One of the blessings on the internet is the ability to easily listen to lectures from afar. As followers of Joel Rich’s weekly audio roundups know well, YUTorah.org is a treasure trove of free, downloadable Torah lectures. I am able to follow my favorite YU teachers thanks to the website.
There are many reasons to object to YUTorah but are any valid? While some may object to YUTorah because they reject usage of the internet or the concept of a yeshiva merged with a university, I am unconcerned with those issues. However, there is an halakhic concern regarding the permissibility of posting Torah lectures online where gentiles may easily listen to them.
The Gemara (Chagigah 13a) states that a Jew may not teach Torah to a gentile. If so, may a Jew’s Torah lecture be made so easily available to gentiles?
This is not a new question. Beginning in January 1953, R. Pinchas Teitz taught Gemara (“Daf Hashovua”) on the radio. Despite the limits of his audience due to his speaking in Yiddish, some were still concerned that he might be improperly making Torah available to gentiles. R. Teitz, therefore, published an article in the journal Ha-Pardes defending his Torah radio show (link; on all this, see Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah, ch. 10). I found an interesting letter to him on the subject by R. Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg (Kisvei Ha-Gaon Rav Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg, vol. 1 pp. 26-30 – link). This letter is similar in content to R. Weinberg’s published responsa to R. Shlomo Breuer and an unnamed scholar (I believe R. Mordechai Gifter — Seridei Eish, Yoreh De’ah nos. 55-56 in the 1999 Weingort edition).
R. Weinberg agrees with R. Teitz’s permissive conclusions and explains how he arrived there. He distinguishes between two main positions on the reasoning underlying this prohibition. According to Tosafos (Chagigah 13a sv. ein), the Torah belongs to the Jewish people. It is an inherent aspect of national uniqueness. When a gentile studies Torah, he is taking from us an important element of our defining trait. He is, in a sense, stealing from the Jewish people.
However, the Rambam, as explained by R. Weinberg, has an entirely different approach. The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim 10:9) states that a gentile may not create a new religious practice that he performs as a mitzvah. He is allowed to shake a lulav out of curiosity but not out of a sense of religious obligation. There is, however, a middle ground between these two intents: fulfilling an optional mitzvah. A gentile is allowed to shake a lulav as an optional mitzvah, a chosen way to reach out to God. However, observing Shabbos and learning Torah are exceptions to this permission because they represent Jewish uniqueness.
As Tosafos understand the matter, gentiles may not learn Torah because such study is an element of Jewish identity. According to Rambam, they may not learn Torah because it is a Jewish act of devotion reserved only for members of the faith. The practical difference between these two reasons is when a gentile learns Torah out of intellectual curiosity. This should be allowed according to the Rambam but not Tosafos.
According to Tosafos, we need to be concerned that a Jew teaching Torah on the radio is enabling a gentile to study Torah. R. Weinberg points out that the only concern is the prohibition of lifnei iveir, which is not an issue if the gentile may learn Torah anyway. Since gentiles can obtain an English translation of the Talmud (at that time, only Soncino), they can learn Torah even without the radio program.
I am uncertain why R. Weinberg does not consider that purchasing an English Talmud is more expensive and more of a bother than merely turning on the radio. Presumably, this would create a case of lifnei iveir (see Minchas Elazar 1:53), unless R. Weinberg disagrees with this entire premise. Nevertheless, R. Weinberg concludes that it is obvious that R. Teitz may teach his radio Talmud class. And so he did, for 35 years.
Presumably, if teaching Talmud on the radio is permissible, so is posting audios of lectures on the internet. While gentiles may wish to engage in the Jewish religious act of Torah study, that is their concern and not ours. According to the Rambam, the prohibition depends on their attitude and according to Tosafos, they are able to study Torah even without YUTorah.