"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 Laws of the Noahides

May 13, 2011

in Christianity:,Judaism:,Noahide - The Ancient Path

Adam Penrod

As the Noachide movement grows and gains general recognition within the Jewish community as being a positive force, new challenges will present themselves to both the Jews and Noachides in the movement. For the Jewish people the great challenge will be what to make of this movement and how to help it grow into something beneficial to humanity generally and the Jewish people specifically. New levels of research and summary of the relevant laws for Noachides will be necessary. This halachah will be the force that will shape the world into the form originally envisioned by the Creator. Torah knowledge will extend beyond the Jewish communities around the world.

 

Torah awareness and acceptance will exist universally.

The Next Step: Defined Halachah

Until now, the Noachide movement has developed outside of mainstream religious thought. As more study continues through rabbinic and Noachidic exposition, its existence and its importance will become clear. Like the laws of the Jewish people the Noachide Laws provide a complete and practical way of life for its adherents.The Noachide laws will encompass all of human life more than just theoretically, but in a very real and tangible way. In order for the Noachides to truly keep the Noachide Laws, theory must give way to reality. When the prophet says that, “For from Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of HASHEM from Jerusalem,”[i] his meaning is not Torah theory, but Torah as it exists among the Jewish people—Torah as a part of everyday life.

Duties of the Heart

An additional aspect of observance of the Noachide laws involves “ Duties of the Heart ,”[ii] the study of which is very rarely mentioned as part of the practical and spiritual life of Noachides. The perfection of the inner person is itself a lifelong challenge. This is not a halachic requirement but does provide a path to righteousness and peace.

Practical Challenges

One challenge that occurs within the Noachide movement is how to respond when halachah is elucidated by the holy rabbis and greeted with, a pained cry of, “You want me to do what!” from various Noachide quarters. Then there is the “If I have to do that I might as well become Jewish!” response The reason for this attitude is the mistaken belief that the Jewish people alone are the ones that must shape their lives according to halachah. This is not true. Noachides too must shape their lives according to the Torah’s instructions; they must reflect Torah in their actions.

It is impossible to truly keep the Noachide laws unless one understands the practical dynamics of each of the laws. A Noachide is prohibited from theft. Immediately we are faced with a question, “what is theft?” For example, computer technology now allows us to download books, music, movies and other intellectual properties. Though these are actual commodities created for the marketplace, millions of on-line users download these various forms of entertainment illegally and call it “file sharing.” Some may think that common sense[iii] alone is capable of answering this question. Before we can deduce what theft is we must first know what constitutes ownership, where ownership begins and where it ends. Only by establishing such boundaries are we able to know what theft is and how to avoid it.

In the modern world issues of what exactly theft is come up all the time. Definitions of theft vary from country to country and reflect opinons as different as the varieties of human temperament. These definitions can be the result of blatant, hateful discrimination. Witness the Nazis who believed that taking property from Jews was not theft. This kind of injustice still plagues our world today and a result of men whose standards are not those of the Creator.

If you believe God exists and is Just, your real concern should be, what is theft in God’s eyes?

There is one problem. If we wish to hear God’s opinion so that we know how to avoid theft, in God’s eyes, we don’t have anything that tells us absolutely God’s will in every situation of potential theft. For example, we have in the Torah, “…you shall not steal,”[iv] as well as a few examples of what stealing is. What we don’t have is a clear definition of theft, in every case. So, we are left with God’s silence.

We know that it is important to God that we not steal. So important, in fact, that God wiped out all of humanity save Noah and his family for committing this sin. We also know that human beings, left to their own devices, will come to a subjective determination of theft . Our problem is that God was not explicit about what constitutes theft in all imaginable and actual scenarios.

How do we solve this problem?

The Solution: Oral Law

Jewish oral tradition offers us a solution to our problem.[v] According to Jewish tradition Moses received this solution from God.[vi] This is the meaning of the verse that says, “For this commandment that I command you today—it is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, ‘Who can ascend to the heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it… Rather, the matter is very near to you—in your mouth and your heart—to perform it.”[vii] In these verses, God is teaching us that human reason is able to objectively deal with the questions of, “how is this law applied in this scenario?”

This is the origin of Jewish halachic decisions.

For many Noachides this is fine—there ought to be halachah that tells Noachides how to fulfill their laws. However, the Noachide is likely to ask, “Certainly the Jews are the priests of the world, but does this mean that they can tell us what to do? Aren’t we, Noachides, capable of determining Noachide halachah for ourselves? After all, how is the one positive Noachide command, “to establish courts of Justice,”[viii] to be kept unless Noachides clarify and apply this Halachah themselves?”

If the method exists to determine such things then it should be taught to Noachides so that they may clarify and apply their own laws.

This may be the correct approach but only in part. There are a couple of aspects that are forgotten—literacy in relevant texts and authority. The Oral Torah has been the unique possession of the Jewish people for three and a half thousand years. As a result of this an intimate relationship, familiarity, and depth of scholarship has developed in regards to the Torah. A vast body of literature has been written on the Jewish sacred texts. Opinions both accepted and rejected are a part of this tradition of scholarship. That is why a functioning and recognized Sanhedrin is necessary as the ultimate halachic authority. Although Noachide courts will exist, they will be under the authority of the Sanhedrin. In a sense the Sanhedrin is the “supreme court” of the world.

Burden of the Rabbis/Responsibility of the Noachides

Currently it is the Sanhedrin[ix] and the Sanhedrin alone that holds the authority to establish Halachah. It is because the Jewish people received the Noachide Laws, on behalf of the world, that these laws are considered binding upon humanity—not because God gave the law to Noach.[x] This is not to say that they were not in force prior to Sinai. It was these laws that the pre-flood people and Sodom and Gomorra were both prosecuted by, by the heavenly courts. The Torah was given to the Jewish people at Sinai; along with this they were given the Noachide Laws to be the guardians of these laws. They would serve as the Teachers of mankind teaching these laws, which is the non-Jew’s Torah, to the peoples.

Aside from familiarity with the text there is the practical reality that many questions have been answered. The development of Noachide Law will be in those areas that are particular to non-Jews. This is where the stringency, execution of the law, or punishment differs from the Jewish people. Remember, a Noachide can keep additional mitzvot and it is not necessary for these to be further explained. The Noachide should perform these mitzvot (if they desire to keep them) in the proscribed manner and for the sake of reward.

Something that the Jewish people must keep in mind and Noachides must accept. Noachides do have an obligation to establish courts of Justice. Noachides must become as familiar with relevant Torah texts as Jewish Scholars. Noachides must be trained in Torah so that they may aid in the process of reshaping the world in the image of God’s Torah.

Therefore, Rabbis must accept the reality that Noachide learning of sacred texts is a necessity. Not a necessity for all Noachides to study equally in-depth, but at the very least it is necessary for those Noachides who will take on the burden of being Judges.

A practical solution to this problem is to train Noachides in both Tanach and Mishnah Torah. The combinations of these two sources ought to allow practical Torah to exist for non-Jews. If more in-depth study is required, to further expand and understand Noachide Halachah, then it ought to come from Noachides who have mastered these two areas—a very tall order.

Noachide halachah is not the beginning or ending of the Torah reality for non-Jews. It is only one half of the complete whole. The inner life of the Noachide should never be neglected. In fact action and intent if not one create discord both in the ways that outsiders perceive him or her and the way the Noachide perceives him or herself. Keep in mind that our thoughts and feelings are pulled after our actions.

Conclusion

For the Noachide Laws to elevate mankind to a Torah lifestyle, and for Israel to realize her goal as a light to the nations, both groups must recognize their place in this relationship that was established by HASHEM. As Rabbi Benamozegh said, “And Israel cannot fathom the depths of its own national and religious tradition, unless it meet with mankind.”[xi] Nor can the Jewish people serve as a light until the nations open their eyes.

The conversion of this world to something that is a reflection of God’s Torah requires partnership between all peoples—Jews and non-Jews. Partnership will come only with mutual respect. Respect is a particular kind of trust, which must be earned.

The bond between Israel and the nations will only be established through a common language—that language is Torah. It is time for all peoples to accept the way of God and to realize the original purpose of this world—to serve God and each other and to fill every part of our world with the light of Torah.

Footnotes and Citations

[i] Micah 4:2

[ii] “ Duties of the Heart ” trn Daniel Haberman Feldheim Jerusalem/New York. 1996. Rabbi Bachya ben Joseph Ibn Paquda’s classic work is the first book of its kind. It is an articulated book of Mussar. R’ Paquda, in his introduction, remarks that there are different types of duties expected by HASHEM. These duties are: duties of the limbs, duties of the heart, and duties of the heart and limbs. Duties of the heart are those duties of the inner life.

[iii] The Rambam in “Moreh HaNevuchim” (Guide for the Perplexed) writes that only the first two of the Ten Commandments were heard by all the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. These first two commandments were made intelligible to them on the prophetic level because “For these two principles, the existence of God and His Unity, can be arrived at by means of reasoning, and whatever can be established by proof is known by the prophet in the same way as by any other person…” (Rambam, Chapter 33). The Rambam means that the commands “God Exists” and “There is One God” are discoverable through human reason. Human reason is capable of discovering without the aid of revelation that God exists and is one. The remaining eight commandments require revelation. This does not mean we are incapable of knowing that theft, for example, is wrong, however it is impossible to know exactly what theft is in a non-culturally relative way.

[iv] Exodus 20:13

[v] It is not the focus of this paper to make an argument for Oral tradition. However, from the comment made above it does seem that Oral tradition is necessary if we are to solve certain problems.

[vi] Rabbi Yishmael’s thirteen rules of Torah elucidation. p49 “The Complete Artscroll Siddur.” These thirteen principles appear in a Baraisa. “This particular baraisa is the introduction to Sifra, a midrashic work that exhaustively interprets the book of Leviticus” (ibid). Today we do not apply the 13 principles. They can only be applied by experts who ceased to exist after the Talmudic period. We rely on the sages’ use of the 13 principles as found in Talmudic and Midrashic literature and apply their logic, rulings, to current cases. (Derfler, Michael).

[vii] Deuteronomy 30:11-14

[viii] Although, The Ran in his commentary on Sanhedrin 56b states that the establishment of courts of justice is both a positive and negative commandment. It has a positive aspect—establish courts of justice—but it also has a negative aspect—do not pervert justice. However, for the purposes of this paper we are focusing on the positive aspect.

[ix] Currently we have a nascent or developing Sanhedrin. It is potentially a Sanhedrin. Until it realizes its place as a full Sanhedrin it does not have the power to establish Halachah. However, its advice should not be dismissed.

>[x] Hilchot Melachim 8:10-11 “This applies only when he accepts them and fulfills them because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah and informed us through Moses, our teacher, that even previously, Noah’s descendants were commanded to fulfill them” (Rambam, p. 170).

[xi] Palliere, Aime “The Unknown Sanctuary,” p. 243. Trans. David Novak. Bloch Pulishing Company, New York. 1985

 

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