Patriarchs: Noahides or Israelites?

Thursday, 21 November, 2019 - 8:03 pm

The book of Genesis discusses the life of the patriarchs and the tribes of Israel before the Jewish people received the Torah at Mount Sinai and entered into the covenant. What is however the status of the Jewish people before they received the Torah at Mount Sinai? Did they have a status of the Jewish people, different to being a Noahide, or were they merely Noahides but with extra traditions that they accepted upon themselves? In this talk we will explore this concept in details, as found in the works of the commentators and classical texts.


In the portion of Lech Lecha in the beginning of the life of Abraham as recorded in the Torah, it discusses how G-d told Abraham to travel with his wife, Sarai, nephew, Lot and the community that he had gathered to the land of Canaan. It states:[1]


The Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you…Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the wealth that they had amassed, and the persons (lit. souls – ‘nefesh’) that they had acquired (lit. made – ‘asu’) in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan.


The purpose of the travel to Canaan was because it was a land of which they had heard that it was singularly suited for people of their religious beliefs, a land in which the true G-d could be worshipped without hindrance.[2]


Abraham recognised G-d


The significance of Abraham’s life is indicated in Ezekiel:[3] ‘O mortal, those who live in these ruins in the land of Israel argue, “Abraham was but one (unique) man, yet he was granted possession of the land. We are many; surely, the land has been given as a possession to us.”


Midrash Rabba disputes whether Abraham was three years old or forty eight when he recognised G-d:[4] ‘Rabbi Levi in the name of Reish Lakish says that Abraham recognised his Creator at the age of three years. Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Yochanan both say that Abraham recognised his Creator at the age of forty eight years. The term ‘Abraham was but one man’ refers to Abraham who was prepared to bring the whole world to repentance. Similarly, in Midrash Tanchuma:[5] ‘When he was only a child of three,he recognised his Creator, as it is said:[6]Because Abraham hearkened to my voice.[7]”’ The same teaching can be found in the Talmud:[8] ‘And Rabbi Ami bar Abba said: Abraham recognised his Creator at the age of three years, as it is stated:[9] “Because [ekev] Abraham hearkened to My voice.”’


Followed the Torah


Not only did Abraham recognise G-d but he also followed the teachings of the Torah. In Genesis it states:[10] ‘In as much as Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge: My commandments, My laws, and My teachings.’ The Midrash Tanchuma states:[11] After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram.[12] Scripture says elsewhere in reference to this verse:[13] He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous; He is a shield to them that walk in integrity. What is the meaning of He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous? It means that the Holy One, blessed be He, stored the Torah away, prior to the creation of the world, until Abraham came to fulfill it, as it is said:[14] Because that Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My Laws. Furthermore, according to the Midrash,[15] Abraham observed the laws regarding the preparation of Sabbath meals on a holy day that occurred on a Friday.


Offspring followed the Torah


The idea that Abraham and his offspring kept the Torah is mentioned in the following verses. In Genesis it states regarding Jacob:[16] ‘And he instructed them as follows, “Thus shall you say, ‘To my lord Esau, thus says your servant Jacob: I stayed with Laban and remained until now.’ The word stayed in Hebrew if Garti, which is interpreted to mean that Jacob kept all the 613 commandments while in the house of Laban.


Influenced others to follow the Torah


Aside from Abraham and his family, he also influenced people around him. The Midrash Tanchuma writes:[17] ‘Abraham taught them about the fear of heaven and instructed them in the laws of the Torah.’ Similarly, the Talmud writes[18] Abraham was active in bringing the people into accepting the Torah.[19] In a further text, the Talmud relates that Abraham had disciples who were Torah scholars:[20] ‘Rabbi Abbahu said that Rabbi Elazar said: For what reason was Abraham our Patriarch punished and his children enslaved to Egypt for 210 years? Because he made a draft [angarya] of Torah scholars, as it is stated:[21] “He led forth his trained men, born in his house.”’ These trained men that he took to war were actually his disciples, who were Torah scholars.


In another statement of the Talmud it alludes to his influence that he was able to bring people under the Divine presence and punished when people were distanced: ‘And Rabbi Yocḥanan said: He was punished because he distanced people from entering under the wings of the Divine Presence, as it is stated that the king of Sodom said to him:[22] “Give me the people and take the goods to yourself”, but Abraham refused to take any goods either. If he had not listened to the king of Sodom and had allowed the people to remain with him, he would have brought the prisoners under the wings of the Divine Presence.[23]


The influence that Abraham had on others is indicated in the verse in the Torah: ‘The persons (lit. souls – ‘nefesh’) that they had acquired (lit. made – ‘asu’) in Haran.’ The idea that ‘made’ can refer to teaching people to lead a certain way of life is found in I Samuel[24] where it refers to G-d having been the mentor of both Moses and Aaron. The Talmud states:[25] ‘Resh Lakish said: “He who teaches the Torah to his neighbour’s son, is considered by Scripture as if he had created him,” as it is said:[26] “And the persons they had made (obtained) in Charan.”’[27] The people involved with this activity were not just Abraham, but also his wife Sarah[28] and nephew Lot,[29] implied by the plural:[30] ‘the souls they had made in Haran.’




There are four texts however that go a step further and states that Abraham did not only recognise G-d as Creator, bring people beneath the Divine presence and follow the laws of the Torah but Abraham and the people he influenced actually converted to Judaism: The Midrash Rabba writes[31] that Abraham had these people live with him and converted them. A second text of the Midrash Rabba states:[32] ‘Rabbi Chunya said: Abraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women. Abraham would bring them into his home and give them to eat and drink and bring them closer and brought them in beneath the wings of the Divine Presence.’ The Midrash Tanchumastates:[33] ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, declared: I love the proselyte, and these wicked men are conspiring to attack Abraham, the father of all proselytes. Woe unto them, for they are doomed to succumb before him, as it is written in Scripture: And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel. Why was he called Amraphel? Because he ordered Abraham: “Fall into the fiery furnace.”[34] Similarly, in Midrash Tanchuma it alludes to this in the statement:[35] ‘Why was Abraham not circumcised until his ninety-ninth year? To teach us that a man who desires to be converted must not say: “I am old, how can I become a convert?” Let him learn from Abraham, who was circumcised in his ninety-ninth year. That is why Abraham was not circumcised until he attained that age.’


The idea that a person who converts to Judaism is like a new person is also from the Talmudic dictum:[36] ‘A convert is regarded as a newborn.’ In this context Abraham performed conversion on himself and also on others with whom he came into contact with.




In the medieval period, most of the commentaries avoid the idea that Abraham performed conversion. Nachmanides,[37] Ibn Ezra[38] and Rabbi David Kimchi,[39] known as the Radak, discusses that Abraham brought these people to the belief and knowledge of monotheism and to serve G-d, as the Creator of the universe.


The commentary of Rashi however accepts the Midrash Rabba and Tanchuma that Abraham and Sarah not only brought people under the Divine Presence but also performed conversion on themselves and others. Rashi writes:


The souls that they had gotten (literally, made) in Haran: The souls which he had brought beneath the sheltering wings of the Divine Presence. Abraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women and Scripture accounts it unto them as if they had made them.


Complete conversion - Rabbi Shmuel ben Yitzchak Yaffe Ashkenazi of Constantinople


Rabbi Judah ben Samuel Rosanes (1657-1727), author of Parashat Derachim (Constantinople, 1727) writes[40] that according to Rabbi Shmuel ben Yitzchak Yaffe Ashkenazi of Constantinople, known as Maharash Yaffe (d. late 16th century) Abraham after his circumcision and the tribes of Israel had completely converted to Judaism and became subject to Jewish law in all its aspects, both in relation to its stringencies and its leniencies. This can be seen in the following laws:


1. After joseph accused Benjamin of stealing the goblet, Judah responded: ‘So now, please let your servant stay instead of the boy as a slave to my lord, and may the boy go up with his brothers.’ This follows Jewish law in Exodus after Sinai:[41] ‘If he has not wherewith to make restitution for the theft, he shall be sold.’ If they were subject to Noahide laws, the law for robbery is execution, as Maimonides writes:[42] ‘A gentile is liable for violating the prohibition against theft whether he stole from another gentile or from a Jew. Similarly, a gentile is liable for stealing an object worth less than a p'rutah. Thus, if one gentile stole an object worth less than a p'rutah and another gentile stole it from him, they are both executed because of it.’ This may only be understood however if the tribes of Israel had fully converted to Judaism.


2. After Jacob was cheated into marrying Leah, Laban gave him also Rachel to marry:[43] ‘Complete the [wedding] week of this one, and we will give you this one (Rachel) too, for the work that you will render me for another seven years.’ According to Noahide laws, one may not marry one’s wife’s sister because of enmity. This may be understood however if the tribes of Israel had fully converted their wives to Judaism: they would have lost familial relations, as newborns.


3. In Genesis, it states:[44] ‘And Jacob came safely [to] the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram, and he encamped before the city.’ The Midrash states[45] that Jacob entered during sunset to fix the distance of the city boundaries while it was still daytime. Regarding this it states that Jacob kept Shabbat before it was given. If the tribes of Israel were still Noahides there is a prohibition for Noahides to keep the Shabbat.[46] The same is regarding Joseph. In Genesis it states:[47] ‘When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the overseer of his house, "Bring the men into the house and [give orders] to slaughter an animal and to prepare, for the men will eat with me at lunch."’ The Midrash[48] compares this to the verse in Exodus:[49] ‘And it shall be on the sixth day that when they prepare what they will bring, it will be double of what they gather every day,’ and comments that we derive from here that Joseph kept Shabbat before it was given.


5. The Talmud regards Esau as an apostate Israelite and therefore his offspring are subject to the Jewish law of inheritance. The Talmud states: ‘Rav Ḥiyya bar Avin says that Rabbi Yoḥanan says: By Torah law a gentile inherits from his father, as it is written:[50] “Because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as an inheritance.” The Talmud asks: But perhaps it is different with regard to an apostate Jew? In other words, it is possible that Esau was not considered a gentile but rather Jewish, like the Patriarchs. Consequently, he is categorized as an apostate Jew.’


6. The Talmud[51] derives public acquisition of a pathway from the acquisition of Israel by Abraham:[52] ‘Arise, walk through the land, its length and its breadth; for I will give it to you:’ The Talmud states: According to Rabbi Eliezer, through what means does the public acquire the thoroughfare they choose? By means of walking on the thoroughfare, as it is taught in a baraita: If one walked along a field’s length and its breadth, he has acquired the area inside where he walked, as walking is an effective act of acquisition; this is the statement of Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Elazar said: What is the reasoning of Rabbi Eliezer? As it is written that after G-d promised Abraham Eretz Yisrael, He instructed him:[53] “Arise, walk through the land, its length and its breadth; for I will give it to you,” in order that Abraham should thereby acquire the land.’ Since a gentile is unable to acquire in this method, as Maimonides writes:[54] ‘A gentile cannot acquire property by manifesting his ownership over it; he can acquire a property only through the transfer of a legal document after money has been paid,’ we can deduce that in the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer the Patriarchs had complete law of an Israelite, as after Sinai.


Partial conversion - Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi


Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi argues that the tribes of Israel had not completely converted before Mount Sinai. They had only converted and adopted Jewish law for stringencies but not where a leniency is entailed. This is derived from the following cases:


1. When Moses did not circumcise his son Eliezer before departing on a journey because of the danger involved, as it states:[55] ‘Now it was when he was on the way, in an inn, that the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. So Zipporah took a sharp stone and severed her son's foreskin and cast it to his feet, and she said, "For you are a bridegroom of blood to me." The Talmud relates:[56] ‘Moses did not neglect it, but he reasoned: Shall I circumcise [him] and go forth on the road? It will be dangerous for the child for three days. Shall I circumcise [him] and wait three days? The Holy One, blessed be He, commanded me, “Go, return to Egypt.”’ If the tribes of Israel had completely converted to Judaism even relating to where a leniency is involved, then Moses would have been justified in not having circumcised Eliezer before traveling because the Torah law of ‘And you shall live by the commandments’ is overridden by the law of circumcision.[57] Since however the Torah was not yet given they were not permitted to be lenient by putting their son’s life in danger to perform the commandment of circumcision.


2. In Leviticus, it states:[58] ‘Now, the son of an Israelite woman and he was the son of an Egyptian man went out among the children of Israel, and they quarrelled in the camp this son of the Israelite woman, and an Israelite man. And the son of the Israelite woman pronounced the [Divine] Name and cursed. So they brought him to Moses. His mother's name was Shelomith the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.’ The Midrash Sifra explains[59] that the description ‘an Egyptian man went out among the children of Israel’ informs us that the Egyptian man had converted to Judaism. The reason why he had converted, although Jewish identity follows the matrilineal line, was because this story took place before Mount Sinai when Jews were only subject to Jewish law for matters of stringency but not leniency. For this reason his identity follows his father’s line, as is the case with gentiles, and he was therefore not circumcised and not considered Jewish. He therefore on his own performed circumcision and converted.


Medieval argument


The exact status of the Patriarchs and the tribes of Israel pre Sinai is a subject of dispute in the medieval period.  The French Tosafists follow the opinion of Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi that the patriarchs had not undergone a full conversion and remained in he category of Noahides. This is based on the Midrash Sifra above that suggests the Egyptian man converted despite having been born to an Israelite mother before Mount Sinai. Nachmanides follows Maharash Yaffe that they did adopt a full conversion, based on the Talmudic statement that regards Esau as an apostate Jew. The conversion of the son of an Egyptian who married an Israelite was not a separate conversion but as part of the conversion of all of the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.[60]




As the French Tosafists follow the opinion of Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi that the patriarchs had not undergone a full conversion, the same is the view of Rashi in the Talmud and his commentary on the Torah.  His view is articulated in the Talmud related to the episode with the Midianite woman: The Talmud states:[61] It is stated:[62] “And Moses said to the judges of Israel: Each of you shall slay his men who have adhered unto Ba’al-Peor.” The tribe of Simeon went to Zimri, son of Salu, their leader, and said to him: They are judging cases of capital law and executing us and you are sitting and are silent? What did Zimri do? He arose and gathered twenty-four thousand people from the children of Israel, and went to Cozbi, daughter of Zur, princess of Midian, and said to her: Submit to me and engage in intercourse with me. She said to him: I am the daughter of a king, and this is what my father commanded me: Submit only to the greatest of them. Zimri said to her: ‘He, too - referring to himself - is the head of a tribe; moreover, he is greater than Moses, as he is the second of the womb, as he descends from Simeon, the second son of Jacob, and Moses is the third of the womb, as he descends from Levi, the third son of Jacob.’ He seized her by her forelock and brought her before Moses. Zimri said to Moses: Son of Amram, is this woman forbidden or permitted? And if you say that she is forbidden, as for the daughter of Yitro to whom you are married, who permitted her to you?’ Rashi[63] defends Moses due to the fact that he married a Midianite woman before the Torah was given, when they were all Noahides. Once it was given they entered into the covenant of the mitzvot, together with Moses himself. The view of Rashi may be deduced from his lack of any indication in his commentary that the Israelites before Sinai were nothing other than Noahides. This is implied by the absence of the following commentary: 1. On Genesis:[64]  ‘Jacob's two sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword, and they came upon the city with confidence, and they slew every male,’ Rashi omits the Midrashic commentary suggesting that they were thirteen at that time - the age of Bar Mitzvah. 2 On the question about how Jacob married two sisters, Rashi neglects to comment suggesting this was not an issue before Mount Sinai, due to the fact that he had promised Rachel and could not go back on his word, despite his desire to keep the laws of the Torah, including not to marry two sisters. 3. The absence of commentary above in Genesis that Jacob kept the laws of boundaries on Shabbat when he entered Shechem and Joseph kept the laws of cooking on Shabbat in Egypt.


Tribal argument - Reuven and Judah


The argument about whether the status of the Israelites pre Sinai were still Noahides may be seen to go back to the time of the tribes themselves, regarding how they viewed themselves. This may be understood to be at the heart of the tension regarding two episodes amongst the tribes.[65] The first relates to Reuben’s behaviour when he was accused of sleeping with Bilhah, his father's concubine, after the death of Rachel:[66] ‘And it came to pass when Israel sojourned in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father's concubine, and Israel heard [of it].’[67] This occurred because when Rachel died, Jacob took his bed, which had been regularly placed in Rachel’s tent and not in the other tents, and moved it in to Bilhah’s tent, instead of Leah’s tent. Reuben came and protested his mother Leah’s humiliation.[68] 


A further event took place when Tamar, after her two husbands, Er and Onan, had died, was not given, as promised, the third son, Shelah, she dressed like a harlot and had a forbidden affair with Judah, her father in law. The Torah states:[69] ‘So he turned aside toward her to the road, and he said, "Get ready now, I will come to you," for he did not know that she was his daughter in law.’ Eventually Judah confesses and spares Tamar’s life, as it states:[70] ‘Then Judah recognised them, and he said, "She is right, it is from me, because I did not give her to my son Shelah." But he no longer continued to be intimate with her.’


The Talmud[71] relates that the reason for the juxtaposition of Reuven to Judah in Moses’ blessings to the tribes, where is states: ‘Let Reuben live and not die in that his men become few,’[72] and immediately afterward, in the following verse, it states: ‘And this for Judah, and he said: Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him in unto his people; his hands shall contend for him, and You shall be a help against his adversaries,’[73] is because the impetus for Reuben that he admitted his sin was Judah’s admittance of his sin.


The reason why Reuven did not initially acknowledge his sin of sleeping with Bilhah – his father’s concubine – was because he maintained the Israelites had a complete status of the Jewish people that did not recognise concubines as marriage, as there is no act of betrothal (Kiddushin) with concubines.[74]


Judah however maintained that the Israelites only had a status of Noahides. For this reason Judah conceded and acknowledged her innocence, as soon as he heard it was Tamar, his daughter in law, who he had slept with, since she in fact never cohabited with Er and Onan, which is the only way for Noahides to be considered married.[75]


Having heard from Judah the argument that the Israelites were still Noahides, despite acceptance of the Torah law upon themselves for matters of stringencies, Reuben conceded his sin also, that having cohabited with Bilhah, as Jacob’s concubine, before Sinai, would have constituted marriage and therefore it would be considered a sin for Reuben to have slept with her. The underlying consideration of these two cases is, as discussed, whether or not the Israelites pre-Sinai had fully left the status of Noahides to convert to Judaism.


Tribal argument - Joseph and his brothers


This may also have been the reason for the criticism of Joseph against his brothers for which the Torah states:[76] ‘Joseph brought evil tales about them to their father.’

One of the criticisms was that his brothers ate limbs from living animals.[77] There are two arguments what the mistake of Joseph was: a. Maharash Jaffe explains[78] it was a case of a fetus that emerged alive from its mother’s womb after the mother was slaughtered (ben pekua), which is permitted without the need for any slaughter.[79] Joseph mistakenly thought since it appeared alive it was prohibited as a limb from a living animal. b. Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi explains the brothers ate meat from the animal that was cut while it was still convulsing (mefarkeset) and then waited for the animal to die before eating. Maimonides writes:[80] ‘It is forbidden to partake of a slaughtered animal throughout the time it is in its death throes.’ He clarifies however that partaking of the meat at this time does not represent a transgression of the prohibitions against eating a limb or flesh from a living animal,[81] since once the animal has been slaughtered, these prohibitions no longer apply.[82] The act is however included in the prohibition: [83] ‘Do not eat upon the blood.’ Joseph mistakenly thought that since the meat was cut while the animal was still convulsing they were violating the prohibition against eating from a living animal. c. Joseph saw the brothers eating meat from an animal that had been slaughtered but was still convulsing – before it had died. Maimonides rules that a gentile is forbidden to partake of a limb from a living creature or a limb or flesh which is separated from an animal that is moving convulsively, while for a Jew it is permitted.[84] Rabbi Judah ben Samuel Rosanes suggests that the brothers maintained that the sons of Jacob had completely left the category of a Noahide and followed Jewish law in all its aspects even when a leniency is entailed. Joseph however maintained that the Israelites had not completely converted and remained Noahides in cases where a leniency is involved.[85]




This debate may explain the Hebrew manuscripts of Rashi at the Bodleian Library where there are three versions in the text pertaining to the people who Abraham influenced and took with him from Haran to Canaan. Rashi writes two details: a. The souls which he had brought beneath the sheltering wings of the Divine Presence. b. Abraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women. This is how it is found in MS Opp 14 (1340), MS. Canonici Or. 35 (1401-1425), MS. Michael 384 and MS. Oppenheim 35 (1408).[86]


In MS Opp 34 (1201–1225) and MS. Canonici Or. 62, the beginning words: ‘The souls which he had brought beneath the sheltering wings of the Divine Presence’ are omitted.[87] In MS. Canon. Or. 81, they areomitted in the main text but added in the margin.


We would like to argue[88] that the reason why some of the manuscripts omit the text, while some have it in the margin and some have it included in the printed edition, is related to the above dispute about the status of the tribes before Mount Sinai. The version that omits ‘beneath the sheltering wings of the Divine Presence,’ retaining only that Abraham and Sarah converted the men and women, indicates that the conversion was complete. The correction to add the statement from the Midrash that they brought the people ‘beneath the sheltering wings of the Divine Presence’ may be understood as a way to qualify the nature of the conversion that it was only to the extent of bringing them beneath the sheltering wings of the Divine Presence by serving one G-d, but not a complete conversion as understood post-Sinai.


The manuscripts, first without the text and then corrected to include it, reflect a debate whether Rashi differs from the French Tosafists as suggested by the omission in the manuscript or is in agreement. The correction and inclusion of the text: ‘brought beneath the sheltering wings of the Divine Presence’ indicates that he indeed follows the opinion of the French Tosafists[89] that the Israelites did not fully convert and remained in the category of Noahides until Mount Sinai.[90]





[1] Genesis 12:1-6.

[2] Sforno on Genesis 12:15:1.

[3] Ezekiel 33:24.

[4] Genesis Rabba 30:8.

[5] Midrash Tanchuma 3.

[6] Genesis 26:5.

[7] The letter ayin in the word akeb (“because”) equals seventy, the letter kaf equals one hundred, and the letter bet equals two, totaling one hundred and seventy-two in all. Since Abraham lived one hundred and seventy-five years, you learn from this fact that he must have been only three years old when he first recognised the Creator.

[8] Nedarim 32a.

[9] Genesis 26:5.

[10] Genesis 26:5.

[11] Tanchuma Lech Lecha 11:1.

[12] Genesis 15:1.

[13] Proverbs 2:7.

[14] Genesis 26:5.

[15] Tanchuma Lech Lecha 11:11.

[16] Genesis 27:3.

[17] Tanchuma Lech Leach 12:3: Scripture says elsewhere And the souls that they made in Haran (Gen. 12:5). R. Alexandri stated: The fact is that if all mankind assembled to make just one mosquito, they would not be able to do so. What then is the meaning of this verse, And the souls that they made in Haran? It means that he taught them about the fear of heaven and instructed them in the law (in that place).Tradition teaches that one who converts a gentile is considered to have created him. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: You have sown righteousness and have made Me known in this world, hence you will be rewarded, as it is said: Thy reward shall be exceedingly great (Gen. 16:1).

[18] Talmud Avodah Zara 9a: ‘Rather, the two-thousand-year time period of the Torah is counted from the time when it is stated about Abraham and Sarah: “And the souls that they had gotten in Haran” (Genesis 12:5), which is interpreted by the Sages as referring to the men and women who were brought closer to the Torah by Abraham and Sarah. Therefore, it was at this point that the Torah began to spread throughout the world. And it is learned as a tradition that at that time Abraham was fifty-two years old.’ Rashi follows the Onklos on Genesis 12:5 that Abraham brought them to be subject to the laws of the Torah.

[19] Targum on Genesis 12:5: ‘And Abram took Sara his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all the possessions which they possessed, and the souls whom they had made subject to the law (Torah) in Charan, and went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto the land of Canaan.’ Chizkuni on Genesis 12:5:2 follows this approach that they were converted to the Torah.

[20] Nedarim 32a.

[21] Genesis 14:14.

[22] Genesis 14:21.

[23] A further opinion in the Midrash is: ‘And Shmuel said: Because he greatly examined [hifriz] the characteristics of the Holy One, Blessed be He, as it is stated (Genesis 15:8): “Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?”’

[24] I Samuel 12:6. See Radak on Genesis 12:5:3.

[25] Eyn Yakov Sanhedrin 11:58.

[26] Genesis 12:5.

[27] The Zohar (Zohar 2, 198:1.) discusses the making of the people by the fact that Abraham fed the poor.

[28] Bereshit Rabbah 39:14. Rashi on Genesis 12:5. See Sifsei Chachamim on Genesis 12:5: ‘And Sarah would convert the women. Rashi knows this because it is written אשר עשו בחרן, in plural — referring to both Avraham and Sarah.’

[29] Radak on Genesis 12:5:3: ‘Lot too, professed the belief in the one and only invisible G’d, the Creator of the universe Lot did not merely join Avram because he was his uncle and much younger than his grandfather, but he shared his religious beliefs and was active as an evangelist for that faith himself. This is the reason why the Torah wrote the word עשו in the plural mode instead of the singular.’ Rashi follows the view that Lot was an idol worshipper and perhaps for that reason Rashi only mentioned that Abraham and Sarah were involved with converting people to monotheism. Rashi on Genesis 18:4 writes: ‘and bathe your feet: He thought that they were Arabs, who prostrate themselves to the dust of their feet, and he was strict not to allow any idolatry into his house. But Lot, who was not strict, mentioned lodging before washing, as it is said (below 19:2): “and lodge and bathe your feet.” - [from Gen. Rabbah 54:4]’

[30] Genesis 12:5.

[31] Genesis Rabba 39:14: “And the souls that they had made in Haran.” Said Rabbi Elazar ben Zimra: Even if every creature on earth conspired to create (out of nothing) even one mosquito, they could not give it a soul--and you say “the souls that they had made.” Therefore (they must be) they must be those who lived with them and converted. And it meant “converted” why did it say “made?” In order to teach you that each one who brings an idol worshipper and converts him, it is as though he created him. And why did it say “that they made” rather than “that he made?” Said Rav Huna: Abraham would convert the men, and Sarah would convert the women.

[32] Genesis Rabba 84:4.

[33] Tanchuma Lech Lecha 6:3.

[34] Amraphel is identified with Nimrod in many sources.

[35] Tanchuma Lech Lecha 17:4.

[36] Talmud Avodah Zarah 9. See Sifsei Chachamim on Genesis 12:15: It seems that [Rashi knew they made converts because] a convert is regarded as a newborn. Thus it is considered as if they “made” them. (Nachalas Yaakov).

[37] Nachmanides on Genesis 2:3:1: On the third day, the dry land appeared and grew vegetation and produced fruit - that is the third millennium that started when Abraham was forty-eight years old (Bereishit Rabbah 48b) - and "then began the calling in the name of the Lord" (Genesis 4:26), and 'a righteous sprout' grew; since he pulled many to know the Lord, as they expounded [about] "and the souls that they had made in Charan" (Genesis 12:5). And he commanded 'his household and his children after him that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice.' And the matter advanced to the point that his seed received the Torah at Sinai.

[38] Ibn Ezra on Genesis 12:5:2

[39] Radak on Genesis 12:5:3.

[40] Parashat Derakim, first discourse, p. 7-9.

[41] Exodus 22:3.

[42] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 9:9.

[43] Genesis 29:27.

[44] Genesis 33:18.

[45] Genesis Rabba 79:6.

[46] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 10:9, based on Genesis (8:22): ‘Day and night, shall not cease.’

[47] Genesis 43:16.

[48] Genesis Rabba 92:4.

[49] Exodus 16:5.

[50] Deuteronomy 2:5.

[51] Bava Batra 100a.

[52] Genesis 13:17.

[53] Genesis 13:17.

[54] Mishneh Torah, Laws of sale 1:14.

[55] Exodus 24:25.

[56] Nedarim 31b-32a. See Rashi on Exodus 24:25.

[57] Unless the life of the baby is definitely in danger.

[58] Leviticus 24:10-11.

[59] Torat Kohanim, Emor 14:1.

[60] Parashat Derakim, first discourse, p. 8.

[61] Sanhedrin 82a.

[62] Numbers 25:5.

[63] Rashi on Sanhedrin 82a.

[64] Genesis 34:25. See Likkutei Sichot 10:71, footnote 47.

[65] Parashat Derakim, first discourse, p. 19.

[66] Genesis 35:19: ‘So Rachel died, and she was buried on the road to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.’

[67] Rashi on Genesis 35:19 quotes the Talmud (Shabbat 55b): Since he (Reuben) disarranged his (Jacob’s) bed, Scripture considers it as if he had lain with her.

[68] Shabbat 55b. Rashi on Genesis 35:22,

[69] Genesis 38:16.

[70] Genesis 38:26.

[71] Sotah 7b: ‘Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says that Rabbi Yoḥanan says: What is the meaning of that which is written concerning Reuben and Judah in Moses’ blessing of the tribes at the end of his life: “Let Reuben live and not die in that his men become few” (Deuteronomy 33:6), and immediately afterward, in the following verse, it is stated: “And this for Judah, and he said: Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him in unto his people; his hands shall contend for him, and You shall be a help against his adversaries” (Deuteronomy 33:7). What is the connection between the blessing of Reuben and that of Judah, juxtaposed with the conjunction “and”? Rabbi Yoḥanan says: All those years that the Jewish people were in the desert, the bones of Judah, which the Jewish people took with them from Egypt along with the bones of his brothers, were rolling around in the coffin, until Moses arose and asked for compassion on Judah’s behalf. Moses said before G-d: Master of the Universe, who served as the impetus for Reuben that he admit his sin, through which he merited a blessing and was not excluded from the count of the twelve sons of Jacob (see Genesis 35:22)? It was Judah, as Reuben saw him confess his sin, and thereby did the same. Moses continues in the next verse: “And this for Judah,” as if to say: Is this Judah’s reward for serving as an example of confessing to one’s sins, that his bones roll around? Immediately after Moses prayed, the verse states: “Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah” (Deuteronomy 33:7). His bones then entered their sockets [shafa], and his skeleton was reassembled. But the angels still did not elevate him into the heavenly study hall. Moses then prayed: “And bring him in unto his people” (Deuteronomy 33:7), i.e., those in the heavenly study hall. This prayer was accepted, but he still did not know how to deliberate in Torah matters with the heavenly sages. Moses then prayed: “His hands shall contend for him” (Deuteronomy 33:7), meaning that he should have the ability to contend with them in study. But still he was unable to draw conclusions from his discussion in accordance with the halakha. Moses then prayed: “And You shall be a help against his adversaries” (Deuteronomy 33:7). The Gemara discusses the propriety of admitting one’s sins in public. Granted, with regard to Judah, it was proper that he admitted his sin in public, as he did so in order that Tamar not be burned innocently. But why did Reuben admit his sin in public? But didn’t Rav Sheshet say: I consider one who specifies his sins in public to be brazen, as one who does so indicates that he is not embarrassed by his actions? The Talmud answers: The reason he admitted his sin in public was in order that his brothers should not be suspected of having committed the deed..

[72] Deuteronomy 33:6.

[73] Deuteronomy 33:7.

[74] Sanhedrin ch 4. Mishneh Torah, Laws of kings 4:4.

[75] Mishneh Torah, Laws of marriage 1:1.

[76] Genesis 37:2.

[77] Genesis Rabba 84:7: Rabbi Meir said, [he said to his father Ya'akov] "Your sons are suspect regarding [the consumption of] a limb of a living animal". Rashi on Genesis 37:2.

[78] Etz Yosef on Genesis Rabba 84:7. Parashat Derakim, first discourse, p. 18.

[79] Chullin 69a. There is still a need to kill the animal before eating for otherwise one is violating eating over the blood of a live animal (Parashat Derakim, first discourse, p. 18).

[80] Mishneh Torah, Laws of slaughter, 1:2.

[81] Mishneh Torah, Laws of slaughter, 1:2.

[82] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Forbidden foods 5.

[83] Leviticus 19:26.

[84] Mishneh Torah , Laws of kings 8:13.

[85] Parashat Derakim, first discourse, p. 19.

[86] In MS. Oppenheim 35 it has ‘megayer’ erased, and at the end of the commentary ‘koneh v’konem’ is erased and replaced by two words, which are difficult to read.

[87] In this MS it states ‘giyer’ and ‘gyrah,’ instead of ‘megayer’ and ‘megayeret.’

[88] Likkutei Sichot vol. 5, p. 143-4, footnote 16.

[89] In Parashat Derakimit (p. 9) it argues that the comment of Rashi on Talmud Sanhedrin 51 regarding the verse in Exodus (2:11) ‘And he saw an Egyptian man striking a Hebrew man of his brothers’ indicates that the Israelite pre-Sinai were not Noahides. Rashi comments that the reason Moses struck the Egyptian was because the Egyptian hit the Israelite. This suggests that Israelites were not Noahides and therefore the gentile who struck was subject to the law of a gentile who struck a Jew who is liable for execution if it was a deathly blow as opposed to a gentile who struck a gentile.

[90] This explains also why Rashi includes the words ‘The souls which he had brought beneath the sheltering wings of the Shechinahbefore ‘Abraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women’ when in the Midrash it is in reverse order.



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