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. 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).