Craving Religion – Missing out on Obedience
I was just passing by. The conversation was thick with opinion. And then I spotted a Gentile opinion that touched my heart and filled me with sadness at the possible monster we had created and its victims.
A Gentile voice said that we non-Jews are not allowed to study Torah, pray Jewish prayers or celebrate Jewish holy days. The nigh-desperate ending of the message was a question: “what is left for us Gentiles?”
[For now we’ll ignore the fact that each conclusion this Gentile voice has reached is incorrect in one way or another.]
The thing is that I know that this isn’t a lone cry in the wilderness. A lot who have joined the “noahide” bandwagon have left christianity with all its so-called spirituality, its prayers, its rites, its teaching and indoctrination that just keeping laws is not enough to satisfy. We need that emotional link, that regularity, that feeling that God is right beside us, ever ready to have us tap him on the shoulder and have a personal chat. The fulfillment of singing and shouting praises to him is almost rapturous in inner satisfaction.
And then we stepped into this thing called “becoming a noahide”. For some, it’s like a jarring silence. The emotive music is abruptly shut off. The call to prayer is replaced by the question of whether we should or can pray, and if so, how? It feels bare, barren. There are just seven “do nots” and not one strand of joyous or solemn “worship”, meaning singing, praying or meditating. And where is the religious community one was used to? Where are the church groups and functions? It’s like having the rug pulled out from under your feet and feeling cold cement. How is anyone supposed to live like this?
And like knights in shining armour, some “noahides” appear on the scene brandishing a noahide siddur or prayer book, invite you to an online Sabbath meeting to welcome the day, have some nice Jewish background music, and speak on the importance of belief in God, prayer, worship, keeping Jewish holy days with a gentile flavour. They speak of a Jewish Sabbath and a Universal one that you should take part in. They speak of a hope in creating “noahide” communities with noahide leaders and teachers. The world seems kinda ok. They can cleave to a rabbi who they can obey and follow the instructions of, maybe providing some security in a now uncertain world.
But savages come, condemning the “noahides”, quoting rabbis and claiming that too much has been added; you’re not allowed to keep a Sabbath or study Torah; there’s no obedience in praying or singing. Essentially your joy is a ruse.
Again the colour fades. Uncertainty sets in. It’s easy to wonder what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into. You look back for a road to take you back to what you were before all this, but there is no way back.
Poisoned in the Womb
People think that all christianity or any other false religion (false, not necessarily evil) pours into you is false doctrine or false teaching, that once you let go of the religion you free yourself from the hold that religion had over you. Life would be so much easier if that were true. Unfortunately it’s not. These worldviews can fill every pore in your body with a sticky-like substance and you can pour a lot of the past religion out of you but you can still find residue and little pools of it in your system.
The worship in christianity did not teach us how to live but how to escape. It did not teach you how to be acceptable to God but how to satisfy yourself and your emotional needs with rites and practices. We would do well to read the Jewish Bible to see what God demanded from those who honoured him. Read Isaiah 1 or Jeremiah 7 or Amos 5 or Isaiah 58. You’ll begin to see what happened to the Israelites. They put too much emphasis on prayer, fasting, observing holy days, sacrifices and drink offerings. Now these are all nice decorations, but what does God require of a man?
It has been shown to you, man, what is good and what HaShem requires of you: just to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before God.
In Isaiah 1, God even tells the people to put away their prayers – yes, even their prayers – and their celebrations, and to learn fair and kind treatment to people. If a person were to read through the Torah, the books of Moses, you would see that a lot of emphasis is placed on just doing what God commands as opposed to ecstatic worship or deep prayer. In the parts of the text directed to Israel, the message is “what does God require of you except to love God and keep his commandments?” At the end of the book of Ecclesiastes it says that the whole purpose of a human is to fear God and keep his commandments. It’s a rhythmic pulse throughout the Hebrew Bible. How does a person truly serve God? By dealing with people correctly, using proper judgment, making sure that the commandments are taught, spread and lived by.
Look at the following passage and tell me what is missing.
(5) But if a man is right, and he does that which is lawful and right: (6) he has not eaten upon the mountains; and he has not lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel; and he has not defiled his neighbour’s wife; and he has not gone near to a woman during her period of separation (monthly cycle); (7) and he has not mistreated anyone, but he has restored his pledge for a debt; and he has not seized anything through robbery; and he has given his bread to the hungry, and he has covered the naked with a garment; (8) he hasn’t given [a loan] with interest, neither has he taken any increase; he has withdrawn his hand from injustice (the perversion of justice); he has executed true justice between man and man; (9) he has walked in My statutes, and has kept My rules, to deal truthfully; he is righteous, he shall surely live, saith the Lord HaShem. (Ezekiel 18:5-9)
Now although there are a few things we Gentiles can overlook because those specific aspects refer to Jewish law, it should be apparent what God looks for in a righteous man. What is missing? Prayer! Holy days! Group meetings! Now, once again, do not misunderstand me! Do not misunderstand me! I am not saying that these things don’t have their place for Jews, as they were commanded in these things. I’m not saying that some of these things have their optional place for Gentiles and that there is no good in these things. But come on! What does God expect from us? What is his standard of righteousness?
But then we were bathed in the mentality of christianity for so long. We were indoctrinated, even by atheists through the media, about what a religion really is and what it consists of. Our whole culture is a patchwork of the dregs of dead religions and the modern worship of humanity and reason. We are taught that the way to connect to God is through prayer and worship, that emotional elation that comes from preaching his gospel. We were taught about the dead legalism of Judaism, the religion of law. Jesus’ and Paul’s words against the Pharisees and Judaizers left a taint. There is no justification in just keeping the law. We have to lift up holy hands. We have to be in a room, praying in one accord for God to really take effect in our lives. Religions teach us that men are powerless, slaves to sin or slaves to God, where we must petition God for assistance to do anything acceptable in his sight. We have to go to church regularly, be surrounded by similar religious people. And we had this drummed into us day after day and week after week.
Don’t you think that sort of repetition and conditioning had some deeper impact?
Now the ex-religious “Noahides” see the importance of prayer amongst the Jews. That’s kinda familiar. They see group gatherings in Judaism. That’s familiar. A special day of worship? That’s familiar too. I mean it’s no part of the Seven Commandments, but aren’t those commandments a bit bare? What can a Gentile do with that? We still need what we had in the previous religion.
Even the way the word “noahide” is used has become religious. Just imagine being in a room full of Gentiles and one asking “how many of you are noahides?” A person puts their hand up and says “I’m a Buddhist. Does that include me?” What would the normal reply be from the religious “noahides” of today? “No. You have to leave your religion to become a noahide.” Think about it. The people who want “noahide” communities are not talking about Gentile communities because the world is chock-a-block full of Gentiles. No, they speaking in similar terms to wanting a christian group, people of the same religion or worldview in the same locality.
Can we even avoid this sort of thinking in our day and age? I don’t know.
But if we go back to the way the Hebrew term “bnei Noah”, descendants of Noah, was used, if we used that to inform us as to what a “noahide” is, how much truth would we get from this religious notion of “noahide”? This gives me a chance to refer to a book a friend of mine showed me. It’s called “Faith of Israel” by Rabbi Tobias Goodman. It’s best to get these words from a rabbi because I know that my own may not be given any weight.
The sons of Noah (an appellation including all nations) have been also provided, by the infinite wisdom of the omniscient God, with [Hebrew words: sheva mitzvos] Seven Precepts; which, upon investigation, will be found to be seven grand rules, comprising a great portion of the [Hebrew words: taryag mitzvos] Six Hundred and Thirteen Precepts of our peculiar Law, sufficient for their social and political organization, temporal prosperity, and blissful state in futurity. (Preface, pages v,vi)
“At this dispensation, the [Hebrew words: bnai Noach] sons of Noah (a name including all nations) were, by the infinite wisdom of God, provided with [Hebrew words: sheva mitzvos] seven precepts sufficient for their social organization, and for directing their individual conduct to the attainment of a future state of bliss and prosperity …” (a chapter called “The Fourth Treatise – On the Seven Precepts commanded to the Sons of Noah.” page 117)
You’ll see that the term “sons of Noah” just means “Gentiles”. It’s not a religious term per se. Like in the Talmud, where it states that the sons of Noah were commanded seven commandments to refer to all gentiles, this author, this rabbi states that the seven commandments were given to all gentiles.
So using the original meaning of the term “bnei Noach” to inform the understanding of the word “noahide” we hit upon a fact, clear and simple: You don’t become a noahide; that’s what you always were, a gentile. Nothing more. Nothing less.
What is left for us Gentiles?
So imagine that we couldn’t study Torah. [OK, let me kick that to the kerb now. We can’t study the laws that pertain directly and only to the Jews, but we can study anything that is related to our Torah, the seven laws, as deeply as we want. So let me put that in a more correct way.] So imagine we couldn’t study the Jewish part of the Torah. Imagine we couldn’t touch any kabbalah with a barge pole. Let’s say that we couldn’t pray Jewish prayers or keep any aspect of Jewish holy days. Just imagine. I’m not saying that’s true. I’m not saying it’s not true. I’m just saying imagine that were the case. What would be left to us Gentiles?
I hope you were paying attention to the previous section because the Hebrew Scriptures themselves tell you what is left to us Gentiles, the way in which we can serve God. If I were a no-nonsense, just get straight to the point with no foreign additives or preservatives kind of fellow, I would just say: “keep God’s commandments!” And you know what? That answer wouldn’t satisfy some people. I guess I can understand. Sometimes things needs to explained to me too. And also, to adopt brand new notions and practices, different ways of thinking, these things cannot be just slapped across you with a simple statement.
Listen to what the Maharal of Prague states:
As the Maharal from Prague wrote in Tiferet Yisrael (Chapter 4), “The commandments of the Torah can be likened to a rope by which a person is drawn out of a hole or a well. The person is drawn from the lowest levels to the higher levels of the world. The more he does, the more he removes materialism from himself, which then enables him to sit next to the Lord of Hosts.”
Correlate this with what Rabbi Meir said:
“R. Johanan said: A heathen 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, Whence do we know that even a heathen 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: hence you may learn that even a heathen who studies the Torah is as a High Priest! — That refers to their own seven laws.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 59a)
Now remember, our seven laws do not command us to worship God. Our seven laws do not command us to observe holy days. Our seven laws don’t even command prayer. And yet, just by studying these laws, we can be like a high priest! Do you understand the message? I’ll add what I’ve seen said in the commentary on this in the Schottenstein edition of the Babylonian Talmud.
Meiri explains that R. Yochansan’s prohibition refers to an idolater who learns the precepts of the Torah and the Talmud in order to mislead Israelites. That is, he wishes to use his knowledge of Israelite law to trick them into thinking that he is an Israelite and then influence them. A person is therefore fit to be punished for studying the Torah for such a purpose. However, if a Noahide studies the seven commandments that apply to him, he should be honored like a Kohen Gadol [High Priest – my addition, DD] even if his investigations lead him to study most of the precepts of the Torah. Since his main purpose in studying is knowledge of the Noahide laws, there is no concern that he will influence Israelites (see also Chamra VeChayei).” Weiner, Schottenstein Talmud, Sanhedrin 59a, n. 10.
When we focus on the Seven Laws, we can get so much depth, and fulfil what may seem like more than the Seven Laws because of the depth and detail in these Seven Laws. When we study these laws and live by these commandments, we are doing what God tells us, we are connecting ourselves to him by means of this links. As Rabbi Yoel Schwartz says in his book, Noahide Commandments, “The meaning of the word Mitzvot in Hebrew comes from the root Unite and Bind, which means that each mitzvah unites and binds the person to the Creator of the world.”
Again, just look at the previous section. Who did God call a righteous man? Was it the “prayer warrior”? Or was it the man that refrained from doing evil? Did you know that much of our commandments are prohibitions, commands that tell to refrain from doing evil? And yet God commends a person who keeps his commands and helps establish justice in the world as righteous. Strangely enough, that’s the purpose of our Noahide Commmandments: to establish justice in the world and to create a civilised society.
You know what is funny. The Israelites were commanded to pray according to the understanding of Deuteronomy 6:5, prayer being called “the service of the heart”. They were commanded to keep days of celebration. And God said he didn’t want it, and that he preferred obedience to the aspects of the Torah that had to do with removing idolatry, protecting the orphans and widows, making sure that justice was established in the land. And we Gentiles were not commanded about prayer and special days. How much more important is it for us to obey his Law to us to remove idolatry, and to establish justice in our lands, and not focus too heavily on what we aren’t even commanded?
But that is what the echoes of christianity in our system has done to us. This beast taught us that it’s by prayer, fasting, singing, worshipping, being preached at, that’s how we connect to God. Now these things may be part of it, but it’s not what God emphasizes. How do we connect to God according to what he says? No, it’s not by self-reflection and talking. It’s not by singing. How do we get in synch with him? It’s by emulating him, imitating him in our actions. And how best to emulate him by just doing what he says.
So what can a Gentile do when he or she doesn’t learn the parts of the Jewish Torah that don’t pertain to him? What is left for a Gentile if he doesn’t pray or learn kabbalah or keep holy days? What about just being a decent person? Or is that too meaningless to be good enough? What about speaking against injustice that happens routinely in our countries? What about educating the people around us about our fundamental responsibilities not only to God but to ourselves? Are there still the poor and homeless in your neighbourhood? Still can’t think of anything to do? Still wondering what is left for us Gentiles?
Did you know that although I’ve been focusing on our seven commandments, there is still so much expected of us simply because we are human, formed in the divine image? What about the things we can do that are good just because they are good and make a different to others?
You see, in christianity, we spend so much time on the religious rites that we don’t use our imagination and creativity to become entrepreneurs at good deeds. How can we help ensure that the community we live in can be better places? Don’t feel like seeing if there is a youth club around that could use a volunteer or an adult course in basic English to help people integrate with society? Our laws, our duty is supposed to better the world. As well as becoming experts in our own seven laws, maybe we should also become experts at finding opportunities to make the good deeds we do be the sort of example that etches itself onto the memories of people so that there can be a role model to improve the standard of behaviour around us? Isn’t a little less theft, a little less murder a better thing? Isn’t a little less of injustice a good thing? So you don’t convince the atheist to join you in the repentant “noahide’s” prayer. But did you help him see that doing good deeds makes a difference in repairing the world?
I know, I know. Rambam implies that if we don’t keep God’s commandments because God commanded them then they aren’t really keeping the commandments. I’m not going to debate the question of what exactly the Talmudic or Oral tradition or halakhic source is for that statement. It really isn’t important to the goal of the Noahide Laws (and no, it’s not so that we can make it to the World to Come). Just consider the following quoted from Sefer HaChinuch #16 mentioned both in Alan Cecil’s book, Secular by Design, and in Rabbi Yoel Schwartz’s online book, Noahide Commandments.
Know that a person is governed by his actions. His heart and all his thoughts are influenced by the actions that he is involved in be they good or bad. Even a wicked man whose thoughts are concentrated on doing evil all day, if he should start studying Torah and Mitzvot, even if he is not doing it for G-d’s sake, he will start acting in a more positive manner. This is because the heart goes after the deeds. The same holds true, concerning a righteous man, who lives according to the Torah and Mitzvot, but makes a living from dubious transactions, or if for example he is forced by the King or ruler to deal in such dubious matters, he will eventually be transformed from a righteous man to an evil one.
So if a person is governed by his actions and our example can help a person’s actions to change for the better, to bring them closer to the observance of the Seven Commandments and to being the fulness of the human being we were created to be, then what better way is there to rectify the world? And are we not furnishing the inner soil of that person for the time, if it should come – and it may not – when they start to question the ultimate purpose, for them to be more able to accept the truth of the existence of God?
Just to clarify my intent by this section, let me summarize. We connect ourselves to God by keeping his commandments. We effect change in the world when people refrain from the activities prohibited by those commandments. We fulfil our human potential by doing those things that emulate the Judge of all the earth and establish justice and equity on the earth, by doing good deeds and championing the right causes. None of these things involve any obligation to focus on worship (although, again, it has a place as being permitted) but rather on repairing ourselves and society. It is ok to leave the priestly role to the priest nation while we get along with working the ground and clearing away the rocks and thorns as best we can and farming to produce good in the earth.
There’s a lot of work to be done, so there’s little leeway to say that we Gentiles have been left with nothing or little just because we aren’t commanded to pray.
But let me just say that if these things – worship, holy days, prayer, tsitsit, mezuzot, dietary laws – if these things are so important to you and you want them to be commanded upon you, there is nothing from stopping your becoming a Jew. It’s better to do that than to become some sort of “Jew-tile” or “Genti-Jew”, some entity that further isolates itself from Gentile society to adopt alien practices. Rambam had the right approach. You wanna keep Jewish commandments as if they’re commanded, become a Jew. If not, don’t muddy the waters. Be a Gentile and learn our laws to the fullest (and no, Rambam’s recounting of them in Laws of Kings and Wars, chapters 8 to 10 are not the fulness of the 7 commandments). Take Rabbi Hirsch’s advice and learn what it means to be a human being, created in God’s image. His advice coincides with Rabbi Nissim Gaon which is summarized in the Divine Code on page 72 as well as the way we should view keeping these b’tzelem elokim principles.
However, those that are duty-bound by logic, such as honoring one’s parents, and kindness and charity, are obligated to be kept, because such is the correct way for a person to act, as befitting the image of God in which he was created. However, a Gentile may not keep them because it is a commandment from God, but rather because one is obligated to be a good, moral person. Likewise, many prohibitions that are commanded upon Jews are obligations for Gentiles to observe based on logic, such as the prohibitions against hating others, taking revenge or bearing a grudge. [point 75 refers to Rav Nissim Ga’on, in his introduction to Tractate Beraot.]
“obligations” is a difficult word, but the Divine Code at least tries to differentiate them by setting these “obligations” as separate from the commandments that come from God. Personally, I don’t know what it means to be obligated to keep something that’s not commanded. I think it means that it’s very important to be kept. The word “obligated” means it is required to do something either legally or morally. So maybe it is a requirement, a necessary act, that we have to do to achieve the full potential of being a human and to help in the purpose of establish a civilised society. We know that is not obligatory by way of command and these things are not part of the Seven Commandments, yet they are important for our society and for ourselves as individuals. I won’t go on.
But in all these, you should see an abundance of what has been “left for us Gentiles”, i.e. our first estate, our prime estate, our duty and purpose.
Things like this, issues like this where Gentiles think that just obeying God isn’t worship enough, they are what show me how much has been robbed from us by religions like christianity. It’s like being addicted to a harmful drug and it gets so ingrained in your system that it feels like it’s all you know. Then you find out how harmful it is and you try to give up and be free of it, but still need to ingest certain quantities of it just to feel alive. The drug dealer may be gone. You may have thrown him out of your house and out of the city. But he taught you and those around how to make the same drug or similar types. Maybe you have just met a friendlier dealer. Maybe his sort of drugs aren’t bad, they’re just “medicinal”. Maybe.
Christianity and its ilk have robbed us of how to enjoy the air just by breathing it. They were the mind-melting glue-sniffing, and you push it away, but still smoke tobacco because it’s legal. But how about just breathing?
Sorry. I’ll get rid of the metaphor. These religions have robbed us of the fulfillment of just obeying God and fulfilling our roles as humans. They have made it so that fulfilling our humanity still leaves us empty. This may be what happens when you mix Jewish commandments with Gentile religions. What was beneficial to the Jews in their covenant became harmful addictions for Gentiles, where too much emphasis was placed on priestly services to make us special – rather than the Jews – which led to the neglect and disparagement of what really makes us Gentiles servants of God.
That’s what falsehood does. It steals from you!
I personally should find ways to really become expert at the Seven Laws, find out what commands and details are part of it. I need to find out what it takes to fulfil my role in the place God has put me in, a human being, a Gentile. I was always a bit disappointed in myself for not broadcasting these laws enough. But there is much more to it than giving people cards with the seven laws listed on them.
Let me again clarify something because throughout this article I’ve spoken negatively of forms of worship. I did that to emphasize the relative unimportance of these things when compared to being satisfied with being a gentile with the Seven broad Precepts we have and our obligations as humans. But prayer is a good thing. Praising our Creator is a great thing. Acknowledging God is crucial to the objectivity and standard of the Gentile Torah Laws. As I said in a previous article, in the Torah worldview, gratitude to the One who made us is natural. I know that “noahides” use these days and these practices to give gratitude and praise to our King. I pray as well and write songs in praise of God and to speak of my life with the knowledge of Him. So this article isn’t a total trashing of these practices. But it’s a hit back against the skewed emphasis that I see has plagued what is called the Noahide movement as evidenced by something I heard, something I saw.
Whether you agree with my stance or not, I believe that when a person implies that our Torah, the Seven Laws, is not enough, it’s an unfortunate sign that they have no clue what they have.