Legal Issues in Judaism

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Non-Jews who weren't resident aliens--known in the Bible as nokhrim--were not granted the same privileges. They were not eligible for social services or the revocation of debts in the seventh year, and they were subject to usury.

The Talmud is full of laws that pertain to non-Jews, and many of these laws seem to betray negative attitudes about gentiles. Thus according to the Talmud, one doesn't have to return a gentile's lost object, because it is assumed that he or she wouldn't return a Jew's, and a gentile cannot be a witness in court because it is assumed that gentiles are dishonest. Other laws, such as the prohibition on eating the cooked food of a non-Jew, were meant to limit the interaction between Jews and non-Jews.

However, legal authorities from the rabbinic period on have often tempered restrictive laws mipnei darkhei shalom, in order to maintain positive relations (literally "peace") with non-Jews, or in order to avoid hillul ha-Shem, a profanation of God's name, through a negative association with Judaism.

jews and non jews quizIn medieval times, much of the legal and non-legal discussions about non-Jews focused on whether Christianity and Islam were idolatrous religions. The legal ramifications were significant; if these religions were idolatrous, the talmudic laws regarding idolaters would need to be followed, a limitation that could be particularly problematic for business relations.

In modern times there have been new legal issues to address. For example, in ancient and medieval times, when Jewish communities were self-governing, Jews had their own courts, and all legal disputes within the community were settled there. Today, Jewish courts--known as batei din--still exist, but it is also possible to litigate in secular courts. However, some traditional Jews still insist that legal issues between Jews be sorted out in Jewish courts, and complications arise when only one party wishes to do so.

Some modern Jewish authorities have also reexamined laws that were originally intended to distance Jews from idolatry. For example, some liberal authorities have suggested that the traditional prohibition on gentile wine should not apply anymore, since there is no longer a concern that gentile wine is used for idolatry.

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