Kiddush Hashem in the Talmud Yerushalmi

The discussion appears in the Talmud Yerushalmi Bava Mezia 2:5 in Vilna Shas heth amud alef. We have the following Gemara. There was a case in which the students of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach, one of the greatest Tannaim of all time, tried to find him a new business because he was exceedingly poor. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach was involved in Linen work. Obviously the linen work was not sufficient for him to make a living. His students urged him to leave this business and instead they would buy him a donkey. This way he would not have to work so hard and at the same time would be able to live comfortably.

They went ahead and bought a donkey from a non-Jew. According to the notes at the bottom of the Talmud Yerushalmi (and we do not know exactly who they are from), he was an Ishmaelite thief so the donkey was not really his to start with. This makes the story even more interesting because of what is about to come. The students discovered a pearl on the donkey and took it to Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach exclaiming that they struck it rich and that from now on he does not have to work anymore. But Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach asked the students: Did the owner of the donkey know that there was a pearl attached to it. They answered “NO”. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach said to them: “Go give it back!”.

Now the Amoraim intervene here and start discussing this: They asked a question before R. Yehuda Hanasi: Even according the opinion that the theft from a non-jew is prohibited, (I should say that non-jew here is definitely a pagan. Its important to know that the Amoraim are talking literally about a pagan because theft from a non-pagan is definitly prohibited and at the time the Arabs were definitely pagans — its pre-Islam) everyone agrees you can keep the lost item of a pagan  If you find the object of a pagan you are allowed to keep it. So what does it mean that Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach said to give it back.

The Gemara continues: Do you think Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach was a barbarian someone who only thought about making money? On the contrary, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetah would have prefered  to hear “Blessed is the God of the Jews” (בריך רחמנא אלהא דיהודאי) than any reward of this world.  More important than anything else in this world, even the freedom to teach and learn Torah unencumbered for the rest of one’s life is that this non-Jew should say: ” Blessed is the God of the Jews”.

The Gemara continues: What else teaches us this idea?  Rabbi Haninah would tell the following story: “The elder Rabbis bought one measure of Barley from the Roman soldiers. They found in it a bundle of money. Now you have to understand that in these times Jews and Roman soldiers were not on exactly good terms with each other. But they gave it back to the Roman soldiers and they said “Blessed is the God of the Jews”.

The Gemara continues to cite other cases. In each one  of these cases each the person was exempt from giving the object back. In one case the non-Jew even says that he can keep it. In another case the person even risks his life to give it back. The Gemara is trying to teach us that our paramount obligation irrespective of the Halakhah  is to make sure that gentiles say Blessed is the God of  the Jewish people.