A Noahide not keeping the Jewish Holy Days

So we’re in the 7th month of the Jewish calendar, now known as Tishrei. So far there’s been Rosh HaShannah, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and Sukkot (Tabernacles or Tents or Huts) is just around the corner. Having embraced the seven universal commandments, the Noahide laws, I am more conscious of the times of the Hebrew calendar marked and set apart by God and commanded to the Jews. But unlike other like-minded gentiles I don’t keep them at all. I don’t set apart the days or mark them myself. For me, one day is just the same as another. I’m just gonna share my reasons why.

Focusing on what He commanded

I could start and end this whole article with “because God never commanded it upon Gentiles”. But that would be boring and there would be several responses to it. So I may as well write an article to share the issue a bit more.

Rambam and Rabbi Meir gave what I consider to be vital statements about the necessary or important focus of gentiles. I’ll quote the whole of Rambam’s halakhah on the issue as it covers what I’m saying in this paragraph and the whole subject.

A gentile who studies the Torah is obligated to die. They should only be involved in the study of their seven mitzvos [commandments from God].

Similarly, a gentile who rests, even on a weekday, observing that day as a Sabbath, is obligated to die. Needless to say, he is obligated for that punishment if he creates a festival for himself.

The general principle governing these matters is: They are not to be allowed to originate a new religion or create mitzvot for themselves based on their own decisions. They may either become righteous converts and accept all the mitzvot or retain their Torah without adding or detracting from them.

If a gentile studies the Torah, makes a Sabbath, or creates a religious practice, a Jewish court should beat him, punish him, and inform him that he is obligated to die. However, he is not to be executed. (Mishneh Torah, Shoftim, Law of Kings and Wars, chapter 10, halakhah 9, by Rambam, from http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1188355/jewish/Chapter-10.htm)

R. Johanan said: An idolator {gentile} who studies the Torah deserves death, for it is written, Moses commanded us a law for an inheritance; it is our inheritance, not theirs. Then why is this not included in the Noachian laws? — On the reading morasha [an inheritance] he steals it; on the reading me’orasah [betrothed], he is guilty as one who violates a betrothed maiden, who is stoned. An objection is raised: R. Meir used to say. From where do we know that even an idolator {gentile} who studies the Torah is as a High Priest? From the verse, [You shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments:] which, if man do, he shall live in them. Priests, Levites, and Israelites are not mentioned, but men: therefore you should learn that even an idolator {gentile} who studies the Torah is as a High Priest! — That refers to their own seven laws. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 59a, from http://www.halakhah.com, compared with the Talmud in Hebrew from http://www.mechon-mamre.org – all the words, including the words in square brackets are taken from http://www.halakhah.com, and the words in “{…}” are taken from the Hebrew version at Mechon Mamre.)

It should be noted that even though this last quote from the Talmud refers to an idolator, it is understood by many rabbis that this still refers to gentiles on a whole, not just idolators. In fact, it is illogical to take the word “idolator” too literally so as to refer to those who still continue to bow to idols, since one of the seven laws is a prohibition against idolatry, so it would be contradictory to take the word “idolator” or “worshipper of idolatry” as if the person is still worshipping idolatry and thus is condemned for it, whilst saying that such a person is considered as a high priest for just studying the seven laws. It would seem that the Hebrew phrase I translated as “idolator”, “oved kokhavim“, sometimes is a label for a class of people as opposed to always meaning literal worshippers of idols. Whether you are reading the Soncino translation of the Talmud, or the footnotes of the Schottenstein version, or the many rehashes of the quote in books like “the Divine Code” by Rabbi Moshe Weiner or “the Path of the Righteous Gentile” by Chaim Clorfene and Yakov Rogalsky, no matter where you look, one way or another, the term “idolator” in this section of the Talmud is understood as referring to gentiles on a whole, even righteous ones. Since all gentiles who study the seven laws are considered as the high priest in the latter part of that Talmudic quote, then it is also true that the early part of the passage that prohibits delving into Torah applies to all gentiles, not just idolators.

What is plain from the Talmudic reference is that the focus of a gentile is to become expert in and proficient in his or her seven commandments, not to get too involved in other parts of Torah.

The way before a gentile is fairly clear from one perspective according to both of the quotes I gave. Either one becomes a Jew and embraces one’s portion of the 613 Jewish commandments, or a gentile keeps the seven alone and remains a gentile.

[ASIDE: In case you don’t know, there is much more to the Noahide laws than seven simple statements. Each one has many details and supplementary obligations as well, whereas an individual Jew doesn’t keep all 613 commandments, only those that impact his or her situation, tribe and gender. So there is less on a difference than one would think.]

Nothing to do with the Seven

None of the seven Noahide basic commandments includes keeping holy days. Nothing obligates a gentile, nothing whatsoever, to keep the Jewish holy days in any fashion. In fact, it’s an obligation to avoid keeping Jewish holy days as Jews do as the Talmud implies and as Rambam states. Let me show you that on no level is any keeping of commanded-to-Jews festivals obligatory.

Firstly, the basic seven commandments, the prohibitions against injustice, cursing God, idolatry, forbidden sexual partners, murder, theft and eating meat taking meat from a living animal, they are totally bereft of religious observances. So we can say with great certainty that observing any holy day, Jewish or not, is not commanded by God upon gentiles. So if a gentile wants to obey God, holy days aren’t it.

In a previous article about ignorance of the noahide laws not being an excuse for Jews or Gentiles, I went through some other important parts of the noahide code. They consisted of: what is expected of us as we are made in God’s image which, in and of itself, demands decency, even if it is not overtly commanded; “ancilliaries” or supplementary obligations linked with those commands; and logical obligations that are fences that protect a person from getting close to disobeying the central commandments, like avoiding idolatrous meetings or gathering so as not to commit idolatry.

Now these things are not commanded by God like the seven core commandments. A gentile is not to do these obligations as if they are mitzvos – God-given commandments. But they are important to better oneself and to establish a civilsed community and society. They are good things to do and a person who wants righteousness and justice wants to do good things. But none of these obligations includes the observance of holy days. Some would say “it could be argued that knowing God is an important obligation that is not commanded and from that comes worship and prayer, and from that comes ‘respecting’ the holy days God gave to the Jews”. The problem with this logic is that it is a far departure from simply keeping God’s law or the obligations. The fact that such a standpoint can be argued shows that it is not a clear point of law or obligation at all.

When all is said and done, when it comes to a gentile’s responsibility to God and each other, the keeping of holy days in any fashion is totally absent. Now this may upset those gentiles that like that part of religion, the sanctified days and festivals that command special rites. But I believe that that is not part of the divine purpose for a non-Jew. We rectify the world in a different way, the way of justice and decency which leaves furtile grounds for the Jew to connect to God his way. As Rambam says, for a gentile, if one is not satisfied with our divine purpose and God-given responsibility, and “religion” is what you want, the door is open for that person to become Jewish.

Avoiding innovation

God commanded the laws concerning his “holy convocations”. He commanded them to Israel that they should perform certain practices on those special days of the Hebrew calendar. He gave the Sabbath as a special sign between himself and Israel. These facts are written in the written Torah, maintained and detailed in the oral Torah, and etched upon the lifecycles of the observant Jew.

There are people who emphasize that a gentile is forbidden to keep the festivals of the Jews as Jews do, thereby implying that it’s ok to do these things in a different way than Jews do, maybe missing a certain special act whilst still observing the day as something special.

Let me requote the Rambam.

The general principle governing these matters is: They are not to be allowed to originate a new religion or create mitzvot for themselves based on their own decisions. They may either become righteous converts and accept all the mitzvot or retain their Torah without adding or detracting from them.

It kinda reminds me of the proverb,

Every saying of God is refined; it is a shield to those taking refuge in it. Don’t add upon his word or else it’ll be proved against you that you lied. (Proverbs 30:5-6)

So it’s factual that Jews were commanded to keep these observances a certain way. If a gentile tries to keep the same day but adds a modification to it to make it different to the Jewish observance, then that is still creating an innovation, one that is separate to God’s Torah, not part of it. No one can say it’s part of the Noahide commandments. So what is it? It is definitely not the same as the commandment given to the Jews from God. And the new practice of the gentile is not prescribed by God but is created from someone’s opinion. So what can I say about that?

For a gentile, every day is the same. Even though the seventh day was set apart from creation, there was no binding quality to it until God commanded Israel. But I know that gentiles can get a lot of benefit from having a day set apart for Torah study. The ones who still have the religiosity of a past religion in their system or who want to have a time to worship God through prayer may wish to use the Friday night or Saturday to do those activities. As long as there is no belief in some intrinsic obligatory nature to this day of study or worship and there is nothing wrong if the day is shifted to a Monday or a Wednesday or was missed out altogether, then it seems ok to me. It’s not some sort of “universal sabbath”, especially when gentiles are not allowed to create sabbaths for ourselves. There is a danger in purposefully having such studies and activities coincide with the holy days of Israel in order to link oneself to the holiness of those days: that is just more innovation.

There are those that say that each day given to Israel has a special teaching or message. I don’t doubt it. Yom Kippur teaches the importance of repentance and is linked to the message of Jonah causing the people of Nineveh to see their wrong and repent of their sin to God. But a day having a message doesn’t necessitate that we keep the day, but only that we take hold of the message, e.g., we can repent any day without keeping Yom Kippur or making sure to do it on that day. I believe that is part of the priestly purpose of Israel and them, not the whole world, keeping those days. Through their observance of those days, the teachings are kept protected. But it’s for them to keep and for us to learn for our everyday lives.

Some say that gentiles will keep the festival of Sukkot according to the last chapters of the biblical book of Zechariah and that they are just practicing for that time. Maybe there is more allowance for gentiles about doing the specific act of building a sukkah, a hut, on or for that day. Maybe. But it still comes too close to creating a new mitzvah for me. The fact is that God hasn’t commanded this upon Gentiles yet. So he hasn’t commanded it upon Gentiles. So personally, again, I shy away from doing such things.

I quoted Rabbis Samson Raphael Hirsch in a previous blogpost where he spoke of the law of species where the quoted ended with him saying that if Jews kept Jewish law faithfully and Gentiles kept Gentile law faithfully, then the world would be a better place with us all living as we were meant to live. That’s how I see the holy days. Let them, the Jews, get along with their own Law. But we Gentiles live in a world of ignorance and injustice. We have corrupt governments that brutalise the seven commandments and people around us who are unknowing of these laws. Many Gentiles who call themselves “noahide” in a religious sense don’t even understand or know the details of the seven laws and their extensions. How many “noahides” claim to be observant and yet still support injustice via a pseudo-democratic process the results of which uproot the noahide commandment of Dinim? How many “noahides” are proficient enough with the seven commandments to encourage the average gentile to avoid the forbidden acts without quoting Talmudic or Jewish sources, i.e., speaking Torah wisdom without quoting Torah? How many of us gentiles who embrace the seven laws are the experts we should be? Far too few. I fear that far too many of us still lean on the rabbis like a crutch. Maybe I’m wrong. I’m not saying shun them, or get rid of them. But will there ever be a time when it feels like we stand our two feet and stand beside our Jewish brothers rather than being the half-lame decrepit retard that needs to ask his older brother whether the left shoe goes on the left foot or the right?

Anyway, essentially I’m talking about the Jews getting on with their business and us Gentiles getting on with ours. They keep their law and we keep ours and we both fulfill our divinely given responsibilities. The holy days don’t seem to be part of ours.

What I’m saying

Although my previous words sound quite categorical, they can only be my point of view, where I’m coming from. I make no claim to be someone you have to listen to. I’m sharing how I view things.

I don’t condemn the gentile that enjoys lighting the candle on friday night and discussing Torah. I don’t condemn the gentile who makes a sukkah and does what is permitted for a gentile on Sukkot. I’m not into this “universal sabbath” stuff, as the name itself implies making a sabbath for ourselves which is forbidden. If a gentile wants to do non-obligatory stuff, we have a lot of freedom, so I don’t have to attack anyone’s non-obligatory practice.

All I’m saying is that the Gentile world is far from rectified. Our presidents and prime ministers are closet tyrants. Our legal systems promote injustice and do not provide justice. The law makers find ways to legalise the breaking of the noahide laws. The people around us are the fuel for the immorality as standards and a sense of personal responsibility has left our lands, and people crap on God’s laws for gentiles daily. We need to become proficient at our own law first and maybe even make a difference in our own lands first before we start taking up non-essentials with any seriousness.

Advertisements

3 Comments

  1. Die Redaktion
  2. Die Redaktion

    Thank you for the very interesting and revealing article. At the moment we also think a lot about this things and what is important, allowed or forbidden to celebrate. Your article was very helpfully in this case! Best regards Daniel and Rahel

    • I’m just a fellow student. I hope my thoughts help you on your journey. Thanx for all your kindness. These subjects have been on my mind for some time. I prefer the simple approach.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: