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Noahide law

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The rainbow, a sign of God's covenant with Noah Genesis 9:9-13

The Noahide Laws (Hebrew: שבע מצוות בני נח -- Seven Noahide Laws), also called the Brit Noah ("Covenant [of] Noah") are the mitzvot (commandments) and halakhot ("laws") that Judaism teaches that all Gentiles are morally bound to follow. They are listed in the Talmud and elaborated on by post-Talmudic authorities. Opinions differ on the reach of these commandments and the laws derived from them, but all contemporary authorities agree that there are seven commandments. These commandments and laws are based on exegesis of Genesis 2:16 and Genesis 9:4-6 .

The Noahide laws

  • Idolatry is forbidden. Man is commanded to believe in the One God alone and worship only Him.
  • Incestuous and adulterous relations are forbidden. Human beings are not sexual objects, nor is pleasure the ultimate goal of life.
  • Murder is forbidden. The life of a human being, formed in God's image, is sacred.
  • Cursing the name of God is forbidden. Besides honoring and respecting God, we learn from this precept that our speech must be sanctified, as that is the distinctive sign which separated man from the animals.
  • Theft is forbidden. The world is not ours to do with as we please.
  • Eating the flesh of a living animal is forbidden. This teaches us to be sensitive to cruelty to animals. This was commanded to Noah for the first time along with the permission of eating meat. The rest were already given to Adam in the Garden of Eden.
  • Mankind is commanded to establish courts of justice and a just social order to enforce the first six laws and enact any other useful laws or customs

Jews Held to a Higher Standard

According to the Rabbis, the Israelites were chosen by God to live under a special covenant with higher standards than the rest of Noah's descendants.

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. Exodus 19:5-6

He selected Israel for this higher responsibility because:

Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. Genesis 26:5

Noahides as Sojourning Aliens

From the Jewish perspective, if a non-Jew keeps all of the laws entailed in the categories covered by the Seven Noahide commandments, then he or she is considered a Ger Toshav (sojourning alien) when with a congregation of Israel. In fact, this is considered the ideal level for all humanity by Jewish theology. A Ger Tzedek is a person who prefers to proceed to religious conversion, a procedure that is generally discouraged by all sects of Judaism, and allowed only after much thought and deliberation over the conversion has taken place.

Islam is generally considered a Noahide religion. There is some disagreement over the status of Christianity; Conservative Jews see Christianity as idolatrous because of the doctrine of the Trinity and Jesus's divinity, while more liberal Jewish scholars consider it acceptable for Gentiles so long as only the One God is worshipped.

Modern Developments

Rabbi leading the seven laws of Noah to the Druze

Judaism does not usually support proselytization, but some Jewish groups have been active in promoting Noahidism among non-Jews, particularly the Chabad Lubavitch movement, and the self-styled "Sanhedrin" set up by Haredi rightists in Israel in 2004.

On March 20th, 1991, the 102nd Congress of the United States passed Public Law 102-14 to designate March 26, 1991, as "Education Day, U.S.A."; in the bill Congress recognized

the ... principles ... upon which our great Nation was founded ... known as the Seven Noahide Laws ... without these ... civilization stands in serious peril of ... chaos ... Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, leader of the Lubavitch movement, is universally respected and revered and his eighty-ninth birthday falls on March 26, 1991 ... in tribute to this great spiritual leader ... his ninetieth year will ... turn to education and charity to return the world to the moral and ethical values contained in the Seven Noahide Laws.

In September 2005 the Israeli radio channel Arutz Sheva reported Rabbi Michael Bar-Ron's hope, on behalf of the "Sanhedrin", to

transform the Noahide movement from a religious phenomenon - a curiosity many have not heard of - into a powerful international movement that can successfully compete with, and with G-d's help bring about the fall of, any religious movement but the pure authentic faith that was given to humanity through Noach, the father of us all.

In more general Jewish thinking, David Novak, among others, has proposed that Noahide Law could serve as the basis for a more universal Jewish ethics and for cross-cultural moral reasoning (at least with Christians and Muslims).

External references

See Also