Simplicity

A lady, Linda Gebaroff, said something that struck me with its simplicity:

Why do gentiles make such a large deal over the minimal moral duties required of all humans? What do you want, your own book?

What I say next may not reflect her thoughts since all I’ll be doing is saying what I got from it. But I hope it can be food for thought for someone out there. Even if it is not, at least I can concretize my thoughts about what I’ve digested from it.

Her words reminded me of what writer Elisheva Barre (where are you?) told someone who contacted here which is recorded in her fine book, “Torah for Gentiles”. In the chapter “Mails We Received”, on pages 47-48, the following interaction was recorded.

I am African American, and I was wondering how does one merge the 7 laws with one’s culture? How do people deal with ethnic and cultural differences when it comes to real life when following the seven laws? This is one reason I feel it might be easier to convert to Judaism. I guess my question is: can there be some kind of infrastructure to following the seven laws? Thank you.

[Elishava Barre’s response]
Lacking the legal application of the Bnei Noah Laws, they remain precepts which each one takes upon himself on an individual basis, and if you do not have Bnei Noah friends to share your beliefs with, there is no other “infrastructure” than between you and HaShem. None of the 7 laws clash with any culture or state laws. Six of these commandments are prohibitions and not committing a transgression is not doing anything, so there is no clash. On the other hand, refraining from a deed that would be permitted to a Ben Noah but is not obligatory avoids clashing with any ethnical or cultural environment that does not recognize such a deed as permissible. I do not know if converting to Judaism and becoming part of Israel is easier, but it is certainly clearer.

God didn’t bestow Gentiles with a holy book of our own. The core Seven Laws are “sit down and don’t do” laws, i.e., prohibitions. In fact, in a place where the writer and I may differ, even the unnamed seventh law is a “sit down and don’t do” law, a prohibition which warns that we should avoid or refrain from injustice. We don’t have a commanded infrastructure to our laws, especially in this day and age. The Seven Commandments gives no place of authority to rabbis, so essentially we have no rabbis integrated by divine law into our communities. Yes, I said authority, not expertise. We Gentiles are supposed take care of our own responsibilities with or without their assistance according to the wording of the Law concerning Social Justice. There is something altogether uncomplicated about the Seven Commandments.

In some ways, some of us may have made a bigger fuss of these laws or at least their observance than what is really required. That is not to say that any of us who learn of these laws should be lackadaisical about keeping them. Going below this basic standard of behaviour has its seriousness. But then some has turned this seven commandments teaching into almost (if not actually) a new religion, making a new distinct religious group that further divides Gentiles. I was recently talking to a christian who kept referring to this religious entity called “noahidism”, a term that has found its way into the bastion of objective truth on the internet (sarcastic “cough, cough”), Wikipedia, which defines as an “ideology”. Somehow I don’t think sort of entry came from nowhere. And looking around, I can see why some people would tend to think that the Seven Commandments or the keeping of those laws is a new religion.

Now all this isn’t to denigrate those who have the push to do more than just live avoiding what the seven laws prohibit. It would be hypocritical of me, when I myself have based much of this blog on the commandments, have created videos about the topic, have read a good amount of material on the laws and the details (no, I’m not an expert), and have limited my own “religiosity” due to the surrounding principles of that basic law code. So it would be stupid, dumb, idiotic and hypocritical of me to speak against doing more than the seven when I myself have made it the basis of much that I do.

But sometimes it’s easy to miss – my friend, Yvonne said to me from the very beginning – it’s very easy to miss the simplicity of the laws for Gentiles, the Torah for Gentiles, our basic human responsibility. Yeah, some of us can become scholars of our Seven Commandments, learn from resources available, ask questions of the rabbis, Jews, and other Gentiles who have studied the subject and judge their words accordingly. Some of us can shout from the rafters about the fact that we humans have a basic morality that we should follow. But some Gentiles can just do what is required and that’s it. Some Gentiles can just avoid what we’re forbidden without the religious or political parade and fanfare that others of us choose.

It still goes back to something that has been said before. The Seven Commandments ain’t necessarily having it all together in one’s head. There may be some people who don’t accept certain Torah facts. But it’s not all about some “world to come”. It can all simply be about avoid the wrong stuff in life, about having some morality to how you yourself live. At least those bare actions (or inactions) are the foundation blocks to a more civilised society.

Now don’t get me wrong here. Understanding the simplicity of the law makes it no better that when you look around, many governments, institutions and individuals break even this basic moral standard. And this is not an article encouraging a person to be passive in the face of such immorality. This is not a “do nothing” article.

I just believe it is important to recognize that there is a fundamental level of “observance” when it comes to the Seven Laws. When you get deep in the issues and in the studies, it is very easy to miss this.

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2 Comments

  1. Pat

    After 20 years spent in three different Christian denominations, I truly welcome the simplicity of the Noahide Laws. Thanks for your interesting words.

    • I’m glad it was useful for you to think over. All the best to you on your journey.

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