Close to a Jew; far from the Gentile
Because this commandment that I’m commanding you today, it isn’t out of your reach or ability and it’s not far away. It’s not in the sky [for you] to say, “Who shall go up sky-ward for us and take it for us and we hear it and do it?” It’s not across the ocean [for you] to say, “Who will go across for us, across the sea, and take it for us, and we hear it and do it?” Because the word is near you, extremely so, in your mouths and in your hearts, to do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)
Learning about the Seven Laws (7M), would it surprise any reader of mine that I’ve had a good number of struggles with various Jews, including rabbis. No? No surprise? Yes, I guess I’m a contentious fellow. *disappointed sigh* I don’t aim to be. But when you don’t have a popular view and you speak out, what else can a person expect?
Any-who, I ask that you just read and absorb what God, through Moses, taught the Jews. He taught them how close God’s law is to them in order to perform it. There is something really comforting in those words: to keep and cherish God’s law through obedience isn’t beyond a Jew’s ability; but it’s right here, so close that (s)he can touch it, learn it and live it. Life’s fulfilment, God has placed it in the Jew’s grasp and the main thing he has to do is choose.
Isn’t that a wonderful blessing? … Isn’t that a wonderful blessing … for the Jew?
Now why did you do that, David? I see what you’re doing, David. Why are you trying to create a wedge between Jew and Gentile? Aren’t the Seven Laws just as accessible to the Gentile?
Right now, I’m gazing out the window, wondering how to share my thoughts, trying to gather the concepts and experience I’ve had in order to convey just what I’ve seen and been through. Let me attempt to get out what is in my heart.
Recently, I’ve had a number of interactions with Jews regarding the seven laws, more specifically our law of Justice. You see, from the Talmud and through the other writings I have read, I’ve seen a consistent theme that it is the responsibility of the Gentile to set up proper legal systems, courts and judges. To be more blunt, it is we Gentiles that should get these things in place, with Gentile judges, Gentile courts and a Gentile judiciary. Being an anti-establishmentarian, I don’t really give a damn about a government per se, but at the very least we Gentiles would be in charge of the arbitration of disputes and the establishment of fairness. Having begun reading about the dispute between rabbis Nachmanides and Maimonides, or, earlier, rabbis Yochanan and Yitzchaq, my conclusions would fall in line with Nachmanides and Yochanan.
But the Jews I’ve talked to seem to come from another side, a side that, I believe, seems to run counter to the themes I’ve seen, the wording I’ve seen. They would say that a Gentile can never/not know enough to make decisions or judgements regarding our own law, that if a Gentile needs advice or teaching about our seven, we should only rely on a Torah-educated Jew, that we Gentiles are restricted from judging and teaching about our own laws, the seven commandments, even if we learn them.
Now without going into the ins and outs of their claims, let me just put before you the relevant aspect of their claim. These Jews, to me, are making the essential claim that there is part of the Gentile law …
OK, before I continue, let me clarify something. I keep talking about “Gentile law,” and “our law,” and some may wonder what the hell I’m talking about. Why don’t I just talk about “the Noahide Commandments” or “the Noahide Laws?” Why am I saying “my law” when it’s in the Jewish tradition? Surely that makes it their law for us?
And I would say, absolutely not! The Seven Commandments are not the Jews’ laws that apply to Gentiles. They are not the formulations (meaning the devisings, or creations, or putting together) of the rabbis, by the rabbis, for Gentiles. That’s not what the ancient Jews claimed, especially Rambam. Even if you read the Jewish Bible, it should be as clear and manifest that the path of righteousness or good for a non-Jew was not a creation or abstraction or patchwork drawn out by rabbis. There were no rabbis for Hevel (Abel) or Adam or Noah or Avimelech or Malkitzedeq. Yet the moral standard was still there.
So, hell no! – the Seven Commandments are not Jewish laws that apply to Gentiles. They are God’s commandments … wait, let me quote the Talmud and Rambam so that I’m not accused of making stuff up.
Adam, the first, was commanded about six things … The prohibition against eating flesh from a living animal was added for Noah, as Genesis 9:4 states … (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and their Wars, Chapter 9, Halacha 1, from http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1188354/jewish/Melachim-uMilchamot-Chapter-9.htm)
The descendants of Noah, i.e., all of humanity, were commanded to observe seven mitzvot. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, folio 56a, as translated in the William Davidson Talmud to be found at https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.56a?lang=bi)
Note carefully that the statement of Rambam is much stronger than that of the Talmud. And the source of these commands could only be God. Our laws are not derivations of the rabbis, but are divine injunctions upon us all.
See also how “descendants of Noah” is understood by not only this translation of the Talmud but by so many other translations and is echoed by other sources. It refers to all of humanity (later being limited to all non-Jews who continued to have these obligations after the descendants of Jacob/Israel received more laws and a special covenant). Compare this to how others have understood the term “bnei Noah” or “Noahide.”
Noahide means a non-Jew who has taken upon himself or herself to follow the 7 mitzvos specifically because of a belief in HaShem and Torah including the Rabbinic traditions. (“Introductoy Remarks – Noahide” by rabbi Moshe Shulman found at https://torasbn.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/introductory-remarks-noahide-ger-vs.html)
Noahide (ben Noahh) refers to a non-Jew who abides by the Seven Noahide Laws, especially one who does so because of the Torah give at Sinai. (Part II, Section A, Guide for the Noahide: A Complete Manual for Living by the Noahide Laws, by rabbi Michael Shelomoh bar-Ron)
Even in recent dialogues with one of my inspirations, Elisheva Barre, author of Torah for Gentiles, she states that there is a distinction between “bnei Noah,” who accept the seven laws, and Gentiles in general.
Therefore when each of these people refer to the “Seven Noahide Laws” or “the Laws for the BN,” based on their limiting definition of “Noahide” or “bnai Noah” or “BN,” they are referring to the laws that are only for those people deemed to be Noahide, not Gentile.
Now since I take my base definitions from the usages in the Talmud (which I believe still mostly apply to later Jewish writers), for example,
At this dispensation, the [bnei Noach] sons of Noah (a name including all nations) were, by the infinite wisdom of God, provided with [sheva mitzvot] seven precepts … (pg 116, The Faith of Israel, by rabbi Tobias Goodman, written in 1834, available at http://www.seforimonline.org/seforim-database/)
then it’s clear that all Gentiles, not just a special group, were commanded to keep the seven laws. This obligation still remains despite the rejection of them by non-Jews on a whole.
So that’s why I don’t call them “the seven Noahide laws,” but rather “Gentile laws” or “Gentile Torah laws.” This is because they are laws for Gentiles, not a special group of “noahides.” This is also why I call them “my laws” or “our laws.” As they were commanded upon us Gentiles, even though they were preserved and discussed in Jewish tradition, they are still our laws, not theirs. It’s not part of the 613 laws, although the details of our laws do parallel many of theirs.
So that should explain why I say “Gentile laws” and “my laws.”
Wow, that was a long aside.
OK, where was I?
Oh yes. So I was saying that certain Jews vocal amongst Gentiles about the 7M (including rabbis) restrict certain knowledge and responsibilities from Gentiles that directly impact our 7M, such as teaching and judging according to them, saying that such things are withheld to Jews.
Now without going into the ins and outs of their claims, let me just put before you the relevant aspect of their claim. These Jews, to me, are making the essential claim that there is part of the Gentile Torah laws that are beyond us, things we just can’t do, at least not without Jewish supervision, at most not at all. Part of our law of Justice implies the spreading of our laws, therefore that we were teach each other our laws, that some of us would have sufficient knowledge to judge the guilt and innocence of people and give the appropriate restitution to the situation, that we would be able to implement our own system of laws to deal with matters linked to the seven but not overtly condemned, or financial matters.
But in a very popular book, the Divine Code, if a Gentile needs a question answered about the 7M, or needs a decision, he is to go to a Torah-educated Jew, no mention of a 7M-educated Gentile. Another rabbi, Moshe Shulman, teaches that Gentiles can’t even teach the 7M, only Torah-educated Jews can, and that currently the law of Justice is merely theoretical. Someone else, Elisheva Barre, suggested to me that if we have a situation where someone does something immoral but not overtly prohibited in the core seven laws, then the first thing a Gentile should do is to consult a Jew to see what their “halacha” tells them.
Now that word “halacha” was not clearly defined for me, so for now, I just have to set it aside as it is quite meaningless to me. I mean a good amount of Jews and “noahides” use that term “halacha” but I have little idea what they are talking about.
But overlooking that Hebrew word, here’s the situation I see. This kind of Jew, possibly the majority of those teaching Gentiles who call themselves “noahides,” are happy enough to teach the extras (the things not commanded), like prayer, faith in God, the weekly portion of the books of Moshe, and just enough of the seven laws that a “noahide” can be aware of keeping at least six of his laws, and aware that he shouldn’t add more. They teach enough so that the “noahide” will keep coming back for more, but not enough to actually be educated enough to at least have the ability to fulfil our law of Justice, knowing enough to judge and teach, believing – now get this – believing that the only way a Gentile can know enough to this is to learn the oral tradition like a Jew!!!
Yes, you “heard” me. Yes, you read correctly. The way to fulfil Gentile Torah law is to be like a Jew.
Am I the only one that sees something wrong with that picture?
Notice that such learning nowadays (or during most of history) is not really accessible for the typical non-Jew living in his own land.
So to even come close to fulfilling our seven laws to the max is out of reach and, according to what I believe to be a significant number of Jews most vocal amongst “noahides,” beyond the ability of the normal Gentile.
Personally, I don’t believe the depiction of our Gentile situation is as these portray. I pay more heed to the actual words of the older rabbis than what is said by the more modern ones. I pay attention to the fact that there is no command for a Gentile to listen to or obey the rabbis. I guess in terms of rabbis, I side with Nachmanides, rabbi Yochanan, and, in terms of the Divine Code, with rabbi Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg.
Rabbi Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg holds that Gentiles have basically no obligation to follow rulings of the Sages in any matter. The author disagrees … (pg 174, footnote 30, The Divine Code, by rabbi Moshe Weiner)
It is our responsibility and our obligation to keep our laws as much as possible. It’s our obligation as Gentiles. And when such an obligation is restricted by the people who are supposed to be teaching us our laws, then something is terribly wrong. If the position is that we must learn like Jews in order to keep the Gentile law, then once again there is an incongruity in this position.
In the same article that rabbi Moshe Shulman gave his limited definition of the word “noahide,” he said the following:
As time went on more and more non-Jews were attracted to the 7 laws, whether from Chabad; their leaving Christianity or the internet. This led to a serious problem: How do we deal with something that is not meant to be a ‘movement’ or organized group when it is becoming one?
I put it to you that this problem may not have been adequately solved. For the past 50 years, it seems that the rabbis involved crafted a religious club. The term “noahide” became a religious identity with its members adopting some of the religious practices of Judaism. One group of “noahides” made a prayer book, retaining the Hebrew name “siddur” even though they were native English speakers from America. They did this with rabbinical help. One rabbi set out how “noahides” can “remember” the seventh day. There was a video series that included kashrut for “noahides” and why a person should have a rabbi. There were online meetings with lots of Hebrew songs and prayers (that was an odd experience). The ideas given for “noahide” occasions, like weddings and funerals, look very similar to Jewish practices. There are kabbalistic interpretations of the seven laws. After 50 years of this “movement”, I can still approach a “noahide” and be met with shock and resistance when I mention there is no Gentile command to acknowledge God, that the core laws concerning blasphemy don’t condemn an atheist, that the seven laws are only prohibitions except the law of Justice, that based on the seven laws, the rabbis cannot be in charge of us, having no jurisdiction. There are still lists claiming to be the seven laws that either replace the prohibitions with “positive” commands (that actually were never commanded), or that replace the prohibition of idolatry with one that says “don’t deny God.” And this is done with no complaint from “noahides”. After 50 years of this “movement”, where are the Gentile sages, the ones with at least the ability to judge according to the seven laws, our experts on our law?
But of course, why would there be Gentile experts on the seven laws if the law of Justice, the imperative to be such experts, is taught to be just theoretical?
Look, back then it was a new thing, all those Gentiles eager to learn. But what happened? In the process of bringing our laws closer, a barrier was set. The question is how to have a Gentile remain a Gentile and learn all his law?
I don’t think the rabbis currently have the answer. I don’t even think they are the answer.
But that’s just my view.