Loving God, Loving Torah – and I’m a Gentile!

Over the past weeks I’ve had my interactions with a few characters which varying beliefs, rabbis denigrating the origin, source, and nature of the Seven Commandments, Gentiles wanting to become Jews because they don’t want to suffer for one reason or another, rabbis denigrating the “noahide movement” as it now is. And now the Jewish festival of Pesach or Passover comes knowing that some Gentiles will try to do what they can to keep it or its associated festival, the Days of Unleavened Bread, in some form or fashion.

All this brings to my mind something that has been a constant theme of my blog. And I just thought I’d use this time to just share it one more time.

I’m a Gentile

So I was having a disagreement with a guy who claimed to be a rabbi. And it came to him defining the word “noahide”. According to him, it was the same as a “ger toshav”. What’s a “ger toshav”? It’s a Hebrew term a gentile who is allowed to reside, or who resides, in Israel with limited rights having made a formal declaration in front of rabbis to keep the seven commandments. According to some rabbis, such an entity has no legal existence these days.

Some time ago I had another disagreement with a rabbi who was claiming that his expertise in Hebrew allowed him to see how different Hebrew terms regarding resident status in Israel show that Gentiles were allowed to keep so many of the Jewish commandments. He has a Gentile following.

And over my time and travels through the internet, I’ve seen so many various interpretations and views about what it means to be a “noahide” and what interaction this entity called “noahide” has with Jews and rabbis. The fact is that people are people and no matter what you investigate, there are many different views on important subjects. We’re all individual, right? Individual mind, individual thoughts, and thus a world of ideas.

And I’ve gained some understanding about myself and have reached some conclusions of my own that have helped me understand my place in the world and my relationship to Torah and the custodians of Torah, the Jews. I think the most important one is as follows: I’m a Gentile.

I’m using an English word because – and this may surprise you (sarcasm) – I speak English as a native language. By Gentile, I simply mean that I am not a Jew.

Now some may say that this is not the most ground-breaking of discoveries. But it is quite important once a person starts to get some specific knowledge about the seven commandments we Gentiles are obligated, commanded (by God) to keep and the people who have been holding this knowledge for us.

Black and White

So the Jews who have remained faithful to their heritage have in their position not only our seven commandments in their possession for us, but they also have their own responsibilities and obligations, their 613 laws.

Now here’s where I introduce basic logic. The Jews have their God-given commandments, and we Gentiles have our God-given commandments. Although details may overlap, these are two different sets of laws for two different sets of people. This is where my earlier conclusion steps in and says “I’m a Gentile, so I’ll keep the God-given commandments for Gentiles”. There is something that follows on from that. I’m not a Jew, so I don’t keep Jewish commandments as if they’ve been commanded to Gentiles. Some other ideas follows. For example, I’m not a Jew. My aim is not to emulate Jews. I’m not becoming a Jew any time soon for various reasons. So certain times of the year or week that are special to them because of their commandment are not special for me based on my commandments. As I don’t live near any Jews (would it matter if I did?), I don’t have to shape my life according to these times that are irrelevant to my Gentile commandments or purpose. In fact, I shouldn’t even add the words “have to”: I don’t shape my life around these times that are of immense value for Jews but totally irrelevant to my divine obligation.

It’s important now to say that I’m only referring to “time”, i.e. the set apart period of time where Jews must do a special act to commemorate some aspect of their history or to obey something commanded in their law. I’m not talking about the message. There are many universal messages to the Jewish set apart days. The message of the days are not limited to the set apart days themselves. The message of freedom, or purity, or repentance, they can be learnt any time of the year by anyone. Whether we are talking about Pesach, Shavuot, Succot, whatever holiday has a universal message that can be learnt any time of the year. The days themselves are not part of our commandment, but the messages themselves can be quite universal. But it is their time, the Jews’ time, not mine.

Again, I have to clarify something again. Some may say that these are God’s times, not just the Jews’. Whether we are talking about Shabbat or Rosh haShannah or whatever, someone is bound to say “since these are times chosen by God, surely anyone can join in.” What is missed is that the issue is not whether God chose the times but who he commanded concerning the keeping of those times. I can say one thing for sure. It wasn’t the Gentiles who remain part of Gentile societies and are not somehow joined, not just to a Jewish rabbi, but to the Jewish community.

I know, I’m talking in stark, black and white, terms: Gentiles and Jews. I believe where it comes to responsibility and roles and the core commandments we are supposed to keep, it is that stark! Speaking in general – excuse the Hebrew – there are just bnei Noach and bnei Yisrael, Gentiles in general and the covenant people of Israel. There may be a bit of grey when it comes to a Gentile becoming a Jew, but that’s mostly it in this day and age.

It would be a mistake to think I’m encouraging total segregation, one group from another. There can be much beneficial, although limited, interaction between Gentiles and Jews. As I’ve said before, there are overlaps, where details of our seven commandments can be found in their law. There are many laws they have which are similar to what can be derived from the human mind logically – and therefore are rationally obligatory to us gentiles (rationally obligatory, not divinely) – and thus we can learn from the Jews. (No, making sure to rest on a Saturday rather than any other day, or keeping a festival of freedom specifically on the 14th of a Jewish month call Aviv or Nisan is not logical.) For example, honoring parents and avoiding gossip, a morally aware Gentile can come to the conclusions that these principles are important to improve his relationships. Although they may not be overtly commanded, they have selfish (not in a bad way) and social positive impacts.

But there is no need for blurring, where all of a sudden people are questioning whether I’m Jewish or not. Just imagine, in my workplace, someone asks “David, why are you taking the next few days off?”. If my response is “I’m just taking part in [insert Jewish commanded set apart day here]”, you can almost guess what the person’s next question is going to be: “are you Jewish?” No matter what my intention may be, pure or not, in many ways the lines have started to blur between Jew and Gentile. And as previous articles have stated, this can be harmful to how Jews themselves are viewed. When you think in terms of God saying to the Jews “I have set you apart” and then some Gentiles want to join the bandwagon without becoming Jews, it can turn the whole “holiness” concept into a mockery.

There should be a clear delineation and distintion between what is Gentile and Jewish responsibility (although there is some overlap) to avoid any confusion, to avoid the creation or upkeep of any novel Gentile religion which tries to cut itself off from Gentiles on a whole. The Seven Commandments are meant to enrich the lives of all Gentiles, not segregate one set from another because one set as special knowledge, special Jewish knowledge. It is better that one is separated just by the fact that one is decent and upstanding, rather than because he has a special name or title that distinguishes himself from others.

Loving God and Torah

As far as I can see, there are three main responsibilities of a Gentile. One is the Seven Commandments, the others are living up to the image of God we were created in, and settling the world. To transliterate the Hebrew terms of them, they would be the sheva mitzvos, tzelem elokim, and yishuv olom. I’ve already talked about the seven commandments, so I’ll discuss the other two for a little bit.

The “image of God” teaching simply means that, beyond the Seven Laws, we humans are meant to be not just decent people (but that is a part of it), but also conscious, morally aware, and purposeful beings. The Seven Laws provides a basis, a foundation, but, even without become Jews, we are capable of much more. Just see what the following writer had to say about how this touches upon acknowledging God.

In view of Judaism, every human being is expected to recognize God and His attributes … only a purified awareness of God makes a man truly human. If I were gifted with the purest, most sublime perception of God and His attributes but had not crossed the threshold of Judaism, I would be nothing more (but also nothing less) than an ordinary human being. That kind of perception does not require a knowledge of the Torah. The very fact that this knowledge is expected of all men, including those who did not receive the Torah from God at Mount Sinai, is proof that such a knowledge about God does not require Torah study and that, through Judaism, the Torah was intended to give something additional and much more far-reaching to mankind as a whole … (Hirsch, Collected Writings, Vol. VII, 33–34)

A poignant commentary was written about this and about our seven laws and the Torah.

If it is obedience and not faith that makes a Jew a Jew, then it is also obedience and not faith that makes a Noahide a Noahide, for the Seven Laws are a part of Torah-observant Judaism, not a separate “religion.” This is why the Noahide Law is only found in the Talmud, a book that has been long closed to the non-Jew. The Seven Laws of Noah are neither a “religion” nor should they be viewed simply as a list of commandments; the Noahide Code is the non-Jew’s interface to the Torah.

In Devarim 27:8 it states “And you shall write upon the stones all the words of this Law very plainly.” According to Rashi, this meant that the Torah was written in the seventy languages of man, intelligible to all, so that all mankind could learn the Torah. Far from being a closed book, the Torah was for all mankind, a guide for both the Jews and the non-Jews. (Alan Cecil, Secular by Design, pg 402)

It should be known that there is a difference between Torah and “Judaism”. Torah is the revelation of God that reveals our nature, obligation and purpose and much more. It is a teaching, an instruction, that relates objective morality for both Jew and Gentile, but it especially was used to govern the nation of Israel. Israel are the custodians of Torah, no other nation. It was the basis of the national law of Israel. It was meant to also be the basis of international law by means of the 7 laws. “Judaism” is a more modern term relating a religion of the Jews (as the name implies). It was a name given to the way of life practiced by Jews to help the Gentile world understand and relate to this special worldview Jews have. As should be seen, Torah came before “Judaism”. Torah is the fulness for anyone. Judaism, although a term used in the mouthe of Jews and Gentile today, is a limited term that misses a lot of what Torah is meant to be for the Jews.

Based on all this, there is something natural about a Gentile loving Torah and loving God without having to be seen as being a Jew or without emulating special Jewish practices.

The concept of “settling the world” can be explained by the following:

The Oral Torah tradition from Mount Sinai explains that G-d’s desire for the world “to be inhabited” is that there should be Gentile societies that are the positive opposite of the negative [bewilderment, chaos, unsettling nature] of tyranny and anarchy. This positive human societal condition that is desired by G-d is expressed by the famous phrase, “yishuv olom” (“settling the world” – that the world should be “settled down”), which means civilized and peaceful coexistence in which people form societies in which they benefit from each other, rather than being harmed by each other. (Dr Michael Schulman of asknoah.org, http://asknoah.org/forum/showthread.php?tid=1892&pid=3863#pid3863)

It remains one of our lasting and constant obligations that doesn’t take a day off. Its scope is so emcompassing that it goes from individual responsibility to societal responsibility. It is linked to every one of our seven commandments, especially to our prohibition against injustice.

What should be obvious or at least clear is that none of these aspects of our responsibility is religious per se but both are immense in span, scope and detail. There is no part of them that tells you to do special symbolic or “spiritual” acts certain times of the day, certain times in the year. The Gentile responsibility is constant. Even the acknowledgement of God is not a religious thing per so, it’s just part of being human.

The same cannot be said for certain Jewish laws and practices, like their holy days and the fringes, the mezuzot, the tefillin, etc, things that have to do with their special role, their set apart status. The purpose of the seven commandments is not for a Gentile to be holy or set apart. That’s the purpose of Jewish laws. (Don’t mistake “holy” for “good” or “righteous”) The purpose of a Gentile is not to be holy, and segregated from his community due to sanctifying deeds, as Israel’s laws help segregate them from the nations, to limit their interaction. The purpose of a Gentile is the settling of the world, being a true human, and all this on the basis of our seven laws. The purpose of the Gentile is not to become like a Jew, unless he wants to become one. The purpose of a Gentile is to be the best Gentile he can be. That’s probably why there is no divine commandment whatsoever that states that a Gentile must become a Jew. Those mistaken Jews who think in religious terms and think one important purpose of theirs is to “proselytise” as if they possessed some missionary “religion” like christianity or islam have missed the point. They were not to “go through all lands converting all to become christia … sorry, I meant Jewish.” Why? Because the problem with the world was not that it wasn’t Jewish. It may have been that with the amount of injustice, war, idolatry, theft, murder, sexual licentiousness and misuse of nature for our own cravings, the Gentiles were struggling to even attain the level of a human made in God’s image, as opposed to some intelligent animal on two legs, no better that the snake in the garden of Eden, something that has the appearance of intelligence and speech yet just runs on passion and instinct, just “one from the animals”.

The seven laws are our way back, and it’s accessible to everyone. It lays out a broad plan to essentially regain our humanity, our divine image. The aim is not for us to become the priests of mankind, although the way is open for that. But the aim is for us to be the best of mankind, real humanity, aware, conscious. And the most important difference is not what you know, but what you do. That’s why even an atheist, even a christian, even a muslim, even a “noahide”, no matter what illusory title one holds – can keep the basic elements of the seven laws and show real human decency.

Back on track

So I’m a Gentile, not a Jew. My aim to not to copy Jewish practices, or to modify them to make “universal”. I’m not searching for a Jewish community to be a part of. The occasional articles that asks “how does a ‘noahide’ keep [insert Jewish festival here]?” have little to no relevance to my obligations to God. When I see people ask “can a Gentile wear [insert Jewish commanded piece of clothing here]?” my first and natural thought is not “oh what an incredible sage having becoming so expert at the seven laws, and mastered the activities of human decency and “settling the earth” to such a complete extent that they can now look at extra subjects outside of these realms inside of Jewish law!”

There is too much for us as Gentiles to do to continue to distract ourselves with “what the Jews do”. I look around at the world around me and the world inside of me knowing that there is so much more to do as a Gentile.

So that’s why the one of the first things I had to learn is that I’m not a Jew: I’m a Gentile. And there’s plenty to get done.

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12 Comments

  1. searchinmyroots

    Excellent post David! Well thought out and very well spoken!

    I think, which of course means it is of my opinion, that some Noahides, especially those that have come from “other” religions, feel the need to pray, be close to G-d and call on HIS name when times may call for it (which should be everyday since we should be thanking HIM!).

    That is something you didn’t touch on that might be of importance. How to “connect” to G-d as a Gentile.

    Just my two cents. I apologize if you’ve touched on this in another post.

    • No apologies needed, RootSearcher. I don’t expect anyone to know all my articles in an extensive way. I’ll answer you here although I’ve spoken on it in previous articles. I understand the desire some have to “connect to God”. Unfortunately because of religious programming and indoctrination, people think that connecting to God is prayer, singing and what we see as worship. There was a Jewish teacher who showed that it was the word “mitzvah” that means connection. Thus the true connection with God comes through obedience, not the normal stuff we know from our religious history. But I do understand that humans have a desire to express worship and gratitude and devotion. So Gentiles are free to do prayer and singing and gatherings as they wish as long as it does not break the Seven Commandments, and as long as it is not put forward as if God commanded it to Gentiles, as our real connection with God comes not from when we use our will to create ways to God, although that can be nice and beneficial. But the real connection comes when we connect to His will made known by his Law and make it real. So there’s freedom for Gentiles who wish to express themselves (themselves) through such practices. As you can guess, I don’t have to say “do it this way” or “do it like that”. there’s nothing set. But our weakness is that we hear so much about the necessity of prayer or worship, and there is a lack when it comes to the rubber-meets-the-road part of keeping what God told us to do. That’s more my focus. Does that make sense?

      • searchinmyroots

        Thank you for your reply.

        Yes, it makes perfect sense and I agree my keeping HIS commandments we connect with G-d and build our relationships whether Jew or Gentile, it doesn’t matter.

        But that doesn’t address the times of need, of hurt and the like. So do Gentiles also cry out to G-d when they ate hurting or need strength? That is a “different” type of relationship. One where we are depending on G-d’s will to help us get through the tough times.

        Am I explaining myself well?

      • You are explaining yourself. Let me point you again to what I have been saying. A Gentile is free with regards to prayer. There is no set command that a Gentile MUST pray, but it is something beneficial to do, something very helpful. There are many places on the internet by Torah keeping Jews and “noahides” that address expressing one’s heart to God. Are you saying that it’s not enough for me to say that Gentiles have freedom in this, and that you think I too should write something about it?

  2. searchinmyroots

    What I think I’m saying is that Gentiles may feel something is missing. That they may not understand what you have explained so well. They may see the Jewish people praying everyday, observing festivals, having community and ask themselves, what about us? It is those things that keep the Jewish people together. What is it that will keep the Gentiles together as Torah observant Gentiles?

    I have seen many ex-Christians who at first come to understand and observe the teachings of Judaism, such as yourself. But many, too many in my opinion, at some later point in time lose their connection and possibly even their belief in G-d. I think that may have something to do with the fact there is no “house of worship”, no community for them to share their thoughts and love for G-d, and no set festivals to honor what G-d has done for them.

    I think that is what I am saying. Your thoughts?

    And I ask you because you are one who has left Christianity and still embraces the teachings of Torah. B”H!!

    • My thoughts: for me history has made me very cautious of Gentiles and “houses of worship”. that may sound strange coming from a Gentile. I think the Jews as a covenant nation with special limitations and divine commandments for their family-nation have the right conditions for such things, houses of worship and festivals. There is an article I before “R. Hirsch’s answer to the Jewish Question: Why wouldn’t you convert?” and others I do wish touch the subject of additional laws for Gentiles and I agree with them that if Jews kept their law and non-Jews kept our law (the Seven, which don’t include festivals and houses of worship) then the world would be a better place. The problem came when Gentiles started to take part in things we had no business in creating, the religions and houses of worship and the religious festivals, especially those that emulated the Jews. Instead of making something out of our nations, making them into families that could have formed righteous societies, we split each other apart with these innovations, these religions. If ex-christians sense something missing then they are right. But they are not missing Jewish practices. They’re missing the right direction. Having been taught that connection to God is just some emotional faith they tap into in these festivals and worship houses, a re-eduction is needed, an education that puts God’s will first. As I’ve said, if the craving is too much, then as rabbi Benamozegh taught, there is plenty of Jewish commandments they can take from as long as they are not seen as obligatory. They are done to appease themselves, not out of a will to do what God commands. But a refocus is needed, and a desire for truth, not as we want it, but as we need it. This world needs justice, not religion. Yes, give the exchristians what they need while their crawling in the hopes that they’ll eventually actually either 1) care more about what God commanded more than what they crave; or 2) become Jewish and these things are done from commandment.

  3. searchinmyroots

    Thank you for your thoughts. I never really looked at it that way. I guess that is why I asked, to get another point of view other than my own!

    What you say certainly makes sense. I just think it is a “hard sell”. Please excuse the expression because I know it really isn’t a “sell” at all, it is what G-d expects of us.

    As is repeated over and over again throughout the Tanach, it is our actions that G-d see’s and judges. So yes, let’s walk in His ways and the world will most certainly be a better place. And also as G-d mentions, it is the Jewish people who will teach the world what those ways are. That is what makes us different and special. Not better, just chosen to be given a great mission.

    • RootSearcher, your words are accurate. I see you as a genuine fellow. “hard sell” is right. In our modern age where so much as to do with our comfort, few (me included) are ready for the no-nonsense basics without the decorative fluff. So for people so used to one thing, to be told that a lot of what they do is more to appease themselves rather than get in line with God’s truth may not be taken well. Some people, through misunderstanding, are taken aback when they compare the number 7 to the number 613, thinking 7 is just 7 and 613 is a lot more. But once a person digs for truth, as you and I know, you find that there is more than you bargained for.

      The Jews have an awesome role. You have an awesome role as part of that great people. There has to be heaploads of gratitude from the world for your preserving of not only your own responsibilities, but the responsibilities of the whole world as well. That’s why there was so much danger and reward for your people. It’s for us Gentiles to take up what you’ve preserved. That is not an easy road at all. Not at all.

      Thanks for forcing me to think. GRIN. Your questions help me a lot.

  4. searchinmyroots

    Again, very well spoken. I see the roles more clearly now. The Jews have to preserve what was given to us and the Gentiles need to take up what we have preserved. Sounds so simple! But as we know, that is the farthest from the truth.

    Which brings me to another thought I had during this mornings prayers. All throughout the Tanach and through the sages, the Jewish people are given many different ways to remember and to adhere to G-d’s instructions for life. Whether it be a mezuzah, tefillin, tzitzits, kippah, daily prayers 3 times a day, keeping kosher, etc, etc. Even with all of these ways to remember, we are still human and sometimes (maybe more than sometimes!) err.

    How much more difficult is it for a Gentile who does not have all of these signs to remember and obey?

  5. Jim

    David,

    Of interest, Noahide Nations is starting a training program for something akin to ordination. They are looking to make their own clergy. Moreover, they are looking to create a Noahide chaplaincy for the military. These things worry me.

    Jim

    • I’ve heard. The irony is that they would accuse me of creating the new religion. They have to follow their path. For their negatives, I’m sure there are positives. But I’m not confident in the direction they have taken or are taking. When I think of the sort of change they are trying to make in the world, I see more of a religious one rather than a societal one. I don’t trust that direction.

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