Get email notifications of blog updates

Friday, May 29, 2015

Parashat Naso 5775

This week’s parashah includes a section about being a nazir by making a vow of nezirut. This vow of Jewish asceticism includes abstaining from grape products, contact with the dead, and hair cutting. The basic period of a nazir vow is thirty days. The Rabbis derive this from gematriyah [גמטריה], a method of adding up the numerical values of letters. Gematriyah is often used among the Talmudic Rabbis, but not often with such legal applications. Here we look at the troubling - at least to me - idea of using numerical values to derive legal facts and its value.
במדבר פרשת נשא פרק ו
Numbers, Chapter 6
(5) All the days of his nazir vow a razor shall not pass over his head until the completion of the days that he consecrated himself to Hashem he will be [יהיה] holy; he shall grow long hair on his head.
(ה) כָּל־יְמֵי נֶדֶר נִזְרוֹ תַּעַר לֹא־יַעֲבֹר עַל־רֹאשׁוֹ עַד־מְלֹאת הַיָּמִם אֲשֶׁר־יַזִּיר לַיקֹוָק קָדֹשׁ יִהְיֶה גַּדֵּל פֶּרַע שְׂעַר רֹאשׁוֹ:

משנה מסכת נזיר פרק א
Mishnah Tractate Nazir, Chapter 1
Basic nezirut is for thirty days.
סתם נזירות שלשים יום

From the following piece we see that thirty days is a commonly found period in Jewish law. Some of the laws below have direct derivations from verses, such as thirty day mourning periods from mourning Moshe. Others are just stated as facts.
מסכתות קטנות מסכת שמחות פרק ז
Minor Tractates, Tractate S’machot, Chapter 7
Thirty days for mourning; thirty days for [not] laundering [in mourning]; thirty days for [not] cutting hair [in mourning]; thirty days for [not] collecting debts; thirty days for a beautiful captive [for her to mourn until you may marry her]; thirty days [after mourning] for engagement festivities; thirty days [after mourning] for marriage festivities; thirty days for making a claim against a woman’s virginity; thirty days for a widow [to prepare for a wedding]; thirty days for a woman engaged in levirate marriage with her dead husband’s brother; one who subjects his wife to a vow it is for thirty days; basic nezirut is thirty days.
שלשים יום לאיבול, שלשים יום לגיהוץ, שלשים יום לתספורת, שלשים יום לגיבוי, שלשים יום ליפת תואר, שלשים יום לאירוסין, שלשים יום לנישואין, שלשים יום לבתולים, שלשים יום לאלמנה, שלשים יום ליבמה, המדיר את אשתו שלשים יום, סתם נזירות שלשים יום.
Nonetheless, the Talmud finds a derivation for the thirty day period of a nazir vow. The first derivation is based on the word יהיה meaning, “He will be.” The letters are (10+5)*2 = 30. The second derivation has to do with how many times a work with the root of נזר (nazir) shows up in the Torah. That it only adds to 29 is beyond the scope of our investigation.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת נזיר דף ה עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nazir, 5a
From where are our words derived? Said Rav Matna, said the Torah, “He will be [יהיה] holy.” “He will be [יהיה]” in gematriyah is thirty.
מנהני מילי? אמר רב מתנא, אמר קרא: קדוש יהיה, יהיה בגמטריא תלתין הוו.
Bar Pada said, “Based on nazir and nizro stated in the Torah which is thirty minus one.”
בר פדא אמר: כנגד נזיר נזרו האמורים בתורה ל' חסר אחת.

The Rosh is not satisfied with our derivation and sees it as coming from some other tradition and merely supported by gematriyah.
פירוש הרא"ש מסכת נזיר דף ה עמוד א
Commentary of the Rosh, Tractate Nazir, 5a
Asher ben Yechiel, 13th Century Spain
“He will be [יהיה]” in gematriyah is thirty. It seems that the Gemara concluded this and found support for it from this gematriyah - for that [gematriyah] is not one of the thirteen principles by which the Torah is expounded.
יהיה בגימטריא תלתין הוו. יראה דגמרא גמירי לה ואסמכוה אהך גימט' דלאו מי"ג מדות היא שהתורה נדרשת בהן:

Maimonides sees the gemtariyah as symbol or sign which supports a received tradition.
פירוש המשנה לרמב"ם מסכת נזיר פרק א
Commentary on the Mishnah of the Rambam, Tractate Nazir, Chapter 1
Moses Maimonides, 12th Century Egypt
They agreed on this general principle; that is to say, that basic nezirut is thirty days, per what was stated, “He will be [יהיה] holy,” and the enumeration of “he will be [יהיה]” is thirty. And there is no nezirut of less than thirty days and this matter is received tradition, but they supported it with the as a type of symbol.
הסמיכו כלל זה כלומר שסתם נזירות שלשים יום למה שנ' קדוש יהיה, ומנין יהיה שלשים. ואין נזירות פחות משלשים יום, ודבר זה קבלה אלא שהסמיכוהו לכך כעין סימן.

The Ramban, below, points out the dangers and challenges of gematriyah. To him it is merely a mnemonic, connecting our verses to a received tradition. He compares it with another exegetical principle of learning Torah, one which is among the thirteen accepted ones: g’zeirah shavah [גזירה שוה]. This is when the same word shows up in two verses and we can learn principles of one verse to the next.
ספר הגאולה
Sefer HaGeulah
Moses Nahmanides, 13th Century Spain
For a person is not permitted to make judgements based on the calculation of gematriyah and to extract from them a matter that comes to his mind except for those received traditions through the hand of our Rabbis, the holy Sages of the Talmud of blessed memory.
כי אין אדם רשאי לדון בחשבון גמטריאות ולהוציא מהן ענין עלה בדעתו אבל קבלה ביד רבותינו חכמי התלמוד הקדושים ז״ל
For given to Moshe at Sinai were known gematriyot to be as a mnemonic and sign for matters spoken verbally with the rest of the Oral Torah in matters of narrative, and with them legal matters like they said, “Basic nezirut is thirty days as is written, ‘He will be [יהיה].’”
כי נמסרו למשה בסיני גימטריאות ידועות להיות זכר ואות לענין הנאמר על פה עם שאר התורה שבעל פה בענין אגדה ומהן באסור והתר כמו שאמרו סתם נזירות שלשים יום דכת׳ יהיה
And this matter is like the issue of g’zeirah shavah such that much of the body of the Torah relies on it, and it is a matter through which a person may derive awful things and contradict the fundamentals of the Torah. But they said about it that a person may not determine a g’zeirah shavah on his own.
והענין הזה כענין הגזרה שוה שהרבה גופי תורה תלוין בה והוא ענין שיכול אדם להוציא ממנו דברים רעים וסותרים עקרי התורה אלא שאמרו בה אין אדם דן גזרה שוה מעצמו

Below we see a g’zeirah shavah in the Talmud brought in a place where there is also a logical, a minori argument [קל וחומר]. However, since the later argument has weaknesses, the g’zeirah shavah is brought to shore it up. The Talmud also teaches on cannot make up a g’zeirah shavah, however.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת פסחים דף סו עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate P’Sachim 66a
Our Rabbis taught: This law was hidden from the people of B’teira. One time, the fourteenth [of Nissan] fell on Shabbat. They forgot and did not know if the paschal sacrifice suspends Shabbat or not...
תנו רבנן: הלכה זו נתעלמה מבני בתירא. פעם אחת חל ארבעה עשר להיות בשבת, שכחו ולא ידעו אם פסח דוחה את השבת אם לאו...
The people are unsure if they are permitted to break the laws of Shabbat to offer the paschal sacrifice. There is a nice story about Hillel answering the question for them, but I skip to the part relevant to our discussion.

Said the master, “It is stated ‘in its appointed time’ about the paschal sacrifice and it is stated ‘in its appointed time’ about the daily sacrifice. Just as the ‘in its appointed time’ stated about the daily sacrifice suspends the Shabbat, so too the ‘in its appointed time’ stated about the paschal sacrifice suspends the Shabbat.
אמר מר: נאמר מועדו בפסח ונאמר מועדו בתמיד, מה מועדו האמור בתמיד דוחה את השבת - אף מועדו האמור בפסח דוחה שבת...
Said the master, “And further, from an a minori argument: just as the daily sacrifice which is not punished by karet [some sort of Heavenly cutting off] suspends the Shabbat, should it not be the law for the paschal sacrifice which is punished by karet should suspend the Shabbat?”
אמר מר: ועוד, קל וחומר: ומה תמיד שאין ענוש כרת דוחה את השבת, פסח שענוש כרת - אינו דין שדוחה את השבת.
This is refutable, for the daily sacrifice is frequent and completely burnt.
איכא למיפרך: מה לתמיד - שכן תדיר וכליל!
Therefore, the daily sacrifice has factors making it more weighty than the paschal sacrifice. This breaks down the a minori argument.

Initially he made an a minori argument and they refuted it. He responded and told them the g’zeirah shavah.
קל וחומר אמר להו ברישא ופרכוה, והדר אמר להו גזירה שוה.
But after he derived it from a g’zeirah shavah, why do I have an a minori argument? Rather, he spoke to them in their own [understanding]. “For sure you did not not derive a g’zeirah shavah for a person cannot determine a g’zeirah shavah on his own, but an a minori argument which a person may determine on her own you need to determine.” They said to him, “It is a refutable a minori argument.”
וכי מאחר דגמר גזירה שוה קל וחומר למה לי? אלא לדידהו קאמר להו: בשלמא גזירה שוה לא גמריתו - דאין אדם דן גזירה שוה מעצמו, אלא קל וחומר דאדם דן מעצמו - איבעי לכו למידן! - אמרו ליה: קל וחומר פריכא הוא.

רש"י מסכת פסחים דף סו עמוד א
Rashi, Tractate P’sachim, 66a
Shlomo Yitzchaki, 11th Century Rhineland
For we hold that a person may not determine a g’zeirah shavah on his own unless it was received and derived from Sinai. For perhaps the verse comes to teach another matter.
דקיימא לן אין אדם דן גזירה שוה מעצמו אלא אם כן נתקבלה ובאה מסיני, דדילמא קרא למילתא אחריתי אתא

This piece below from the Palestinian Talmud clarifies that a g’zeirah shavah is only to support an argument, not to create something new or contradict that which one knows.
תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת פסחים פרק ו, הלכה א
Palestinian Talmud, Tractate P’sachim, Chapter 6, Law 1
Rebbi Yose of the house of Rebbi Bon in the name of Rebbi Ba son of Memel, “A person may determine a g’zeirah shavah to uphold his learning but a person may not determine a g’zeirah shavah to contradict his learning.”
ר' יוסה בי רבי בון בשם רבי בא בר ממל אדם דן גזירה שוה לקיים תלמודו ואין אדם דן גז"ש לבטל תלמודו.

Returning to gematriyah, the Mishnah in Avot tells us the role of gematriyah in Torah. It is a garnish or dessert, but not the main part of legal thinking.
משנה מסכת אבות פרק ג, משנה יח
Mishnah Tractate Avot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 18
Rebbi Eliezer son of Chasma says, “Sacrifices of birds and the beginnings of menstrual cycles are the body of halachah. Astronomical calculations and gematriyot are the dessert of wisdom.”
רבי אליעזר בן חסמא אומר קינין ופתחי נדה הן הן גופי הלכות תקופות וגמטריאות פרפראות לחכמה:

The Tiferet Yisrael explains that like butter on bread, gematriyah makes Torah sweeter. It is enjoyable, it makes it go down more easily, but on its own it is lacking and not filling. Based on the Mishnah, like astronomy, it is the using of outside wisdom applied too Torah.
תפארת ישראל - יכין מסכת אבות פרק ג
Tiferet Yisrael Yakhin, Tractate Avot, Chapter 3
Yisrael Lipshuetz, 19th Century Prussia
It means to say that they are like the dessert of the meal to the wisdom of the Torah, for Torah is metaphorically the bread of the soul in that it feeds off of it, as it says, “Go and eat from My bread,” (Proverbs 9:5). And when the bread is most engaging for a person is when he mixes it in garnishes, to spread butter on it and the like. And as such, the Torah will be sweeter for him if he engages in other wisdom as spice and meat.  Truly like one who eats butter or garnishes without bread, his soul grows weary and is not satisfied. So too one who performs these other wisdom as the main part of his engagement, his soul will not be full from them. And one should not strive for that as existence, for even though one needs to learn them to sanctify the month… even so it is really the rules of bird sacrifices and the beginnings of menstrual cycles which are the body of halachah, since they have the forbidden and permitted, which is not the case in astronomical calculations and gematriyot which are only secondary to the Torah like garnishes for bread.  
ר"ל הן כקינוח סעודה לחכמת התורה, דהתורה היא דוגמת הלחם לנשמה, שנזונת ממנה, וכמ"ש לכו לחמו בלחמי (משלי ט:ה), וכאשר יערב לאדם הלחם יותר, כשיטפל לו פרפרות, למרוח על הלחם חמאה וכדומה, כן תמתק לו התורה ביותר אם יטפיל לה שאר החכמות לרקחות וטבחות [רמב"ם ספ"ד מיסודי התורה], אמנם כמו שהאוכל חמאה או פרפרות בלי לחם נפשו קצה בו ולא ישבע, כמו כן העושה משאר החכמות האלה עיקר בהתעסקות, לא תשבע נשמתו מהן ולא ישתדלו לה קיום, דאף דחשבון התקופות צריך ללמדם לעניין קידוש החודש… אפ"ה דוקא קינין ופתחי נדה הן הן גופי הלכות, מדיש בהן עשה ולא תעשה אסור ומותר, משא"כ תקופות וגמטריאות הן רק טפלים להתורה כפרפרות לפת

We see that the Tos’fot Yom Tov thinks gematriyah has Greek origins. This makes sense in its juxtaposition to astronomy, and its use in our Gemara in P’sachim for people who don’t buy the more standard Torah a minori argument.
תוספות יום טוב מסכת אבות פרק ג
Tos’fot Yom Tov, Tractate Avot, Chapter 3
Yom Tov Lipman Heller, 17th Century Prague
And gematriyot - It seems to me that it is a word borrowed and taken from Greek, and they call as such measurement and aspect calculations.
וגמטריאות -נראה לי שהוא שם מושאל ולקוח מלשון יון שקוראים כן לחכמת המדידה והתשבורת

Gematriyah is actually used by major commentaries, including the Tur in his commentary on the Torah. And it is fun and is sometimes a nice way to connect versus to seemingly unconnected principles, thereby preserving Torah even in places where it seems disengaged. Still, be should never use it on its own, only as a supplement.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is Torah Study Only For Jews, Shavuot 5775

Who may engage in Torah study? We will see that this becomes a question of study without a commitment to its practice. We begin with a verse telling us that the Torah is our inheritance from Moshe, implying strongly that it is exclusively for us.

דברים פרשת וזאת הברכה פרק לג
Deuteronomy Chapter 33
(ד) תּוֹרָה צִוָּה־לָנוּ מֹשֶׁה מוֹרָשָׁה קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב:
(4) Moshe commanded us the Torah [instruction]; an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף נט עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 59a
And Rebbi Yochanan said: A non-Jew who engages in Torah study is obligated for death, as it says, “Moshe commanded us the Torah, an inheritance.” An inheritance for us and not for them.
ואמר רבי יוחנן: נכרי שעוסק בתורה חייב מיתה, שנאמר תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה  (דברים לג:ד) - לנו מורשה ולא להם.
Count it as one of the seven [commandments]! For the one who says “inheritance,” they are stealing it, and who says “betrothed,” it has the rule of a betrothed girl, which is stoning.
- וליחשבה גבי שבע מצות! מאן דאמר מורשה - מיגזל קא גזיל לה, מאן דאמר מאורסה - דינו כנערה המאורסה, דבסקילה.
There are two midrashim on how to interpret the verse Deuteronomy 33:4. Either way, a non-Jew who takes hold of the Torah is violating one of the seven commandments given to the children of Noah and seen to apply to the entire world.

A challenge: Rebbi Meir would say: From where is it derived that even a non-Jew who engages in Torah study is like a high priest? As it says, “As a man will perform them and live by them,” (Leviticus 18:5). It doesn’t say, “priests, levites, and Israelites,” rather, “man.” Therefore learn that even a non-Jew who studies Torah is like a high priest.  
מיתיבי, היה רבי מאיר אומר: מניין שאפילו נכרי ועוסק בתורה שהוא ככהן גדול - שנאמר אשר יעשה אתם האדם וחי בהם (ויקרא יח:ה), כהנים לויים וישראלים לא נאמר, אלא האדם. הא למדת: שאפילו נכרי ועוסק בתורה הרי הוא ככהן גדול!
There [R’ Meir’s statement] is about their seven laws.
- התם בשבע מצות דידהו..

Rebbi Yochanan follows the logic of the Torah belonging to the Jews by stating that a non-Jew who studies Torah is either stealing our inheritance or sleeping with our betrothed. This seems to stand in conflict with the statement of Rebbi Meir that a non-Jew achieves a high priestly status for studying Torah. The Talmud, reconciling the conflict, limits Rebbi Meir’s statements to the seven commandments given to the children of Noah and seen to apply to all people of the world, not just Jews. That is, one may study what one is commanded. However, on the surface it does not seem that Rebbi Meir’s statement is about the seven laws at all. After all, if his statement was so limiting, he would be more likely to say, “A non-Jew who engages in the study of the seven commandments.”

ויקרא פרשת אחרי מות פרק יח
Leviticus Chapter 18
(ג) כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ־מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר יְשַׁבְתֶּם־בָּהּ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ־כְּנַעַן אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ:
(3) Like the actions of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled you shall not act; and like the actions of the land of Canaan to which I bring you, you shall not act, and by their statutes you shall not walk.
(ד) אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשׂוּ וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ לָלֶכֶת בָּהֶם אֲנִי יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:
(4) Perform My laws and My statutes you shall keep to walk by them; I am Hashem your God.
(ה) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם אֲנִי יְקֹוָק:
(5) Then keep My statutes and My laws, that a person shall perform them and live by them; I am Hashem.

In a logical conclusion of Rebbi Yochanan, the Talmud in Chagigah tells us that we may not give divrei Torah [literally meaning words of Torah] to non-Jews.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת חגיגה דף יג עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Chagigah, 13a
Said Rebbi Ami, “We do not give sermons of Torah to a non-Jew, as it says, ‘He did not do as such for every [other] nation, and [about] His laws, they have not known them.’”
ואמר רבי אמי: אין מוסרין דברי תורה לנכרי, שנאמר לא עשה כן לכל גוי ומשפטים בל ידעום.

תהלים פרק קמז
Psalms Chapter 147
(19) He tells His words to Jacob, His statutes and laws to Israel.
(יט) מַגִּיד דברו דְּבָרָיו לְיַעֲקֹב חֻקָּיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו לְיִשְׂרָאֵל:
(20) He did not do as such for every [other] nation, and [about] His laws, they have not known them, praise Hashem.
(כ) לֹא עָשָׂה כֵן לְכָל־גּוֹי וּמִשְׁפָּטִים בַּל־יְדָעוּם הַלְלוּ־יָהּ:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא קמא דף לח עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Kamma, 38a
What is [the statement] of Rav Yosef? That which Rav Yosef said, “‘He stood up and measured the land; He saw, etc,’ (Chavakuk 3:6). What did He see? He saw the seven commandments which the sons of Noah accepted; but they did not fulfill them. He stood up and released them.” Then they surely have profited. If so, we have a rewarded sinner. Said Mar son of Ravina, “That means to say, that even if they fulfill them, they do not receive reward for them.”
מאי דרב יוסף? דא"ר יוסף: עמד וימודד ארץ ראה וכו' (חבקוק ג:ו) - מה ראה? ראה שבע מצות שקיבלו עליהם בני נח ולא קיימום, עמד והתירן להם. איתגורי אתגר? א"כ, מצינו חוטא נשכר! אמר מר בריה דרבנא: לומר, שאפילו מקיימין אותן - אין מקבלין עליהן שכר.
Really not? Was it not taught, Rebbi Meir says, “From where is it derived that even a non-Jew who engages in Torah study is like a high priest?
ולא? והתניא ר"מ אומר: מנין שאפילו נכרי ועוסק בתורה שהוא ככהן גדול?
“The Torah says, ‘That a person shall perform and live by them.’ Neither ‘Priests’, ‘levites,’ nor ‘Israelites’ is stated. Rather, “person.” Therefore you learn that even a non-Jew who engages in Torah study, behold he is like a high priest.
ת"ל: דאשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם, כהנים ולוים וישראלים לא נאמר אלא אדם, הא למדת, שאפילו נכרי ועוסק בתורה הרי הוא ככהן גדול
They say, “They do not accept reward for themselves like one who is commanded and performs, but rather like one who is not commanded and performs.” As Rebbi Chaninah said, “Greater is the one who is commanded and performs over the one who is not commanded and performs.”
אמרי: אין מקבלים עליהן שכר כמצווה ועושה אלא כמי שאינו מצווה ועושה, דא"ר חנינא: גדול המצווה ועושה יותר ממי שאינו מצווה ועושה.
Our Rabbis taught: Long ago, the Roman Empire sent two captains to the Sages of Israel, [saying,] “Teach us your Torah.” They read, repeated, and repeated again. At the time of their departure, they said to them, “We carefully studied your Torah, and it is true, except for this matter that you say: An ox of an Israelite that gored the ox of a Canaanite is exempt; one of a Canaanite that gored one of an Israelite, whether innocent or warned - pays full damages. Which is your position? If it is about the term ‘his fellow’, then even one of a Canaanite that gored one of an Israelite should be exempt. And if it is not about the term ‘his fellow’, then even one of an Israelite which gored that of a Canaanite should be liable! But we will not inform the Empire of this.”
ת"ר: וכבר שלחה מלכות רומי שני סרדיוטות אצל חכמי ישראל למדונו תורתכם, קראו ושנו ושלשו. בשעת פטירתן, אמרו להם: דקדקנו בכל תורתכם ואמת הוא, חוץ מדבר זה שאתם אומרים: שור של ישראל שנגח שור של כנעני - פטור, של כנעני שנגח שור של ישראל, בין תם בין מועד - משלם נזק שלם, ממ"נ? אי רעהו דוקא, אפילו דכנעני כי נגח דישראל ליפטר! ואי רעהו לאו דוקא, אפילו דישראל כי נגח דכנעני לחייב! ודבר זה אין אנו מודיעים אותו למלכות.

However, if we look at another Talmudic source for Rebbi Meir’s statement, we have some complications. First, Rav Yosef tells us that the non-Jews were released by God for failing to fulfill the seven commandments, thereby losing their chance at reward. Rebbi Meir’s statement is oddly brought as a challenge. It is odd because Rav Yosef speaks about performing commandments, while Rebbi Meir speaks about engaging in study. Study is a commandment, sure, but only one, and surely one that stands sui generis. Further, the Talmud’s answer is curious. It says that one who is commanded and performs reaps more reward than one who is not commanded. If that is the case, how does that answer Rebbi Meir’s statement? Is there any reward beyond being a high priest?

The concluding story in the Babylonian Talmud is curious. How is it the Rabbis are willing to teach the Romans? And does not this story teach us that in general non-Jews, if exposed to Torah would love it? Their only objections are to the portions of law which treat them unfairly.

שמות פרשת משפטים פרק כא
Exodus Chapter 21
(35) And if an ox of a man strikes the ox of his fellow and it dies, then they will sell the surviving ox and split its value; and also [the value] of the deceased they shall split.
(לה) וְכִי־יִגֹּף שׁוֹר־אִישׁ אֶת־שׁוֹר רֵעֵהוּ וָמֵת וּמָכְרוּ אֶת־הַשּׁוֹר הַחַי וְחָצוּ אֶת־כַּסְפּוֹ וְגַם אֶת־הַמֵּת יֶחֱצוּן:

פני יהושע מסכת בבא קמא דף לח עמוד א
P’nei Yehoshua, Tractate Bava Kamma, 38a
Ya’akov Yehoshua Falk, 18th Century Germany
Initially, there is a need to read carefully. What does one get from “Torah study” against the seven commandments? For the punishment was the result of not performing them from the beginning, and this has no connection to learning Torah.
לכאורה יש לדקדק מאי מייתי מתלמוד תורה לז' מצות שבא העונש מחמת שלא קיימום בתחילה וזה לא שייך בתלמוד תורה.
And it seems that this is not a problem at all. Because in tractate Sanhedrin, Rebbi Yochanan said, “A non-Jew who engages in Torah study is liable for death.” And we challenge that with this braitta that he is like a high priest. And it is taught there that [the study] is for their seven commandments [only]. And if so, it has to be that the braitta is about engaging in the Torah study of the seven commandments.
ויראה דלא קשיא מידי דהא במסכת סנהדרין (דף נ"ט ע"א) אמר רבי יוחנן גוי העוסק בתורה חייב מיתה וכו' ואקשינן עלה מהא ברייתא דהרי הוא ככהן גדול ומשני התם בז' מצות דידהו, וא"כ דע"כ האי ברייתא איירי כשעוסק בתורה של ז' מצות,
And the reason for the separation surely seems to be - logically - that for the other commandments in which they were not commanded one must punish them by death since it says, “Moshe commanded us the Torah, a betrothed,” and not for them etc. But for the seven commandments for which the non-Jews were commanded like the Jews, one cannot say we were commanded and not them.  
וטעם החילוק ודאי נראה מצד הסברא דבשאר מצות שלא נצטוו יש להענישם מיתה מדכתיב תורה צוה לנו משה מאורשה ולא להם וכו' כדאיתא [התם] אבל הז' מצות שנצטוו הגוים כמו הישראל לא שייך לומר לנו צוה ולא להם,
Further, it is just the opposite. The non-Jew needs to learn, for learning leads to performing. And if so, it is a good challenge, since one He stood up and released them from the seven commandments, that too is related to the explanation of “Moshe commanded us the Torah,” concerning the seven commandments.
ועוד דאדרבא הגוי צריך ללמוד שתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה, וא"כ מקשי הכא שפיר דכיון דאמת שעמד והתיר להם הז' מצות ממילא שייך הדרש תורה צוה לנו ג"כ על הז' מצות,
And further, since [a non-Jew] does not receive a reward on performing the seven commandments, why give them reward for learning? And if so, how can you say he is like a high priest? And on this it is taught, “He does not receive a reward like one who is commanded and performs.”
ועוד כיון דאין מקבל שכר על המעשה של הז' מצות למה ניתן לו שכר על הלימוד וא"כ איך אמרת הרי הוא ככהן גדול, וע"ז משני לומר שאין מקבלין שכר כמצווה ועושה,
And if so, it works well that a non-Jew who engages in the Torah of the seven commandments receives rewards also for learning since it brings one to performance of their own [obligations], which is not the case for the rest of the Torah. And according to the, what is written, “Behold he is like a high priest,” is not exact, since he is not under “commanded and performs” like [the high priest].
וא"כ אתי שפיר דגוי העוסק בתורה של ז' מצות מקבל על הלימוד ג"כ שכר כיון שמביא לידי מעשה דידהו משא"כ בשאר תורה. ולפי"ז מ"ש הרי הוא ככהן גדול, לאו דוקא, לפי שאינו מצווה ועושה כמוהו:

The P’nei Yehoshua begins to answer our questions. The key is the connection, via the Talmudic piece below, between study and performance. Study leads to performance and is the first step in performance. He also seems to claim that Rebbi Meir’s statement is hyperbole. I am less convinced by the latter than by the idea that study and action and interwoven and that any study without a commitment to action is not acceptable study.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת קידושין דף מ:
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin, 40b
Already Rabbi Tarfon and the elders were reclining in the attic in the house of Nitzah in Lod, and this question was asked before them: Is study greater or action greater?
וכבר היה רבי טרפון וזקנים מסובין בעלית בית נתזה בלוד נשאלה שאילה זו בפניהם תלמוד גדול או מעשה גדול
Rabbi Tarfon answered and said, “Action is greater.”
נענה רבי טרפון ואמר מעשה גדול
Rabbi Akiva answered and said, “Study is greater.”
נענה ר"ע ואמר תלמוד גדול
Everyone answered and said, “Study is greater, for study brings one to action.”
נענו כולם ואמרו תלמוד גדול שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה.

To see a further connection between study and action, let us look at another version of Rebbi Meir’s statement. Here the statement is about a convert, not a non-Jew. His statement is that someone who is committed to a practice and then engages in the study of it is just as great as someone with the purest of lineages, represented by the high priest.

במדבר רבה (וילנא) פרשת נשא פרשה יג
B’midbar Sinai Rabbah, Parashat Naso, Parasha 13
אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם כהנים לוים וישראלי' לא נאמר אלא האדם מלמד שאפי' עובד כוכבי' המתגייר ועוסק בתורה הרי הוא ככהן גדול
“That a person shall perform and live by them.” Neither “priests”, “levites,” nor “Israelites” is stated. Rather, “person.” This teaches that even an idolater who converts and engages in Torah study, behold he is like a high priest.

The version of our story about the Roman captains from the Sifrei D’varim supports the notion that our sources are really about conversion, not non-Jews engaging in Torah study. Here the Romans convert to Judaism (albeit for questionable reasons). This story also shows some of the ambiguity around converts in Rabbinic times. On one hand, they can accept the beauty of Torah, but they are still hesitant about one element of it. Nonetheless, as insiders, they will not inform their former community of outsiders.

ספרי דברים פרשת וזאת הברכה פיסקא שמד
Sifrei D’varim, Parashat V’zot HaB’rakha, Piska 344
And long ago the Empire sent two captains and said to them, “Go, make yourselves Jews, view their Torah and what is its nature.”
וכבר שלחה מלכות שני סרדיטיאות ואמרה להם לכו ועשו עצמכם יהודים וראו תורתם מה טיבה
They went to Rabban Gamliel in Usha and read the Torah, recited the Mishnah, midrash halakhah and aggadah.
הלכו אצל רבן גמליאל לאושא וקראו את המקרא ושנו את המשנה מדרש הלכות והגדות
At the time of their departure, they said to them, “All of the Torah is nice and praiseworthy, except for one thing which you say: the robbed object of a non-Jew is permitted and of an Israelite is prohibited. But we will not inform the Empire of this matter.”
בשעת פטירתם אמרו להם כל התורה נאה ומשובחת חוץ מדבר אחד זה שאתם אומרים גזילו של גוי מותר ושל ישראל אסור ודבר זה אין אנו מודיעים למלכות.

תוספות מסכת בבא קמא דף לח עמוד א
Tosafot, Tractate Bava Kamma 38a
And if you say, but in tractate Chagigah we said that one who teaches Torah to a non-Jew transgresses the positive commandment of, “He told His words to Jacob.”
וא"ת והא אמרינן בחגיגה (דף יג.) המלמד תורה לעובד כוכבים עובר בעשה דמגיד דבריו ליעקב (תהלים קמז)
There is to say, that they did this against their will according to the command of the Emperor, and they were not obligated to give their lives.
ויש לומר דבע"כ עשו ע"פ דברי המושל ולא נתחייבו למסור עצמן
Alternatively, they made themselves converts as we said in the Sifrei on the parashah, “He even loves other nations.”
אי נמי עשו עצמם גרים כדאי' בספרי דפרשה אף חובב עמים.

The Rambam codifies our idea by stating the problem: someone who studies without commitment is making up a new religion. That is unacceptable.

משנה תורה הלכות מלכים פרק י, הלכה ט
Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, Chapter 10, Law 9
A non-Jew who engages in learning Torah is obligated for death, and should only learn their seven commandments... The general principle is we do not allow them to create a new religion and to create commandments for themselves from their intellect. Rather, either they should be a righteous convert and accept all the commandments, or they should stand on their Torah and not add or subtract...
עכו"ם שעסק בתורה חייב מיתה, לא יעסוק אלא בשבע מצות שלהן בלבד… כללו של דבר אין מניחין אותן לחדש דת ולעשות מצות לעצמן מדעתן, אלא או יהיה גר צדק ויקבל כל המצות, או יעמוד בתורתו ולא יוסיף ולא יגרע...

The Meiri ends by allowing the study of a non-Jew whose complete Torah study will lead to conversion and the fulfillment of the commandments. This fuses all of our topics. Torah study brings one to performance, and therefore any study that succeeds as such is good study, even if it occurs before conversion. This reopens the statement of Rebbi Meir and the story of the Roman captains to not needing an element of conversion before study. Instead, both can be read as ending in conversion.  

בית הבחירה למאירי מסכת סנהדרין דף נט עמוד א
Beit HaBechira, Tractate Sanhedrin, 59a
Menachem Meiri, 13th Century Catalonia
This is also the rule if he one engaged in Torah study without the intention to uphold the root of Her commandments, but rather his heart desires to know our Torah and Talmud. He is fit to be punished since people will think he is one of us, since they see that he knows, and they will come to follow after him.
וכן הדין אם עסק בתורה שלא לכונת קיום עיקרי מצוותיה אלא שלבו חפץ לירד לידיעת תורתינו ותלמודינו ראוי ליענש מפני שבני אדם סבורים עליו שהוא משלנו מתוך שרואין אותו יודע ויבואו לטעות אחריו
However, anyone who engages in the bases of the seven commandments,their details, and what is derived from them, even though most of Torah is included in them, we honor him even as a high priest for there is no worry of erring after him, for he is dealing with his own things.
ומ"מ כל שהוא עוסק בעיקרי שבע מצות ובפרטיהם ובמה שיוצא מהם אע"פ שרוב גופי תורה נכללים בהם מכבדין אותו אפילו ככהן גדול שאין כאן חשש לטעות אחריו שהרי אף בשלו הוא עוסק
And all the more so if their investigation is with the thought of arriving at a completion of our Torah such that if it be found whole he will return and convert, and all the more so if he engages and upholds the root of its commandments for their sake even for the other parts in it not of the seven commandments.
וכל שכן אם חקירתן על דעת לבא עד תכלית שלימות תורתינו עד שאם ימצאנה שלימה יחזור ויתגייר וכל שכן אם עוסק ומקיים עיקרי מצותיה לשמה אף בשאר חלקים שבה שלא משבע מצות:

The Meshekh Chokhmah offers a different explanation of Rebbi Meir’s statement. Here the high priest statement is a backhanded compliment. Just as a high priest cannot pass on his status, so too one who studies Torah but does not convert and fully accept the commandments cannot pass on that legacy.
משך חכמה ויקרא פרשת אחרי מות פרק יח
Meshekh Chokhmah, Leviticus Chapter 18
Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, 19th Century Russia
“Even a son of Noah who sits and engages in Torah study, behold he is like a high priest.” Explanation: a convert who sanctifies himself with immersion, circumcision, and a sacrifice, all of his children are sanctified with the sanctity of Israel for all generations.
אפילו בן נח שיושב ועוסק בתורה הרי הוא ככהן גדול (סנהדרין נט, א). פירוש, שגר צדק שנתקדש בטבילה ומילה וקרבן, כל זרעו קדושים בקדושת ישראל עד סוף הדורות.
But a sojourner does not merit for his children, and they are not like sojourners if they do not accept the commandments from the beginning. And for this it was said, “Behold he is like a high priest.” For it is upheld for us that a high priest who is the child of a high priest requires anointing, and does not pass on his status to his children, and is not like Aaron who merited for his children.
אבל גר תושב אינו זוכה לזרעו, והמה אינם כמו גרי תושב, אם לא שיקבלו מצוות מחדש. ולזה אמר הרי הוא ככהן גדול, דקיימא לן דכהן גדול בן כהן גדול טעון משיחה, ואינו מנחיל מעלתו לבניו ואיננו כאהרן שזכה לבניו ודו"ק היטב.