By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Do gentiles have mitzvos?
Of course. Indeed, most of us are familiar with the concept of the sheva mitzvos B’nei Noach-the seven Noahide laws that are discussed in the Gemara in Sanhedrin (58b). These mitzvos actually show the universality of Torah Judaism. When Shlomo HaMelech built the holy Beis HaMikdash, he wished it to be for all the nations of the world (see Melachim 1, 8:41-43). The verse in fact states, “Ki beisi beis-tefillah yikarei l’chol ha’amim-For My house shall be called a house of worship for all the nations” (Yeshayah 56:7).
The Sefer HaChinuch explains that these seven laws are, in fact, categories of laws. These categories are the injunctions against murder, stealing, worshiping false gods, engaging in forbidden liaisons, eating the flesh of a live animal, and cursing Hashem, as well as the responsibility of setting up a system of justice whereby these laws are enforced.
Why then don’t have bar mitzvah and bas mitzvah ceremonies?
Not a bad question, in fact. Jewish boys and girls have bar and bas mitzvahs when they reach the age at which they are obligated in observing the 613 mitzvos. What about their non-Jewish contemporaries, Chris and Kathy, for example? Perhaps the most pressing question is, when exactly is a gentile obligated in his or her mitzvos? And, more to our point, can the rabbi theoretically sell the community chametz to a mature eleven-year-old gentile?
It seems that there are three opinions among the Acharonim as to when our theoretical gentile would celebrate this milestone. The Chelkas Yoav (Vol. 1, s.v. “Aval”) indicates that the designated age would be the same as the age at which a Jewish child becomes a bar mitzvah. Thus, according to the Chelkas Yoav, “Chris” would celebrate his bar mitzvah at thirteen, while “Kathy” would celebrate hers at twelve.
The Chasam Sofer (in his response on Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah No. 184), on the other hand, is of the opinion that since it is generally known that the shiurim (numerical specifications) given to Moshe Rabbeinu at Mount Sinai do not apply to gentiles, the minimal age for mitzvos would also not apply to gentiles. According to this view, a gentile child would be obligated in the seven Noahide laws right away upon birth. Hence, the gentile bar mitzvah ceremony could be celebrated upon birth. Feasibly, this could be included in the general birth announcement sent out by the parents. (“B’leiv malei simcha,… With a heart filled with gratitude we are honored to invite you to the sheva mitzvos B’nei Noach bar mitzvah for our son just born to us in good mazel…”)
The third opinion as to when the gentile bar mitzvah ceremony could be held would complicate things extremely. The Minchas Chinuch (195:5) seems to be of the opinion that it is when the particular child reaches the age of da’as, responsibility. In practice, this would differ from child to child. And what exactly are the criteria that we would apply in order to determine da’as? In regard to financial transactions, the Talmud teaches us that there is something called pautos-when a child is seven or eight years old and his or her sales are generally considered valid. Would this be the criterion that would be applied?
So which of the three opinions cited above should gentile parents follow? While not issuing a ruling here, one would assume that the couple would probably be directed to follow the opinion of the Chelkas Yoav.
This brings us, however, to another question. Where did the age of thirteen come from in the first place? Also, is this figure a d’Oraisah (Biblical) ruling or is it a rabbinic ruling? If it is rabbinic in nature, then would it also apply to gentiles? (Gentiles, we recall, generally do not have to follow rabbinic laws.)
According to the great sage Rashi (Nazir 29b, s.v. “V’Rabbi Yossi”), it is Biblical. How? We do not find anywhere in the Torah where someone less than thirteen years of age is called “ish,” “a man.” We do find, however, that Shimon and Levi were thirteen years old when they wiped out the city of Shechem (see Bereishis 34:25), and the Torah there refers to them using the word “ish.”
And since the Torah says, “A man (“ish”) or woman (“ishah”) who commits any of these sins…[that soul shall be guilty]” (Bamidbar 5:6), we see that the age of 13 is the age of bar mitzvah.
The Rosh, on the other hand, rules that the age of thirteen is a halachah handed down to us by Moshe Rabbeinu from Mount Sinai (see his response No. 16).
Finally, we have the opinion of the Baalei Tosefos in Sanhedrin 69a (s.v. “BeYadua”) that the age is a rabbinic approximation of when a child reaches physical maturity. According to this last opinion, our theoretical gentile couple should celebrate the special day in question on the date of their particular child’s becoming physically mature-since rabbinic approximations would not apply to them.
Would there be a ritual reading of a text (such as the list of the seven mitzvos B’nei Noach that apply to them) that they may chant on this special day? Would it include a special melody (“trop”)? Who would teach them the exact melody of this text? These questions (thankfully) are beyond the scope of this column.
But what about the age of the gentile who purchases the chametz? It would seem that in order to avoid a debate on the matter, one should most definitely be stringent and transact the sale only with a mature, adult non-Jew.
The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.