The Seven Laws of Noah (Hebrew: שבע מצוות בני נח Sheva mitzvot B'nei Noach), often referred to as the Noahide Laws or Noachide Code, are a set of seven moral imperatives that, according to the Talmud, were given by God to Noah as a binding set of laws for all mankind. According to Judaism any non-Jew who lives according to these laws is regarded as a Righteous Gentile and is assured of a place in the world to come (Olam Haba), the Jewish concept of heaven. Adherents are often called "B'nei Noach" (Children of Noah) or "Noahides" and may often network in Jewish synagogues.
The Noahide Laws comprise the six laws given to Adam in the Garden of Eden, and a seventh (eating flesh from a living animal), which was added after the Flood of Noah. Later at the Revelation at Sinai the Seven Laws of Noah were regiven to humanity and embedded in the 613 Laws given to the Children of Israel along with the Ten Commandments, which are part of, and not separate from, the 613 mitzvot. These laws are mentioned in the Torah. According to Judaism, the 613 mitzvot or "commandments" given in the written Torah, as well as their reasonings in the oral Torah, were only issued to the Jews and are therefore binding only upon them, having inherited the obligation from their ancestors. At the same time, at Mount Sinai, the Children of Israel (i.e. the Children of Jacob, i.e. the Israelites) were given the obligation to teach other nations the embedded Noahide Laws. However, it is actually forbidden by the Talmud for non-Jews (on whom the Noahide Laws are still binding) to elevate their observance to the Torah's mitzvot as the Jews do.
While some Jewish organizations, such as Chabad have worked to promote the acceptance of Noahide laws, there are no figures for how many actually do.
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According to Judaism, as expressed in the Talmud, the Noahide Laws apply to all humanity through mankind's descent from one paternal ancestor who in Hebrew tradition is called Noah (the head of the only family to survive during The Flood). In Judaism, בני נח B'nei Noah (Hebrew, "Descendants of Noah", "Children of Noah") refers to all of mankind.
The Talmud also states: "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come" (Sanhedrin 105a). Any non-Jew who lives according to these laws is regarded as one of "the righteous among the gentiles". Maimonides writes that this refers to those who have acquired knowledge of God and act in accordance with the Noahide laws out of obedience to Him. According to what scholars consider to be the most accurate texts of the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides continues on to say that anyone who upholds the Noahide laws only because they appear logical is not one of the "righteous among the nations," but rather he is one of the wise among them. The more prolific versions of the Mishneh Torah say of such a person: "..nor is he one of the wise among them."
According to the Biblical narrative, the Deluge covered the whole world killing every surface-dwelling creature except Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, sea creatures, and the animals taken by Noah on Noah's Ark. After the flood, God sealed a covenant with Noah with the following admonitions (Genesis 9):
The Talmud states that the instruction not to eat "flesh with the life" was given to Noah, and that Adam and Eve had already received six other commandments. Adam and Eve were not enjoined from eating from a living animal since they were forbidden to eat any animal. The remaining six are exegetically derived from a seemingly superfluous sentence in Gen 2:16.
Historically, some rabbinic opinion holds that not only are non-Jews not obligated to adhere to all the laws of the Torah, but they are actually forbidden to observe them. Rabbinic Judaism and its modern-day descendants discourage proselytization. However, according to one source, the Jewish Encyclopedia, the restrictions placed on Gentiles of the ancient world are no longer relevant. The Movement for Reform Judaism in the United Kingdom, for example, state on their website that they see "no reason why a person should not become Jewish if they so wish [...] The requirements for conversion are sincerity, knowledge and participation."The Noahide Laws are regarded as the way through which non-Jews can have a direct and meaningful relationship with God or at least comply with the minimal requisites of civilization and of divine law.
A non-Jew who keeps the Noahide Laws in all their details is said to attain the same spiritual and moral level as Israel's own Kohen Gadol (high priest). Maimonides states in his work Mishneh Torah that a non-Jew who is precise in the observance of these Seven Noahide commandments is considered to be a Righteous Gentile and has earned a place in the world to come. This follows a similar statement in the Talmud. However, according to Maimonides, a gentile is considered righteous only if a person follows the Noahide laws specifically because he or she considers them to be of divine origin (through the Torah) and not if they are merely considered to be intellectually compelling or good rules for living.
Noahide law differs radically from the Roman law for gentiles (Jus Gentium), if only because the latter was an enforceable judicial policy. Rabbinic Judaism has never adjudicated any cases under Noahide law (per Novak, 1983:28ff.), although scholars disagree about whether the Noahide law is a functional part of Halakha ("Jewish law") (cf. Bleich).
In recent years, the term "Noahide" has come to refer to non-Jews who strive to live in accord with the seven Noahide Laws; the terms "observant Noahide" or "Torah-centered Noahides" would be more precise but are infrequently used. The rainbow, referring to the Noahide or First Covenant (Genesis 9), is the symbol of many organized Noahide groups, following Genesis 9:12-17. A non-Jewish person of any ethnicity or religion is referred to as a bat ("daughter") or ben ("son") of Noah, but most organizations that call themselves בני נח (b'nei noach) are composed of gentiles who are keeping the Noahide Laws.
Various rabbinic sources have different positions on the way the seven laws are to be subdivided in categories. Maimonides lists one additional Noahide commandment forbidding the coupling of different kinds of animals and the mixing of trees. Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (Radbaz), a contemporary commentator on Maimonides, expressed surprise that he left out castration and sorcery which were listed in the Talmud.
The tenth century Rabbi Saadia Gaon added tithes and levirate marriage. The eleventh century Rav Nissim Gaon included "listening to God's Voice", "knowing God" and "serving God" besides going on to say that all religious acts which can be understood through human reasoning are obligatory upon Jew and Gentile alike. The fourteenth century Rabbi Nissim ben Reuben Gerondi added the commandment of charity.
The sixteenth century work Asarah Maamarot by Rabbi Menahem Azariah of Fano (Rema mi-Fano) enumerates thirty commandments, listing the latter twenty-three as extensions of the original seven, which includes prohibitions on various forms of sorcery, as well as incest and bestiality. Another commentator, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes (Kol Hidushei Maharitz Chayess I, end Ch. 10) suggests these are not related to the first seven, nor based on Scripture, but were passed down by oral tradition. The number thirty derives from the statement of the Talmudic sage Ulla in tractate Hullin 92a, though he lists only three other rules in addition to the original seven, consisting of the prohibitions against homosexuality and cannibalism, as well as the imperative to honor the Torah.
Talmud commentator Rashi remarks on this that he does not know the other Commandments that are referred to. Though the authorities seem to take it for granted that Ulla's thirty commandments included the original seven, an additional thirty laws is also possible from the reading.
The tenth century Shmuel ben Hophni Gaon lists thirty Noahide Commandments based on Ulla's Talmudic statement, though the text is problematic. He includes the prohibitions against suicide and false oaths, as well as the imperatives related to prayer, sacrifices and honoring one's parents.
The contemporary Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein counts 66 instructions but Rabbi Harvey Falk has suggested that much work remains to be done in order to properly identify all of the Noahide Commandments, their divisions and subdivisions.
Theft, robbery and stealing covers the appropriate understanding of other persons, their property and their rights. The establishment of courts of justice promotes the value of the responsibility of a corporate society of people to enforce these laws and define these terms. The refusal to engage in unnecessary lust or cruelty demonstrates respect for the creation itself as renewed after the Flood. The prohibition against committing murder includes a prohibition against human sacrifice.
From the perspective of traditional halakhah, if a non-Jew is to be accepted to live among the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, then that person must keep the Noahide Laws, and a number of additional laws and regulations apply as well. Such a person is called a Ger Toshav, a "Sojourning Alien" amid the people of Israel. A Ger Toshav is the only kind of non-Jew who Jewish law permits to live among the Jewish people in the Land of Israel when the land is run according to Halacha and there is a Sanhedrin and a Temple. Jewish law only allows the official acceptance of a Ger Toshav as a sojourner in the Land of Israel during a time when the Year of Jubilee (yovel) is in effect.
A Ger Toshav should not be confused with a Ger Tzedek, who is a person who prefers to proceed to total conversion to Judaism, a procedure that is traditionally discouraged by Judaism and allowed to take place only after much thought and deliberation over converting.
Traditionally, Judaism regards the determination of the details of the Noahide Law as something to be left to Jewish rabbis. This, in addition to the teaching of the Jewish law that punishment for violating one of the seven Noahide Laws includes a theoretical death penalty (Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin 57a), is a factor in modern opposition to the notion of a Noahide legal system. Jewish scholars respond by noting that Jews today no longer carry out the death penalty, even within the Jewish community. Jewish law, in contemporary practice, sees the death penalty as an indicator of the seriousness of an offense; violators are not actually put to death.
Some modern views hold that penalties are a detail of the Noahide Laws and that Noahides themselves must determine the details of their own laws for themselves. According to this school of thought - see N. Rakover, Law and the Noahides (1998); M. Dallen, The Rainbow Covenant (2003)- the Noahide Laws offer mankind a set of absolute values and a framework for righteousness and justice, while the detailed laws that are currently on the books of the world's states and nations are presumptively valid.
The Seven Laws of Noah were recognized by the United States Congress in the preamble to the bill that established Education Day in honor of the 90th birthday of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement:
Whereas Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society and upon which our great Nation was founded; Whereas these ethical values and principles have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization, when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws.
In January 2004, the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Mowafak Tarif, signed a declaration calling on all non-Jews in Israel to observe the Noahide Laws as laid down in the Talmud and expounded upon in Jewish tradition. The mayor of the Galilean city of Shefa-'Amr (Shfaram), where Muslim, Christian and Druze communities live side by side, also signed the document. The declaration includes the commitment to make a better, more humane world based on the Seven Noahide Commandments and the values they represent commanded by the Creator to all mankind through Moses on Mount Sinai.
Support for the spread of the Seven Noahide Commandments by the Druze leaders reflects the Biblical narrative itself. The Druze community reveres the non-Jewish father-in-law of Moses, Jethro, whom Arabs call Shoaib. According to the Biblical narrative, Jethro joined and assisted the Jewish people in the desert during the Exodus, accepted monotheism, but ultimately rejoined his own people. In fact, the tomb of Jethro in Tiberias is the most important religious site for the Druze community.