The Noachide Laws are seven laws considered by rabbinic tradition as the minimal moral duties required by the Bible on all men. While Jews are obligated to observe the whole Torah – 613 commandments, every non-Jew is considered a “son of the covenant of Noah” and he who accepts these obligations is considered a righteous person who is guaranteed a place in the world to come.
This provision is known as the Noachide Laws. Though the first man and his wife, Adam and Eve, were commanded to observe them, they 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 in them until they were given the whole Torah at Mount Sinai, and they were then reaffirmed through Moses for all the other nations.
The Jewish idea is that the Torah of Moses is a truth for all humanity, whether Jewish or not. The Torah (as explained in the Talmud – Sanhedrin 58b) presents seven mitzvot for non-Jews to observe. These seven laws are the pillars of human civilization, and are named the “Seven Laws of Noah” since all humans are descended from Noah
THE 7 LAWS
1 – Do not worship false gods
Acknowledge that there is only one G-d who is Infinite and Supreme above all things. Do not replace that Supreme Being with finite idols, be it yourself, or other beings. This command includes such acts as prayer, study and meditation.
2 – Do not curse God.
Respect the Creator. As frustrated and angry as you may be, do not vent it by cursing your Maker.
3 – Do not murder.
Respect human life. Every human being is an entire world. To save a life is to save that entire world. To destroy a life is to destroy an entire world. To help others live is a corollary of this principle.
4 – Do not be sexually immoral.
Respect the institution of marriage. Marriage is a most Divine act. The marriage of a man and a woman is a reflection of the oneness of G-d and His creation. Disloyalty in marriage is an assault on that oneness.
5 – Do not steal.
Respect the rights and property of others. Be honest in all your business dealings. By relying on G-d rather than on our own conniving, we express our trust in Him as the Provider of Life.
6 – Do not eat a limb removed from a live animal.
Respect G-d’s creatures. At first, Man was forbidden to consume meat. After the Great Flood, he was permitted – but with a warning: Do not cause unnecessary suffering to any creature.
7 – Set up courts and bring offenders to justice.
Maintain justice. Justice is G-d’s business, but we are given the charge to lay down necessary laws and enforce them whenever we can. When we right the wrongs of society, we are acting as partners in the act of sustaining the creation.
Maimonides explains that any human being who faithfully observes these laws earns a proper place in heaven. So you see, the Torah is for all humanity, no conversion necessary.
As well, when King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he specifically asked God to heed the prayer of non-Jews who come to the Temple (1-Kings 8:41-43). The Temple was the universal center of spirituality, which the prophet Isaiah referred to as a “house for all nations.” The service in the Holy Temple during the week of Sukkot featured a total of 70 bull offerings, corresponding to each of the 70 nations of the world. In fact, the Talmud says if the Romans would have realized how much they were benefiting from the Temple, they never would have destroyed it!
Today, there are many active groups of non-Jews called “B’nai Noach” who faithfully observe the Seven Laws of Noah.
These seven laws are implicit in God’s commandment to Adam and Eve in Gen. 2:16-17, “And the Lord God commanded the man saying ‘From all the trees of the garden you may freely eat’.”
In the Talmud, Rabbi Yochanan explains:
- The word “commanded” (VaYetzav) is a reference to laws of justice for it says in Gen. 18:19, “For I have known him so he will COMMAND (Yitzaveh) his children after him to keep the way of the Lord and righteousness and justice.”
- “And the Lord” (HaShem) implies the prohibition of blasphemy. As it says in Lev. 24:16, “He who blasphemes the name of THE LORD (Hashem) shall die.”
- “God” (Elokim) is a reference to idolatry for it says in Ex. 20:3 “You shall have no other Elokim before me”.
- “The Man” (Ha Adam) is the prohibition of murder. God explicitly commands Noah (Gen. 9:6), “If one sheds the blood of THE MAN (Ha Adam), by man shall his own blood be shed.”
- “Saying” (Laymor) refers to sexual misconduct or adultery, as the prophet Jeremiah (3:1) says, “Saying (laymor), if a man divorces his wife…”
- “From all the trees of the Garden” is an implicit prohibition of theft. It shows that permission is needed to take something that is not explicitly yours.
- Likewise, “you may eat” implies that there are things which may not be eaten (the limbs of a live animal).
- against stealing
- against committing robbery
- against shifting a landmark
- against cheating
- against repudiating a claim of money owed
- against overcharging
- against coveting
- against desiring
- a laborer shall be allowed to eat of the fruits among which he works (under certain conditions)
- against a laborer eating of such fruit (when certain conditions are not met)
- against a laborer taking of such fruit home
- against kidnapping
- against the use of false weights and measures
- against the possession of false weights and measures
- that one shall be exact in the use of weights and measures
- that the robber shall return (or pay for) the stolen object
- to appoint judges and officers in each and every community
- to treat the litigants equally before the law
- to inquire diligently into the testimony of a witness
- against the wanton miscarriage of justice by the court
- against the judge accepting a bribe or gift from a litigant
- against the judge showing marks of honor to but one litigant
- against the judge acting in fear of a litigant’s threats
- against the judge, out of compassion, favoring a poor litigant
- against the judge discriminating against the litigant because he is a sinner
- against the judge, out of softness, putting aside the penalty of a mauler or killer
- against the judge discriminating against a stranger or an orphan
- against the judge hearing one litigant in the absence of the other
- against appointing a judge who lacks knowledge of the Law
- against the court killing an innocent man
- against incrimination by circumstantial evidence
- against punishing for a crime committed under duress
- that the court is to administer the death penalty by the sword
- against anyone taking the law into his own hands to kill the perpetrator of a capital crime
- to testify in court
- against testifying falsely* This point is disagreed upon by different writers: “The Noahites are not restricted in this way but may judge singly and at once.”
- against anyone murdering anyone
- ILLICIT INTERCOURSE
- against (a man) having union with his mother
- against (a man) having union with his sister
- against (a man) having union with the wife of his father
- against (a man) having union with another man’s wife
- against (a man) copulating with a beast
- against a woman copulating with a beast
- against (a man) lying carnally with a male
- against (a man) lying carnally with his father
- against (a man) lying carnally with his father’s brother
- against engaging in erotic conduct that may lead to a prohibited union
- LIMB OF A LIVING CREATURE
- against eating a limb severed from a living animal, beast, or fowl
- against eating the flesh of any animal which was torn by a wild beast … which, in part, prohibits the eating of such flesh as was torn off an animal while it was still alive
- against entertaining the thought that there exists a deity except the Lord
- against making any graven image (and against having anyone else make one for us)
- against making idols for use by others
- against making any forbidden statues (even when they are for ornamental purposes)
- against bowing to any idol (and not to sacrifice nor to pour libation nor to burn incense before any idol, even where it is not the customary manner of worship to the particular idol)
- against worshipping idols in any of their customary manners of worship
- against causing our children to pass (through the fire) in the worship of Molech.
- against practicing Ov
- against the practice of Yiddoni
- against turning to idolatry (in word, in thought, in deed, or by any observance that may draw us to its worship)
- to acknowledge the presence of God
- to fear God
- to pray to Him
- to sanctify God’s name (in face of death, where appropriate)
- against desecrating God’s name (even in face of death, when appropriate)
- to study the Torah
- to honor the scholars, and to revere one’s teacher
- against blaspheming
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