It’s not a Jewish path!
At times, when I attempt to tackle certain issues and claims, I do my best to leave personalities out of it, to simply focus on the point at hand. But when those personalities reach a certain popularity, there is little point in me hiding who said what was said, and also exactly what was said. So let me just quote the person and refer to the exact article right now.
We’re not another religion, but actually part of Judaism,” says Mr Bryant, director of education and counseling at Netiv, a “centre for Torah studies” in Humble, just outside Houston. “We’re a community of people on a Jewish path who want to lead fulfilling Jewish lives.” Netiv’s devotees include fallen-by-the-wayside Jews who have made Noahidism their means of spiritual re-engagement, Mr Bryant says. (“They’re not Jewish, but they Noah lot about Torah” by Michael Kaminer, http://www.thejc.com/news/world-news/153369/theyre-not-jewish-they-noah-lot-about-torah, emphasis mine)
If you read the article, you’ll find that this is a guy currently residing in Texas called Rod Reuven David Bryant, a guy called a “noahide leader,” who is describing what the article describes as “non-Jews who embrace the Torah through Jewish principles known as the Seven Noahide Laws.”
Unfortunately it is another case of misrepresentation found in the mouth of this “noahide leader” and in an article that uses his group as a template to understand Gentiles around the world who embrace the seven laws.
“What is your beef this time, David?”
I’m glad you asked, David.
The Seven Laws spoken of in the Torah tradition is not a Jewish path and it is not for those who want to live a Jewish life. Let me give you a simple proof of this.
Seven commandments were enjoined upon the descendants of Noah … (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 56a)
Who were the seven laws enjoined upon? The descendants of Noah, otherwise known as humanity as a whole. When the Jews got their covenant of Moses with additional stipulations, the term “descendants of Noah” applied to the non-Jews, the Gentiles, the nations of the world. So whose path is described by the Seven Commandments? The NON-Jew! This is not a Jewish path to live Jewish lives. No, that would refer to the Mosaic covenant and the 613 commandments stated therein. The Seven Laws describe a Torah path for non-Jews!
So this shows the inaccuracy in the description given by the writer, Michael Kaminer. He said “the Seven Noahide Laws” were “Jewish principles.” They are not. They are Torah principles. Think about it, will you? What’s the difference between “Jewish” and “Torah?” Think about it in terms of people. If someone said, “I’m Jewish,” that means that they belong to a certain nation, a certain people group, a certain covenant. There are commandments that are only Jewish, i.e., for that people group, not for others. There is a Jewish homeland that is only for that people group, not for others.. But when someone says something is Torah, that revelation can apply universally or even just to non-Jews. Although the Jews are the custodians of Torah, because Torah is the teaching, the revelation, from the God of the universe and also the God of the non-Jews, then there can be content in there that is not Jewish, but is non-Jewish, international, universal.
It should also be added that the fact that I keep the seven laws doesn’t make me a part of Judaism. I have to speak personally here because I don’t want to make Rod Bryant’s mistake and attempt to speak for strangers. I don’t want to impose myself and my views on people that may feel differently. I will speak for myself. Again, my adherence to the Seven Commandments doesn’t make me part of “Judaism.” That’s an artificial term for “the religion of the Jews,” hence “Juda(h)ism.” Torah has always been bigger and different than these constraining and distorting terms. The Jews have their Torah defined path. The non-Jews have our Torah defined path, the seven laws and the obligations that come with being made in God’s image. The focus of these things have nothing to do with becoming part of or being accepted by the Jewish community, but can help uplift a community of non-Jews anywhere. It’s to make the world on a whole a better place, to lift us above just being animals with human faces to the place where we, as people of the world, embrace our full humanity.
In that article, there is a picture of that man, Rod Bryant, dressed in black, similar to what some rabbis wear, blowing a shofar, a special horn used in Jewish rituals linked to holy days. Just imagine: what does blowing this Jewish ritual instrument have to do with a seven-laws keeping non-Jew, especially in light of the fact that the Torah defined path for non-Jews, the Seven Laws, is bereft of ritual? The obvious answer is nothing. The article describes him as a “noahide leader,” and yet it portrays him – and he portrays himself – as someone walking Jewish paths to live a Jewish life. If that is what being a noahide is, then it is indeed wise of me to stay an outsider where it comes to noahides. I’m ok just focusing on the seven laws and being just a decent human being. Having the label “noahide” is just too … fluid. (It’s ok; as Alan Cecil showed in a previous article posted on this blog, “noahide” can be understood as just “non-Jew” so I’m ok with that understanding.)
And that is why there is a justifiable fear and reluctance among some, myself included, regarding building something called “a noahide community.” We non-Jews are not supposed to be creating new religions, even one based on the seven laws. Yet there is this thing called “noahidism.” What else can it be but “the religion of the noahides?” And here we have non-Jews who seem to crave the ritual of Judaism without converting and end up creating what looks like a religion. If similar minded people, people who use “noahide” to refer to an adherent to a religious group distinct from or in addition to being a normal Gentile (like a person would use the word “christian”), get together to create such a “noahide community,” then it would end up looking like a small religious Jew-lite commune, or the new Amish. It won’t be just about being a group of decent human beings, it’ll be … hell, I can only imagine a mini, watered down Israel. It won’t be a righteous community of Gentiles because it would still be addicted to ritual, to actually segregating non-Jews by adding a new religious group to the numerous others around.
A respected friend of mine said this (I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him): “We don’t need leaders; we need teachers who know what being a Noahide entails …” In my own words, we need teachers who know what being a decent non-Jew, a good human being entails. To be that, we don’t need shofars or Jewish paths. We need a foundation in the objective morality encapsulated in the Seven Laws and a curriculum in the principles of good human behaviour. No holydays are required. No detailed dietary laws are required. No kabbalah required. No Hebrew required. Just good people.
The fact is that the Jews were set apart, made holy, segregated from the rest of the nations. As God set boundaries throughout all creation, he set boundaries between Jew and Gentile. I believe that their covenant as well as the stipulations in that covenant set them apart. When those lines are blurred, then confusion and disharmony sets in. When non-Jews start making claims on what belongs to the Jews, roles become unbalanced and unrealistic. Again, the message of the classic Torah teachers stands firm, whether it be Rabbi Hirsch or Rambam: when a Jew fulfills his role and when a non-Jew fulfills his role, then the world will reflect the kingdom God means to establish. Calling the non-Jewish path “a Jewish one” is not the way to get this done.