Seven Laws of Noah
Among religious branches of Judaism, the Seven Laws of Noah (Hebrew: שבע מצוות בני נח Sheva mitzvot B'nei Noach), or the Noahide Laws, are a set of moral imperatives that, according to the Talmud, were given by God as a binding set of laws for the "children of Noah" – that is, all of humanity.
Accordingly, any non-Jew who adheres to these laws is regarded as a righteous gentile, and is assured of a place in the world to come (Hebrew: עולם הבא Olam Haba), the final reward of the righteous.
- The prohibition of idolatry.
- The prohibition of murder.
- The prohibition of theft.
- The prohibition of sexual immorality.
- The prohibition of blasphemy.
- The prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive.
- The requirement of maintaining courts to provide legal recourse.
According to Rabbinic tradition, the Noahide laws are derived exegetically from the six commandments which were given to Adam in the Garden of Eden, Gen 2:16, and a seventh precept, which was added after the Flood of Noah. According to Judaism, the 613 commandments given in the written Torah, as well as their explanations and applications discussed in the oral Torah, are applicable to the Jews only, and non-Jews are bound only to observe the seven Noahide laws.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Subdividing the Seven Laws
- 3 Ger toshav (Resident alien)
- 4 Punishment
- 5 Christianity and the Noahide Laws
- 6 Modern views
- 7 Public endorsement of Noahide Laws
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
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According to the Genesis flood narrative, a deluge covered the whole world, killing every surface-dwelling creature except Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, and the animals taken aboard Noah's Ark. According to this all modern humans are descendants of Noah, thus the name Noahide Laws in reference to laws that apply to all of humanity. After the flood, God sealed a covenant with Noah with the following admonitions (Genesis 9):
- Flesh of a living animal: "However, flesh with its life-blood [in it], you shall not eat." (9:4)
- Murder and courts: "Furthermore, I will demand your blood, for [the taking of] your lives, I shall demand it [even] from any wild animal. From man too, I will demand of each person's brother the blood of man. He who spills the blood of man, by man his blood shall be spilt; for in the image of God He made man." (9:5–6)
Book of Jubilees
An early reference to Noachide Law may appear in the Book of Jubilees 7:20–28, which is generally dated to the 2nd century BCE:
"And in the twenty-eighth jubilee Noah began to enjoin upon his sons' sons the ordinances and commandments, and all the judgments that he knew, and he exhorted his sons to observe righteousness, and to cover the shame of their flesh, and to bless their Creator, and honour father and mother, and love their neighbour, and guard their souls from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity. For owing to these three things came the flood upon the earth ... For whoso sheddeth man's blood, and whoso eateth the blood of any flesh, shall all be destroyed from the earth."
"According to Acts, Paul began working along the traditional Jewish line of proselytizing in the various synagogues where the proselytes of the gate [e.g., Exodus 20:9] and the Jews met; and only because he failed to win the Jews to his views, encountering strong opposition and persecution from them, did he turn to the Gentile world after he had agreed at a convention with the apostles at Jerusalem to admit the Gentiles into the Church only as proselytes of the gate, that is, after their acceptance of the Noachian laws (Acts 15:1–31)".
The article "New Testament" states:
"For great as was the success of Barnabas and Paul in the heathen world, the authorities in Jerusalem insisted upon circumcision as the condition of admission of members into the church, until, on the initiative of Peter, and of James, the head of the Jerusalem church, it was agreed that acceptance of the Noachian Laws — namely, regarding avoidance of idolatry, fornication, and the eating of flesh cut from a living animal — should be demanded of the heathen desirous of entering the Church."
The Apostolic Decree of the Council of Jerusalem resolved this early Christian dispute by commending that gentiles obey Noahide law (Acts 15:19–21) rather than to live under the same dictates as Torah-observant Jews and be circumcised (cf. Acts 15:5, Acts 15:24).
According to Judaism, as expressed in the Talmud, the Noachide Laws apply to all humanity through humankind's descent from one paternal ancestor, the head of the only family to survive The Flood, who in Hebrew tradition is called Noah. In Judaism, בני נח B'nei Noah (Hebrew, "Descendants of Noah", "Children of Noah") refers to all of humankind. The Talmud also states: "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come" (Sanhedrin 105a). Any non-Jew who lives according to these laws is regarded as one of "the righteous among the gentiles". Maimonides writes that this refers to those who have acquired knowledge of God and act in accordance with the Noachide laws out of obedience to God. According to what scholars consider to be the most accurate texts of the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides goes on to say that anyone who upholds the Noachide laws only because they appear logical is not one of the "righteous among the nations," but rather he is one of the wise among them. The more prolific versions of the Mishneh Torah say of such a person: "..nor is he one of the wise among them."
The Talmud states that the instruction not to eat "flesh with the life" was given to Noah, and that Adam and Eve had already received six other commandments. Adam and Eve were not enjoined from eating from a living animal; they were forbidden to eat any animal. The remaining six are exegetically derived from the sentence "And the Lord God commanded the man saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat." in Gen 2:16.
Historically, some rabbinic opinions consider non-Jews not only not obliged to adhere to all the remaining laws of the Torah, but actually forbidden to observe them. The Noachide Laws are regarded as the way through which non-Jews can have a direct and meaningful relationship with God, or at least comply with the minimal requisites of civilization and of divine law.
Noachide law differs radically from Roman law for gentiles (Jus Gentium), if only because the latter was enforceable judicial policy. Rabbinic Judaism has never adjudicated any cases under Noachide law (per Novak, 1983:28ff.), although scholars disagree about whether Noachide law is a functional part of Halakha ("Jewish law") (cf. Bleich).
In recent years, the term "Noahide" has come to refer to non-Jews who strive to live in accord with the seven Noachide Laws; the terms "observant Noahide" or "Torah-centered Noahides" would be more precise but are infrequently used. Support for the use of Noahide in this sense can be found with the Ritva, who uses the term Son of Noah to refer to a Gentile who keeps the seven laws, but is not a Ger Toshav. The rainbow, referring to the Noachide or First Covenant (Genesis 9), is the symbol of many organized Noahide groups, following Genesis 9:12–17. A non-Jew of any ethnicity or religion is referred to as a bat ("daughter") or ben ("son") of Noah. However, most organizations that call themselves בני נח (b'nei noach, "Sons of Noah") are composed of gentiles who are keeping the Noachide Laws.
Anyone who accepts upon himself the fulfillment of these seven mitzvot and is precise in their observance is considered one of 'the pious among the gentiles' and will merit a share in the world to come. 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 Noah's descendants had been commanded to fulfill them previously. However, if he fulfills them out of intellectual conviction, he is not a resident alien, nor of 'the pious among the gentiles,' nor of their wise men.
Subdividing the Seven Laws
Various rabbinic sources have different positions on the way the seven laws are to be subdivided in categories. Maimonides lists other additional Noahide commandments, including the coupling of different kinds of animals and the grafting of different species (as defined by Jewish law) of trees. Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (Radbaz), a contemporary commentator on Maimonides, expressed surprise that he left out castration and sorcery which were listed in the Talmud.
The 10th-century Rabbi Saadia Gaon added tithes and levirate marriage. The 11th-century Rav Nissim Gaon included "listening to God's Voice", "knowing God" and "serving God" besides going on to say that all religious acts which can be understood through human reasoning are obligatory upon Jew and Gentile alike. The 14th-century Rabbi Nissim ben Reuben Gerondi added the commandment of charity.
The 16th-century work Asarah Maamarot by Rabbi Menahem Azariah of Fano (Rema mi-Fano) enumerates thirty commandments, listing the latter twenty-three as extensions of the original seven, which includes prohibitions on various forms of sorcery, as well as incest and bestiality. Another commentator, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes (Kol Hidushei Maharitz Chayess I, end Ch. 10) suggests these are not related to the first seven, nor based on Scripture, but were passed down by oral tradition. The number thirty derives from the statement of the Talmudic sage Ulla in tractate Hullin 92a, though he lists only three other rules in addition to the original seven, consisting of details of the prohibitions against homosexuality and cannibalism, as well as the imperative to honor the Torah.
Talmud commentator Rashi remarks on this that he does not know the other Commandments that are referred to. Though the authorities seem to take it for granted that Ulla's thirty commandments included the original seven, an additional thirty laws is also possible from the reading.
The 10th century Shmuel ben Hophni Gaon lists thirty Noahide Commandments based on Ulla's Talmudic statement, though the text is problematic. He includes the prohibitions against suicide and false oaths, as well as the imperatives related to prayer, sacrifices and honoring one's parents.
The contemporary Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein counts 66 instructions but Rabbi Harvey Falk has suggested that much work remains to be done in order to properly identify all of the Noahide Commandments, their divisions and subdivisions.
Theft, robbery and stealing covers the appropriate understanding of other persons, their property and their rights. The establishment of courts of justice promotes the value of the responsibility of a corporate society of people to enforce these laws and define these terms. The refusal to engage in unnecessary lust or cruelty demonstrates respect for the creation itself as renewed after the Flood. The prohibition against committing murder includes a prohibition against human sacrifice.
Ger toshav (Resident alien)
In earlier times, a Gentile living in the Land of Israel who accepted the Seven laws in front of a rabbinical court was known as a Ger toshav (literally Stranger/Resident) or "Resident Alien". Jewish law recognizes a Biblical obligation to help a Ger toshav in time of need (as opposed to the rabbinic obligation help all Gentiles who live among Jews). The regulations regarding Jewish-Gentile relations are modified in the case of a Ger toshav.
Jewish law only allows the official acceptance of a Ger Toshav as a resident in the Land of Israel during a time when the Year of Jubilee (yovel) is in effect. There is discussion in the sources as to whether some of the laws that apply to a Ger Toshav may be applied to some modern Gentiles, particularly Muslims.
A Ger Toshav should not be confused with a Ger Tzedek, who is a person who prefers to proceed to total conversion to Judaism, a procedure that is traditionally only allowed to take place after much thought and deliberation over converting.
The Talmud laid down the statutory punishment for transgressing any one of the Seven Laws of Noah (but not other parts of the Noahide code) as capital punishment by decapitation, which is considered one of the lightest of the four modes of execution of criminals. According to some opinions, punishment is the same whether the individual transgresses with knowledge of the law or is ignorant of the law.
Christianity and the Noahide Laws
Some modern Jewish and Christian scholars, however, dispute the connection between Acts 15 and Noahide law, the content of Noahide law, the historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles, and the nature of Biblical law in Christianity.
Christian views on the old covenant vary. Most Christian denominations incorporate the Ten Commandments, the Great Commandment, and the Golden Rule, however some believe in the complete Abrogation of Old Covenant laws. The only Noahide law that is not part of the standard moral teaching of mainstream Christianity is the prohibition against eating the flesh of an animal while it is still alive (number 6 above). Many interpret Acts and the Pauline Epistles as making void the dietary laws found in the Torah and known of Noah (Genesis 7:2–3 and Genesis 8:20). This claim is disputed by many Christians, including the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of God (Seventh Day). The Apostolic Decree which is recorded in Acts 15 and still observed by the Orthodox includes some food restrictions and is commonly seen as a parallel to the Noahide Laws.
The 18th-century Rabbi Jacob Emden proposed that Jesus, and Paul after him, intended to convert the Gentiles to the Noahide laws while allowing the Jews to follow full Mosaic Law. This approach is generally considered to be dual-covenant theology.
Some modern views hold that penalties are a detail of the Noahide Laws and that Noahides themselves must determine the details of their own laws for themselves. According to this school of thought – see N. Rakover, Law and the Noahides (1998); M. Dallen, The Rainbow Covenant (2003) – the Noahide Laws offer mankind a set of absolute values and a framework for righteousness and justice, while the detailed laws that are currently on the books of the world's states and nations are presumptively valid.
Sefer Sheva Mitzvot Hashem: A Shulchan Aruch for Gentiles
After the Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, started his Noahide Campaign in the 1980s, the number of Gentiles willing to keep the Seven Laws of Noah as described in the Torah increased. A codification of the exact obligations of the Gentiles in the spirit of the classical Shulchan Aruch was needed. In 2005 the scholar Rabbi Moshe Weiner of Jerusalem accepted to produce an in-depth codification of the Noahide precepts. The work is called Sefer Sheva Mitzvot HaShem, (The Book of Seven Divine Commandments) published 2008/2009. As it is approved by both Chief Rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar and Rabbi Yonah Metzger, as well as other Hasidic- and non-Hasidic halachic authorities like Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz and Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, it can claim an authoritative character and is referred as a "Shulchan Aruch" for Gentiles at many places.
Public endorsement of Noahide Laws
United States Congress
The Seven Laws of Noah were recognized by the United States Congress in the preamble to the 1991 bill that established Education Day in honor of the birthday of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Chabad movement:
Whereas Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society and upon which our great Nation was founded; Whereas these ethical values and principles have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization, when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws.
In January 2004, Sheikh Mowafak Tarif the spiritual leader of Israeli Druze signed a declaration, which called on non-Jews living in the land of Israel to observe the Noahide Laws. He was joined by the mayor of Shefa-'Amr.
- According to Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, Entry Ben Noah, page 349), most medieval authorities consider that all seven commandments were given to Adam, although Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M'lakhim 9:1) considers the dietary law to have been given to Noah.
- Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, entry Ben Noah, introduction) states that after the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people were no longer in the category of the sons of Noah; however, Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M'lakhim 9:1) indicates that the seven laws are also part of the Torah, and the Talmud (Bavli, Sanhedrin 59a, see also Tosafot ad. loc.) states that Jews are obligated in all things that Gentiles are obligated in, albeit with some differences in the details.
- Compare Genesis 9:4–6.
- Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M'lakhim 8:14
- Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, entry Ben Noah, end of article); note the variant reading of Maimonides and the references in the footnote
- Tosefta Avodah Zarah 9.4, dated circa 300, quoted in Talmud Sanhedrin 56a.
- Jubilees at wesley.nnu.edu, This is R. H. Charles' 1913 translation from the Koine Greek, but Jubilees is also extant in Geez and multiple texts found at Qumran which are still being examined.
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Jubilees, Book of: The Noachian Laws
- Saul of Tarsus
- Jewish Encyclopedia: New Testament — Spirit of Jewish Proselytism in Christianity
- Encyclopedia Talmudit, Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, entry Ben Noah, introduction
- The Laws of Kings 8:11,
- Mishnah Torah Shoftim, Laws of Kings and their wars 8:14
- Sanhedrin 56a/b, quoting Tosefta Avodah Zarah 9:4; see also Rashi on Genesis 9:3
- Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah.
- Encyclopedia Talmudit, Hebrew edition, 5741/1981, Appendix, entry Ben Noah, introduction
- Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 10:6
- Sanhedrin 56b.
- Each surviving manuscript is defective between the seventeenth and nineteenth positions, cf. The Seven Laws of Noah by Rabbi Aaron Lictenstein, pp. 119
- Mishnah Torah Shoftim, Laws of Kings and their wars 9:6
- Encyclopedia Talmudit, Hebrew edition, 5739/1979, entry Ger Toshav
- Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Judges, Laws of Kings, chapters 9 and 10,
- Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Judges, Laws of Sanhedrin, chapter 14, law 4
- Babylonian Talmud, Makkot 9a, commentary of Rashi
- Joseph Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries), Yale University Press (December 2, 1998), ISBN 0-300-13982-9, chapter V
- Karl Josef von Hefele's commentary on canon II of Gangra notes: "We further see that, at the time of the Synod of Gangra, the rule of the Apostolic Synod with regard to blood and things strangled was still in force. With the Greeks, indeed, it continued always in force as their Euchologies still show. Balsamon also, the well-known commentator on the canons of the Middle Ages, in his commentary on the sixty-third Apostolic Canon, expressly blames the Latins because they had ceased to observe this command. What the Latin Church, however, thought on this subject about the year 400, is shown by St. Augustine in his work Contra Faustum, where he states that the Apostles had given this command in order to unite the heathens and Jews in the one ark of Noah; but that then, when the barrier between Jewish and heathen converts had fallen, this command concerning things strangled and blood had lost its meaning, and was only observed by few. But still, as late as the eighth century, Pope Gregory the Third (731) forbade the eating of blood or things strangled under threat of a penance of forty days. No one will pretend that the disciplinary enactments of any council, even though it be one of the undisputed Ecumenical Synods, can be of greater and more unchanging force than the decree of that first council, held by the Holy Apostles at Jerusalem, and the fact that its decree has been obsolete for centuries in the West is proof that even Ecumenical canons may be of only temporary utility and may be repealed by disuse, like other laws."
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Gentile: Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah: "R. Emden (), in a remarkable apology for Christianity contained in his appendix to "Seder 'Olam" (pp. 32b–34b, Hamburg, 1752), gives it as his opinion that the original intention of Jesus, and especially of Paul, was to convert only the Gentiles to the seven moral laws of Noah and to let the Jews follow the Mosaic law; this explains the apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding the laws of Moses and the Sabbath."
- The Divine Code, R. Moshe Weiner, Ed. Dr. Michael Schulman Ph.D., Vol, I., p. 21, 2008, publ. Ask Noah International
- Letter of Blessing (for Sefer Sheva Mitzvoth HaShem) , R. Yonah Metzger, Chief Rabbi of Israel, p.1.
- , 102nd Congress of the United States of America, March 5, 1991.
- "Druze Religious Leader Commits to Noachide "Seven Laws"". 2004-01-18. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
- Barre Elisheva. "Torah for Gentiles – the Messianic and Political Implications of the Bnei Noah Laws", 2008, ISBN 978-965-91329-0-4.
The second edition now online at: http://www.scribd.com/my_document_collections/3551340
- Bleich, J. David. "Judaism and natural law" in Jewish law annual, vol. VII 5–42
- Bleich, J. David. "Tikkun Olam: Jewish Obligations to Non-Jewish Society" in: Tikkun olam: social responsibility in Jewish thought and law. Edited by David Shatz, Chaim I. Waxman and Nathan J. Diament. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1997. ISBN 0-7657-5951-9.
- Broyde, Michael J. "The Obligation of Jews to Seek Observance of Noahide Laws by Gentiles: A Theoretical Review" in Tikkun olam: social responsibility in Jewish thought and law. Edited by David Shatz, Chaim I. Waxman and Nathan J. Diament. Northvale, N.J. : Jason Aronson, 1997. ISBN 0-7657-5951-9.
- Cecil, Alan W. "The Noahide Code: A Guide to the Perplexed Christian." (Aventura: Academy of Shem Press, 2006). ISBN 0-9779885-0-3.
- Cohen, Yakov Dovid. "Divine Image " Insights into the Laws of Noah, published by The Institute of Noahide Code 2006 ISBN 1-4243-1000-8 online www.Noahide.org
- Cowen, Shimon Dovid. "Perspectives on the Noahide Laws – Universal ethics". The Institute of Judaism and Civilization (3rd edition) 2008 ISBN 0-9585933-8-8 www.ijc.com.au
- Clorfene C and Rogalsky Y. The Path of the Righteous Gentile: An Introduction to the Seven Laws of the Children of Noah. Targum Press, 1987. ISBN 0-87306-433-X. Online version.
- Lichtenstein, Aaron. "The Seven Laws of Noah". New York: The Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press and Z. Berman Books, 2d ed. 1986. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 80-69121.
- Novak, David. The image of the non-Jew in Judaism: an historical and constructive study of the Noahide Laws. New York : E. Mellen Press, 1983.
- Novak, David. Natural law in Judaism. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998.
- Rakover, Nahum. Law and the Noahides: law as a universal value. Jerusalem: Library of Jewish Law, 1998.
- Michael Dallen. The Rainbow Covenant: Torah and the Seven Universal Laws ISBN 0-9719388-2-2 Library of Congress Control Number 2003102494 online excerpts
- What does God expect from non-Jews
- Ask Noah International and "The Divine Code" – Shulchan Aruch (Code of Torah Law) for Gentiles
- Institute of Noahide Code
- Academy of Shem: Educational resources for Noahides
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Laws, Noachian
- Wikinoah: Online resource of history, halacha, publications, and websites concerning Bnei Noah
- Detailed explanations of the Noahide Laws for Beginners