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Noahide Laws

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Noahide Laws

In Judaism, the Seven Laws of Noah (Hebrew: שבע מצוות בני נחSheva mitzvot B'nei Noach), or the Noahide Laws, are a set of moral imperatives that, according to the Talmud, were given by God[1] as a binding set of laws for the "children of Noah" – that is, all of humanity.[2][3]

According to Judaism, any non-Jew who adheres to these laws is regarded as a righteous gentile, and is assured of a place in the World to Come (Hebrew: עולם הבאOlam Haba), the final reward of the righteous.[4][5] Adherents are often called "B'nei Noach" (Children of Noah) or "Noahides," and may sometimes network in Jewish synagogues.

The seven laws listed by the Tosefta and the Talmud are:[6]

  1. The prohibition of Idolatry.
  2. The prohibition of Murder.
  3. The prohibition of Theft.
  4. The prohibition of Sexual immorality.
  5. The prohibition of Blasphemy.
  6. The prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive.
  7. The requirement of maintaining courts to provide legal recourse.

The Noahide laws comprise the six commandments which were given to oral Torah, are applicable to the Jews only, and non-Jews are bound only to observe the seven Noahide laws.

Biblical origins

Hebrew Bible

According to the Genesis flood narrative, a Genesis 9):

  • Flesh of a living animal: "However, flesh with its life-blood [in it], you shall not eat." (9:4)
  • Murder and courts: "Furthermore, I will demand your blood, for [the taking of] your lives, I shall demand it [even] from any wild animal. From man too, I will demand of each person's brother the blood of man. He who spills the blood of man, by man his blood shall be spilt; for in the image of God He made man." (9:5–6)

Second Temple period texts

Although other texts from the Second Temple period are not considered authoritative in Judaism, they do show reference to the concept of Noahide laws before the Talmud.

2nd Century BCE, Book of Jubilees

An early reference to Noachide Law may appear in the Book of Jubilees 7:20–28, which is generally dated to the 2nd century BCE:

"And in the twenty-eighth jubilee [1324–1372 A.M.] Noah began to enjoin upon his sons' sons the ordinances and commandments, and all the judgments that he knew, and he exhorted his sons to observe righteousness, and to cover the shame of their flesh, and to bless their Creator, and honour father and mother, and love their neighbour, and guard their souls from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity. For owing to these three things came the flood upon the earth ... For whoso sheddeth man's blood, and whoso eateth the blood of any flesh, shall all be destroyed from the earth."[8][9]

1st century AD, Acts 15

Main article: Council of Jerusalem

The Saul of Tarsus states:

According to Acts, Paul began working along the traditional Jewish line of proselytizing in the various synagogues where the Acts 15:1–31).

Jewish Encyclopedia: New Testament — Spirit of Jewish Proselytism in Christianity states:

For great as was the success of Barnabas and Paul in the heathen world, the authorities in Jerusalem insisted upon circumcision as the condition of admission of members into the church, until, on the initiative of Peter, and of James, the head of the Jerusalem church, it was agreed that acceptance of the Noachian Laws — namely, regarding avoidance of idolatry, fornication, and the eating of flesh cut from a living animal — should be demanded of the heathen desirous of entering the Church.

historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles, and the nature of Biblical law in Christianity.

Talmud

According to Judaism, as expressed in the Talmud, the Noachide Laws apply to all humanity through humankind's descent from one paternal ancestor, the head of the only family to survive The Flood, who in Hebrew tradition is called Noah. In Judaism, בני נח B'nei Noah (Hebrew, "Descendants of Noah", "Children of Noah") refers to all of humankind.[11] The Talmud also states: "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come" (Sanhedrin 105a). Any non-Jew who lives according to these laws is regarded as one of "the righteous among the gentiles". Maimonides writes that this refers to those who have acquired knowledge of God and act in accordance with the Noachide laws out of obedience to God. According to what scholars consider to be the most accurate texts of the Mishneh Torah,[12] Maimonides goes on to say that anyone who upholds the Noachide laws only because they appear logical is not one of the "righteous among the nations," but rather he is one of the wise among them. The more prolific versions of the Mishneh Torah say of such a person: "..nor is he one of the wise among them."[13]

The Talmud states that the instruction not to eat "flesh with the life" was given to Noah, and that

Historically, some rabbinic opinions consider non-Jews not only not obligated to adhere to all the remaining laws of the Torah, but actually forbidden to observe them.[15] The Noachide Laws are regarded as the way through which non-Jews can have a direct and meaningful relationship with God, or at least comply with the minimal requisites of civilization and of divine law.

Noachide law differs radically from Roman law for gentiles (Jus Gentium), if only because the latter was enforceable judicial policy. Rabbinic Judaism has never adjudicated any cases under Noachide law (per Novak, 1983:28ff.), although scholars disagree about whether Noachide law is a functional part of Halakha ("Jewish law") (cf. Bleich).

In recent years, the term "Noahide" has come to refer to non-Jews who strive to live in accord with the seven Noachide Laws; the terms "observant Noahide" or "Torah-centered Noahides" would be more precise but are infrequently used. Support for the use of Noahide in this sense can be found with the Genesis 9:12-17. A non-Jew of any ethnicity or religion is referred to as a bat ("daughter") or ben ("son") of Noah, but most organizations that call themselves בני נח (b'nei noach) are composed of gentiles who are keeping the Noachide Laws.

Subdividing the Seven Laws

Various rabbinic sources have different positions on the way the seven laws are to be subdivided in categories. Maimonides[17] lists other additional Noahide commandments, including the coupling of different kinds of animals and the grafting of different species (as defined by Jewish law) of trees. Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (Radbaz), a contemporary commentator on Maimonides, expressed surprise that he left out castration and sorcery which were listed in the Talmud.[18]

The 10th-century Rabbi Saadia Gaon added tithes and levirate marriage. The 11th-century Rav Nissim Gaon included "listening to God's Voice", "knowing God" and "serving God" besides going on to say that all religious acts which can be understood through human reasoning are obligatory upon Jew and Gentile alike. The 14th-century Rabbi Nissim ben Reuben Gerondi added the commandment of charity.

The 16th-century work Asarah Maamarot by Rabbi Menahem Azariah of Fano (Rema mi-Fano) enumerates thirty commandments, listing the latter twenty-three as extensions of the original seven, which includes prohibitions on various forms of sorcery, as well as incest and bestiality. Another commentator, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes (Kol Hidushei Maharitz Chayess I, end Ch. 10) suggests these are not related to the first seven, nor based on Scripture, but were passed down by oral tradition. The number thirty derives from the statement of the Talmudic sage Ulla in tractate Hullin 92a, though he lists only three other rules in addition to the original seven, consisting of details of the prohibitions against homosexuality and cannibalism, as well as the imperative to honor the Torah.

Talmud commentator Rashi remarks on this that he does not know the other Commandments that are referred to. Though the authorities seem to take it for granted that Ulla's thirty commandments included the original seven, an additional thirty laws is also possible from the reading.

The 10th century Shmuel ben Hophni Gaon lists thirty Noahide Commandments based on Ulla's Talmudic statement, though the text is problematic.[19] He includes the prohibitions against suicide and false oaths, as well as the imperatives related to prayer, sacrifices and honoring one's parents.

The contemporary Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein counts 66 instructions but Rabbi Harvey Falk has suggested that much work remains to be done in order to properly identify all of the Noahide Commandments, their divisions and subdivisions.

Theft, robbery and stealing covers the appropriate understanding of other persons, their property and their rights. The establishment of courts of justice promotes the value of the responsibility of a corporate society of people to enforce these laws and define these terms. The refusal to engage in unnecessary lust or cruelty demonstrates respect for the creation itself as renewed after the Flood. The prohibition against committing murder includes a prohibition against human sacrifice.

Maimonides, in his Mishnah Torah, interpreted the prohibition against homicide as including a prohibition against abortion.[20]

Ger toshav (Resident alien)

Main article: Ger toshav

In earlier times, a Gentile living in the Land of Israel who accepted the Seven laws in front of a rabbinical court was known as a Ger toshav (literally Stranger/Resident) or "Resident Alien". Jewish law recognizes a Biblical obligation to help a Ger toshav in time of need (as opposed to the rabbinic obligation help all Gentiles who live among Jews). The regulations regarding Jewish-Gentile relations are modified in the case of a Ger toshav.[21]

Jewish law only allows the official acceptance of a Ger Toshav as a resident in the Land of Israel during a time when the Year of Jubilee (yovel) is in effect. There is discussion in the sources as to whether some of the laws that apply to a Ger Toshav may be applied to some modern Gentiles, particularly Muslims.[21]

A Ger Toshav should not be confused with a Ger Tzedek, who is a person who prefers to proceed to total conversion to Judaism, a procedure that is traditionally only allowed to take place after much thought and deliberation over converting.

Punishment

The Talmud laid down the statutory punishment for transgressing any one of the Seven Laws of Noah (but not other parts of the Noahide code) as capital punishment [22] by decapitation, which is considered one of the lightest[23] of the four modes of execution of criminals. According to some opinions, punishment is the same whether the individual transgresses with knowledge of the law or is ignorant of the law.[24]

Modern Times

Modern views

Some modern views hold that penalties are a detail of the Noahide Laws and that Noahides themselves must determine the details of their own laws for themselves. According to this school of thought – see N. Rakover, Law and the Noahides (1998); M. Dallen, The Rainbow Covenant (2003) – the Noahide Laws offer mankind a set of absolute values and a framework for righteousness and justice, while the detailed laws that are currently on the books of the world's states and nations are presumptively valid.

Chabad views: A Shulchan Aruch for Gentiles

After the Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, started his Noahide Campaign in the 1980s, the number of Gentiles willing to keep the Seven Laws of Noah as described in the Torah increased. A codification of the exact obligations of the Gentiles in the spirit of the classical Shulchan Aruch was needed. In 2005 the scholar Rabbi Moshe Weiner of Jerusalem accepted to produce an in-depth codification of the Noahide precepts.[25] The work is called Sefer Sheva Mitzvot HaShem, (The Book of Seven Divine Commandments) published 2008/2009. As it is approved by both Chief Rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar and Rabbi Yonah Metzger, as well as other Hasidic- and non-Hasidic halachic authorities like Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz and Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, it can claim an authoritative character and is referred as a "Shulchan Aruch"[26] for Gentiles at many places.

Public endorsement of Noahide Laws

United States Congress

The Seven Laws of Noah were recognized by the United States Congress in the preamble to the 1991 bill that established Education Day in honor of the birthday of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Chabad movement:

Whereas Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society and upon which our great Nation was founded; Whereas these ethical values and principles have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization, when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws.[27]

Israeli Druze

In January 2004, the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Mowafak Tarif, signed a declaration calling on all non-Jews in Israel to observe the Noahide Laws as laid down in the Talmud and expounded upon in Jewish tradition. The mayor of the Galilean city of Shefa-'Amr (Shfaram), where Muslim, Christian and Druze communities live side by side, also signed the document. The declaration includes the commitment to make a better, more humane world based on the Seven Noahide Commandments and the values they represent commanded by the Creator to all mankind through Moses on Mount Sinai.

Support for the spread of the Seven Noahide Commandments by the Druze leaders reflects the Biblical narrative itself. The Druze community reveres the non-Jewish father-in-law of Moses, Jethro, whom Arabs call Shoaib. According to the Biblical narrative, Jethro joined and assisted the Jewish people in the desert during the Exodus, accepted monotheism, but ultimately rejoined his own people. In fact, the tomb of Jethro in Tiberias is the most important religious site for the Druze community.[28]

Christianity and the Noahide Laws

Christian views on the old covenant vary. Most and is commonly seen as a parallel to the Noahide Laws.

The 18th-century Rabbi Jacob Emden proposed that Jesus, and Paul after him, intended to convert the Gentiles to the Noahide laws while allowing the Jews to follow full Mosaic Law.[30] This approach is generally considered to be dual-covenant theology.

See also

References

Further reading

  • Barre Elisheva. "Torah for Gentiles - the Messianic and Political Implications of the Bnei Noah Laws", 2008, ISBN 978-965-91329-0-4.

The second edition now online at: http://www.scribd.com/my_document_collections/3551340

  • Bleich, J. David. "Judaism and natural law" in Jewish law annual, vol. VII 5–42
  • Bleich, J. David. "Tikkun Olam: Jewish Obligations to Non-Jewish Society" in: Tikkun olam: social responsibility in Jewish thought and law. Edited by David Shatz, Chaim I. Waxman and Nathan J. Diament. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1997. ISBN 0-7657-5951-9.
  • Broyde, Michael J. "The Obligation of Jews to Seek Observance of Noahide Laws by Gentiles: A Theoretical Review" in Tikkun olam: social responsibility in Jewish thought and law. Edited by David Shatz, Chaim I. Waxman and Nathan J. Diament. Northvale, N.J. : Jason Aronson, 1997. ISBN 0-7657-5951-9.
  • Cecil, Alan W. "The Noahide Code: A Guide to the Perplexed Christian." (Aventura: Academy of Shem Press, 2006). ISBN 0-9779885-0-3.
  • Cohen, Yakov Dovid. "Divine Image " Insights into the Laws of Noah, published by The Institute of Noahide Code 2006 ISBN 1-4243-1000-8 online www.Noahide.org
  • Cowen, Shimon Dovid. "Perspectives on the Noahide Laws - Universal ethics". The Institute of Judaism and Civilization (3rd edition) 2008 ISBN 0-9585933-8-8 www.ijc.com.au
  • Clorfene C and Rogalsky Y. The Path of the Righteous Gentile: An Introduction to the Seven Laws of the Children of Noah. Targum Press, 1987. Online version.
  • Lichtenstein, Aaron. "The Seven Laws of Noah". New York: The Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press and Z. Berman Books, 2d ed. 1986. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 80-69121.
  • Novak, David. The image of the non-Jew in Judaism: an historical and constructive study of the Noahide Laws. New York : E. Mellen Press, 1983.
  • Novak, David. Natural law in Judaism. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Rakover, Nahum. Law and the Noahides: law as a universal value. Jerusalem: Library of Jewish Law, 1998.
  • Michael Dallen. The Rainbow Covenant: Torah and the Seven Universal Laws online excerpts

External links

  • Ask Noah International and "The Divine Code" – Shulchan Aruch (Code of Torah Law) for Gentiles
  • Institute of Noahide Code
  • Academy of Shem: Educational resources for Noahides
  • Jewish Encyclopedia: Laws, Noachian
  • Wikinoah: Online resource of history, halacha, publications, and websites concerning Bnei Noah
  • Detailed explanations of the Noahide Laws for Beginners
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