"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21

The Origin and Derivation of the Noachide Laws

May 7, 2011

in Rachav

taken from Rachav’s page with permission

by Yishay

Adam received six laws from God in the Garden of Eden [1]. The seventh was given to Noach and his descendants. The purpose of these laws was to be the foundation of just and godly societies throughout the world. However, it was in the generation of Enosh that mankind became confused as to what was expected of them by their Creator. At first, mankind reasoned that if God created the moon and the stars and gave them power and influence over mans lives [2] that just as one should praise and honour the King, one should also praise and honour His appointed servants. This concept, known as shituf, entails ascribing partnership to God.

In time, mankind became even more confused with regards to the Noachide Laws and what was expected of them. The objects which had once been worshipped as mere tools, with no independent powers of their own, became the exclusive focus of worship. What mankind had stumbled onto was Avodah Zarah, idol worship. Moreover, mankind had so forgotten the Laws that were commanded to Adam that their behaviour had become completely immoral and unjust. They reached such degraded level that God found it necessary to cleanse the earth [3] and to start again, as it were, with Noachs family.

But even with The Flood in mankinds collective memories, this did not stop mankind from starting its descent again into injustice and immorality. However, throughout history, there had always been individuals who had preserved the Laws as they should be and had not deviated from the path set for them by God. Even though all around them were becoming confused as to what God expects of mankind, individuals remained who adhered to the proper path. From Adam to Noach was ten generations. From Noach to Abraham was ten generations. However, because of the antediluvian life spans, only three generations were needed to teach the laws to Abraham [4].

With Abraham, God saw that in order to bring mankind back to the Laws He had originally given to mankind, a specific group of people would be required to present an example to the Nations and to safeguard the Noachide Laws for the rest of Mankind. Out of the forging press of Egyptian Exile emerged a people that could stand around Mount Sinai and declare that they accept the special mission assigned to them by God. That mission is to be a Light Unto the Nations [5]. That mission is to bring the Nations back to the path that they had originally deviated from.

The Noachide Laws thus became part and parcel of the Revelation at Sinai. The Bnei Noach (Sons [and Daughters] of Noach) are no longer meant to keep the Laws merely because they were originally given to Adam and then to Noach. The Bnei Noach are now required to keep the Laws because they are the Will of God for all mankind as expressed in His Torah.

The Torah that God gave to the Bnei Yisrael is in two parts. The first, which most people are familiar with, is the Torah she bichtav, the Written Torah. What few people realise is that God gave the Bnei Yisrael explanations of and methods for deriving His Will from the Written Torah. This is known as the Torah she baal peh, the Oral Torah [6]. There is a fundamental principle in Torah Judaism that every part of the Oral Torah can be found hinted at in the Written Torah. Using these methods of exegesis, the Mishna in Sanhedrin 56a derives the Noachide Laws given to Adam from Genesis 2:16. The Seventh Law is recorded outright to Noach in Genesis 9:4. They are formalised by the Rambam [7] in his monumental Codification of Torah Law, Mishne Torah, Section Hilchot Melachim (The Laws of Kings), 9:1.

Avodah Zarah The prohibition against idolatry

Birkat HaShem The prohibition against blasphemy

Shefichut-Damim The prohibition against murder

Gilui Arayot The prohibition on sexual immorality

HaGezel The prohibition against theft.

HaDinim The command to establish laws and courts of justice

Ever min haChai The prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal.

The derivation of the first six laws From Genesis 2:16 is accomplished as follows:

VAYITSAV HASHEM ELOKIM AL HAADM LEIMOR MICHAL EITS HAGAN OCHEL

And Hashem God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat.

Idolatry: TSAV (command). As evident from Hosea 5:11, TSAV is an allusion to the worship of idols. There, the word TSAV is used directly in reference people doing the command (TSAV) of idolatrous priests (Rashi) and the wicked kings (Radak).

Blasphemy: HASHEM (God). The word develops an association between this verse and the prohibition against cursing God mentioned in the verse Leviticus 24:16, which explicitly uses the name HASHEM.

Murder: AL HAADAM (To the Man). The words refer to the command against murder as mentioned in Genesis 9:6 where the word ADAM is also used to describe man.

Sexual Immorality: LEIMOR (saying). The word LEIMOR establishes a connection between this verse and Jeremiah 3:1, which starts with the word LEIMOR. Jeremiah 3:1 discusses acts which are sexually immoral.

Theft: This is derived from the plain meaning of the verse to granting license to eat from the trees of the garden for otherwise Adam would have been forbidden to do so, because the property did not belong to him.

Courts of Justice: ELOKIM (God). Exodus 22:27 uses that Name in reference to judges and the judical process.

Flesh from a Living Animal: Nevertheless, you may not eat flesh with its life, which is its blood. This is not derived from Genesis 2:16. Rather, from the plain meaning of Genesis 9:4.

In the words of the Rambam, Anyone who accepts upon themselves the fulfilment of these Seven Laws and is precise in their observance is considered one of the Righteous of the Gentiles and will merit a share in the World to Come. What I have listed above is only a simple overview of the Noachide Laws.

You can also learn more about the Noachide Laws by reading Rachav’s articles – she is a Bat Noach [Daughter of Noach] residing in Melbourne, Australia. This website is hosting Rachav’s articles – which are informative and instructive.

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Footnotes:

[1] Genesis Rabbah 16:6. Sanhedrin 56a, however, states that seven laws were commanded to Adam. Since the consumption of meat was not performed until the time of Noach, the seventh law would have been irrelevant to Adam and his descendants. Thus, Seven Laws would, retroactively, be Six Laws.

[2] In the sense of tides, seasons, etc.

[3] Major commentators, such as Rashi and the Ramba”n say that The Flood was an event local to the Land of Israel and immediate environs only.

[4] Adam (1 930) to Lamech (874 1561) to Noah (1056 2006) to Abraham (1948 2123).

[5] Isaiah 42:6, Isaiah 49:6 Isaiah, 60:3.

[6] For example, Then thou shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock… as I have commanded thee” (Deuteronomy 12:21). An examination of the Jewish Bible from cover to cover would reveal that no mention is made of the process that was commanded the Israelites regarding the slaughtering method. Thus, it is rational to assume that the directions existed as a body of knowledge outside of the Torah she bichtav: The Torah she ba’al peh.


 

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