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Stealing from a Gentile – On Second Thought

On Second Thought: Delving Into the Sugya with Rabbanit Yafit Clymer

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Bava Kama 111


Stealing from a gentile


בבא קמא  קי-קיג

אָמַר רַב בִּיבִי בַּר גִּידֵּל אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן חֲסִידָא: גֶּזֶל גּוֹי אָסוּר, אֲבֵידָתוֹ מוּתֶּרֶת. גְּזֵילוֹ אָסוּר – דְּאָמַר רַב הוּנָא: מִנַּיִן לְגֶזֶל הַגּוֹי שֶׁהוּא אָסוּר? שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְאָכַלְתָּ אֶת כׇּל הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ נָתַן לָךְ״ – בִּזְמַן שֶׁהֵן מְסוּרִים בְּיָדְךָ, וְלֹא בִּזְמַן שֶׁאֵינָם מְסוּרִין בְּיָדְךָ.


The Gemara cites another statement related to stealing from a gentile. Rav Beivai bar Giddel says that Rabbi Shimon asida says: It is prohibited to rob a gentile, but it is permitted to retain his lost item, i.e., one is not required to return it to him. The Gemara examines the basis for each of these rulings: It is prohibited to rob a gentile, as Rav Huna says: From where is it derived that it is prohibited to rob a gentile? It is derived from a verse, as it is stated: “And you shall consume all the peoples that the Lord your God shall deliver unto you” (Deuteronomy 7:16), indicating that it is permitted to consume the other nations’ property only when they are delivered into your hand, i.e., in times of war, but not when they are not delivered into your hand.


דברים ז טז

וְאָכַלְתָּ֣ אֶת־כׇּל־הָֽעַמִּ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ נֹתֵ֣ן לָ֔ךְ לֹא־תָח֥וֹס עֵֽינְךָ֖ עֲלֵיהֶ֑ם וְלֹ֤א תַעֲבֹד֙ אֶת־אֱלֹ֣הֵיהֶ֔ם כִּֽי־מוֹקֵ֥שׁ ה֖וּא לָֽךְ׃ {ס}  


You shall destroy all the peoples that your God יהוה delivers to you, showing them no pity. And you shall not worship their gods, for that would be a snare to you.


רבנו בחיי

אשר ה’ אלהיך נותן לך. דרשו רז”ל, בזמן שמסורין בידך, מכאן למדנו שגזל הגוי אסור בזמן הזה, ואמרו חכמים ז”ל שהוא יותר חמור מגזל ישראל מפני חלול השם, וכבר בארתי זה בפסוק (ויקרא כ״ה:נ׳) וחשב עם קונהו. 


אשר ה’ אלו-היך נותן לך, “which the Lord your G’d is about to give to you.” Our sages in Baba Kama 113 state that this was true only at the time when the Canaanites were being delivered into the hands of the Israelites during the years of conquest. Nowadays, stealing from or robbing Gentiles is certainly prohibited. In fact, the Talmud there describes stealing from Gentiles as a greater sin than stealing from Israelites as it involves the desecration of the name of the Lord. The Jewish people are to be models of morality. If we steal, we drag G’d’s Torah into disrepute. (See also the author’s comment on Lev. 25,50).


רבנו בחיי ויקרא כ״ה:נ׳

וחשב עם קונהו, “he will make a reckoning with the one who purchased him.” The verse warns that one must make a meticulous accounting and not try and trick the Gentile in one’s calculations. The reason is that stealing from pagans is prohibited as a form of desecrating the holy name of the Lord. The Torah demands such careful accounting when the Gentile in question is under Jewish authority. I might have thought that seeing the Torah permits charging interest to Gentiles, something which the Torah elsewhere appears to view as a form of unethical conduct, that stealing, at least indirectly, from a pagan is permitted; therefore, the Torah makes a point of telling us that this is not so. We know already from Joseph’s brothers whose money had been returned to them by the Egyptians (at least they thought so) that they took it back to Egypt with them (Genesis 43,13) in response to their father Yaakov’s instructions. 

If Yaakov thought (as he said) that even if the pagans had made an error, we must not take advantage of it to their detriment, how much more so must we not disadvantage them deliberately. All of this occurred before the Torah was given, when we did not have these limitations imposed upon us. How much more meticulous must one deal with a Gentile now that the laws of the Torah apply to us!


The Tosephta Baba Kama 113 states expressly that if one has robbed a pagan one must return the stolen goods. It adds that such robbery is a graver crime than robbing a Jew because the crime includes the sin of desecrating the Lord’s name. When one robs a fellow Jew, the victim does not use this as an excuse to question the rules of the Torah and the fairness of G’d…


ספר מצוות גדול, עשין ע”ד (רבי משה מקוצי, מאה 13)

I have already tought to the exile of Jerusalem which is in Spain and the rest of Galuyot Edom, because now that the exile has been prolonged it is more than likely that Israel must distinguish itself from the vanities of the world and grasp the seal of God Almighty who is truth and not to lie to Israel or to the Gentiles and not to mislead them in any matter and to sanctify themselves even in what is permitted to them as it is said: The remnant of Israel Shall do no wrong And speak no falsehood; A deceitful tongue Shall not be in their mouths. Only such as these shall graze and lie down,
With none to trouble them (Tsefanya 2:13)

 And when the Almighty comes to save them, the Gentiles will say they are righteous and they are people of truth and the Torah is true in their mouths.

But if they behave deceitfully with the Gentiles, they will say, look what the Almighty has done, who chose thieves and cheats, and it is also written, ” I will sow her in the land as My own;(Hosea 2:25).  Does One-man sows one portion in the land, but to find a few. This is how God sows Israel in the lands, so that they will be join by converts. And as long as they behave deceitfully toward them, who will stick to them


מסילת ישרים – הקדמה

הַהֲלִיכָה בִּדְרָכָיו כּוֹלֵל כָּל עִנְיַן יֹשֶׁר הַמִּדּוֹת וְתִקּוּנָם. וְהוּא מָה שֶׁבֵּאֲרוּ זַ”ל (שבת קל”ג): מָה הוּא רַחוּם אַף אַתָּה רַחוּם וְכוּ’. וּכְלָל כָּל זֶה שֶׁיִּנְהַג הָאָדָם כָּל מִדּוֹתָיו וְכָל מִינֵי פְּעֻלּוֹתָיו עַל פִּי הַיֹּשֶׁר וְהַמּוּסָר. 

Walking in His ways – this includes all matters of uprightness and correction of character traits. This is what our sages of blessed memory explained (Shab.133b) “just as He is merciful, be also merciful…” The general principle of all this is for one to conduct all of his traits in all the variety of his deeds according to what is just and ethical.


Rabbanit Yafit Clymer

Rabbanit Yafit Clymer is a senior lecturer in Jewish Studies at the several Matan learning centers, at 'Emunah' and WebYeshiva. She is a group instructor for various programs. Rabbanit Clymer is part of the steering committee of the 'Beit Hillel' organization and answers halachic questions online as a part of their Meshivat Nefesh project.
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