AN INTRODUCTION TO THE NOAHIDE LAWS

 

What is Halachah

Unlike the term Torah, halachah is meant only one way. We mean the law or quite literally “the way to go.” Halachah is the law that tells us how we ought to behave under certain circumstances. It tells us what we must and must not do.

Although the Seven Noachide laws are prohibitions,10 i.e. negative commandments, there is an aspect although not required but recommended that if observed will perfect the individual. People abstain from many of the prohibitions of the Seven Noachide laws for reasons other than they are an obligation. Some of those reasons might be, fear of social reaction, custom, government policies or because it makes sense philosophically. This abstention is good because it keeps society in order. But mere abstention does not perfect the individual nor make one a better servant of God.

That is why for someone to perfect themselves the other side of each of the laws must be considered. Someone that does not worship other gods has fully kept the prohibition against idolatry. However, they have not drawn any closer to God. Only if both abstention from idolatry and active worship of God is performed by the Noachide is he able to reap the perfecting benefits of Torah and draw closer to God.

I. Idolatry

The first Noachide law is the prohibition against idolatry. If we were to list the prohibition that is the most fundamental in the Torah it is the prohibition against idolatry. Just as God’s existence is an essential axiom of the Torah that He is one is just as essential. Although God’s existence is not really treated in the Torah (because it is assumed), that He is One is. His unity is treated in the Torah mainly because it is so often either misunderstood or perverted by human beings.11

When we strive to understand something what is it that we are, essentially trying to understand? When we are reading a work what is it that the author wishes to communicate? The message of the Torah doesn’t seem that it could be any clearer. There is one God. According to the Rambam, Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, “For it is the principal object of the Law and the axis round which it turns, to blot out these opinions from man‘s heart and make the existence of idolatry impossible.”12

This is not just a God of a particular people, Israel, but the God of all mankind. In fact the goal of all should be the destruction of idolatry. Thus the Rambam says, “the actual abolition of idolatry is expressed in the following passage: ’Ye shall destroy their altars, and burn their groves in fire’ (Deut. vii. 5), ’and ye shall destroy their name,’ etc. (xii. 3). These two things are frequently repeated; they form the principal and first object of the whole Law, as our Sages distinctly told us in their traditional explanation of the words ’all that God commanded you by the hand of Moses’ (Num. xv. 23); for they say, ’Hence we learn that those who follow idolatry deny as it were their adhesion [probably too fancy a word for the general reader] to the whole Law, and those who reject idolatry follow as it were the whole Law.’ (B.T. Kidd, 40a) Note it.”13 Essentially the Hebrew Scriptures teach us that God is one, and nothing else is to be worshiped, even as an intermediary between us and the One God.

God’s unity is understood in three parts. First God is alone. Second, God is non-corporeal (not physical). Finally, God has a unique identity. Each of these parts must be examined separately.

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