Assisting Non-Jew in Performing a Mitzvah



Are there any halakhic issues with aiding a non-Jew in performing a mitzvah?
Someone who is not halakhically Jewish (father is Jewish), but identifies very much as Jewish, has asked for me to bring her Chanukah candles. Would there be an issues in giving her the candles, over which she will make a berakhah?


I will discuss this issue first in the context of someone who does not identify as Jewish, and then turn to your case in specific.

According to Rambam, if a non-Jew does a mitzvah s/he gets skhar as an אינו מצווה ועושה. Provided that this is not their own religion but they are doing it in the context of the Jewish religion – he even applies this to Brit Mila!

שו”ת הרמב”ם סימן קמח

התשובה מותר לישראל למול הגוי אם רוצה הגוי לכרות הערלה ולהסירה, לפי שכל מצוה, שהגוי עושה, נותנין לו עליה שכר, אבל אינו כמי שהוא מצווה ועושה, ובלבד שיעשנה, כשהוא מודה בנבואת משה רבינו, המצווה זאת מפי א-להים יתעלה, ומאמין בזה, ולא שיעשנה (לסבה) אחרת או על פי דעה שראה לעצמו, כמו שנתבאר בבריתא של ר’ אליעזר בן יעקב וכמו שבארנו אנו בסוף חבורנו הגדול.

Responsa, Rambam, 148
It is permitted for a Jew to circumcise a non Jew if the non-Jew wants to cut the foreskin and remove it. This is because reward is given to him, for every mitzvah he does. However, he is not like one who is commanded [to perform the mitzvah] and does it. It should only be done if the non-Jew accepts Moses’ prophecy that the commandment is from God and believes it. It [circumcising a non-Jew] should not be done for any other reason or according to his [the non-Jew’s] thinking as was explained in the teaching of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yakov and as we explained at the conclusion of our great composition [the Mishneh Torah].

That should be read alongside this halakha, which on the face of it seems to say that it is forbidden for them to do any mitzvah, but on closer read it — and considering the above teshuva – it is clear that it only means if they are inventing a new religion, not doing it in the context of Judaism:

Rambam, Hilkhot Melachim uMilchamot 10:9,

עכו”ם שעסק בתורה חייב מיתה, לא יעסוק אלא בשבע מצות שלהן בלבד, וכן עכו”ם ששבת אפילו ביום מימות החול, אם עשאהו לעצמו כמו שבת חייב מיתה, ואין צריך לומר אם עשה מועד לעצמו, 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, ואם עסק בתורה, או שבת, או חדש דבר, מכין אותו ועונשין אותו, ומודיעין
אותו שהוא חייב מיתה על זה אבל אינו נהרג.

A non-Jew who studies the Torah is obligated to die. They should only be involved in the study of their seven mitzvot. Similarly, a nonJew who rests, even on a weekday, observing that day as a Sabbath, is obligated to die. Needless to say, he is obligated for that punishment if he creates a festival for himself.
The general principle governing these matters is: They are not to be allowed to originate a new religion or create mitzvot for themselves based on their own decisions. They may either become righteous converts and accept all the mitzvot or retain their statutes without adding or detracting from them. If a non-Jew studies the Torah, makes a Sabbath, or creates a religious practice, a Jewish court should beat him, punish him, and inform him that he is obligated to die. However, he is not to be executed.

By the way, I think one can question whether Rambam’s requirement in the teshuva that he must believe in Moshe and Torah miSinai would be true in a context when religion is often observed more based on communal identity, etc., and that nowadays it would suffice to do it as “doing a mitzvah of the Jewish faith” as long as it was not being מחדש דת.

This also fits with the following Rambam, Hilkhot Melachim uMilchamot 10:10,

בן נח שרצה לעשות מצוה משאר מצות התורה כדי לקבל שכר, אין מונעין אותו לעשותה כהלכתה, ואם הביא עולה מקבלין ממנו, נתן צדקה מקבלין ממנו, ויראה לי שנותנין אותה לעניי ישראל, הואיל והוא ניזון מישראל ומצוה עליהם להחיותו, אבל העכו”ם שנתן צדקה מקבלין ממנו ונותנין אותה לעניי עכו”ם.

A non-Jew who has accepted the Noahide mitzvot and desires to do any of the remaining mitzvot of the Torah in order to receive reward should not be prevented from doing so. If he brings an animal to be sacrificed as a burnt offering, we should receive it. If he gives charity, we should accept it from him, and it appears to me that it should be given to the Jewish poor, a nonJew who has accepted the Noahide mitzvot may derive his sustenance from the Jews and they are commanded to support him if necessary. In contrast, if an idolater gives charity, we should accept it from him and give it to the gentile poor.

Rav Moshe – without referencing Rambam’s teshuva – says that this applies to mitzvot that are inherently meaningful religious acts, not ones whose only value comes from the fact they were commanded.

שו”ת אגרות משה יורה דעה חלק ב סימן ז
מה שהקשה כתר”ה ע”מ שכתבתי בסימן ג’ דעכו”ם אין להם שוםשכרכשעושין מצות שישראל מצוים מהרמב”ם שפי’ במתני’ דפ”ג תרומות מ”ט בטעם שתרומתן תרומה והקדשן הקדש משום שאע”פ שאינן חייבין במצות אם עשו מהם שום דבר יש להם קצת שכר וכיון שהם משתתפין עמנו בשכר מעשיהן במצות קיימין, הנה ברור שקאי רק על אלו מצות דהקדש וצדקה וכדומה שמצינו בבלק שקבל שכר על הקרבנות שהביא ובצדקה מפורש בנבוכדנצר בקראי דדניאל ובב”ב דף ד’ ודף י’ וכן בעניני מצות כהא דשכר שיחה נאה דהצעירה בבנות לוט וכהא דכבוד ה’ כג’ פסיעות דנבוכדנצר, אבל בשמירת שבת ויו”ט והנחת תפילין וציצית וסוכה ולולב ושופר ואכילת כשרות וזהירה משעטנז וכדומה אין להם שום שכר ע”ז דאין שייכין כלל למצות אלו כיון דליתנהו בקבלת התורה ואינם מצות לדידהו כלל כדכתבתי שם.

Responsa, Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:7

That which the questioner found difficult about what I wrote in Siman 3 that non-Jews receive no reward when doing a mitzvah that Jews are commanded to perform because of what the Rambam wrote in his commentary on the mishnah (Terumot, 3:9): the reason that their terumah (tithes) is terumah and their hekdesh (objects sanctified for the Temple’s use) is hekdesh because even though they aren’t commanded if they do any of them, they receive a small reward. Since they join with us in receiving reward, their actions are considered mitzvot. It is clear that this applies only to mitzvot such as hekdesh and charity and the like that are found with Balak who received reward for the sacrifices that he brought. Regarding charity, it is explicit with Nebuchadnezzar, as seen in the book of Daniel and Bava Batra (4 and 10), and so too in matters related to mitzvot, such as the reward that Lot’s younger daughter received for using proper speech, and Nebuchadnetzer for the three steps backward he took to honor God (See Sanhedrin 96a). However, keeping shabbat and festivals, wearing tefillin and tzitzit, sukkah, lulav, shofar, only eating kosher foods, and being careful about shatnez and the like, they do not receive any reward. They have no connection to these commandments since they were given with the receiving of the Torah and do not apply to them at all

I think Rav Moshe would probably say that this does not include Chanukah candles. Nevertheless, whether we argue there is or isn’t skhar, it certainly does not fall into the category of מחדש דת, since she is doing it as a Jew and as a Jewish mitzvah. The fact that Chanukah is a rabbinic mitzvah might also be relevant.

As to a berakhah – Non-Jews have no prohibition of ברכה לבטלה. According to Rambam, though, if it is אינו מצוה ועושה there should not in principle be a berakhah, and I believe Ashkenazim who rule that women say berakhot in things they are not commanded, would not say it in the case of non-Jews. That being said, I don’t think there is an issur for them.

So – bottom line – fine to give them candles and no concern if she makes a berakhah.

All of this is in regards to someone who is a non-Jew and identifies as such. In your case, the person is Jewish on his father’s side and fully identifies as Jewish. In such a case, it is important to not take it upon yourself to challenge the person’s self-identity as a Jew (while at the same time to be careful not to misrepresent how halakha would treat his status). This person identifies as a Jew and wants to do a mitzvah, and we should make an extra effort to help them do so.

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