Humanity today includes seven billion souls, a number never reached in all of human history. The creative forces latent in this mass of humanity are immensely powerful, but the forces for potential destruction are immensely powerful, too. The future is clouded in uncertainty. Everything depends on human behavior, whether human beings turn their energy towards creative building and true contentment or towards destruction born of simulated happiness.
Today, a critical power struggle is being waged around this question: “By which values should we live?” The struggle, essentially, revolves around a so-called clash of civilizations. It is a struggle that is mainly between the Western world in its various permutations and the Moslem world. Additional cultural forces, however, are at work in this struggle: the ascendency of the culture of the Far East on the one hand and the rise of New Age culture on the other.
The changes that humanity has witnessed over the past few centuries constitute a trade-off: while these changes have contributed greatly to world progress, they have also produced feelings of confusion and emptiness. The horribly bloody wars during this period have added to what was already a growing pessimism regarding a meaningful future for humanity.
Amidst these complex and endless struggles for power and meaning, a return of the Jewish people to its land, with the achievement of political independence, has also occurred. The return to Zion is an event of profound significance for every thinking and a forward-looking person on earth. This is due to the special status of the Jewish people in the world of archetypes that are embedded in all great cultures, symbols that leave an indelible mark on the collective unconscious of humanity.
The establishment of the State of Israel presents a theological riddle for many or, in any event, an opportunity for renewed contemplation of the workings of history and of how the place of the “people of the book” fits into it. Thus, the Jewish people in its renewed national status is obligated to answer a question that arises on its own among the nations: “What do you have to say to us?”
Israeli society, pre-occupied for the longest time with wars for survival and worries over economic growth, put aside such spiritual questions until now. Characteristically, such questions, when they have arisen throughout history among the Jewish people, have been dealt with internally, without much interaction with humanity at large. But now, at last, the time has come to clarify Judaism’s universal messages and obligations, in terms of what Judaism can contribute to a new era in a new world.
What follows, then, is a suggestion for the start of a renewed dialogue between Israel and the nations. This book is meant to bring before the non-Jewish reader a practical application of halacha or Torah law to daily life. But there should be no mistaking that halacha is merely one branch extending outwards from the vast spiritual and ethical complex of humanity in general and of Judaism in particular. Humanity possesses many identities and the need for deep dialogue with the representatives of different cultures will certainly be felt. This dialogue will examine ways in which the halachic content specified here harmonizes with the rich human and spiritual heritage of each and every family among the “the families of the earth,” and how this content, transformed into practice, would turn out to be a blessing for all of them.
One of the divisive subjects in our world today concerns the place of God versus that of human beings. Western culture inherited from Greek philosophy the proposition that human beings are the center of the universe while God, if He exists, stands on the periphery. According to this perspective, the ideal form of government is a democracy, particularly of the liberal type where equality of all people is enshrined. A necessary consequence of such a regime is human freedom, which includes laissez-faire permissiveness.
The Muslim world, on the other hand, does not hold by these basic principles and maintains its traditional position that God is the absolute center of everything. Individuals are left with a peripheral role of submission before the Divine. Progress is regarded with suspicion, and is often rejected outright, since Western permissiveness is thought to follow inevitably in its wake. Democratic governance is similarly regarded as a threat to the Muslim’s all-encompassing religiosity.
In the arena where this struggle is taking place, it does not immediately appear possible to reach accommodation or understanding. Yet, it may be possible to bring these two civilizations towards accommodation were they to listen attentively to the unique message of Judaism. According to Jewish tradition, neither God nor human beings are at the center of the universe but rather the dialogue between them, where people serve as partners with God in perfecting His creation. Thus, the stinging antagonism that we described up until now is removed. Mutual sympathy on the part of the Creator and His creation, both on the individual and community levels, is established. In actual practice, this partnership has been at work in the return of the Jewish people to Zion, together with the return of the Divine Presence, dwelling among His people in the State of Israel.
Another subject that interrupts the moral tranquility of people today concerns a unified value system. As yet, there is no perfect solution to the problem of how values that appear to contradict one another can be brought under one roof. This contradiction is especially sharp when examining the relationship between compassion and justice. While Christianity bequeathed to the world the proposition that compassion – and only it – is an ethical value, finding expression in all Western value systems, Islam consistently adopted justice, in its most extreme forms, as the preferred value in carrying out God’s will.
Here, too, Judaism comes to humanity’s assistance. The biblical and Talmudic traditions both show the way towards a unification of values through teaching the supreme ethical ideal of “doing charity and justice” (Genesis 18:19) together. The actualization of this ideal has appeared both in the wartime conduct of the State of Israel, despite all slanderous accusations against it and, as part of the fabric of daily life, the State of Israel’s fair treatment of a hostile minority population within it.
As the bearer of prophecy, Israel stands out among the nations as a conduit for the revelation of God’s will. Thus, the Jewish nation is known for its special mission of being “a light unto the nations.” The centrality of the Jewish nation as the transmitter of the word of God, as the heart among the organs of the human body (Kuzari 2:36), does not carry with it a feeling of superiority, but rather a sense of responsibility. As opposed to other traditions that carry with them a universal mission, even while imposing their identity on others and taking control in imperialist fashion, Judaism does not desire to nullify the rich cultural heritage of anyone. On the contrary, the Jewish nation contents itself with the task of projecting light and not of taking control. It was in this manner that the prophets spoke about an ideal future when all people would receive from the nation of Israel appropriate, multi-faceted guidance, whether the recipient was a nation, a human collective, or an individual, each according to its unique identity: “Many peoples will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.’ For from Zion will the Torah come forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3)
As part of Jewish tradition, as it is taught in houses of Jewish learning, there exists an entire course of study called “Noahide Law,” which has been known to the sages of Israel throughout the generations. Most often, this study has been theoretical, but in recent generations members of many nations have begun to show interest in the practical application of the unique contents of Noahide Law, including actual guidance in fulfilling the halachot or Torah precepts involved. Therefore, I saw it appropriate to compose a book of halachot for those interested individuals, a sort of abbreviated, yet essential, “Shulchan Aruch” (code of law), consisting primarily of laws pertinent to those individuals who see themselves as “Children of Noah” or Noahides.
This composition, “Brit Shalom” or “Covenant of Peace,” a guide to practical Noahide daily life, complements “Brit Olam” or “Eternal Covenant,” a prayer book that addresses Noahide spiritual life. “I will seal a covenant of peace with them; it will be an eternal covenant with them.” (Ezekiel: 37, 26)
My thanks are extended to those who assisted in the elucidation of halachot and investigation of their sources: Rav Malko Souffir, who researched and clarified the issues presented here, and my student Yehiel Ehrlich, who devoted inestimable time and energy to this holy work with total devotion. May God reward them for their efforts and may they receive payment in full from His endless abundance.
It is my hope that this book will find favor before God and humanity.
Rabbi Oury Cherki
In the print book, for every directive and every section that is written in the text above, you will find references, Footnotes, sources from ancient Hebrew tradition and critical debate throughout the ages, as well as discussions with our day's rabbis, with the consensus of the Chief Rabbis of Israel.