that surround us. As such, lashes can be given for any violation.


The first issue that we will deal with is the idea of selling land to non-Jews. The general consensus is that this applies only to land in Israel, a view put forth by Rosh and Rashba. Ramban applies this to the Diaspora as well, and the Tur claims that the problem is not only that of giving them land in Israel but also that of giving other nations a secure and comfortable dwelling among Jews. Thus, the Tur says that this law applies even in Jewish areas in the Diaspora. However, the Tur qualifies this law by stating that one may sell to one or two non-Jews in a town, but not to three, as that constitutes a neighborhood in the eyes of halacha (an idea found in the laws of Eruvin as well).

With regard to renting houses to non-Jews, the Tur claims that there is no problem these days since it is no longer common for people to bring idols into their houses (again, the issue of what is considered idolatry will have to be dealt with in a later Chabura). This disagrees with the view of Rambam (Hil. Avodat Kochavim 10:4), who rules that one may rent houses to non-Jews only for purposes of storage but not for living purposes (see also Minchat Chinuch #426). Rambam goes on to explain that the reason for this law is that only dwelling that they have in Israel should be only temporary, and thus we do not sell them land outright.

One of the biggest issues in modern times that involves selling land to non-Jews concerns the idea of "heter mechira," the ruling (widely debated) that one may sell his land to a non-Jew during the Shemitta year and may eat any produce that is grown by the non-Jew during that time. Leaving aside the bigger issue for now, how can one do this - the sale is certainly a valid sale! There are two possible ways out of this dilemma. The first is given by the Yeshuot Malko (Y.D. #56), who claims that there is no issue of "lo techanem" when the sale is made with the intentions of the field being returned at the end of the year. Dealing more with the actual manner in which this process is carried out, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook (Mishpat Kohein #63) notes that since these sales were generally made with the Arabs, and the Arabs are not considered to be idol worshippers, therefore, the sales are fine and do not violate "lo techanem."


We have already touched on the issue of giving gifts to non-Jews in our discussions of giving them tzedaka. As such, our presentation here will be merely a brief elaboration of that point. The Hagahot Ashri cites the aforementioned Tosefta as the main support for the practice of giving presents to non-Jews, and the Rash MiShantz gives it as the reason for giving them charity. The Nemukei Yoseif deals specifically with the case of giving them charity, and states that since the case of giving charity to non-Jews is presented as being for "darchei Shalom," namely for the purposes of keeping the peace, it therefore does not fall into the category of "lo techanem," since it is not a "free" gift but rather one given with certain external motivations. Rambam (in two places) and Tur both forbid giving them free gifts, although the Tur does invoke the qualification of the Tosefta.

The Sdei Chemed presents several ways in which it may be permissible to give gifts to non-Jews. He claims that if the gifts is given not for the benefit of the non-Jew but rather for the benefit of the Jew, then there is no prohibition. He cites the Petach Dvir who claims that any external reason, such as darchei Shalom or flattery is sufficient to obviate the prohibition. However, the Sdei Chemed goes on to note that while one may give gifts to non-Jews for his own benefit, he may not do so if the benefit involved concerns a mitzvah. Specifically, he raises the issue of giving a place in one's house to a non-Jew so that the non-Jew can acquire the Jew's chametz on Pesach via that place. If we say that one cannot derive benefit from mitzvot then we still have a problem. However, it is possible to say that regardless of the mitzvah, the non-Jew himself is not receiving any actual benefit and thus one has not violated "lo techanem."

A few more short issues. The gemara in Gittin 38b has a case where someone freed his Canaanite servant to make a minyan (a Canaanite servant becomes Jewish when freed). While the gemara deals with this as a violation of the law that such servants must never be freed, there is also the issue of the liberation process being a form of a gift to the slave. The Chatam Sofer answers, along the lines of the gemara, that since the mitzvah that the slave was needed for was a public mitzvah, i.e. making a minyan, it therefore was able to trump the issue of "lo techanem."

Providing medical assistance to non-Jews also falls into this category. The gemara tells us that if a non-Jews falls into a pit we do not have to save him. Rash MiShantz notes that since in such a situation he is already close to death, we do not have to bring him back to the world of the living. Obviously, this is not a tenable position in today's world, but the halachic issue still exists. The Minchat Chinuch claims that if one does aid a non-Jew medically, he should be sure to charge him (not that this is a problem with most doctors), and thus there will be no issue of providing him with free services and even the act of kindness will be tempered by the business aspect of the action (Tzitz Eliezer discusses several more complex issues in this regard which space unfortunately does not allow for).

Finally, there is a responsa by Maharsham (2:189) in which he deals with the issue of selling one's animal to a non-Jew before it gives birth so that the first born calf will not be subject to the laws of redeeming the first born. Regarding the "lo techanem" aspect of the sale, Maharsham rules, unlike Rav Kook cited above, that such sales are completely forbidden, since the non-Jew, who is unaware of the greater issues at hand, will see the sale as a community strengthening action.


The final law here is that of paying complements to non-Jews. The gemara itself gives the main limitation on this law, noting that one may praise non-Jews if it is done for the purpose of praising Hashem (there is a blessing said when seeing exceptionally smart non-Jews). At any rate, both Ran and the Sefer HaChinuch note that the purpose of this law is to prevent us from being drawn after the other nations. In particular, the Sefer HaChinuch writes that since actions tend to follow thoughts and words, by praising the other nations we will eventually come to establish stronger ties with them.

The Tzitz Eliezer (15:47) offers several exceptions to this law. He claims that it does not apply to thoughts, but rather only to actual verbalizations of praise. Second, he rules that there is only a problem if one praises non-Jews and through that increases his feelings of friendship and love towards them. However, if one merely takes the position of an objective observer noting the achievements of another, then there is no problem. Third, he restricts this law to praising individual non-Jews, since that is where there is the real potential for forming a relationship. However, praising the actions of an entire nation are not considered to fall under this prohibition. Finally, he claims that this law applies only when one is speaking of their unique laws and practices. However, to commend them for scientific achievement or for anything that is not inherently contrary to the ideals of the Torah is permitted.


The issue of the relationship between the Jews and the nations that surround them has been a difficult one throughout the ages. At times, the other nations have made things "easy" by persecuting the Jews and forbidding both social and economic interaction. However, there are times, such as the one that we currently live in, where the nations around us are a part of our lives on a daily basis - as neighbors, as colleagues, and as business partners. Obviously, we are not expected to hide ourselves away in a secluded corner somewhere away from everything. However, the general idea behind this issue is one that is extremely poignant in today's society. Desiring to become part of a larger community is tempting indeed, but if history has taught us anything it is that the Torah's ideals always prevail - if we do not maintain our distinctive nature, we will be continually reminded of it by those around us.

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