– Author: Rav Doron Podlashuk

There are two main discussions in the Talmud dealing with the topic of receiving charity from Gentiles. Some Acharonim point out that these two discussions seem to contradict each other. . One discussion is found in Masechet Sanhedrin 26a in the context of  which people are valid or invalid to testify as witnesses.

Masechet Sanhedrin 26b

Rav Nachman said: Those who “eat the other thing” (Rashi – those who accept charity from gentiles) are invalid to be witnesses. This is only if it is done in public, but in private he is not disqualified. And even in public, it was only said that he is disqualified when it is possible for him to be sustained in private, and nevertheless he disgraces himself in public. But where it isn’t possible – this is his livelihood.


Rashi explains that when one accepts charity from a gentile he violates the prohibition of desecrating G-d’s name. It seems that Rashi understood that since he violated this sin, he is considered a rasha (wicked person) and becomes disqualified to testify. However, this prohibition is limited to where the charity was given in public, and even then, only if the poor person could have avoided it.[1]

Another Gemara in Bava Batra 10b discusses an actual historical event where a gentile gave charity to Jews and the debate that ensued among the Amoraim.


Masechet Bava Batra 10b

Ifera Hurmiz, the mother of King Shapur, king of Persia, sent four hundred dinars to Rabbi Ami, but he did not accept them. She then sent them to Rava, and he accepted them for the sake of peace with the kingdom. Rabbi Ami heard and was angry. He said: Does Rava not accept the lesson of the verse: “When the boughs are withered, they shall be broken off; the women shall come and set them on fire” (Yeshayahu 27:11)? And why did Rava accept the money? For the sake of peace with the kingdom.


Here the Gemara implies that there is an absolute prohibition of accepting charity from Gentiles, without any of the caveats of the previous sugya (only prohibited when done in public, and when not needed for livelihood, etc.)



Rav Yehoshua Falk (1555-1614) in his commentary Derisha[2] points out this seeming contradiction. The Gemara in Bava Batra prohibits receiving charity from gentiles in an absolute manner (unless it will cause enmity and anti-Semitism), whereas the Gemara in Sanhedrin limited the prohibition to receiving charity in public.

Before we discuss some answers suggested by the Acharonim to distinguish between the two cases, it is worthwhile highlighting a few other questions that arise from these two Gemarot. First, is it really a problem for gentiles to do good deeds and receive merit for it? Surely this situation should be encouraged? The Rambam writes that a non-Jew who keeps the seven Noachide mitzvot is considered a righteous gentile.[3],[4] He states further that if Jews are able, they must enforce non–Jews to keep these mitzvot.[5] Furthermore, the Rambam paskens that if non-Jews perform mitzvot other than the seven Noachide laws they will receive reward for doing them.[6] How does this relate to the Gemara in Bava Batra that implies the opposite? Furthermore, why did the Gemara in Sanhedrin ignore the prohibition derived from the verse in Yeshayahu? Finally, Rashi explained that the prohibition in Sanhedrin was one of Chilul Hashem – desecrating G-d’s name. Why did this not arise in the discussion in the Gemara in Bava Batra?

Let us start by answering why the Gemara viewed non-Jews receiving merit for giving charity in such a negative light. Rabbeinu Gershom explains as follows: “How could Rava accept the money, thereby causing the exile to continue due to the merits of this charity?” I.e., the problem is that by accepting this charity, the non-Jew will continue his reign over the Jews and they will remain in exile. This is specifically a problem regarding charity, as we will clarify later on in the essay.

The opinion of Rashi 

Two aspects of Chilul Hashem

Rashi explains that the issue in the Gemara in Sanhedrin (when receiving the money in public) is one of Chillul Hashem. The Levush (Yoreh Deah, Siman 254:1) defines the Chillul Hashem as follows: “The nations of the world will say, ‘how despicable is the nation of Israel who don’t support their own poor.’”

However, the Gemara in Bava Batra quotes a verse from Yeshayahu, “beyvosh ketzira,” as the source of the prohibition of receiving charity. Rashi neither explains what the nature of this prohibition is, nor why there is no problem here of Chilul Hashem as he explained in the Gemara in Sanhedrin. Furthermore, in Kovetz Shiurim,[7] Rav Elchanan Wasserman suggests that the prohibition of “beyvosh ketzira” might be a Torah violation. Yet Rav Wasserman doesn’t enumerate which Torah violation this refers to.[8]

We asked earlier why the Gemara in Bava Batra did not address the problem of Chilul Hashem, and why the Gemara in Sanhedrin ignored the prohibition derived from Yeshayahu “beyvosh ketzira.

One could posit that Rashi viewed both sugyas as two branches of the same prohibition – namely Chilul Hashem. There are two types of Chilul Hashem. The first is where Jews do not treat each other in a manner befitting that of G-d’s people. This is the type mentioned in the Gemara in Sanhedrin, as explained by the Levush (and might only apply in public etc.).

However, there is second type of Chilul Hashem. This second type has its source in the prophet Yechezkel.

Yechezkel 36:19-22

I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries: I punished them in accordance with their ways and their deeds. But when they came to those nations they caused my Holy name to be profaned in that it was said of them “These are the people of the Lord yet they had to leave His land.” Therefore I am concerned for My holy name, which the house of Israel have caused to be profaned among the nations to which they have come.”

יחזקאל פרק לו

(יט) וָאָפִ֤יץ אֹתָם֙ בַּגּוֹיִ֔ם וַיִּזָּר֖וּ בָּאֲרָצ֑וֹת כְּדַרְכָּ֥ם וְכַעֲלִילוֹתָ֖ם שְׁפַטְתִּֽים:

(כ) וַיָּב֗וֹא אֶל־הַגּוֹיִם֙ אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֣אוּ שָׁ֔ם וַֽיְחַלְּל֖וּ אֶת־שֵׁ֣ם קָדְשִׁ֑י בֶּאֱמֹ֤ר לָהֶם֙ עַם־יְקֹוָ֣ק אֵ֔לֶּה וּמֵאַרְצ֖וֹ יָצָֽאוּ:

(כא) וָאֶחְמֹ֖ל עַל־שֵׁ֣ם קָדְשִׁ֑י אֲשֶׁ֤ר חִלְּל֙וּהוּ֙ בֵּ֣ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בַּגּוֹיִ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֥אוּ שָֽׁמָּה:

(כב) לָכֵ֞ן אֱמֹ֣ר לְבֵֽית־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל כֹּ֤ה אָמַר֙ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְקֹוִ֔ק לֹ֧א לְמַעַנְכֶ֛ם אֲנִ֥י עֹשֶׂ֖ה בֵּ֣ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּ֤י אִם־לְשֵׁם־קָדְשִׁי֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר חִלַּלְתֶּ֔ם בַּגּוֹיִ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֥אתֶם שָֽׁם:


They caused my Holy name to be profaned – They degraded My honor. And how was my name profaned? When their enemies said about them, “These are G-d’s people, yet they were expelled from their land and He had no ability save His people and His land.

Not for your sake am I doing it – Referring to the salvation that I shall bring upon you.

And I will sanctify My name – What is the sanctification? I will take you from the nations.

רש”י יחזקאל פרק לו

(כ) ויחללו את שם קדשי – השפילו את כבודי ומהו החילול באמור אויביהם עליהם עם ה’ אלה ומארצו יצאו ולא היה יכולת בידו להציל את עמו ואת ארצו:

(כב) לא למענכם אני עושה – התשועה שאושיעכם:

(כג) וקדשתי את שמי – ומה הוא הקידוש ולקחתי אתכם מן הגוים:

The Prophet Yechezkel refers to a Chilul Hashem not related to how Am Yisrael treat one another. Rather, there is a Chilul Hashem when the nations of the world see Am Yisrael being expelled from their land, and G-d is seemingly unable to help them. That is why Am Yisrael being dispersed among the nations is a de facto Chilul Hashem. As long as the exile continues, there is a continuous desecration of G-d name.

Based on this, we can now explain Rashi’s opinion as follows: Both Gemarot are dealing with the same prohibition of Chilul Hashem. The Gemara in Bava Batra quotes the verse about prolonging the exile. This verse in essence highlights the great Chilul Hashem inherent in it, since by prolonging the exile, the notion that G-d cannot save His nation is reinforced. Rashi didn’t mention Chilul Hashem in Bava Batra because the verse itself highlights the Chilul Hashem. In Sanhedrin, Rashi did mention Chilul Hashem since the Gemara didn’t bring a verse to highlight it.

But in Sanhedrin the nature of the Chilul Hashem is also different; namely that Am Yisrael don’t treat each other as they should. The first Chilul Hashem focuses on the de facto result of the charity i.e., the prolonging of the exile (therefore how it was given, in private or public, has no bearing on the result). The second Chilul Hashem focuses on the action that will bring it about, i.e., the public receiving of charity.

If our explanation is correct, this could also explain the opinion of the Kovetz Shiurim. He stated that the notion of “beyvosh ketzira” might be rooted in a Torah violation, but didn’t conclude categorically what the issur was. According to what we have explained, this is rooted in the prohibition not to profane G-d’s name.

Accordingly, the Gemara in Sanhedrin that referred to the type of Chilul Hashem of Am Yisrael not treating each other properly – only applies in public. Hence, the prohibition is limited. However, the Gemara in Bava Batra that focused on the Chilul Hashem of prolonging the exile is all encompassing and there is no room for distinction whether the money was given in private or public

But even if this analysis is correct, although the Gemara in Sanhedrin, focuses on one specific type of Chillul Hashem, which may have a limited prohibition; nevertheless surely there is also a de facto result (which is stressed in Bava Batra). Why then is there no all-encompassing prohibition? We could answer this question on Rashi if we were to adopt the explanation of the Shenot Chayim as we will elaborate later on.

The opinion of the Rambam

The Rambam mentions this halacha of receiving charity from gentiles in three different places in his Mishneh Torah, each time with slight nuances. Through these sources we will try and understand how the Rambam understood the two Gemarot.

The Rambam in Hilchot Edut[9] lists certain people who are invalid to testify miderabanan, as they have no shame, and we assume they will not be concerned to lie in court either. In this list, he mentions people who receive money from gentiles in public. From this source alone one could understand that there is no prohibition per se to receive charity from gentiles; rather, it merely illustrates a certain type of character whom we do not trust to give testimony.

However, the Rambam in Hilchot Matanot Aniyim[10] states explicitly: “It is prohibited to take charity from the gentiles in public. But if one cannot survive with the charity from Jews and cannot receive it from the gentiles in private, it is permitted. If a king or ruler of the gentiles sent money to the Jews as charity, we don’t return the money due to peace with the kingdom; rather we receive it and give it to the gentile poor in a discrete manner that the king should not hear.”

Here, the Rambam states that there is a prohibition, and not just a character flaw for testimony. The first part of the halacha states explicitly that the prohibition is only when done in public. However, the Rambam states categorically that when the king sends it, we can’t receive it as charity (rather it must be given to non-Jewish poor). The simplest answer seems to be either that the Rambam understood that if something is sent by a king, by definition it is already done in public, or that there is a unique prohibition of accepting charity from the ruler. This could be explained similar to how Rashi understood the two elements of Chilul Hashem.

If so, one could argue that the Rambam held the exact opposite of the Derisha. Whereas the Derisha held that the Gemara in Bava Batra gave an outright prohibition, and the Gemara in Sanhedrin limited the prohibition to when it is done in public; the Rambam understood that there is only a prohibition to receive charity in public. The Gemara in Bava Batra was referring to a public event such as where the money was sent by the king’s mother, or held that there is a unique prohibition when receiving charity from the king.

But in Hilchot Melachim[11] the Rambam makes a distinction not mentioned until now. “A Ben-Noach who wants to do a mitzvah of the rest of the mitzvot of the Torah (i.e., other than the seven Noachide laws)… we do not prevent them from doing so; if he brought a burnt offering we accept it, if he gave charity we accept it, and it seems to me that we give it to the poor Jews… but if a gentile [goy] gave charity we accept it and give it to poor gentiles.”[12]

The Rambam here makes a distinction between idol worshippers and a Ben Noach (a non-Jew who accepts the seven Noachide laws). We are only concerned about receiving charity from idolaters, but not from a Ben Noach. How does this relate to the two halachot quoted previously in the Rambam? Perhaps when the Rambam here prohibited receiving charity from idolaters, (and made no distinction between in public and in private), he relied on what he said previously where he highlighted the distinction (see, for example, Mishneh L’melech[13]). If so we can summarize the Rambam’s opinion as follows: There is only a prohibition when receiving charity in public. This is possibly based on the Chilul Hashem element mentioned by Rashi. Furthermore, someone who does so becomes invalid to testify. However, this applies only if the non–Jew is an idolater, but if he is a Ben Noach, there is no problem at all. According to the Rambam, perhaps there is a third definition of Chilul Hashem – strengthening idolatry and its worship is a more general type of Chilul Hashem that one has to distance oneself from. This is in line with the notion of lo maalin vlo moridin…[14]

Suggested answers by the Acharonim to the seeming contradiction between the Gemarot.

The Derisha answers the seeming contradiction between the Gemarot as follows: The Gemara in Bava Batra, which prohibited receiving charity outright, is discussing a scenario where the poor are not receiving the money directly from the non-Jews, rather the money is first given to Jewish communal leaders acting as intermediaries, who are in charge of distributing funds to the poor. Since the intermediaries do not benefit from the charity themselves, they have to be concerned with the consideration of prolonging the exile. However, for a poor person who himself benefits directly from the charity – it would be permitted to receive the money if given in private.

This answer seems to be very problematic. Just because one is poor and derives direct benefit, does this legitimize transgressing a sin? This question on the Derisha was posed by Rav David Halevi Segal, in his commentary Turei Zahav (known as the Taz) on the Shulchan Aruch.[15]

The Taz makes his own distinction as follows: The Gemara in Bava Batra completely prohibits receiving such charity, since the money was specifically given for Jews only. This is considered a great merit for the giver, and therefore would indeed prolong the exile. However, if the charity is given to all in need, both Jew and non-Jew alike, it would be permitted to receive the money in private. The Taz opines that this is indeed the scenario referred to by the Gemara in Sanhedrin.[16]

Rav Yaakov Etlinger, in his Responsa Binyan Tzion[17] draws a different distinction. He distinguishes between two types of charity: 1) One who gives in response to being asked – this level is called Chesed. This is not as great as the second level, as there is self-interest involved,[18] for one feels guilty not to give when one’s compassion is stirred. 2) A higher level of giving is not in response to any request. Rather, one realizes that Hashem has bestowed one with material wealth that doesn’t truly belong to him. Hashem is using him to divide this bounty, and the person is merely a conduit to distribute Hashem’s money. When one is cognizant of this and gives charity in this manner it is called Tzedakka.

According to the Binyan Tzion, the Gemara in Bava Batra is dealing with this higher level of charity. Such true altruism certainly has great merit and would prolong the exile. Hence, it is forbidden to accept such charity even in private. The sugya in Sanhedrin on the other hand is referring to receiving charity after there was a request from the poor. Based on this distinction, the Binyan Tzion permitted Jewish organizations to receive funds from non-Jews, given for the purpose of helping the Jewish community in pre-state Israel, as the funds came in response to advertisements describing the great need and plight in the Holy land.

Rav Yishmael Hakohen of Modena in his responsa Zera Emet[19]  quotes a different distinction made by the Shenot Chayim. The Gemara in Bava Batra was referring specifically to receiving charity from the royal family who reigned at the time. This would certainly give the ruling family great merit and prolong the exile, and that is why it was forbidden to accept even in private (unless there is a fear of enmity from the government, and even then the money is divided among the non-Jewish poor). However, the Gemara in Sanhedrin discusses receiving money from a regular gentile. In that case, there is no concern that the merit of giving charity will prolong the exile, only a concern of Chilul Hashem or having no sense of self-respect. These problems only apply in public but not in private.

The Zera Emet rejects this opinion for two reasons. First, he found no logic to distinguish between the merits of a regular gentile and the royal family. Either way, it would seemingly prolong the exile. Second, the Rambam in his formulation of the prohibition (Hilchot Melachim 10:10) seems to prohibit receiving money from a regular gentile as well. Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook (Responsa Daat Kohen, Yoreh Deah 132) also mentions the possibility of this distinction of the Shenot Chayim. However, he proves that Tosafot clearly does not make such a distinction.[20] Rav Kook says that since none of the Rishonim mentioned such a distinction, we have to assume that it is erroneous.

Perhaps we can defend the opinion of the Shenot Chayim by answering at least some of the questions of the Zera Emet, and find a basis for this opinion in Rashi.

Regarding the logic of distinguishing between the royal family and regular gentiles, one could argue that, since there is no din of areivut (mutual responsibility) for gentiles, the merit of one non-Jew does not necessarily impact on another.[21] Therefore, if a non-Jew does a great act of kindness, it should not give the royal family more merits and extend their rule. But if the royal family themselves act in such a manner; they will merit an extension of their rule due to the righteousness of their own actions.

This distinction could be consistent with the opinion of Rashi, as we saw above. The only question though is whether this is actually considered prolonging the exile. The Shenot Chayim suggests that this only occurs when the merits are given to the royal family which would then extend their reign.

Although the Zera Emet rejected the explanation of the Shenot Chayim, and Rav Kook similarly felt that no Rishon made such a distinction, based on what we have explained, there seems to be a strong argument for the Shenot Chayim’s logic, and one could find a strong basis for it in Rashi’s opinion.


Other Acharonim

Up until now we have seen many Acharonim that accepted the claim of the Derisha that there is a seeming contradiction between the Gemara in Sanhedrin, which limited the prohibition to receiving charity from gentiles, and the Gemara in Bava Batra, which implied that there is an outright prohibition with no distinction between receiving in private or public. Each of the Acharonim gave different explanations to resolve the contradiction. However other Achronim, such as the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, reject the premise that there is a contradiction in the first case.

Rabbi Chaim Ben Atar, better known as the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, in his commentary Rishon Letzion on the Shulchan Aruch[22] explains that the question of the Derisha regarding the contradiction between the two Gemarot doesn’t have merit. Both Gemarot understand that there is a prohibition against accepting charity from a gentile (even in private). The Gemara in Sanhedrin only made a distinction between receiving money in private versus public regarding becoming invalidated as a witness. Although one transgresses even when taking in private, one is only rendered invalid as a witness if he takes in public. This opinion is accepted by Rav Wosner in his Responsa Shevet Halevi.[23]


Is the prohibition limited to charity or does it include other things as well?

Based on the prohibition (brought in Bava Batra) to receive charity from gentiles, Tosafot (Bava Batra 8a, s.v. yativ) ask why it was permitted for a gentile to donate candles to a shul, as mentioned in Arachin 6b. Tosafot explains that a donation to a shul is more similar to a korban, which we do accept from a non-Jew, as stated by the Gemara in Nazir (62a). Tosafot though does not explain why there is a problem with accepting charity but not with accepting a sacrifice. Seemingly, both of them cause merit for the gentiles and prolong the exile.

The Hagahot Ashri (Bava Batra 1:36) explains the distinction in the following manner. Charity has the unique ability to cause atonement, as opposed to other good deeds. Hence, specifically charity, which would cause atonement, could extend the gentile rule over the Jewish people and hence extend the exile. It is interesting to note that the Rambam (Maaseh Korbanot 3:2) when listing what sacrifices we can accept from gentiles only lists a burnt offering but not a sin offering, which is generally brought for purposes of atonement.[24]


Although the prohibition to receive charity from gentiles is found explicitly in the Talmud, nevertheless there seems to be some equivocation as to the scope and reason for the prohibition. The different answers given have wide halachic ramifications. The Rambam limits the prohibition to idolaters and not a ben-Noach. The Derisha limits the prohibition to where the charity is received by intermediaries and not the poor themselves. The Taz limits the prohibition to where charity was only given to Jews specifically, whereas the Binyan Tzion limits to the prohibition to unsolicited charity. The Shenot Chaim holds that the prohibition is only from ruling kings as opposed to individual gentiles, and we suggested that this could be the opinion of Rashi as well.

Although there are many reasons to be lenient, some modern day poskim are stringent for another reason entirely: A concern for missionizing. This might definitely be a concern, yet this is not the problem mentioned by any of the Rishonim and Acharonim, and needs to be assessed in its own merit.

[1] Cf. Rambam, Hilchot Edut 11:5 for a different understanding. We will explore the Rambam’s opinion further on in this essay.

[2] Derisha, Y.D. 254

[3] Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 8:11

[4] The Chidushei HaRan (Sanhedrin 56b) states explicitly that gentiles are also obligated to give charity.

[5] Ibid. 8:10

[6] Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 10:10. Therefore, even if it is not considered part of their obligation, it should still be encouraged. See Sefer Teshuva Miyira, Matanot Aniyim 10:10 of the Aderet for an extensive discussion on this subject.

[7] Kovetz Shiurim, ch. 56

[8] In chapter 56 in his second answer he suggests that it might be due to the prohibition of Lo Techonem (Devarim 7:2).

[9] Rambam, Hilchot Edut 11:5

[10] Rambam, Hilchot Matanot Aniyim 8:9

[11] Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 10:10

[12] Even though here the Rambam didn’t mention that this applies only in a case of shalom malchut, the Lechem Mishneh explains that he relied on what he wrote in Hilchot Matanot Aniyim.

[13] Mishneh L’melech, ibid.

[14] Masechet Avoda Zarah 26a

[15] Taz, Y.D. 254:2

[16] Cf. Rishon Letzion, who challenges the Taz’s assumption.

[17] Responsa Binyan Tzion, siman 63

[18] Cf. Maharsha, Bava Batra 10b, s.v. Lefi

[19] Responsa Zera Emet 112

[20] Tosafot, Arachin 6b ask how the Gemara there, which brings a story of a certain gentile who donated something to a shul and Rabbi Meir accepted it, doesn’t contradict the Gemara in Bava Batra. If the distinction of the Shenot Chayim is correct, Tosafot would not have asked the question.

[21] I found a hint to this in the Shevet Halevi 2:126, although he doesn’t mention the notion of areivut explicitly.

[22] Rishon Letzion on Y.D 254:1

[23] Responsa Shevet Halevi 2:126

[24] Based  on Tosafot’s comparison of a donation to a shul to the offering of a sacrifice, the Rema (Yoreh Deah 254:2) paskens that it is permitted to accept a donation from a non-Jew to a shul (assuming certain criteria are met), but it is forbidden to accept a donation to a shul from a Jewish apostate. This is based on Tosafot’s ruling and the comparison to accepting a sacrifice: Since the Gemara (Chullin 5a) derives that it is forbidden to accept a korban from an apostate Jew, the Rema therefore rules that one similarly cannot accept a donation from him to a shul.

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