Illustration: A world of peoples by Gerd Altmann [Standard Pixabay license] from Pixabay
It is well known that the Jewish faith does not seek to make converts, and so it is generally supposed that since the Jewish people do not want to make other people into Jews, they are happy just to leave them alone.
The world is often very surprised to discover that the Jewish faith includes a complete provision for all non-Jews — regardless of race, social class or national origin — perfectly attuned to their needs, and deriving from the same source in Divine revelation through the prophecy of Moses, without any intermediary whatsoever. Only the true universal faith of the Jews continually offers something to those who are not its members, and this is its sign of authenticity.
This provision is known as the Noahide Laws. Though Adam and Eve, the first man and his wife, were commanded to observe them, the Laws emerged fully only after Noah had survived the flood that wiped away violent sinners whose wrongdoings had engulfed the world in his time. The ancestors of the Jewish people were also commanded to observe the Laws until they were given the whole Torah at Mount Sinai; they were then reaffirmed through Moses for all the other nations.
Their wisdom has been recognized by non Jews in modern times. In 1991, the U.S. Congress enacted a law recognizing their universal truths, stating, “... 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 2013, members of the U.N. gathered in New York to learn how the Seven Noahide Laws must play a key role in international efforts for world peace. The conference was hosted by the Institute of Noahide Code, a U.N. accredited NGO dedicated to spreading awareness of the Seven Noahide Laws. This group, along with others, is helping disseminate the importance of these Laws for the world.
But what are these Laws? They are all prohibitions, unlike those of the Jewish people, who also have affirmative commandments, but they are not intended to make life dull or restricted. They point out what the good and true path should be; with this path, all moral necessities for the non-Jews are established, without need for any other philosophy, scientific discovery or change in government. All relationships between Jews and non-Jews are likewise explained, both in Israel and in other countries.
Because all people originate from sexual relations, the Laws that govern them are our most basic ‘constitution’, testifying to the Divine origin of humankind. When these Laws are observed, human relations of all kinds are enhanced by Divine sanction, and love increases throughout the world.
Non-Jews are not commanded to marry but they are encouraged to do so. Men are forbidden to have relations with the wife of another man. Male homosexuality, incest, and bestial relations are also forbidden under the same heading, even though the desires for them are very different. Jews and non-Jews are forbidden to each other because of the different origin of their respective commandments.
Though the reasons for sexual prohibitions may be mysterious, most people, if asked what laws they would make to govern the world, would immediately say that on no account must illegal bloodshed be allowed to go unpunished. Human life is a sacred trust and can only be taken with legal sanction.
It is rare for any person to take life in truly wanton circumstances, because of the instinctive recognition of its value, and this recognition must be taken up to the level of reckoning that the spiritual law requires. The Noahide Laws call for a murderer to be executed by decapitation, only after the sentence of a duly authorized sovereign court. Protection is extended to the unborn, and the details of any abortion case must be closely studied according to the law. War actions are subject to strict security standards, at the order of a lawful regime.
The first man and woman transgressed the Noahide prohibition of theft by eating the fruit which had been forbidden to them in gan Eden, and this is still a Divine provision for non-Jews regarding all property in the hands of others. Property ownership is underwritten by Divine law for all humanity; it is not just a matter for an aggrieved individual to settle for himself.
Respect for property rights is the basis for generosity with possessions, and for business dealings that lead the world through the use and traffic of goods to its final destiny. This brings moral satisfaction in the workplace, where the fostering of ethics in this area is a prime need for our society.
If the worship of entities other than the Creator had not been forbidden by His express command, then people would be free to choose what to worship just as they choose their own personal friends. However the whole area of relations between humanity and its Creator has been placed under specific requirements, namely, that only His truth and unity should be the subject of belief, worship and philosophy.
His revelation has two levels: the one in nature for ordinary reckoning; and the other through prophecy on Mount Sinai for the moral law. All non-Jews derive their true religious fulfillment from this latter source, and any reference to an intermediary causes error and loss of morality. There is no need for non-Jews to form associations for Noahide observance and prayer, but they may do so if they wish.
Cursing the Name
The power of speech distinguishes humanity from all other species. This distinction leads to the specific human prohibition not to use speech for cursing the Creator, because it shows ingratitude for His kindness. This commandment pairs with the previous one, indicating that Divine rulership and Divine love go together at all times and places, no matter how great the difficulties may seem.
Jews and non-Jews are commanded in the same verse in this respect, signalling how all of humankind will join together in the Messianic times to voice praise for the Creator. All other misuses of speech — such as gossip, obscenity and lies — are indicated in this commandment as something to avoid, just as prayer and words of Torah are desirable so that speech will become truly Divine.
Eating the limb of a living animal
Though it may seem far-fetched to think of eating meat from a living creature, the intent behind this prohibition is to safeguard human sexual integrity. The connection between eating and sexuality is well known: it is the sexual drive for consumption of the ‘heat of life’ that leads to the kind of greed that damages reproduction.
The Noahide Law teaches us that this is rectified by being careful to eat only meat from an animal that is fully dead. This is by no means always the case in our factory society where slaughterhouses handle meat animals quickly and carelessly, sometimes only stunning them before cutting them up for sale. Care in this observance fosters all requirements for the love of nature and the preservation of the environment, and safeguards the passage of souls as manifested in the life and consumption of food animals until the ultimate destiny of the world.
System of justice
The non-Jewish nations of the world are commanded to avoid a state of anarchy through assuming and exercising sovereign jurisdiction and through maintaining courts that punish offenders through due process of law, thereby providing civil redress in society. The Noahide Laws themselves form the basis of the criminal code, but each nation may make civil laws as it sees fit within the general guidelines. This provision does not apply within the Land of Israel, where the sovereign power is in the hands of the Jewish people, and they are to judge non-Jews of any nationality living or visiting there under these same Noahide Laws.
Each non-Jewish nation is empowered to conduct its own legal affairs according to its own pathways and nimuseihem (their (non-Jewish) customs), giving autonomy to the non-Jewish nations through their own laws.
Business corporations are entities derived from a specific rabbinic decision in the Noahide Commandment of Laws, and are held in being by the non-Jewish government, which is responsible for their regulation in the public interest. Regulation should be neither so much as to be in restraint of trade nor so little as to turn the markets into an anarchic competitive jungle. Thus Communism and Fascism are in breach of the spiritual law because they are not regulated by corporate law.
Non-Jews are obligated to seek reconciliation, rather than take their disputes straight to court. They are enjoined under the Laws to give charitable donations to each other, so as to allay resentment and confrontation in society generally, creating a climate where disputes can be peacefully resolved without having to go to court.
The Rabbis of the Talmud say, ‘War comes to the world through the delay of justice, the perversion of justice, and the teaching of Torah out of accordance with its legal meaning.’ When all processes of law are rectified in this way, with good government applied to sustain them, functioning in Divine integrity, then grievances are properly handled and true peace emerges into the light of day.
Yirmeyahu Bindman is an author and researcher living in Jerusalem, specializing in Jewish historical biography and the Noahide Laws. His complete work on this topic, The Seven Colors of the Rainbow, is available here.
Rabbi Bindman graduated in physics from University College London, came to Israel in 1979, and learned in the Mir Yeshiva and Kollel Chabad Tzemach Tzedek. His published works include: a biography of the Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto: His Life and Works; a handbook on running a free loan fund, If You Lend To My People: Gemachs and Their Operation; and the standard teaching guide to the Noahide Laws, The Seven Colors of the Rainbow. He can be contacted at email@example.com