Attack of the “No No hides”

Humans are humans. It doesn’t matter where you go, or what group you end up in, generally, normally, people will act like people. It seems like any group that starts, the longer it stays and if it grows, it is more likely to split into fragments. It happens to businesses, families, political parties and religions. The same is true for those Gentiles who grew to learn about the Seven Commandments and also aim to keep them. As somewhat of an outsider, I can see a few of the factions that have risen and also some of the independents, the individuals, that stay outside of the mainstay of the broken up groups, doing their own thing in their own lives.

In the tensions that exist amongst that variegated mishmash, some misunderstandings and misrepresentations have arisen, one group thinking the other group believes or has said something. So in light of some of the criticisms I’ve seen, I thought I would re-clarify where I stand on a certain issue.

In the minds of some, it would seem that I’m saying a Gentile can ONLY keep the seven commandments and no more, that a Gentile is not allowed to even touch a Jewish commandment in the Torah that is not distinctly mentioned in the Seven Commandments. Some may get the impression that I’m saying that Gentiles can’t do some kind of extra commandment. And with this “no! no!” kind of attitude I portray, a name is given to myself and people like me who share my point of view: we get called “the No-No hides” (a derogatory twist of the word I distance myself from: “noahide”).

It can be kinda easy to get the impression that I’m totally against Gentiles keeping extra commandments, taking up commandments from the Jews, from the way I denigrate such practices, as I have done in previous articles, and I will continue to do in future articles.

I’m not writing this to just to clarify my position, but it is my hope that I also exemplify that of those who also share my view. I cannot speak for them, but from experience I know that there is much more to them than the negative perception that can come from interacting with them.

Now, it is a Jewish commandment, a service of the heart, to pray to God. The core Seven Commandments do not have any command to pray to God. And yet I pray (or at least I think I pray … I love Rabbi Samson Hirsch’s description on what real prayer is, I need to find it again). Have I become a hypocrite? Have I gone against my own principles and added to the Seven Commandments?

I repeat it over and over again that the Seven Commandments are mainly prohibitions, things we shouldn’t do. Some may call them negative commandments, but they are only negative in the way that they tell a person to not do certain actions. It’s not like they’re negative as in depressing. So the commandment concerning idolatry is a broad precept that forbids the worshipping of idols according to their customary forms of worship. It’s not a positive command to worship God or even to know God. According to some interpretations of the first statement in the Decalogue, Jews have the positive command to know God. Yet I’m blessed to learn about God’s truth and I acknowledge the fact God commanded Adam and Noah regarding the matters in the Seven Laws and that Moshe got this teaching when he received the Torah. Have I become a hypocrite and once again gone against my own principles and added to the Seven Commandments?

What about my attempts to avoid gossip which is similar to the laws concerning evil speech that the Jews have? What about the fact that I honour and greatly esteem my parents? Don’t the Jews have that command whilst it’s not in the Seven Commandments? So have I added to God’s commandments?

I’m sure there may be other examples, but I don’t need to write a dictionary on it.

To be as clear as I can be right now at 20 minutes past 5 in the morning, my attacks against the taking up of additional commandments come about on two or three different levels:

1) Keeping a non-Seven-Commandments law with all the seriousness as if God had commanded it upon a non-Jew (or saying that God commanded something not in the Seven Laws to Gentiles);

2) When too much focus given to additional commandments, especially the spiritual ones, when the Seven Laws are put down and degraded;

3) When Gentiles start to segregate themselves from other Gentiles due to their observance of Jewish commands, especially the nigh-totally irrelevant ones, as start behaving like Jew wannabes, rather than as Gentiles.

You’ll notice something missing here. I am not against someone performing an extra commandment per se. If someone has made learning and living by the Seven Commandments their first priority, they know what is permitted and forbidden for Gentiles, and then they feel they have something extra left over, then performing an extra commandment in a non-obligatory fashion is fine. Performing a commandment, a commandment based on rational grounds, for the sake of self-interest also is fine. Hey, I try not to hold a grudge – it is a Jewish commandment not to hold a grudge – for personal and logical reasons for a practical benefit. I don’t do it because God commanded me not to, but because it helps me to be a good person and because it is a benefit to those around me as well. And learning about the practical aspects and some moral messages about that Jewish commandment can be a great help.

But when we start getting articles like “The Gentiles that act like Jews” and the proliferation of practices that tend to segregate one set of Gentiles from others, when too much emphasis is put on prayer and too little on justice, when a person who claims to be a “noahide” or a “ger” knows more about laws of kashrut than about the laws of Dinim, or when that “noahide”/”ger” feels so spiritual and has to make sure to get those candles ready for a “seventh day service” yet continually gives his backing to causes that work against the Seven Commandments (like national electoral voting or campaigning for political parties that undermine the fact that the Seven Laws should be national law, not just personal values) …. When that starts to happen, then it’s unbalanced, cult-like and doesn’t help the spread of the knowledge of the seven laws, only the desire to join a religion.

It’s as one of my teachers taught me.

The position I’ve held for a long time, and been very vocal about, is that it’s shameful that most Noahides can tell you how many minutes one must wait between eating milk and meat (an extra commandment, and a Rabbinic one at that), but cannot tell you what one must do if he sees someone drop an object in the public thoroughfare (an obligatory part of the laws of Theft for Noahides, and a Torah commandment!). And by “most”, I’m including even those Noahides who have been at this since 2004 and earlier. It’s deplorable. People should be learning what’s obligatory upon them first, and THEN learning to do extra commandments, if they desire.

So the issue is priority and effectiveness, not simply the fact that someone does something in addition to the Seven Commandments.

Once again, notice the message of this teaching. It’s not “no no” to keeping extra commandments. It’s “make sure you’ve got your own house in order first before you start playing around in other fields.” Yes, there is a level of simplicity to the Seven Commandments. But that doesn’t mean that the study of them can be set aside or that the good in them can be demeaned in order to feel more religious, more spiritual, to feel as if one now has a relationship with God because their behaviour is more Jew-like.

As another of my friends who I consider another of my teachers said:

Parshath Mishpatim, with its dry, civil laws directing human interaction to ensure peace between man and man, precede Terumah with its laws of ritual service to God. And one of the chief functions of the ritual services is to reinforce the truth and seriousness of earthly virtues, in addition to faithfulness to the One God. In other words, the implication is that God desires for men and women to act justly toward one another before showing themselves before the King. Did not the holy messengers of God, the prophets, rebuke the holy nation for showing themselves before the Holy One Blessed Be He with blood on their hands? Were not their messages rebuke against the religious impulse over justice and kindness?

As you can see, the basis of a connection to God and his truth is the part of the law that can seem dry, as the Seven Commandments are depicted by some, yet those so-called “dry” laws are in fact the fertile soil in which a true appreciation of the Divine can grow and flourish, not as a Jew, but as a Gentile.

Most of the time, my “observance” of “extra commandments” is coincidental. I don’t pray because I’ve studied the Jewish commandments regarding prayer and I’m aiming to keep that command. I don’t refrain from holding a grudge because it’s a Jewish commandment. I don’t try to avoid gossip because it’s a Jewish commandment. I don’t love God because there is a command to love God. I don’t give charity when I can because of the Jewish commandment about tzedaqah (called “charity” but means much more). I do these things because I either enjoy them or I get personal benefit from it or I think they are rational things to do based on my presuppositions. According to some authorities, there is some obligation to do what is rational.

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.[75] 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. [Rabbi Moshe Weiner, The Divine Code, page 72, point 75 refers to Rav Nissim Ga’on, in his introduction to Tractate Beraot.]

But there are Gentiles who do such “obligations” with no regard to Torah. They love their parents, do charity, try not to hate or take revenge. It’s just the human thing to do.

But the same cannot be said for putting on tefillin or putting mezuzot on one’s door or avoiding eating animals that the Torah says are restricted for Jews because of holiness or separating meat from milk or making sure clothing isn’t made of certain mixtures or even keeping the Sabbath and the Jewish holy-days. And I must state clearly that Israel keeps the laws of kashrut and other laws because of their set-apart status, not due to some coincidental health benefits. Some laws relate to their particular history and divinely given role. Despite the universal messages in such laws, the actual practices were enjoined upon Israel, not the nations. There is much wisdom in the verse that says “[God] declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Yisrael; He has not done such a thing to any other nation, and they have no knowledge of his ordinances” (Tehillim [Psalm] 147:19-20). And this is not so much to say that the nations have nothing whatsoever, but it highlights the fact that Israel is different and is meant to be kept different. And this makes it even more sensible when the advice is given: if you actually want to keep these additional commandments in a more formal way, then become a Jew; and if not, keep the Seven and don’t add to or detract from them.

There’s a lot of freedom in being a non-Jew. It’s not just freedom to ignore God and his law, but also to learn about our role and responsibilities, about our commandments and practices and principles that are beneficial and not beneficial, to learn about God for your own reasons, to tread places where Jews can’t walk, to do what we can to actually establish God’s principle of “species” in the world, a world where God’s laws for Jews are respected and kept by Jews and God’s laws for Gentiles are respected and kept by Gentiles (see R. Hirsch’s answer to the Jewish Question: Why wouldn’t you convert?). As Rabbi Hirsch taught:

Jew and non-Jew each has his own calling and his own law, and God’s sublime purpose will be attained only if each one, Jew and non-Jew, will gladly and faithfully carry out that calling and obey that law which God has set for him, and in so doing will make his own contribution to the common good as God expects him to do … (excerpts from Rabbi Samson Hirsch’s commentary on the Torah, in the book “Terumath Tvi,” page 4, the commentary on Genesis 1:11-13)

It should be quite obvious that this is not what is happening now, where non-Jews want to be like Jews and they act like Jews (the article mentioned above shows that, “Gentiles who act like Jews”), and where Jews act like non-Jews, for example, a nation called Israel that is a reflection of Greek philosophy and politics copying America rather than upholding Torah; Jews adopting Gentile “tolerances” for the breaking of Torah principles.

Personally, I want to get my priorities straight. I’m a Gentile living in amongst the nations of the world. I’m not a ger with respect to Israel. I’m not a Jew. I’m a human being made in God’s image who is also a Gentile, a non-Jew, who has his own obligation (or is it “my own” … damn confusing English language) to God, his own divinely given role. My job is to embrace all of that and be the best who I can be, without admixture, without foreign additives (or preservatives? …. no, I’m not food either).

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7 Comments

  1. Daniel Scouten

    What you describe here is also the understanding taught by Rabbi Bloomenstiel, in the course offered by Noahide Nations.
    There is absolutely no spiritual benefit to a non-Jew in performing ‘mitzvos’ not commanded to him. There may be a practical benefit, to him or to society, but folks looking to get some kind of spiritual “boost” by carrying out Jewish practices have the wrong idea. Indeed, what they likely are getting is a boost in ‘yuhara’, haughtiness.
    Description:
    http://etzion.org.il/vbm/english/talmud4/11.htm
    (halfway down page)

  2. DP

    Some historical introduction here: Given our similar former backgrounds, if we look back at early Xianity and specifically the Council of Jerusalem, your article would resemble Paul’s argument on the one extreme, but without the gross theological confusion. The “Jew wannabes” are rehashing Peter’s argument on the other extreme.

    I think we “Noahides” need to have space for an argument resembling the center position of James, again without any theological confusion. This position would reject the “Jew wannabe” position on Jewish festivals, kosher laws, and all but one ritual, but would:

    1) Re-affirm the Abrahamic Covenant and re-emphasize its “eighth commandment” of circumcision for Abraham’s male descendants (the rejection of which was a fundamental error of the Council of Jerusalem); and

    2) Re-evaluate whether at least some of the ethical commandments outside “the Seven” were really not given by G-d to the Gentiles.

    The Abrahamic Covenant, not exclusive to Jews, is as everlastingly binding as the Noahide Covenant. How the Council of Jerusalem made a fundamental mistake on this account is beyond me!

    On the ethical front, the fundamental issue here is not about the problem of “adding” ethical commandments, but of subtracting them. Our very own James Tabor stated, “This Noahide Code… might be likened to a basic ‘clean up operation’ for those who are turning from idolatry, paganism, and misguided ways of our secular society.” More importantly, in various parts of the Scriptures, especially in the Later Prophets, G-d made it clear that Gentiles not upholding certain ethical commandments outside “the seven” had sinned.

    • DP

      I’ll give two examples of so-called “Jewish” ethical commandments somehow outside “the seven” by rabbinic standards but emphasized by G-d for Gentiles, too:

      1) Pikuach nefesh / Not standing idly by the “blood” of one’s neighbour: Neither Cain nor Abel were Jews, but Cain infamously asked G-d if he were indeed his own brother’s keeper. This “Jewish” ethical commandment to save a life is superceded by only three or four categories of commandments (why not all of “the Seven”?): those against idolatry (and blasphemy, depending on the rabbinic source), those against murder, and those against sexual immorality.

      2) Tzedakah (at least two mitzvot): Failures to do so (Deut. 15:7 and 15:8) were the “real” sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.

      • Since I reject those parts of my background, it seems like odd ground to discuss on. They weren’t Gentiles discussing Gentile stuff. They were errant Jews living in error.

        There is no grounding to re-affirm some abrahamic covenant. That was given to Abraham and his seed, and the promise was most distinctly for Isaac. It’s not a covenant for the whole world only for Abraham’s family. So I would eject that straight away.

        The Jewish tradition states what the Seven Laws were, so there is nothing to “re-evaluate.”

        You said “We ‘Noahides'” and “Our very own James Tabor”. Who is “we and “our?” Since I stay out of the “noahide” stuff, I’m not included there. And I claim no ownership of James Tabor nor am I part of any group of his that I know of. So I’m not sure who this “we” and “our” is.

        You seem to misinterpret what my article is about and what my stance is. Although the Seven Commandments are the basic law for humanity on a whole, it doesn’t relegate other ethical principles that Gentiles should keep. In previous articles and in this one, I state again and again, humanity is bound by a number of obligations, two of which are the Seven Commandments and also the obligations that come with being made in God’s image. It is as if you are assuming that I’m stating that a human’s ONLY obligations are the seven commandments. I’ve never stated that.

        Cain’s crime was murder. So he has nothing to do with not standing by the blood of one’s neighbour when he himself killed his brother. And the fact that God says the sin of Sodom included not strengthening the hand of the poor doesn’t mean it needs to be added to the Seven Commandments, no more than the notion that there should be commandments against pride, fulness of bread, or “careless ease.”

        My goal is not to re-imagine what the Jewish tradition already states or to add or take away commands from the Seven or to figure out if God gave more or less (which in the end would just be commandments I made up rather than God revealing them, as he revealed the Seven to Moses as Jewish tradition states clearly). It’s to live according to the law and the principles according to Jewish tradition.

  3. DP

    1) Indeed there are differences between that episode and today, but I thought there were some parallels.

    2) The Abrahamic Covenant for circumcision was not limited to Isaac and then Jacob. G-d promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations, not just Israel. Later rabbinic authorities stated that “many nations” besides Israel means Arabs.

    3) I wasn’t referring to any re-evaluation of “the Seven,” 30, 66, etc. at all.

    4) “We” and “our” refer to those who accept as binding for us the seven broad categories of commandments G-d gave Noah. James Tabor is one such individual, who also happens to be a scholar.

    5) I know you haven’t stated such. Your third and fourth paragraphs in this article allude to the other obligations of being made in G-d’s image.

    6a) Despite popular belief, Cain’s crime was not murder but manslaughter. His mark from G-d was one of protection, not of stigma or shame. G-d would not provide such a mark of protection, predating cities of refuge, to a murderer.

    6b) I am not suggesting at all that ethical commandments should be added directly to “the Seven,” 30, 66, etc. Maimonides wrote against the mixing of different kinds of animals and trees, yet didn’t add this to “the Seven,” 30, 66, etc. In the same manner, I refer to the two examples I wrote earlier.

    You mentioned that I somehow entertain the notion that there should be commandments against pride, “fullness of bread” (gluttony), or “careless ease” (sloth), but I don’t because there are no separate commandments against such, unlike the commandments for tzedakah. In any event, I’m not suggesting the addition of my examples to “the Seven,” 30, 66, etc.

    • For me personally, the Abrahamic covenant is irrelevant to my path of obeying God’s commands. There are no biblical reasons for me to consider it and no Torah reasons. “Many nations” is vague and without any commentary or tradition relevant to me.

      When you talk of re-evaluating whether God enjoined ethical commands other than the seven upon Gentiles, then that either changes the number of commandments to 8 or more, or changes the interpretation of one of the seven laws. So, to me, it’s a re-evaluation of the seven. “30” & “66” are just ways of subdividing the seven.

      Normally when people mention “noahides” as a label of a group different to “gentile” then I leave myself out. I know some people, like you, use it to mean “non-Jews that accept x.” I’m reluctant to use it or refer to myself as it. James Tabor is a stranger to me. But that quote of his seems ok.

      I’m ok with the conclusion that Cain may have committed manslaughter. What you stated before was not manslaughter but rather standing idly by with regards to the blood of a neighbour. So whether murder or manslaughter, it wasn’t standing idle.

      Rambam has precedent in the Talmud to mention mixing animals and trees. You don’t, so your examples are not in the same manner as Rambam.

      I never said you entertain the notion that there should be commandments against pride, fullness of bread and careless ease.

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