AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NOAHIDE LAWS

 

The observance of the Noachide Laws is an obligation upon all non-Jews. These laws, the first six, were first given to Adam in the Garden of Eden.1 Later, after the flood, these laws were again given, this time to Noah with the addition of the seventh law2 were again given, this time to Noah with the addition of the seventh law-the prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal.  They were passed down from Noah to his sons, but as in the generation of the flood the Noachide laws were generally abandoned. Only a very small group continued to obey these laws. The line of Shem kept them alive through a particular strain of his line, which culminated in a man named Avraham.

Avraham was the progenitor of many nations including the Ishmaelites and the Edomites. Avraham is best known as the father of the Jewish people. During Avraham’s day there were very few that continued to observe the Noachide laws. Among those that did, other than Avraham and his sons, were Shem and Ever who lived into the life of Avraham’s grandson Ya’acov.

After the children of Israel were freed from Egypt they made their way to Mt. Sinai. At Mt. Sinai they received the Torah. According to the Rambam(among others) not only was the Torah received; but God reiterated His command that the Noachide Laws must be observed by non-Jews. “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.”4 The Rambam states an essential understanding of the Sages. The reason non-Jews must observe the Noachide Laws is because God commanded them at Sinai, not because Adam or Noah observed or received them previously.5The same thinking is behind why Jews circumcise themselves, not because Avraham was circumcised, but because at Mt. Sinai God commanded circumcision.

Many people will find this astonishing. The simple truth is that the natures of the revelations before Mt. Sinai paled in comparison. It was at Mt. Sinai that God did something unique in human history. He revealed himself not to an individual or to a handful of people, but to an entire nation! According to the Torah6 this is an event that has never occurred before or will ever happen again.The unique nature of the revelation at Mt. Sinai and the weight that this revelation carried forever set the standard of revelatory truth. No age or people have seen its like. This means that Sinai holds a special place in the history of humanity, and the Authority of Sinai is as unique and final as the revelation itself. This is why the Rambam, in line with the great Sages before him, holds the above position on the Noachide laws and the laws of the Jewish people (that they are now obligatory because of Sinai not because they were previously given).

The Jewish people are known for being a nation of scholars. This is because their laws require very careful examination and contemplation. As the Psalmist says, “the law of the LORD is perfect.” The perfect Torah is best realized when it is turned into action. Study for the love of God and his Torah, but turn that study into action. In this way the Torah of God perfects the individual.

The Noachide ought to study the Noachide Laws with the same fervor a Jew studies the Torah Laws. Though a Jewish person may study all of the Torah with equal amounts of fervor, the non-Jew ought to focus his energies on what will aid in understanding the Noachide Laws. The Noachide Laws require a minimum level of behavior from the Noachide. Left on its own minimal observance of the Noachide Laws will get a Noahide a place in the world to come, however it will not perfect him. Perfection for the Noahide requires more, but doing this minimum gets one Eternity; it is still imperfect and a waste of one's life not to pursue more, such as doing acts of loving kindness for others, avoiding mean speech, etc. etc.A life without prayer is hardly perfect, either.However, these are things that Noahides are not required to do. However it is important for Noachides to work on self-perfection, which is of benefit both to him and to mankind.

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