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.


 

What is Torah?

When the word Torah is used it is meant in several ways. These different meanings often create some amount of confusion. The confusion disappears the better one understands what is meant by Torah and when and how these different meanings ought to be applied. When we speak of Torah we might mean it one of several ways. The first way refers specifically to the first five books of Moshe Rabbenu (Moses our Teacher)—Bereishit through Devarim (Genesis through Deuteronomy).

Another way is to speak of the oral Torah. At Mt. Sinai God gave the children of Israel two Torahs, a written Torah and an oral Torah. Although the written Torah tells the Jewish people what they should do; it is often unclear how they should do it. Part of the difficulty of how to do something is by not understanding meaning in words. When the Torah says, “…the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt do no labor.”7The question is immediately asked what does the word labor mean, what is it, how do we define it so as not to break this commandment? “The basic task of the oral law, therefore, was to transmit the meaning of words.”8Only with the aid of the Talmud, a document that is able to recall through the shifting traditions of time, are the Jewish people able to understand labor in its original meaning, the meaning that existed at Mt. Sinai. Therefore, the Jew is able to know with certainty what activities are forbidden. Those that do not possess this knowledge are forced to make up their own oral law to determine what is considered labor, such as those in the Seventh Day Adventist and Kairite movements, and then keep this law according to their current cultural understanding of labor, and not according to the real meaning of the word.

Although many would claim that the oral Torah is an invention by the Rabbis. Anyone that actually tries to keep the Torah is forced, in some way, to create their own oral law. Even groups like the Karites, Jews who claim only the written Torah is from God, are forced to invent their own oral tradition. It is clear, then, that the Jewish people’s claim of an oral Torah is not unfounded or unreasonable. This oral Torah is just as important to non-Jews as it is to the Jewish people since it is the oral Torah that tells us, specifically, about the Noachide Laws and all the needed details of them.

We could also say we are studying Torah if we are studying any of the other parts of the Tanach, Torah, prophets, and writings; these three sections comprise what many people call the “Old Testament,” which is a theologically charged word that makes the Tanach seem ’old hat’. This is why those aligned with Judaism typically refer to in the non-insulting more accurate way as the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew Scriptures is composed of the Torah (teaching), Nevaim (prophets), and the Ketuvim (writings). Together these words are referred to as the TaNa”Kh, we arrive at TaNa”Kh by putting together from the first letters of each of the words and hence we have TaNa”Kh or Tanak or Tanach. There are several different ways to write it. The Nevaim (prophets) and the Chituviim (writings) can also be referred together to separate it from the Torah. The prophets and writings without the Torah is called the Na”kh. When one studies Tanach they are studying Torah. This is because the Tanach either explains or gives us examples of the Torah in action. Therefore, anything written in the Nach (prophets and writings) cannot contradict or present something new to the Torah.The Tanach aids the student of the Noachide laws. Each of the Noachide laws are found somewhere within, which helps us know how to apply them better. It also demonstrates the consequences of disobedience to these laws, as well as the reward for obeying.9 Even better, often Nach lights the fire under people to inspire them to action.

The final way that Torah is meant is to refer to anything that helps expand our understanding of God’s Torah. Whether we study astronomy or physics, or even philosophy if this study is meant to aid in our understanding and appreciation of Torah it too is called studying Torah.

As we see Torah is meant in four ways. It is meant as written Torah, Oral Torah, Nach, and finally as secular matters studied for the sake of understanding Torah. This clarity on the use of the word Torah will aid the Torah student in future studies. When reading the word Torah it is important to determine which of these definitions is meant.


 

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.


 

God is alone.

The Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto, explained in his “The Way of God” that “It is impossible that there exist more than one being whose existence is intrinsically imperative. Only one being can possibly exist with this necessarily perfect essence, and therefore the only reason all other things have the possibility of existence is that God wills them to exist. All other things therefore depend on Him and do not have intrinsic existence” (Ramchal, 35).14

In his work the Ramchal is summing up these important arguments to give us a manageable framework within which we can understand certain things about God. These things are imperative in a quest for truth—specifically in religion. The Ramchal has expressed very beautifully the core understanding of Judaism. God is uniquely One, His existence is necessary because without it nothing else could exist.15

Some, such as Hindus, assume an eternal and not-created World "birthed" by another; this is not illogical, but starts with entirely different assumptions that are problematic, since it appears "objectively" that the Universe is not eternal but has a start.

God is non-corporeal

In the history of monotheism, which began with Adam and continues to this day, the beginning of error often begins by attributing some type of physical existence to God. Such error is often the result of misunderstandings of passages in the Torah such as God sees or stands, or knows.

At times the teachers of Israel have had to correct these misunderstandings. The Rambam in “The Guide for the Perplexed” covers this issue in great detail. According to the Rambam, “We have stated, in one of the chapters of this treatise, that there is a great difference between bringing to view the existence of a thing and demonstrating its true essence.”16 The fact that God existed and his essence, what He is, are often confused with physical bodies since, “That God exists was therefore shown to ordinary men by means of similes taken from physical bodies; that He is living, by a simile taken from motion, because ordinary men consider only the body as fully, truly, and undoubtedly existing; that which is connected with a body but is itself not a body, although believed to exist, has a lower degree of existence on account of its dependence on the body for existence. That, however, which is neither itself a body, nor a force within a body, is not existent according to man’s first notions, and is above all excluded from the range of imaginations.” and he goes on to say, “…The perception by the senses, especially by hearing and seeing, is best known to us; we have no idea or notion of any other mode of communication between the soul of one person and that of another than by means of speaking, i.e., by the sound produced by lips, tongue, and the other organs of speech. When, therefore, we are to be informed that God has a knowledge of things, and that communication is made by Him to the Prophets who convey it to us, they represent Him to us as seeing and hearing, i.e., as perceiving and knowing those things which can be seen or heard. They represent Him to us as speaking, i.e., that communications from Him reach the Prophets; that is to be understood by the term “prophecy,” as will be fully explained.”17

The Rambam’s meaning is that since human beings are limited in their knowledge of existence because we only have and express knowledge through our senses. Human beings often misunderstand the figures of speech in the Tanach about God. Therefore, when we say that God spoke to a prophet it is often understood by most people that God spoke to that prophet through the same organs of communication that we use to communicate with other humans. This is one of the origins of idolatry—wrongly attributing human activities to God. That is why the term ‘prophecy’ will be explained, later in the Rambam's book “The Guide for the Perplexed, to make it clear what is meant by communication between God and a prophet.18


 

God has a unique identity.

No other religion can make the claims of uniqueness that the God of Israel can. This unique identity is absolutely necessary when knowing the true God. Although there are religions that have claimed to be, in some way, servants of the same God as the one professed by the Jewish people, they cannot escape that God has established for Himself a unique identity. This identity is intrinsically connected with the Exodus and Sinai experiences. Not only that, but God is the God of the children of Israel. Although He is the God of all humanity, God identifies Himself with Israel since it is to them that He gave His Torah.

It is through this Torah, as said above, that all nations gain blessing and knowledge of God. Anyone that claims that their god is the same as the God of the Sinai revelation but this god was not known to the Children of Israel at Sinai, or that this god has a different chosen people, or that there is nothing holy about the Torah or that the Torah today is not the same as the Torah of yesterday, or claims that it is not necessary to keep the Torah, this person does not serve the same God of the Jewish people, and has misunderstood something essential about God.19

Other “gods”

God addresses Himself to the people of Israel on the issue of the other gods, those that the nations have created for themselves. God makes it clear that His unity is absolute. None of the gods of the nations20 can make any claim that God can. Not only that, God makes a stronger claim, that the other "gods" are not real at all, but just images of people's invention.

The Universal God

It is a mistake to think that God is the God of only one particular people. That was the claim of the pagan societies. Every people and culture possessed their gods. The powers of these gods were seen to rise and fall with that of their people. Typically the failure of a god to protect its people from the ill fortunes of war led to the people abandoning their god and serving that of their conqueror. If there is one God only, then He must be the God of not just one people; but of all people. God constantly reminds us throughout Scripture that the nations have not been forgotten. They are as much a part of His plan as Israel. The Rabbis teach that the world was created for the Jews so that they could receive Torah, but the Jewish people were created so that they could take that Torah to the world.21


 

II. "Blessing" the Name

One of the Laws not understood in the non-Torah world is the prohibition against “blessing”22 the name. In Sanhedrin 56a the Talmud describes the legal proceedings against a person who “blesses the name.” During the trial the chief witness is asked to tell the court what was said using a euphemism “may Yosi strike Yosi.” Once this is done the court is cleared and only the judges and the witnesses remain. The chief witness is asked to tell the court exactly what the person in question said without the euphemism, using instead the name of God. Once this is done the other witnesses will say “I too heard as him.”

The penalty for “blessing the name of God” is a death penalty. In the case of the Jewish person they are executed by stoning. In the case of the non-Jew he is always executed through decapitation;23which is considered a faster and less painful death than death by stoning.

Very often this Prohibition is confused with the prohibition in Shmot 20:724 against swearing falsely by God’s name. Swearing falsely by God’s name is much different but related to using God’s name to “bless” him.

III. Murder

Murder is the most destructive crime one person can commit against another. The effect of this crime is permanent and for the penitent only his or her own death can, in part, remove this stain on the human soul.

From the modern worlds view point it is not always clear what ought to be characterized as murder. Part of the problem is the common mistranslation of thou shalt not "kill", which is more general than "murder." Leading to pacifism, as well as the prohibition of death penalties, which is surely not sound from the Torah viewpoint, this misunderstanding is part of the confusion over what constitutes murder.

Although it is clear that murder is a great evil no matter what perspective you come from, your perspective will determine what is and is not murder. Murder is as relative as style without divine revelation. Anthropologists recognize moral relativity in cannibalistic cultures where eating members of competing tribes is not considered murder, but eating members of one’s own tribe is.

Moral relativism has brought to the surface an issue recognized by the Sages of Israel. Human reason although a powerful tool does not, on its own, reveal absolute moral truths. Only divine revelation can establish absolute moral truth. The exception is with the first two of the ten commandments: That God exists, and His Unity-which the Rambam claims are the only two commandments that human reason, unaided by revelation, are capable of learning on its own.25

Although it may seem as if this is incorrect because it is very naturally understood what murder means, but we must realize that we know what murder is because our culture has been shaped, in many ways, by the Tanach. We begin with generally correct notions. However, because our culture is becoming increasingly secular defining murder outside of the Tanach has become increasingly popular.

The popularity of secular reasoning has lead to an ambiguous definition of murder. The ethical discussion of murder has taken many strange turns. Most notable of the debates on the definition of murder is coming from the Abortion front (we will cover that later in this paper). Essentially “moral truth” is determined through voting.

It must be admitted that absolute moral truths are only truly known through revelation. God alone can tell us what is good and bad. We see that human beings are capable of mixing things up—sometimes intentionally.26 Human reason27 is not up to the task of determining moral truth. We must look to God for guidance. According to Judaism God’s guidance exists in a very practical format-Halachah.

Murder versus killing

There are two primary categories of death caused by humans to other humans. The first is killing and the other is murder. Killing, although not good, is distinct from murder in that it does not have the judgment of evil that murder does. Killing involves issues of self-defense, certain kinds of wars, and executing criminals. Murder is the intention of stealing the life of one human being for reasons not recognized as tolerable by God. Under Murder we find abortion, euthanasia, putting someone in harms way and so forth. There are wars where the killing is considered murder and is not excusable as simply killing as it might be for legitimate wars.

The heinousness of murder compels us to understand it in all of its facets. Controversy in our world over what is and is not murder surrounds us. Allowing the innocent to die because we do not correctly acknowledge acts of murder is reprehensible. It is our duty to understand what murder is.

Killing, although not good, is sometimes necessary. We will examine a variety of categories of types of killing and we will learn where killing is “allowed” and where it is not.

War Time

War is perhaps the best example of killing that may not be murder. However, war is also an excuse, often, for murder. Killing in a war is morally wrong when the object of that war is not just. If it is a grab for power or money or some other unjust reason killing in war is murder. A war may be just but individuals can still commit acts of murder. [while this is OK as far as it goes, it is NOT clear; it raises perhaps as many questions as it answers.]

Self Defense

If a person is attacked he has every right to protect himself. However, just because a person is attacked they do not have complete freedom to kill their attacker. Even if the attacker’s intent was to kill their victim this does not open the door to killing the attacker if you can stop the attacker by destroying one of his limbs then that is how he must be stopped. If there is no alternative then you are allowed to kill to protect your life or the life of someone else.


 

Abortion

Abortion is the most controversial issue in America today. Supreme Court Nominees are interrogated on this issue. On college campuses across the nation students participate in debates on this subject. Probably the most difficult aspect of the debate is that it is very emotional—on both sides.

Members in the pro-choice camp claim that the issue centers around a woman’s right to choose. They offer several reasons that the woman’s right to choose supercedes the child’s right to live. The question comes down to an ethical one. This is one reason that so much energy has been focused on the question of whether or not a child in the mother’s womb is a human being.

Several suggestions have been made to determine if the child has a right to life or if it is nothing more than a collection of pre-human tissue that can be destroyed-much like the egg yoke of an egg is not yet a chicken.

Without revelation the question of when human life begins is open to debate. We can certainly determine when biological life begins-and that’s almost immediately. Whether or not the biological mass of tissue is human or not is probably a question science cannot answer, depending on what is meant by “human.”

Engaging the ethical debate on human life, the fetus, and what murder is is a complex issue. When debating this argument from a human perspective without revelation the answer to the question can go either way ethically. Ethics not based on God is not ethics it is custom and etiquette. Secularized ethics is as unpredictable and changing as popular fads in music and society.

The question that must concern us is what is God’s opinion on this issue? Only by engaging the question from this perspective can we hope to find the true answer to this question.

There are times when abortion is permitted according to Halachah. That time is when it is a matter of life or death. If a woman is about to give birth and it turns out that by having the child the mother will die she is obligated to have an abortion. This brings us to a complex issue. Why is the mother commanded to have an abortion versus allowing the child to be born? How can we decide which life is more valuable? Shmot28 gives a scenario where a pregnant woman finds herself in between two men while they are fighting. In the first scenario she miscarries and the culprit is “fined,” but in the second scenario she is killed. The second scenario is punished like a murder case, while the first scenario is addressed through monetary compensation. Why the difference? A baby before its head exits the birth canal is considered a potential life. To go even further the child is considered to be like the woman’s thigh, i.e., a part of her body!

This is astonishing considering pro-choice proponents have long made the same claim. According to them the baby is like a part of the woman’s body and therefore she may do with it as she sees fit! It is interesting that both Jewish Law and pro-choice begin at the same point (that the baby is like the woman’s body), but they come to two very different conclusions.

One might wonder why the Sages of Israel did not conclude that abortion was okay. Remember, the baby has the status of potential life.

The Sages drew a very different conclusion because the Oral Torah is clear on this issue. If a baby is like a part of the woman’s body (her thigh), then how would most people react to one of their limbs being cut off? In truth, only a life or death situation will cause people to choose to cut off a limb. Although there are some who even risk death rather than part with a limb!

Even more than that, the baby is still a potential life. If someone is going defend the removal of their limb, which they can live without, it would seem even more they would defend the child growing in the mother’s womb.

It is only when the (potential) life of the baby threatens the (actual) life of the mother that an abortion becomes an acceptable solution. However, once the baby’s head exits the birth canal the mother and baby are equally alive. That means that the situation becomes one life versus another. Since neither baby nor mother’s life is more valuable we are not allowed to choose one life over another.

Some would argue that a Noachide is never allowed to perform an abortion whether the mother’s life is in jeopardy or not. To defend this claim they site a certain understanding of “rodef” or pursuer (lit. someone who is trying to kill another person) as support for this position. It seems clear that the Torah’s approach to abortion is not nearly as black and white as it is with Christians. However, we must appreciate on this issue at least Christians (and Muslims) are on the right page.

Abortion under certain circumstances is a heinous crime-it is murder. The abortion issue is a very emotional one, but emotion does not remove our responsibility. What it does do is create a more sympathetic and caring ear to our fellow-or it should.


 

Euthanasia

Suffering is one of the most difficult things for many of us to ignore. The idea that a person must suffer and that is somehow pleasing to God is hard to swallow. There is no other issue that brings this issue to the front more than euthanasia.

Euthanasia is a procedure where we end a person’s life with the "excuse of mercy.” This is one way that it is presented although it is also used to relieve the suffering (often economic but also emotional) of family whose loved ones languish in bed, comatose, never able to wake.

Euthanasia is another very emotional subject. In America it is an issue almost as hotly debated as abortion. However, it is slightly different from abortion in that there is often choice involved in the decision to end a life. Usually it is the decision of the person suffering to end their life. If the argument “my body my choice” works for abortion then it certainly works for euthanasia.

As to those who are unable to make this decision it lay at the feet of their loved ones who now make a very hard decision. The moral defense for their action “the person is better off,” or like the mother considering abortion who feels it unfair that such a responsibility be thrown on them especially when economically it does not seem that they are capable of carrying the burden, the good of the family member is primary to that of the person who is sick. None of these are reasons according to the Torah.

Allowing a Person to remain in peril

According to Hilchot Melachim29 a person who directly places another person in peril is just as guilty of murder as the intentional murderer. If someone puts another in a state of peril as a result of an action, a person bound or trapped before a dangerous animal for example, it is the individual and not the animal that is guilty for murdering the person.

IV. Illicit Sex

Marriage in the Noachide world is at once straight forward and complex. The complexity mainly comes from the consensus that marriage is only real if two people are called “married” in a written contract. The Noachide model does not require a contract, or any formal documentation or ceremony to signify that two people are married.

This is backward to our way of thinking but not to the Torah’s approach to the issue. Marriage with the first man and woman had nothing to do with contracts, only a mutual decision to be one. The patriarch Isaac and his wife Rachel were married when Isaac took Rachel into his mother’s tent (with her consent).Without consent, it is rape, a form of theft of the person.

Part of what adds to our confusion over the simplicity of Torah marriage is that those who know anything about Judaism know that a contract is required for a Jewish marriage. One might ask why a contract is required for a Jew but not a Gentile. The answer to this question is the same to most other situations where the Jewish people are called on to do something extra, or to do something in a slightly different way. As a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation the Jewish people must always be separate or distinct from the rest of humanity; and as priests they are required to be holy. Their status as a holy nation, a kingdom of priests, means that they must hold themselves up to a higher level of strictness.

Although the Noachide laws are less strict on the definition of marriage, if properly observed the Noachide laws maintain and promote holiness within marriage. All human beings are required to be Holy. We all must strive to separate ourselves from the profane and attach ourselves to the Holy One-God. Marriage, universally accomplishes this.

Who Can Marry?

In our day there is debate on what constitutes marriage. Given the gay rights movement that wishes to have its relationships recognized as marriage, it is important for us to have a clear understanding of what marriage is. There are those that say marriage is only constituted by a piece of paper or by a ceremony. If this is so then anyone should be able to get married. Others argue that because it is only a piece of paper it cannot give voice to what a real relationship is between a man and a woman or two men or two women or between a man and his sheep or a woman and her dog and so forth.

It appears that people have become confused over the entire marriage business. In the non-Jewish world the marriage contract is an invention of society to clarify business and legal matters. A determination of who is married and who is not will lead to taxing status, financial rights in banking matters, and life and death decisions. Such contracts have nothing to do with the spiritually significant relationship between a man and a woman in a Holy relationship blessed by God.

Marriage understood from the Torah perspective is defined primarily as a relationship that is not one of six kinds of relationships (for Noachides). A Noachide Marriage cannot exist if it is between a man and his mother, a man and his father’s wife, a man and a married woman, a man and his maternal sister, a man and another man, a man and an animal.This leaves a relationship of a man with an unmarried woman as the proper definition of who can get married for Noachides.


 

Marriage

Since Noachides do not have a marriage contract there must be some way of determining who is married and who is not. A marriage is not only a private agreement between two people but also a publicly known (assuming they live around people) exclusive relationship (exclusive between a man and a woman although it is still possible for a man to have several wives).

The Torah says30“Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be united with his wife and they shall become one flesh.” This verse implies that a man will leave the home of his parents and create a new home with his wife. Meaning, they will live together.  Living together in a home is a public statement that the couple is exclusive to one another. Once the public and private (the relationship has been consummated) nature of the relationship has been established the couple is considered married.

Divorce

A Couple is considered divorced when either partner leaves the common domain (or home).31 This method is far easier than having to get a “Get” or article of divorce (as is necessary for the Jewish people who sign a marriage contract). It allows either partner to end the relationship, not just the husband as is true under Jewish marriage.

V. Theft

Theft was the first sin committed in the Torah when Adam ate the fruit. God specified that everything in the Garden was available to Adam except for the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Theft is the most common sin that human beings commit against one another. It is also one of the most complex of the Noachide Laws.

For many this law seems rudimentary; easily avoided by even a child. It just isn’t true, what constitutes theft is a very difficult issue. It is an issue that is treated in great detail by the Jewish people  It is possible to steal in many different ways. If someone takes pens from the office or sits at their computer at work playing Tetris instead of working they are stealing. If someone takes something without the express permission of the owner they are stealing. What is even worse is that for Noachides there are no minimum amounts. Although punishment, ultimately, is the prerogative of the court, a Noachide could be liable for death.

It is very important for Noachides to understand the Noachide laws thoroughly to avoid violating any of the prohibitions. In order to do this one must first understand the boundaries of ownership. Only then is it possible to know when something has been stolen. It is not the purpose of this paper to explicitly detail ownership and theft, but it is our aim to give a basic introduction to this issue.

Business

We are constantly confronted every day with the decision to steal or not in our lives. The most common way we face this challenge is with our business dealings. These dealings can take the form of business, work, and private commerce.

When merchants deal with each other or their customers it is important that their dealings be honest. Anyone who gives less than they promised at time of sale or takes more than they paid for is committing theft.

The “ethical” technicalities allowed by most countries are unacceptable by the Torah standard. The Torah requires us to be exacting in our business dealings. Abuse of money exchanges is the surest sign of a corrupt society and is very often complained of by the Biblical prophets.


 

Employees

A person who works for another is obligated to work hard and make sure that the person who is purchasing their services is getting the work they paid for. An employee is obligated to always be working and to leave personal issues for after work. If there is an expectation that the person is working then that person must work; otherwise they are stealing money from their employer. Using the internet and using printers to print things for personal use is considered theft unless it is part of the employment agreement; which should spell out all rights of the employee to use the employer's property, time, etc., if that is intended. The employee is stealing the paper, toner, time (that they should be working) and electricity it costs to print things from the internet or computer. If it is necessary for the employee to use these objects for personal use an arrangement should be made with their employer, otherwise such activity is forbidden.

Employers

An employer is obligated to pay their employees in a timely fashion. Otherwise they are stealing the wages from their employee. This includes reimbursing the employee for expenses (if that is in agreement with the terms of service).

Property from Work

It may seem trivial but taking the property of an employer or company someone works for is theft; pens, notebooks, staplers, or anything else belonging to the company. The use of these items is assumed to be for the purpose of work. Even the theft of a single staple is unacceptable as there are no minimum amounts for Noachides, however, that does not mean that Jews may take minimal amounts, but that a court will not handle a claim for the return of a single staple, unless it has a certain value, which is unlikely. Theft in any amount is theft. If not punished in the earthly court, because there is no witness or no court willing to handle the case; it will be punished by the heavenly court.

Lost Objects

It is an obligation for every person to return a lost article to his friend if he is able. People loose things all the time, money, wallets, cell phones and so forth. A just society is one that has respect for the property of others. It is also important that for us to return something lost by another we demonstrate our respect for the rights of that individual and thus emphasize and strengthen our own rights to property.

Which items must we return?

Clearly an item that has the person’s name or symbol on it ought to be returned to its owner. It does not matter if the person is rich or poor or if the amount or object lost is small or great. It must be returned.

If money is found then it is also obligatory to get the money to the person who lost it. This is more difficult because there is not any label or sign that tells us who it belongs to. However, people are always mindful of their money and the knowledge of the missing amount is itself a sign of ownership. In the case of lost money, the owner may be identified by their knowledge of how much was lost or other signs.

When does lost property become ownerless?

A lost object is returnable only so long as the owner of the property has not given up on recovering the object. If for example he states that he will never recover the item then the object is considered ownerless.

An object may also become ownerless if it were lost at sea, in a lake or river, since it is unlikely that the object will ever be recovered. The circumstance of the loss of the object automatically classifies it as ownerless.


 

VI. Establish Courts of Justice

Society only functions because of the rule of law. There are two types of law, that created by man and that created by God. Law created by human beings can be good and just and relevant-it can also be fickle. The importance of law is such that it reflects the righteousness or wickedness of a society. Sodom and Gomorrah used law as a means to express their wickedness and a way to oppress its citizens and those who visited their cities. Torah observant Israel is marked out as being a wise people by the nations because of their laws. The Noachide Laws in their most basic form are meant to keep the world from becoming decadent.

Halachah and the Jewish People

The Jewish people have a responsibility to teach, explain, and help spread knowledge of the Halachah for B’nei Noah (children of Noah). They were set as a “kingdom of priests,” they are the priesthood of the entire world and as such they have a responsibility to minister to the entire world.

Courts of Justice by the Noachides

Noachides have an obligation to establish courts of Justice. They also have an obligation to implement the Halachah that is determined by the Sanhedrin of the Jewish people. The Sanhedrin has the responsibility of establishing Halachah for the entire world. What does it mean for Noachides to have courts of justice if the Sanhedrin establishes halachah? It means that just like the Jewish people have lower courts so too are the Noachide courts a lower court. Matters of Halachah are taken to the Sanhedrin when it is too hard for us to decide. The Sanhedrin is the Supreme Court of the world. Noachide courts can function independently of each other; but when a difficult issue arises it must be taken to the Sanhedrin and their ruling becomes law.

Noachide Judges

Noachide court systems imply Noachide judges. Such judges must be masters of Noachide Halachah. They must be able to understand, interpret and define Noachide halachah. Only when an issue is too great for them will they take it to the “Supreme Court” of Noachide halachah-the Sanhedrin.

A Noachide Judge must share the same qualities as Jewish Judges. Noachide Judges must be fair neither leaning toward the rich or the poor; they must themselves be upright individuals who live by the Noachide laws, rich in Torah learning, most especially, they must have the fear of heaven upon them.

Courts

A Noachide Court only requires one judge to pass judgement. Even in the case of a capital offense. A Noachide Court can be made up of Noachides, Jews32 or both. However, a woman cannot serve as a judge as is the case of Jewish Judges.33 Noachides are obligated to set up courts within every major town.34The purpose of these courts is to enforce the other six Noachide Laws.

Witnesses

A Noachide may be found guilty (and if a capital case) be executed on the basis of a single eye witness.35 A Noachide does not have to be warned before hand as is the case with Jews. A Noachide can be convicted based on the testimony of a relative, although not on the testimony of a woman.36


 

VII. Eating the Limb of a Living Animal

The prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal (or Ever Min ChaHai) is not as straight forward as it seems. There is no such thing as minimum amounts for Noachides (this is also important in regard to theft). If someone is cooking a stew and the tiniest amount of E”MC meat finds its way into the stew the entire stew is forbidden to be eaten.37

Ever Min HaChai (E”MC) in contemporary society

Many people believe that our world is too advanced, or civilized, to allow such barbaric behavior as eating the limb of a living animal.However, it may surprise people to know that even in our day and age these activities continue. Rocky Mountain Oysters (castrated testicles of bulls) is an example of E”MC.

Additionally if an animal is slaughtered but not yet dead by halachic standards when it is being cut up, the meat of that animal is considered E”MC.

Although it is possible to say the reason for the prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal is that God does not wish humans to be cruel to animals, it is important to note that we are never told that this is in fact the reasoning behind this law. It is a logical possibility. Although it may be argued that it is hard to say why any of the Noahide commandments is included to the exclusion of lots of other possibilities, other than the prohibition of idol worship.

“Kosher” Slaughter for Noachides

An animal is properly slaughtered if it has stopped moving before it is carved up. An animal is considered alive even if “one severs the two signs that distinguish it as having been slaughtered in a kosher manner, as long as the animal moves convulsively, the limbs and meat which are separated from it are forbidden…”38 However; if the head is completely severed from the animal then it is considered dead.

Punishment in the Noachide Laws

Many are shocked when they first study the Noachide Laws and learn that for any violation of the Noachide Laws the Noachide is punished with death.39 Two other factors make this hard to believe. This is not so for the Jewish people.

This is potentially the most difficult issue to get over. It is also the issue that brings the greatest amount of criticism against the Noachide Laws and those who live by it. Theft, for example, is not viewed as a capital punishment crime in our society. Nor does it seem to be the case in the Jewish world. However, some places punish rape by death, and it is "theft"; just like kidnapping.

It is important when struggling with any issue in Judaism and specifically in Halachah to consider the God's outlook as a whole and not in piecemeal form. There are several instances in the Torah where it seems like we are viewing an overly harsh command from God. For example, the rebellious son in the Torah is someone who is executed for rebelling against his parents. Many parents are horrified by this idea recognizing their own “rebellious” children. In the mind of many they are struck by the horror of putting to death their children for something as natural as teenage angst.40

Justice

Justice must be the basis of any law. It is the foundation of creation itself. The “laws” of the natural world were created to allow for the things in creation to function. If there are no laws, there is no reality. Without a particular way of how things work knowledge of any kind would be impossible.

Human relationships could not exist if not for law. Law is an explanation of how we ought to behave towards one another. This is true whether the relationship is between man and man or between man and God.


 

Mercy

Mercy is the element that keeps Justice from devouring the universe. Absolute justice has no room for imperfect human beings. Mercy tempers justice. Only by combining justice and mercy can human beings have courts that are truly just.

Justice, Mercy and the Noachide Laws

The Torah of Israel was never meant to be an oppressive instrument. In fact, its purpose has always been to perfect the individual and create a world where people act in brotherhood with one another. Challenges to this claim are the seeming harshness of the Noachide Laws. The Lack of minimum amounts and the automatic death penalty of each of the Laws encourage a perspective of injustice in some toward the Torah.

As we see in the Torah Laws of the Jewish people God is both just and merciful. The purpose of the courts is to be a force for good. Their primary focus is to be teachers of the Law not executioners.

Even under the Noachide system attaining a capital conviction is nearly impossible. How many times are we even able to provide one eye witness for a crime? The purpose of punishment in the Torah is to instill the fear of Hashem in human beings. However, such punishments are rarely carried out. A Sanhedrin that kills one person in 70 years is called a “bloody” Sanhedrin.

Hashem desires us to live so that we can turn away from sin and draw close to him. A person who is dead can no longer serve Hashem. For those who still feel that the punishment for Noachide offenses are cruel and blood thirsty let them point to specific examples of cruelty and bloodthirstiness within the Observant Jewish communities (as a result of their Torah). They will never find such examples.

Conclusion

The Noachide Laws have been the standard that God has judged humanity by since he first created us. It is by that standard that nations rise and fall, their reward and punishment based on their adherence or rejection of those laws.  In our world when confusion over the complexity of religion prevents us from attaining a relationship with God and our fellow human beings. It is reassuring to know that God’s plan for us is straight forward and that he has set forth his Torah and its laws that guide and establish perfection, peace and unity for all human beings.


[i]Rambam, Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamoteihem 9:1 (Moznaim Publishing Corporation. New York/Jerusalem) 1987.All references to Hilchot Melachim are taken directly from this version unless specified otherwise.

ibid.

Hilchot Melachim 8:10-11

Hilchot Melachim 9:1

This would be true even if an independent tradition from the Jewish tradition of the Noahide laws existed. However, no such tradition exists. We only know of the obligation and the Noahide Laws because of Jewish oral traditions.

Exodus 34:10, Deuteronomy 4:34

Exodus 20:10

Steinsaltz, 11

The Book of Jonah shows us how repentence can overturn an evil decree. The city, Nineveh, was a non-Jewish city. Nebuchadnezzar, in the book of Daniel, was turned into a wild animal as punishment for his actions; however, he was able to hold off this decree for a time by giving to charity.

The Law to establish courts of justice is actually both positive and negative. “Establish courts of justice” is the positive aspect and “do not pervert justice” is the negative aspect.

Hilchot Avodah Zarah V’Hakot HaGoiim 1:1

Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim (“Guide for the Perplexed”). (Dover Publications, Inc. New York) 1956. All quotes from Moreh Nevuchim are taken from this edition unless specified otherwise.

Moreh Nevuchim. 320

Derech Hashem (“The Way of God”)

The following verses attest that God is alone. Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 32:39; I Samuel 2:2; II Kings 19:19; Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6-8; 44:24; 45:5-6; 45:21-22; 46:5; 46:9; 48:11; Malachi 2:10; and Nehemiah 9:6

Moreh Nevuchim. 59

Moreh Nevuchim. 60

The following verses attest that God is not a physical being. Numbers 23:19; Deuteronomy 4:11-12; 5:23 I Kings 8:27

Examine the following verses concerning the unique identity of God.

The God of the Exodus and Sinai: Exodus 20:2-3; I Kings 8:60; II Kings 19:19; Isaiah 40:18; Isaiah 44:6-8; 44:24; Hosea 13:4; Joel 2:27; Malachi 2:10; Nehemiah 9:6 The God of Avraham, Isaac, and Jacob: Gen. 17:9; 26:3, 24; 28:13; 32:9; Exodus 3:6; 15-16; 4:5; 33:1 Lev. 26:42; Num. 32:11; Deut. 1:8; 6:10; 9:5, 27; 29:13; 30:20; 34:4; I Kings 18:36; 2 Kings 13:23; I Chr. 1:28; 16:16; 29:18; 2 Chr. 20:7; 30:6; Ps. 47:9; 81:4; 105:6, 9, 42; Is. 29:22, 41:8, 51:2The God that gave the Torah: Deut. 4:5-8; 10:12-13; Ps. 81:4 The Holiness of the Torah: Psalm 19:8-9 (7-8); 119:44, 72, 97, 155, 163, 165 The eternality of the Torah: Deut. 29:28 (29); Psalm 111:7-8; Ezekiel 11:19-20

The following verses mark out the differences between God and the gods of the nations. Deuteronomy 6:14; I Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 40:18; 40:25; 40:25; 43:10-11; 44:6-8; 46:5; Malachi 2:10; Psalms 81:8-9; I Chronicles 17:20

Review the following verses. I Kings 8:50; II Kings 19:19; Isaiah 45:21-22; Malachi 2:10

In the Talmudi c literature (Sanhedrin 56a) and the Mishnah Torah (Avodah Zarah 2:7, Hilchot Melachim 9:3) and other works; the term “blessing the name” is used euphemistically to mean cursing the name of God.

This is because the only place where death penalties are mentioned in relation to non-Jews is in Bereishit 9:6. There we are told: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed…” meaning, we are told that in order for a person to be put to death their blood must be shed. The only death penalty mentioned in the Torah involving shedding blood is decapitation. The Torah describes other death penalties for Jews. Beheading is said to be the least painful death penalty.

Exodus 20:7, the prohibition against swearing falsely by God’s name is one of the Ten Commandments.

Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed, p. 222

“Woe to those who call evil *good,* and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter…” (Isaiah 5:20).

For More information see “Philosophy, Reason and Revelation”—coming soon

The Oral tradition is very clear that “A gentile who slays a human being, even a fetus in its mothere’s womb, must be executed [in retribution] for its [death]. Hilchot Melachim 9:4.

Exodus 21:22

Hilchot Melachim 9:4

Bereishit 2:24

Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot

Such Jews are appointed by the Sanhedrin because Noachides have not fulfilled their obligation to establish courts of justice. This seems particular to the Land of Israel with Garim Toshavim (resident aliens) see Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 10:11.

Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 9:14

Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 9:14. A major city is one that contains 120 men in it.

ibid.

ibid.

There are those that teach that even the utensils become unusable for Noachides. However, laws involving “koshering” utensils are largely Rabbinic. Rabbinic Laws do not apply to Noachides, unless they are Rabbinic Laws from an actual Sanhedrin. Such a Rabbinic Law would need to be aimed at explaining Noachide Halachah.

Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 9:12

Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot 10:5 and the means of execution is always decapitation “except in cases when he has slept with the wife of a Jew or a betrothen maiden (ibid).”

Of course, the circumstances under which a child could be put to death for violation of this law are so limited that so far no one has been put to death for it.

“Its ways are pleasant ways and all its paths are Peace (Proverbs 3:17).”

TOP

THEME OPTIONS

Header type:
Theme Colors:
Color suggestions *
THEME
* May not have full accuracy!