"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

A History of Noahism

Israel’s chest of G-dly treasure overflows with spiritual wealth. In her possession are the secrets of the universe and the keys to deepest communion with the One who created All—the keys to unlocking the infinite joy and splendor of the soul with which each human being has been gifted. Perhaps the least known treasure of B’nei Yisrael is the seven-colored gem called Bris Noach, or the Noachide Covenant. Bris Noach is the code of spiritual fulfillment originally revealed to Adam and Chava (Eve) in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), and sealed in the spectrum of the covenantal rainbow Hashem (G-d) showed to Noach (Noah) seven generations later. Bris Noach is the path of Divine service lain out by the Creator for the nations of the world; it is their portion in Torah and their means of elevating the sparks of Holiness that are theirs to redeem. Unlike the Mosaic Covenant, which gives Israel 613 mitzvot to fulfill, the Noachide Covenant consists of seven mitzvot by which the nations achieve their rectification and ultimate union with Hashem. Teaching non-Jews about the Noachide Covenant is an obligation incumbent upon all of Israel. We as a people have been charged with shining a light unto the entire world, thereby illuminating every human soul with the Torah of their Creator. We are a nation of priests, and one cannot be a priest without laymen to guide. The nations are as fundamental to the Jewish mission as the Jews are to theirs.

The history of the Noachide Covenant begins at the Beginning, when G-d created Adam and Chava. He placed them in the spiritual state known as Gan Eden and gave them six commandments, five negative and one positive (Bindman 3):

1. Refrain from blaspheming by cursing G-d’s name,
2. Worship nothing other than the Creator,
3. Do not steal
4. Do not kill
5. Refrain from forbidden sexual relations
6. Establish law in society

They also were in possession of the seventh law, to refrain from eating meat from the limb of a living animal, but since meat in general was forbidden to them in Gan Eden, they were not held accountable for this seventh law in the same way they were held accountable for the others (Bindman 3). After the sin that caused Adam and Chava’s expulsion from the Garden, they remained obligated to fulfill the six mitzvot that Hashem had given them at the time of their creation. Transgressing these mitzvot would result in punishment, while upholding them would bring the benefit of moving all of creation back toward its original state of Gan Eden (Bindman 4).

Adam and Chava bore many children and grandchildren, but within a relatively small amount of time, their upright descendants slid into idol worship, thievery, and sexual misconduct, all violations of the laws Hashem had established for mankind. Only seven generations passed from the Beginning until the world declined into such wickedness that G-d decided to destroy His creation and start all over again. There was however, one man among men who still walked in the ways of Hashem—his name was Noach, and in his righteousness he “found grace in the eyes of G-d” (Bereishis 6:8). Hashem communicated to Noach His intention to wipe the slate of Creation clean, and instructed Noach to build an ark in order that he and his family should escape the retribution of their generation’s wickedness and live to re-establish the human race. While the flood lasted, Noach and his sons engaged themselves in constant prayer and Torah study in order to prepare themselves for the task of founding “the renewed state of life on earth” (Bindman 6). When the waters subsided and Noach emerged from the ark with his family, he built an altar at the future Temple site in Jerusalem, where he offered a thanksgiving sacrifice to G-d for the opportunity to begin anew. It was at this point that G-d made the bris (covenant) with all of Creation that in Noach’s merit He would never again destroy the world because of man’s sins. The six laws given to Adam and Chava were given again, with the seventh law (the prohibition on taking meat from the limb of a living animal) now placed into full effect. This covenant, with its Seven Laws, was manifested in the sign of a rainbow, its seven colors corresponding to and reminding all mankind of the Seven Laws by which they would merit redemption (Bindman 6-7).

After the period of the Flood, Noach’s son, Shem, and grandson, Ever, set up a Torah academy in which they taught the Seven Laws– with their hundreds of bylaws– to all who wished to learn them and thereby draw closer to Hashem. Abraham studied at the academy of Shem and Ever, and in merit of the Divine wisdom he gained there and spread in kindness to all he met, his descendants would eventually receive the Torah in its totality at Sinai and have the privilege of becoming the Jewish people—Hashem’s nation of priests (Bindman 10).

The Noachide Covenant was re-affirmed at mattan Torah (the Giving of the Torah), and the newly formed Nation of Israel was charged with spreading its teachings to the rest of the world. From the time they entered the land of Israel up until the Greek “exile,” they were very successful in carrying out this mission (Bindman 13). The period of Greek oppression put a brief stop to the spread of the Seven Laws, but after the Jews’ miraculous victory over Greek powers, interest in the Laws came back stronger than ever. Rabbi Yirmeyahu Bindman writes of this time,

A movement arose among the Greeks and other nations to abandon Greek culture and seek Torah enlightenment instead. In Temple times, the non-Jews who formally took on the duty of observance of the Seven Laws were given the right to live in the land of Israel alongside the Jews, sharing in its divine insight and joys together with them. Both within the land and outside it they formed large communities in association with the synagogues. By the time of the rise of Imperial Rome they had become so prominent that the Roman government gave them special statue in law, with the influence of their beliefs felt all over the empire. (14)

Archeological digs have revealed a number of artifacts from the Roman period that provide a glimpse of what life was like for Noachides during this era. Often well-educated, and occasionally members of Roman aristocracy, Noachides of the Roman era spent much time debating pagans and furthering the spread of adherence to the Seven Laws (Bindman 15). They flourished spiritually in their personal lives, but at the same time often found themselves the object of scorn within the Empire, criticized for “act[ing] the part of the Jew” (Bindman 15). Nevertheless, Noachism flourished on earth until the rise of Christianity and the start of the present golus (Jewish exile from the Land of Israel).

From the last time the Jews were expelled from Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) up until today, Noachism has seen a number of surges in its observance. During the period of the English Renaissance, Dutch legal philosopher Hugo de Groot wrote a full exposition of the Noachide Code in Latin for his scholarly contemporaries, which resulted in a lengthy revival of Noachism in the Western world (Bindman 22). In the early 20th century, Frenchman Aime Palliere wrote a book, Le sanctuaire connu (The Unknown Sanctuary), detailing the relationship he established with Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozeg in his search for religious truth (Lichtenstein 6). Palliere was a disillusioned Catholic who wanted to convert to Judaism, but did not feel that he could commit to upholding the entire Torah. He sought advice from Rabbi Benamozeg, and the two began a correspondence on the topic of Noachism that spanned the last several years of the Rabbi’s life. In his letters to the Rabbi, Palliere often expressed doubt about the ultimate importance of Noachism in G-d’s plan, which Rabbi Benamozeg always went to great lengths to reiterate. In one such letter, the Rabbi wrote to Palliere, “…[it] is impossible [that G-d would have ever left humankind without a way to connect to Him], and consequently not only has the Noachide law never ceased to be in force but even Israel, with its special code, Mosaism, was created for it, to safeguard it, to spread it” (Lichtenstein 8). These discussions between Palliere and Rabbi Benamozeg were the first in recent history to present the Seven Laws not simply as a stand-alone set of spiritual rules for non-Jews, but as the fundamental basis of the function of Israel—to be a light unto the nations and to guide man in his work to make this world a dwelling place for the Al-mighty.

Today, the campaign to spread spiritual awareness to humanity and to promote the observance of the Seven Laws is led by Chabad-Lubavitch. The seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l, was especially concerned with bringing every human being under the wings of the shechinah (Divine Presence). Because of his efforts to educate mankind about Bris Noach, there are today groups of practicing Noachides all over the world, as well as an amazing abundance of resources for these groups to aid in their fulfillment of the Seven Laws and their journey toward righteousness. The recognition of the distinct, yet Divinely interwoven, roles of the Jew and non-Jew is one of the surest signs that Moshiach (the Messianic Era) is nearly here.

Works Cited

Bindman, Rabbi Yirmiyahu. The Seven Colors of the Rainbow: Torah Ethics for Non-Jews. Colorado Springs: Resource Publications, Inc., 1995.

Lichtenstein, Aaron. The Seven Laws of Noah. Brooklyn: The Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press, 1981.

 

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