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Probably every modern Jew grapples with issues where the Talmud and the passed down traditions simply do not go together with our modern sensibilities. One of these issues is the treatment and the status of non-Jews. Anti-semites love to cite derogatory statements about non-Jews from the Talmud and they do not even need to invent them, twist them or cite them out of context. The statements are there and in some places the attitude seems to be there as well (I do not personally know any such people, but some such statements have made the news). This has bothered and continues to bother me a lot. I have been raised in an environment where respect for every human being has been one of the highest values, also it is a personal issue, as my family and most of my friends are non-Jews.

I was glad to discover last week the article Jews and Gentiles on Shabbat: A Rationalist Perspective on the Rationalist Medical Halacha blog which addresses the topic in the context of saving a non-Jew’s life on Shabat. The article is very long, but absolutely worth the read. The author brings many sources that support the view that we are required to treat gentiles the same way as we treat Jews. The same way Islam has a category for people from other monotheistic religions (called "dhimmi" I believe), Jewish tradition has the category of "ba’alei haDat" (people of religion). He cites the Meiri (Menachem Meiri, a 13th century rabbi?) who reasons that a society of ba’alei haDat is moral and just and would have the same status as Jews in halacha. Two other possible ways are to include all monotheistic non-Jews in the categories of "Bnei Noach" (the children of Noach, those who follow the seven laws of Noach, including a justice system and monotheism), or "Ger Toshav" (righteous gentile).

In both cases, the categories require believe in the one G-d, so the next part of the article talks about non-monotheists (Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, etc). Basically, like pretty much all people from his time period, the Meiri found it inconceivable that a just and moral society could be formed on any basis other than monotheism. This is why the category was chosen this way. But the issue is not really the belief. So if there were a just and moral society created by non-monotheists, the people living in it would receive the status of "Ba’alei haDat" and would be considered equal to Jews. And I think we agree that most societies on our planet are moral and just.

The above is my summary of my own imperfect understanding of the article. I lack much of the background in Talmud and halacha, so please read the original article.

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