Lecture 2: What are the Noahide Laws?
Shalom, and greetings.
We are happy to have you join us in the vital mission of the Bnei Noach, which will help lead to greater peace in the world!
First, though, we must ask: What is a Ben Noach?
The answer is that Israel is the first nation that ever claimed to have spoken with the Creator of the World. Just think about it. Can it be that the world was created, and suddenly a man was thrown into it, and God did not even talk to him? No, that's not logical. In the book of Genesis, the Creator spoke to His creation at the very beginning.
"And God said to Adam, be fruitful and multiply, and fill the world..." [Genesis 1,28].
Just look at that: the Creator didn't speak to the nation of Israel; rather, He talked to the ancestor of all of humanity!! Afterward, the people sinned and were utterly destroyed in the Deluge, except for one family, that of Noach. Noach and his sons are the ones who continued the chain of human existence.
Later on, the Creator revealed Himself to the nation of Israel, and He instructed them to support and disseminate the Creator's message to humanity proudly.
To summarize, according to the Jewish tradition, all humans are children of God, who created everything. Therefore, every human being, whether a Jew or a Gentile, is worthy of conversing with the Creator. The Jews, as the ones who accepted the mission of bringing the Word of the Creator to the rest of the world, have agreed to perform more actions than the non-Jews. The commands are called mitzvot. One who is not a Jew is not required to complete all the mitzvot that a Jew must do! And that is the way things should be.
What are the mitzvot that a Noachide has been commanded to observe? There are seven basic mitzvot that every human being is obligated to perform. These can be viewed as the keys to seven activity categories, and in this brief article, we will summarize them. Before we start, we should emphasize that these are simple acts necessary to establish a normal and healthy society, allowing everyone to live with all others respectably. Today this seems obvious, but when these decrees were first stated some 2,500 or 3,000 years ago – they were a novel approach that other people did not accept...
For example, in the last few hundred years, humanity has been trying to reveal a single unified basis for all natural laws. When great philosophers were alive (such as Plato, Aristotle, and others), people were convinced that different laws of physics applied underneath the moon and above the moon... The idea that there is one set of universal physical rules that unifies everything is a concept that the nation of Israel gave to humanity.
And this leads us to the first two laws of Noach:
(1) The prohibition of idolatry.
(2) The prohibition to blaspheme against the Creator.
The main objective of these two mitzvot can be summarized in the following theme: "First of all, accept the authority of My Kingdom – then, afterwards, you can perform My decrees." Before we begin to study the details of actions that we must do, we must make a decision – to accept the authority of the King of the Universe, He who created it. This cannot be done while we continue to serve a foreign god or do not show proper respect for God (and blaspheme Him).
Note: Our prayer is a direct expression of our link to God. This is the positive aspect of these first two mitzvot. What is the proper form of prayer? This will be discussed in a later message.
(3) The prohibition of murder.
There is no need to waste words on the importance of this commandment. The Creator gave every person the gift of life, and we should never dare to take this gift away from anybody, just as we cannot give life to anybody else. This was the sin of Cain, and from his time on, humanity has been crying out for the possibility that every man and woman will allow all the others to live, even though they don't think alike...
(4) Illicit sex.
This law is quite complex, with many ramifications, and we will not discuss it in detail here.
Let us just say that when we burst forth from the womb of the pregnant mother, we received air to breathe and usually also food so that we could live in this world. The main thing we must do in return is grant life in the same way to future generations. Any sexual fashions that do not provide a healthy and complete format for life within human society will lead to unnecessary destruction, and there should be no room for them in our world!
The best policy is to get married in an organized way, establish a family, and try to provide a better world for future generations!
(5) The prohibition to rob or steal from another person.
This law, like the previous ones, is easy to understand. Everyone labors to improve their lives, and it is entirely unreasonable to overturn the public order by taking away somebody else's livelihood. If this becomes a standard action, how will society continue to exist?
(6) Prohibition to eat a limb taken from an animal while it is still alive.
This law has several essential elements, but we will only touch on them in this summary.
First, we must address a question in principle: Why are we permitted to eat meat in the first place? If we have been allowed to eat the flesh of an animal, we must at the very least be moderate and not live cruelly (such as cutting off the leg of an animal and eating it in full view of the animal while it suffers from pain)...
From this law, we can understand how we should relate to other elements of creation. We must remember that the Creator made not only man (or, as some people seem to think, only the nation of Israel...). This can lead us to thoughts about the link between humankind and his environment, not only contact with other people.
(7) The obligation is to establish courts to make judgments between people.
The need for this is certainly evident. Without a system of courts, whoever is strongest will force himself on the others. This mitzvah is an obligation not for the individual but for society. It is nevertheless one of the essential commands, as was already recognized by Thomas Hobbes in his book, "Leviathan," more than 400 years ago.
Does this bring us to the end of the obligations of the Bnei Noach? Not!
Questions that will be addressed in later, more detailed lessons:
* What practical steps are necessary to become a Ben Noach?
* What else must you learn?
* Can a person be a Ben Noach and remain a Christian?
* What is the next step in this process?
Shalom, and greetings from the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Chaim Goldberg