Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 20 March 2004 / 27 Adar I 5764

Noahide Laws

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Maggy Moens

Dear Rabbi,

I am a non-Jewish woman who loves to browse your website because there are pearls of wisdom in it. I have a problem. I read that the commands given to Noah must be obeyed by all of mankind. Jews are no missionaries. Who shall teach these commands, in the right way, to non-Jewish people who seek to live a life pleasant in the eyes of the Divine Architect? I know very well that your flock is enormous and that I am "stealing" your time. Thank you for answering me, if you have time.

Dear Maggy,

Thank you for your kind words. Consider yourself part of the flock, and its a pleasure to answer your question, which interests others as well.

Before the giving of the Torah there was no specific legal definition of a Jew, because the law had not been given yet. This means that the people who came to Mt. Sinai were not Jews in a legal sense. In fact, the Revelation at Mt. Sinai can be viewed as a mass conversion to Judaism of millions of descendants of Abraham. In this sense, every Jew is descended from a convert; some go back to Sinai, and some later in history.

The idea of conversion after Mt. Sinai is mentioned in the Torah itself and we are exhorted more than thirty times to treat converts kindly. One example is, "When a convert lives among you in your land, do not oppress him. The convert shall be like one of your citizens and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the Land of Egypt" (Leviticus 19:33-34).

However, in general we do not encourage conversion. Judaism does not consider those of other religions to be condemned to damnation. We believe that a person can be completely righteous and merit the World-to-Come without conversion, by adhering to the basic moral laws revealed to Noah. If a gentile keeps the seven Noahide laws, he merits a portion in the World-to-Come, and there is no imperative for him to become Jewish.

These Seven Universal Laws prohibit:

  1. idolatry
  2. blasphemy and cursing the Name of G-d
  3. murder
  4. robbery and theft
  5. immorality and forbidden sexual relations
  6. removing and eating a limb from a live animal and
  7. require the establishment of a justice system and courts of law to enforce the other six laws.

Any non-Jew who keeps these laws in all their detail because G-d so commanded in the Torah as revealed through Moses, and not simply out of logic, is considered a righteous gentile deserving the World-to-Come.

Maimonides writes: "Moses was commanded from the mouth of G-d to convince all the inhabitants of the world to observe the commandments given to the Children of Noah" [Mishna Torah, Kings 8:10]. However, it may be that this is only so when the Jews are clearly recognized as the Chosen People of G-d and will be listened to. If that is not the case (as has been for well over two thousand years) there may no longer be an obligation to do so. Nevertheless, if non-Jews sincerely seek to learn and observe the Noahide laws from authoritative rabbis, they would certainly be accepted.

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