Noahidism or Noachidism is a monotheistic, Jewish religious movement based upon the Seven Laws of Noah and their traditional interpretations within Orthodox Judaism. According to the Jewish law, non-Jews (Gentiles) are not obligated to convert to Judaism, but they are required to observe the Seven Laws of Noah to be assured of a place in the World to Come (Olam Ha-Ba), the final reward of the righteous. The divinely ordained penalty for violating any of these Noahide Laws is discussed in the Talmud, but in practical terms it is subject to the working legal system which is established by the society at large. Those who subscribe to the observance of the Noahic Covenant are referred to as Bnei Noach (בני נח, “Children of Noah“) or Noahides. The modern Noahide movement was founded in the 1990s by Orthodox rabbis from Israel, mainly tied to Chabad-Lubavitch and religious Zionist organizations, including The Temple Institute.
Historically, the Hebrew term Bnei Noach has been applied to all non-Jews as descendants of Noah. However, nowadays it is primarily used to refer specifically to those “Righteous Gentiles” who observe the Seven Laws of Noah. According to a Noahide source in 2018, there are over 20,000 official Noahides, and the country with the greatest number is the Philippines.
The Seven Laws of Noah
The seven laws listed by the Babylonian Talmud in Sanhedrin 56a are:
- Do not worship idols.
- Do not blaspheme God.
- Do not murder.
- Do not practice sexual immorality.
- Do not steal.
- Do not eat flesh from a living animal.
- Establish Courts of Justice to build upon these laws.
The Sebomenoi or God-fearers are an early example of non-Jews being included within the Jewish community.
There are two different concepts of Noahidism in Judaism:
- The B’nei Noah movement whose members observe the Seven Commandments or Laws only and hold that the remaining commandments do not apply to them. This is the view of Chabad-Lubavitch and a few other movements. This means that Noahides may not observe the Sabbath, study Torah (except for the Seven Laws), etc.
- The B’nei Noah movement whose members hold that they can adhere completely to Judaism in order to learn from the Jews and together promote the World to Come (Olam Ha-Ba) but without becoming a part of the Jewish people (i.e. without performing a giyur). After B’nei Noah accept the obligatory seven commandments, they can, if they so desire, carry out the rest of the Jewish commandments, including studying the Torah, observing the Sabbath, celebrating Jewish holidays, etc. This view is held, for example, by Yoel Schwartz and Oury Amos Cherki.
According to the first approach, the answer to the question “Can a non-Jew observe the Sabbath and study the Torah?” is negative, and according to the second one, it is affirmative.
During the Golden Age of Jewish culture in the Iberian Peninsula, the medieval Jewish philosopher and rabbi Maimonides (1135–1204) wrote in the halakhic legal code Mishneh Torah that Gentiles (non-Jews) must perform exclusively the Seven Laws of Noah and refrain from studying the Torah or performing any Jewish commandment, including resting on the Shabbat; however, Maimonides also states that if Gentiles want to perform any Jewish commandment besides the Seven Laws of Noah according to the correct halakhic procedure, they are not prevented from doing so. Cherki explains this apparent contradiction in Maimonides by saying that the goy and B’nei Noah are different halakhic concepts. A goy is a gentile who has not yet accepted the commandments of B’nei Noah. However, if he has already accepted Seven Laws, he ceases to be a goy and became a B’nei Noah, and as such can follow additional commandments, including keeping the Sabbath and teaching the Torah.
High Council of B’nei Noah
A High Council of B’nei Noah, set up to represent B’nei Noah communities around the world, was endorsed by a group that claimed to be the new Sanhedrin.
Meir Kahane and Shlomo Carlebach organized one of the first Noahide conferences in the 1980s. In 1990, Kahane was the keynote speaker at the First International Conference of the Descendants of Noah in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has been the most active in Noahide outreach, believing that there is spiritual and societal value for non-Jews in at least simply acknowledging the Noahide Laws, and even more so if they accept or observe them. In 1991, they had a reference to these laws enshrined in a Congressional proclamation: Presidential Proclamation 5956, signed by then-President George H. W. Bush. Recalling Joint House Resolution 173, and recalling that the ethical and moral principles of all civilizations come in part from the Seven Noahide Laws, it proclaimed March 26, 1991, as “Education Day, USA”. Subsequently, Public Law 102-14 formally designated the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 90th birthday as “Education Day, USA,” with Congress recalling that “without these ethical values and principles, the edifice of civilization stands in serious peril of returning to chaos,” and that “society is profoundly concerned with the recent weakening of these principles, that has resulted in crises that beleaguer and threaten the fabric of civilized society.”
In April 2006, the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Mowafak Tarif, met with a representative of Chabad-Lubavitch to sign a declaration calling on all non-Jews in Israel to observe the Noahide Laws. The mayor of the Galilean city of Shefa-‘Amr (Shfaram) — where Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities live side-by-side — also signed the document.
In March 2007, Chabad-Lubavitch gathered ambassadors from six countries to take part in a gathering to declare their support of the Noahide laws. They represented Poland, Latvia, Mexico, Panama, Ghana, and Japan. They were part of a special program organized by Harav Boaz Kali. In April, Abu Gosh mayor Salim Jaber accepted the seven Noahide laws as part of a mass rally by Chabad at the Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv. In May, the newly elected president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, met with a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi, Dovid Zaoui, who presented him with the literature on the Noahide laws.
In 2016, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef, declared during a sermon that Jewish law requires that the only non-Jews allowed to live in Israel are obligated to follow the Noahide Laws: “According to Jewish law, it’s forbidden for a non-Jew to live in the Land of Israel – unless he has accepted the seven Noahide laws, […] If the non-Jew is unwilling to accept these laws, then we can send him to Saudi Arabia, […] When there will be full, true redemption, we will do this.” Yosef further added: “non-Jews shouldn’t live in the land of Israel. […] If our hand were firm, if we had the power to rule, then non-Jews must not live in Israel. But, our hand is not firm. […] Who, otherwise be the servants? Who will be our helpers? This is why we leave them in Israel.” Yosef’s sermon sparked outrage in Israel and was fiercely criticized by several human rights associations, NGOs and members of the Knesset; Jonathan Greenblatt, Anti-Defamation League’s CEO and national director, and Carole Nuriel, Anti-Defamation League’s Israel Office acting director, issued a strong denunciation of Yosef’s sermon:
The statement by Chief Rabbi Yosef is shocking and unacceptable. It is unconscionable that the Chief Rabbi, an official representative of the State of Israel, would express such intolerant and ignorant views about Israel’s non-Jewish population – including the millions of non-Jewish citizens.
As a spiritual leader, Rabbi Yosef should be using his influence to preach tolerance and compassion towards others, regardless of their faith, and not seek to exclude and demean a large segment of Israelis.
We call upon the Chief Rabbi to retract his statements and apologize for any offense caused by his comments.
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- Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew ed., Israel, 5741/1981, entry Ben Noah, end of article); note the variant reading of Maimonides and the references in the footnote.
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- Sharon, Jeremy (28 March 2016). “Non-Jews in Israel must keep Noahide laws, chief rabbi says”. The Jerusalem Post. Jerusalem. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
- “Israel 2016 International Religious Freedom Report: Israel and the Occupied Territories” (PDF). State.gov. US Department of State–Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 2019. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
- Greenblatt, Jonathan; Nuriel, Carole (28 March 2016). “ADL: Israeli Chief Rabbi Statement Against Non-Jews Living in Israel is Shocking and Unacceptable”. Adl.org. New York: Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia