Another Jew seeing inadequacy
Some time ago I wrote an article about arguments used to discourage a non-Jew from staying a non-Jew (https://hesedyahu.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/its-silly-to-be-a-noahide-because-the-weak-excuses/) . The people who used these arguments where attempting to persuade a Gentile to become a Jew due to the inadequacy they perceived in remaining a Gentile. Such arguments frequently focused on the nature of the Seven Commandments, how the Jews are commanded something that Gentiles are not, how the Jewish life is somehow the ideal and the Gentile life is something that you just have to put up with.
Once again, I encountered another denigration of being and remaining a Gentile. This voice said that there is emptiness in other Jews encouraging the keeping of the Seven Commandments. To this person, encouraging a Gentile to keep the Seven Laws isn’t really encouraging anything meaningful because the Gentile commandments are only about not “sinning”. Once again, this person fostered the notion that anyone who accepts the reality of the divine source of the Torah should convert, that being a Jew is an ideal, and the commandments God gave to Gentiles only prevent sin and nothing more. To this person, anyone interested in more than simply not sinning should become a Jew.
God commanded the Seven Commandments and obligated the Gentiles, the non-Jews, to keep them. By following these commands, by avoiding what is prohibited in them, a Gentile and the community he lives in maintains a place in this life. These are the basic laws that a Gentile society is meant to uphold in order to have a civilised society.
As has been said before, they are all prohibitions, things that a Gentile should not do. Even the law of Dinim, Justice, is only included because of its prohibiting nature to stop injustice. What is sometimes neglected is the power of stopping doing what is wrong, bad or evil. Just think about it for a little while. You live next to a very noisy neighbour. From 11pm until 5am, loud and disturbing noise or music pumps from his house, causing disturbance to all around. For six years, despite complaints he keeps pumping out that music all night. For some reason you’ve stayed. For six years, non-stop. And then, he stops. For whatever reason, especially if he just looked around and saw the disturbance he was causing to others, he stops. Weeks go by and nights are now spent resting in peace. The neighbourhood has a little more peace.
After that, imagine some stranger comes by and someone tells this stranger about what had happened. And this stranger says, “hey, if you’re just satisfied with him not making noise, then you can just make do with that.” Or he says, “he only stopped making noise, so what?” I think someone who had been living with the repeated and persistent disturbance would be tempted to slap that stranger across the side of the head. Even if we lessened the impact of the incident to this neighbour at random times blasting everyone out of their sleep with his noise, a good amount of people would feel an itch in their strong slapping hand when this stranger belittles the peace and relief that has now come to this neighbourhood.
Imagine you were never in that situation, your neighbour had never been like that, they don’t make such noise or cause such disturbance. Upon hearing this story that happened to someone else, they can still be thankful and say, “at least my neighbour was never like that.” Some belittling person may still come around and say “well it takes no effort for them to do this; it’s just natural and there is no real merit.” But again, this just shows the ingratitude and silly nature of this person. Instead of being grateful for the peace they have, they demand that some struggle is needed for what is good to have meaning. Again, such a mind is ungrateful and disrespectful of the goodness in the present season just because it doesn’t fit his requirements.
Now that analogy was just about noise. What about murder? What about injustice? Living in a land where justice is spit upon for money or gain or political favours, you would appreciate it if it would just STOP!
So if someone comes along and says that the seven laws are just about not “sinning,” then understand that they have not grasped the power and good that can come from people stopping doing the wrong and harmful things.
And it should be known that many times the way to start doing what is right is to stop doing what is wrong. So to stop doing what is wrong, based on what has already been said is both positive in itself (the relief that can come from ending evil actions) and can be the foundation for more good.
And that’s just the foundation.
Building upon the foundation – remaining the same
The fallacy in thinking for such Jews is that they believe the only way to progress from the foundational keeping of the Seven is to become a Jew. It’s as if in the mind of these Jews … in fact, let me stop focusing on Jews because this fallacy can exist in any mind. It is as if in the minds of these people there are only two states of existence for a person: a Gentile limited to seven commandments unable to do any other good deed; and a Jew glorified and made perfect by the fact that they were given 613 commandments. If this were not the case in that person’s mind, then such an inadequate, superficial and silly argument about the inadequacy of the seven laws and the lesser life of a Gentile would never have been formed.
Small aside: such a thought process is also linked to a focus on the amount of real estate a Jew is said to get in the world to come compared to that of a Gentile. But notice how the issue raised in this argument has absolutely nothing with how much good a person does in this life or how perfected they are in the way they treat God’s world and the people in it. It’s only focused on the reward, the nature of which is essentially unknown, at least in any specific detail. A person who was actually devoted to God and good and justice would not focus on this essentially selfish form of argumentation of “well, I get more than you which shows that I’m better.”
Now is it true that a Gentile is limited to only keeping the Seven Commandments, unable to do any other good deed? Now I know this seems like a strawman, a caricature, almost as if I’m misrepresenting the argument of such people. But that is how silly this point of view is. They are the ones making it seem like the best life you could possibly have is as a Jew, and the Gentile life is just about “not sinning.”
I’ve written about the following before but it won’t hurt to go over it again. If a person were to just meditate and contemplate just the seven commandments, these broad and detailed precepts, even that would yield so many principles for a fuller, more moral life. The law of Justice can show a person that fairness is needed not just in a courtroom but in a home and in a business, in so many areas of life. Focusing on the prohibition against idolatry can teach me about the destructive nature of devoting oneself to things that are not real or not that important. Also, as Michael Dallen said in his book, The Rainbow Covenant, you can infer a positive principle from a negative command. So understanding that theft is about taking or withholding someone else’s property, one can learn the positive obligation to respect someone else’s property “rights”.
Now a Gentile is free to do all this without becoming a Jew. And there is more.
Now in this next part, I could start by saying that rabbi so and so taught that certain Jewish commandments that could be arrived at just by logic, a Gentile is obligated to keep those Jewish commandments. But I’ve written about that already: no need to reinvent the wheel. Instead of taking that tact, which sometimes just strokes the Jewish ego (oh, look at those “noahides” trying to keep our Jewish commandments), let me say it differently here.
Being created in God’s image, as human beings we are responsible for all of our actions, not just those that are supposed to conform to a law. It is good for yourself and those around you to develop good habits that help show that you are a thoughtful, conscientious person, trustworthy and reliable. So it is just good, not out of commandment but just out of our very nature as humans, to make as many of our actions as possible meaningful, purposeful, well thought out, and positive. That can include avoiding gossip, anger, lying, hypocrisy and many more community eroding, family destructive, and self-deprecating actions and attributes.
Of course, there are truly excellent teachings about this in Jewish Torah law that can give specific ways to accomplish these good deeds, but they are within the reach of a Gentile, without becoming religious only moral, helping an individual to become a beacon of goodness to those around him/her, and all this without becoming a Jew, without embracing any title like “noahide” or “noachide” or “ger” or whatever is going around in the day. Imagine that! A Gentile living a full life as a Gentile, satisfied just as they are!
You see, the ideal life for an individual is not a Jewish life by default. It is not a “one size fits all” sort of thing. All a person should be is the best they can be, whether that be as a Jew or a Gentile. If a Gentile wants to be a Jew – for the right reasons – good for that person. It may not be good or best for someone else. One person can be great as a Jew. Another person may be stellar as a Gentile. Each must be the best he or she can be.
Not much of an ending is needed. I should have said it all now, right?
If a Jew, if anyone, wants to make it seem like the Gentile just is a second class citizen, a lesser being whereas the Jew is the ideal … There are two ways of ending that. Let me take the way of peace. If someone has such a notion, then they lack understanding, crucial parts of their thinking are inadequate. As a Gentile, I don’t have to place any weight or value on such a flawed conclusion.
Basically, we Gentiles have a job to do. Screw what anyone has to say, let’s get on and do it!