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"'The Laws of the Nations': That's Just Not Jewish"

New CAJE3-Rabbi Michael Pitkowsky

Lev. 18:3

You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not follow their statutes.

Sifra, Aarei Mot 9:8 (trans. Beth Berkowitz)

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"Or like the practice of the land of Egypt and like the " practice of the land of Canaan you should not "- practice?" Is it possible that one should not build buildings or " plant plants as they do? [Scripture] teaches, saying, And in their laws you should not goI said [this] only with respect to the laws that are legislated to them and to their fathers and to their fathers fathers.


B. Avodah Zarah 11a (trans. Neusner) A. His birthday, and the day of his death [are considered idolatrous holidays], the words of R. Meir. And sages say, In any case of death rites in which there is a burning, there is idolatry, and in which there is no burning, there is no idolatry:

B. Sanhedrin 52b (trans. Neusner) A. The religious requirement of decapitation [is carried out as follows]: They would cut off his head with a sword, just as the government does. R. Judah says, This is disgusting. But they put his head on a block and chop it off with an ax. They said to him, There is no form of death more disgusting than this one. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 7:3) B. It has been taught on Tannaite authority: Said R. Judah to sages, I too recognize that it is a disgusting form of death, but what shall I do? For lo, the Torah has said, You will not follow their ordinances (Lev. 18:3) [T. San. 9:11].

B. Is it to be inferred, then, that R. Meir takes the view that there is no distinction to be drawn between a death followed by an immolation of articles and one in which there is no immolation of articles, with idolatry being practiced in either case? Therefore the immolation of articles on its own is not a mark of idolatry?


C. And then is it to be inferred that, from the viewpoint of rabbis, the burning of articles at a funeral does mark an act of idolatry? Then what about that which has been taught on Tannaite authority: They may make a burning of objects on the occasion of the death of kings, and this does not fall into the classication of that which is prohibited as the ways of the Amorites [T. Shab. 7:18]? Now if we classify such an action as idolatrous, then how could immolation of objects be permitted? Is it not written, And in their statutes you shall not go (Lev. 18:3)? D. Rather, all parties concur that a mere act of immolation of objects in connection with a funeral is not classied as a statute ( )of theirs that is idolatrous. It is merely a mark of the importance of the deceased. ...

C. And rabbis? [They reply], Since execution through the sword is written in the Torah, it is not a matter of learning [our rules] from what [gentiles] do. D. And if you do not concede that point, as to that which we have learned on Tannaite authority, They make burnings in honor of deceased kings, and this is not forbidden on the count of being one of the ways of the Amorites [T. Shab. 7:18], how can we make such a pyre?

F. And lo, it is written, You will not follow their ordinances (Lev. 18:3)! But since the matter of a funeral pyre is written in the Torah, as it is written, But you shall die in peace and with the burning of your fathers ... so shall they burn for you (Jer. 34:5), it is not from [the gentiles] that we learn the practice. Here too, since it is in the Torah that execution by the sword is written, it is not from the gentiles that we learn the practice.


Shulan Arukh YD 168:1 One should not follow the ways of the nations (Remah: nor make oneself similar to them), and not wear clothing that is specic to them. And one should not grow his hair like their hair, and not shave the sides [of his head] and leave hair in the middle. And one should not shave from ear to ear and leave some hair in back. And one should not build places such as temples of idolatry in order that the masses should enter into them, just as they [i.e. Gentiles] do. Remah: Rather, one should be separated through his dress and the rest of his behaviors. And all of this is only forbidden with regard to something that Gentiles observed for the sake of licentiousness, such as red clothing, and this is the clothing of ministers, and anything similar to this from licentious clothing. Or something that was observed for no particular reason, and there is a fear that is was [observed] because of the Ways of the Amorites and it may have an idolatrous side to it from their ancestors. But this doesn't apply to something that they observed for a purpose, such as the ways in which a doctor has a special outt that obviously shows that he is a professional, this one is permitted to wear. And things that they do because of honor or some other other reason is permitted. Therefore they said, you burn the belongings of kings and there is no fear of the Ways of the Amorites.

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Discussions About ukkot ha-Goyim in Rabbinic Literature

1. Rabbi Abraham the son of the Rambam: "If someone is going to claim that there is a prohibition because Gentiles or Karaites pray in such a manner, he should be responded to by saying that the Christians pray towards Jerusalem and because of this we should stop praying towards Jerusalem? Gentiles stand during prayer and we stand, [Gentiles] bow like we bow during the Hoda'ah prayer of the Amidah."

2. Covering one's head: A. Responsa R. Yisrael Bruna [15th c. Germany] no. 34: [That there was no obligation to cover one's head] was only applicable to the Land of Israel [in the Talmudic Period] when they [i.e. Jews] would walk around bareheaded. In our situation, when we live among Gentiles and they [i.e. Gentiles] walk around bareheaded, it is considered ukkot ha-Goyim, and the only distinguishing mark between us is covering the head.

B. Commentary of R. David ben Samuel ha-Levi (Poland, 1586-1667) [Taz on OH 8:3]

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"It seems to me that there is a clear prohibition for another reason, and that is since it is a ok [non-Jew practice] now among the Gentiles who do this [i.e. uncover one's head]. [The] practice nowadays is that non-Jews immediately take off their hats when they sit down, and if so, [covering one's head] is now included in [the prohibition of] "'You shall not follow their statutes.'"

3. Fasting on Erev Rosh ha-Shannah: (Hagahot Maimoniyot [13th c. Germany]) "" ] [


"In some places people are careful not to fast on Erev Rosh ha-Shanah because of ukkot ha-Goyim." 4. Flowers at Funerals: Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef (Israel 20th c., Yabiah Omer, YD 3:24)
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"From all of the above it is concluded that those who place bouquets of owers and roses on the deceased's cofn...have support for their practice, and the prohibition of "You shall not follow their statutes" doesn't apply...Nevertheless, it seems that it is best to try and appeal to them so that they should not introduce this new custom into our Holy Land."

"Jews do not send owers, but when paying a Shiva call it is appropriate to bring food, because the person mourning is not supposed to worry about such mundane matters." - "Flowers are not part of Jewish mourning practice. In the spirit of honoring the memory of the dead by helping the living, suggest in the obituary that in lieu of owers, donations be directed to an appropriate charity. If owers are sent, share them with the living by giving them to a hospital or other institution where they could give some joy to others. -

5. Thanksgiving (Rabbi Michael Broyde, "Three basic approaches are taken by contemporary decisors (poskim) on the question of celebrating Thanksgiving. Some rule that Thanksgiving is not a Gentile holiday, but yet limit "celebration." They would, apparently, permit eating a turkey meal. Others prohibit any form of involvement in Thanksgiving, as they rule it a Gentile holiday. Yet others view the day no different from Independence Day and allow any celebration appropriate for a secular observance."