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Do Non-Jews Have “Power of Conquest”

Hello! I’m stumped by the statement in Sanhedrin 59a that gentiles are not “children of conquest,” which, according to Rashi, means that they have not been given a land to conquer like Israel has. Does this have any implications besides yefas toar? Gittin 38a seems to imply that conquest by gentiles has legal effect in changing title to territory, but does the fact that gentiles are not “children of conquest” somehow make their conquests illegitimate in some other way? Thank you!


Your question is an excellent question, and it is already asked by Rashash, who quotes from Tosafos in Gittin that non-Jews do have the power of acquisition by means of conquest (based on the conquest of Ammon and Moab by Sichon).

A possible solution to the puzzle can be found in the commentary of Yad Ramah, who explains that because the nation of Israel are actually instructed in conquering the Land, it follows that everything therein in fact belongs to them, and therefore there is no monetary issue in taking the yefas toar. [This approach can be somewhat substantiated by Rashi’s commentary to the first pasuk in Bereishis.] For non-Jewish nations, however, there is no instruction to conquer, and thus taking the yefas toar would be considered gezel, even though they possess “power of conquest” with regard to the actual land.

This is a quite novel interpretation of the Gemara, which places emphasis on the monetary issue of the yefas toar (parallel with the case of less than a perutah, which the Gemara also mentions), and not the question of forbidden relations. This fits in with the halachah whereby even a married yefas toar is permitted (Kiddushin 21b), and even a young daughter, in spite of the “monetary” implications involved.

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