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 the 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 (Hebrew: בני נח, "Sons 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.
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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. Noahide communities have spread and developed primarily in the United States, United Kingdom, Latin America, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Russia. According to a Noahide source in 2018, there are over 20,000 official Noahides around the world, and the country with the greatest number is the Philippines.
The rainbow covenant of equal justice under law
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This was given over in the Book of Genesis chapter 9.
The Seven Laws of Noah
- Do not worship idols.
- Do not curse God.
- Do not murder.
- Do not commit adultery, bestiality, or sexual immorality.
- Do not steal.
- Do not eat flesh torn from a living animal.
- Establish courts of justice.
The concept of "Righteous Gentiles" has a few precedents in the history of Judaism, primarily during Biblical times and the Roman domination of the Mediterranean. In the Hebrew Bible, it is reported that the legal status of ger toshav (Hebrew: גר תושב, ger: "foreigner" or "alien" + toshav: "resident", lit. "resident alien") was granted to those Gentiles (non-Jews) living in the Land of Israel who didn't want to convert to Judaism but agreed to observe the Seven Laws of Noah. The Sebomenoi or God-fearers of the Roman Empire were also an ancient example of non-Jews being included within the Jewish community without converting to Judaism.
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. According to Maimonides, teaching non-Jews to follow the Seven Laws of Noah is incumbent on all Jews, a commandment in and of itself. Nevertheless, the majority of rabbinic authorities over the centuries have rejected Maimonides' opinion, and the dominant halakhic consensus has always been that Jews are not required to spread the Noahide laws to non-Jews.
Modern Noahide movement
Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, encouraged his followers on many occasions to preach the Seven Laws of Noah, devoting some of his addresses to the subtleties of this code. Since the 1990s, Orthodox rabbis from Israel, most notably those affiliated to Chabad-Lubavitch and religious Zionist organizations, including The Temple Institute, have set up a modern Noahide movement. These Noahide organizations, led by religious Zionist and Orthodox rabbis, are aimed at non-Jews in order to proselytize among them and commit them to follow the Noahide laws. However, these religious Zionist and Orthodox rabbis that guide the modern Noahide movement, who are often affiliated with the Third Temple movement, expound a racist and supremacist ideology which consists in the belief that the Jewish people are God's chosen nation and racially superior to non-Jews, and mentor Noahides because they believe that the Messianic era will begin with the rebuilding of the Third Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to re-institute the Jewish priesthood along with the practice of ritual sacrifices, and the establishment of a Jewish theocracy in Israel, supported by communities of Noahides. There are two different conceptions of Noahidism in Orthodox Judaism:
- The B'nei Noah movement whose members observe the Seven Laws of Noah 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 the Torah (except for the seven Noahide 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 converting to Judaism). 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.
David Novak, professor of Jewish theology and ethics at the University of Toronto, has denounced the modern Noahide movement by stating that "If Jews are telling Gentiles what to do, it’s a form of imperialism".
High Council of B’nei Noah
A High Council of B’nei Noah, set up to represent Noahide communities around the world, was endorsed by a group that claimed to be the new Sanhedrin. The High Council of B'nei Noah consists of a group of Noahides who, at the request of the nascent Sanhedrin, gathered in Israel on 10 January 2006 to be recognized as an international Noahide organization for the purpose of serving as a bridge between the nascent Sanhedrin and Noahides worldwide. There were ten initial members who flew to Israel and pledged to uphold the Seven Laws of Noah and to conduct themselves under the authority of the Noahide beth din (religious court) of the nascent Sanhedrin.
The idea for the council was first conceived by Rabbi Avraham Toledano. He, as well as many others, understood that Noahides, like Jews, need a body of recognized leaders and scholars to whom they can turn for guidance in their study and observance of Torah, and who can help to unify the communities around the world. To this end, suitable candidates were sought out who would be willing and able to establish such a body. These nominees were brought together in mid-2005 by the personal invitation of, and under the supervision of an authorized representative of a controversial attempt to revive the Sanhedrin, forming a proto-Noahide Council. The founding proto-Council members then appeared before the same body in Jerusalem, on 9 January 2006.
The council is not a beth din, and does not have any legal (halakhic) power to make rulings. Rather, it states that it is an autonomous body of Noahide leaders and scholars with its halakhic (religious) supervision and guidance, to promote the education, unification, and edification of Noahides and Noahide communities around the world. The current members of the council were personally invited to take part in this endeavor. However, the members of the council were not "ordained". Rather, having been invited to participate, they agreed to work together to establish this council. The council was behind the establishment of the WikiNoah.org website.
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, the first Noahide gathering, in Fort Worth, Texas. After the assassination of Meir Kahane that same year, The Temple Institute, which advocates to rebuild the Third Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, started to promote the Noahide laws as well.
The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has been one of 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. In 1982, Chabad-Lubavitch had a reference to the Noahide laws enshrined in a U.S. Presidential proclamation: the "Proclamation 4921", signed by the then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The United States Congress, recalling House Joint Resolution 447 and in celebration of Menachem Mendel Schneerson's 80th birthday, proclaimed April 4, 1982, as a "National Day of Reflection.".
In 1989 and 1990, they had another reference to the Noahide laws enshrined in a U.S. Presidential proclamation: the "Proclamation 5956", signed by then-President George H. W. Bush. The United States Congress, recalling House Joint Resolution 173 and in celebration of Menachem Mendel Schneerson's 87th birthday, proclaimed April 16, 1989, and April 6, 1990, as "Education Day, U.S.A.".
In January 2004, 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 Arab city of Shefa-'Amr (Shfaram) — where Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities live side-by-side — also signed the document.
In March 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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Noahide Laws, also called Noachian Laws, a Jewish Talmudic designation for seven biblical laws given to Adam and to Noah before the revelation to Moses on Mt. Sinai and consequently binding on all mankind.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Beginning with Genesis 2:16, the Babylonian Talmud listed the first six commandments as prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, and robbery and the positive command to establish courts of justice (with all that this implies). After the Flood a seventh commandment, given to Noah, forbade the eating of flesh cut from a living animal (Genesis 9:4). Though the number of laws was later increased to 30 with the addition of prohibitions against castration, sorcery, and other practices, the “seven laws,” with minor variations, retained their original status as authoritative commandments and as the source of other laws. As basic statutes safeguarding monotheism and guaranteeing proper ethical conduct in society, these laws provided a legal framework for alien residents in Jewish territory. Maimonides thus regarded anyone who observed these laws as one “assured of a portion in the world to come.”
- "Sanhedrin 56". Babylonian Talmud. Halakhah.
- Bromiley, Geoffrey W. (1986). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 3 (Fully Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans. p. 1010. ISBN 0-8028-3783-2.
In rabbinic literature the ger toshab was a Gentile who observed the Noachian commandments but was not considered a convert to Judaism because he did not agree to circumcision. [...] some scholars have made the mistake of calling the ger toshab a "proselyte" or "semiproselyte." But the ger toshab was really a resident alien in Israel. Some scholars have claimed that the term "those who fear God" (yir᾿ei Elohim/Shamayim) was used in rabbinic literature to denote Gentiles who were on the fringe of the synagogue. They were not converts to Judaism, although they were attracted to the Jewish religion and observed part of the law.
- Bleich, J. David (1995). Contemporary Halakhic Problems. 4. New York: KTAV Publishing House (Yeshiva University Press). p. 161. ISBN 0-88125-474-6.
Rashi, Yevamot 48b, maintains that a resident alien (ger toshav) is obliged to observe Shabbat. The ger toshav, in accepting the Seven Commandments of the Sons of Noah, has renounced idolatry and [...] thereby acquires a status similar to that of Abraham. [...] Indeed, Rabbenu Nissim, Avodah Zarah 67b, declares that the status on an unimmersed convert is inferior to that of a ger toshav because the former's acceptance of the "yoke of the commandments" is intended to be binding only upon subsequent immersion. Moreover, the institution of ger toshav as a formal halakhic construct has lapsed with the destruction of the Temple.
- Singer, Isidore; Greenstone, Julius H. (1906). "Noachian Laws". Jewish Encyclopedia. Kopelman Foundation. Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 10 November 2020.
The Seven Laws. Laws which were supposed by the Rabbis to have been binding upon mankind at large even before the revelation at Sinai, and which are still binding upon non-Jews. The term Noachian indicates the universality of these ordinances, since the whole human race was supposed to be descended from the three sons of Noah, who alone survived the Flood. [...] Basing their views on the passage in Genesis 2:16, they declared that the following six commandments were enjoined upon Adam: (1) not to worship idols; (2) not to blaspheme the name of God; (3) to establish courts of justice; (4) not to kill; (5) not to commit adultery; and (6) not to rob (Gen. R. xvi. 9, xxiv. 5; Cant. R. i. 16; comp. Seder 'Olam Rabbah, ed. Ratner, ch. v. and notes, Wilna, 1897; Maimonides, "Yad," Melakim, ix. 1). A seventh commandment was added after the Flood—not to eat flesh that had been cut from a living animal (Genesis 9:4). [...] Thus, the Talmud frequently speaks of "the seven laws of the sons of Noah," which were regarded as obligatory upon all mankind, in contradistinction to those that were binding upon Israelites only (Tosef., 'Ab. Zarah, ix. 4; Sanh. 56a et seq.). [...] He who observed the seven Noachian laws was regarded as a domiciled alien, as one of the pious of the Gentiles, and was assured of a portion in the world to come (Tosef., Sanh. xiii. 1; Sanh. 105a; comp. ib. 91b; "Yad," l.c. viii. 11).
- Jacobs, Joseph; Hirsch, Emil G. (1906). "Proselyte: Semi-Converts". Jewish Encyclopedia. Kopelman Foundation. Archived from the original on 31 May 2012. Retrieved 10 November 2020.
In order to find a precedent the rabbis went so far as to assume that proselytes of this order were recognized in Biblical law, applying to them the term "toshab" ("sojourner," "aborigine," referring to the Canaanites; see Maimonides' explanation in "Yad," Issure Biah, xiv. 7; see Grätz, l.c. p. 15), in connection with "ger" (see Ex. xxv. 47, where the better reading would be "we-toshab"). Another name for one of this class was "proselyte of the gate" ("ger ha-sha'ar," that is, one under Jewish civil jurisdiction; comp. Deut. v. 14, xiv. 21, referring to the stranger who had legal claims upon the generosity and protection of his Jewish neighbors). In order to be recognized as one of these the neophyte had publicly to assume, before three "ḥaberim," or men of authority, the solemn obligation not to worship idols, an obligation which involved the recognition of the seven Noachian injunctions as binding ('Ab. Zarah 64b; "Yad," Issure Biah, xiv. 7). [...] The more rigorous seem to have been inclined to insist upon such converts observing the entire Law, with the exception of the reservations and modifications explicitly made in their behalf. The more lenient were ready to accord them full equality with Jews as soon as they had solemnly forsworn idolatry. The "via media" was taken by those that regarded public adherence to the seven Noachian precepts as the indispensable prerequisite (Gerim iii.; 'Ab. Zarah 64b; Yer. Yeb. 8d; Grätz, l.c. pp. 19–20). The outward sign of this adherence to Judaism was the observance of the Sabbath (Grätz, l.c. pp. 20 et seq.; but comp. Ker. 8b).
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