It’s odd. I did a video about this years ago, but I didn’t write an article. I’ll write the article now, but I’ll still post the video.
Ok. So … man, I am surprised I didn’t write about this before. Anyway, may as well fill the void while I’m here.
So a convert to Judaism, a naturalised Jew, thought he’d give his two cents … wait, he is American but I’m in the UK … so should I say two pennies, or leave it in his currency? Why would it matter anyway? Hmmm … I’m rambling again. I’m gonna have to start again, aren’t I?
So this Jewish dude, ex-Gentile, thought he’d share (again) his opinion on the role of the shabbat in the life of a Gentile who acknowledges the authority of God and Torah. His name is now Hillel Penrod and his opinion can be found at https://genesissoul.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/a-tale-of-two-shabbats/
Now you may see in the URL, the weblink, or the article itself that he’s talking about two shabbats. He is focusing on the weekly shabbat here. And from the get-go, the facts kick away the foundation of the article.
In the Jewish Bible, there is only one weekly shabbat. I believe that even in Jewish tradition there is only one weekly shabbat. It’s the shabbat enjoined upon Jews and the nation of Israel, the seventh day of the week, part of what keeps the Jews separate from the nations, a day in which certain acts are forbidden. That is the explicit and clear shabbat of Torah. So already, there are warning signs about what Penrod is talking about? What’s this second weekly shabbat he’s talking about? I’ll let him tell you.
The Jewish person has two primary commandments concerning Shabbat; since we have already looked at the word “shamor,” let’s try to understand the command to “zachor” the Shabbat. The Jew is commanded to zachor or remembers the Shabbat. Remembering the Shabbat is accomplished by beginning Shabbat by reciting blessings that distinguish between the regular workday and the Shabbat, commemorating the creation of the world, and re-emphasizing Israel’s exodus from Egypt.
Shabbat is ended through the act of reciting blessings that mark the departure of the Shabbat and our re-engagement into the mundane world. The act of remembering Shabbat is open to anyone (Exodus 20:8) because there is no specific limitation on this commandment unlike guarding Shabbat.
A Noahide could go even further than the remembrance of Shabbat through celebrating the day of rest (Genesis 2:2 introduces us to Shabbat). The Noahide ought to celebrate the Shabbat. Remembering Shabbat and the general celebration of the day is often referred to as the Universal Shabbat. (emphasis mine)
Let me deal with a number of claims here.
Penrod rightly says that a Jew is commanded to remember shabbat and he refers to Exodus 20:8. But the text of Exodus 20:8 doesn’t just command the Jew to remember it. What does it say?
Remember the day of the Shabbat to keep it holy.
That’s what a Jew is commanded to do. The Jew.
Now according to Penrod, this is open to everyone and anyone. But is that true? If I were to simply read the books of Moshe and come to this point, would I think this law was open to anyone?
Here’s some counter-evidence to that claim. What does the Decalogue, the Ten Statements, start with?
I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Mitzrayim, from the house of slaves. (Exodus 20:2)
Hmmm … that beginning doesn’t sound so open to me. God didn’t take the other nations of the world out of Mitzrayim. No, he only took the nation of Israel out of Mitzrayim.
So the whole Decalogue was not open to just anyone.
Something that confirms this fact is that God was making a covenant exclusively with Israel, not any other nation (Psalm 147:19,20; Exodus 19:4-6; 31:13). And the words or terms of this exclusive pact?
And [Moshe] was there with God forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread, nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten statements.
So when the Torah is talking about the Decalogue, it’s not talking about something open to all and sundry. It’s talking about an important element of an exclusive relationship.
Another piece of counter-evidence. The 7M (the seven laws) enjoined upon the world are not part of the 613 laws. They are not part of the Decalogue. The 7M is a separate body of law. It may have some superficial similarities with the Decalogue, but it is a separate body of law for a different audience.
Therefore a Gentile cannot look at the Decalogue and say, “well, just as I have a prohibition against murder as the Decalogue says, then surely I must have a link to Shabbat too.” Such a position is contextually unfounded and refuted by the facts.
So when Penrod says “remembering shabbat is open to all,” it’s not based on the command from the Decalogue. To remember to keep the seventh day holy was a command upon the Jew alone according to the Decalogue, not the other nations of the world.
Wow, that was only one point. How long is this gonna take?
Anyway, let me get back to this.
Penrod then makes the claim that Genesis 2:2 introduces us to the Shabbat.
Let me quote it.
And, on the seventh day, God finished the work that he’d done and, on the seventh day, he ceased from the work that he had done.
Now stop! Reflect with me. What exactly is the shabbat? The shabbat is a special day enjoined upon the Jew when certain specific acts are forbidden.
Now how does Genesis 2:2 introduce me to the Shabbat? Let me make a bold claim. The first verses of Genesis 2 do not introduce us to the Shabbat! Please see my use as Shabbat as only and specifically referring what the Jewish Bible calls the Shabbat. Genesis 2 tells me (I can’t speak for “us” only myself) that God stopped working on the seventh day. That’s it! If you want, I can include verse 3 that says he blessed it and set it apart.
That’s not the Shabbat, which involves a lot more, such as a command and an obligation, a significant narrowing of terms, etc. The text of Genesis 2 doesn’t even call it “a shabbat.” God did set the seventh day apart at creation for a purpose, a purpose which is not touched again until what? Until it is given, with exclusivity, to Israel. There is no obligation, there’s not even an “ought,” for anyone else. Nothing universal is given to anyone else about it.
Now this leads to a question concerning the last part of my earlier quote. He talks about remembering and celebrating the shabbat, that this is called a universal shabbat.
Now once again, think about that!
Did you think about it? Or did you just read the dots? Lol! I’m just playing with you. Wait, am I supposed to stay serious? Errr … I’ll just be me.
So it’s been shown that remembering the Shabbat does not appear to be open to all. But where does this “celebrating the Shabbat” come from? I personally haven’t seen an easily accessible Torah source for this notion, especially in the widely available “Written Torah.” I’m not talking about an “end-time” prophecy about Gentiles going to Jerusalem every week (“from shabbat to shabbat”). I’m talking about some clear and easily seen statement about non-Jews having some encouragement to “celebrate Shabbat.” I mean, what exactly is “celebrating Shabbat?” I mean the article of Penrod spoke of candles to set apart the day, which makes sense for a Jew to do. There is a link to God there, namely, the commandment. But when a Gentile does that with no such link, they are simply lighting candles. That’s it; something that could be done any day of the week.
So the Jews actually keep and observe the Shabbat command to keep the day holy by following God’s prescription for them; and the people who are not Jewish … they do what?
And not only that. When did “celebrating Shabbat” all of a sudden become “a universal Shabbat?” I mean, the Jew ceases from the specified categories of work on that day because of God’s command to them while the average Gentile has no obligation and still can freely “work.” What is “shabbat” about that?
Again, remember the Jewish Bible’s absolute silence about this “universal shabbat!”
Penrod gave this pleasant picture:
When a Jew uses the phrase “keep Shabbat” they mean guarding Shabbat which means not transgressing one of the 39 categories of forbidden work on Shabbat. When a Noahide responds “Yes, I keep Shabbat it is very important to me;” they are claiming (in the ears of a Jew) to be saying that they keep a halachic Shabbat or that they are doing the mitzvah that is unique to Israel-shamor (guarding). A better way for the Noahide to answer the question “Do you keep Shabbat” is to say “No, I do not keep Shabbat, but I celebrate Shabbat and that is very important to me.”
Personally, I would still ask “what the hell is celebrating shabbat?” Again I ask, how did a Gentile doing essentially his or her own thing to make the day special, how did that become “a shabbat,” this “universal shabbat?” Is the logic that because they do it on the same day as the Jews keep the real commanded Shabbat, it becomes “shabbat” for the Gentile by osmosis? Is the logic that because the Gentile, who was given no obligation for that day, chooses to spend a bit more time learning Torah on that day that God made holy, enjoy creation that day, think about God’s truth more that day, that the seventh day becomes a shabbat for us, even though it was not called a shabbat until it was given to the Jew exclusively?
I know what happens now. Someone raises their hand and quotes stories in the Jewish tradition of Abraham keeping all the Torah before it was given to Moshe, or Adam doing something on that day. The main problem with such stories is that 1) it’s questionable how literally to take them; and 2) those stories are not law. They don’t change the history recorded in the books of Moshe or the relationship between the Gentile and Shabbat, especially once God makes it his special sign between him and his people, Israel.
Read this quote from Penrod.
The universal Shabbat is not a halachic requirement, nor a term that appears in rabbinic literature. The universal Shabbat is a handle or jargon that refers to the universal aspects of Shabbat that are open to everyone.
This should be particularly telling as it coincides with the title of this article. When it is said that this “universal Shabbat” is neither an divine obligation or God-given instruction, neither is it in rabbinic literature, I understand as saying that it is an innovation, something not in Torah! I can say that because it’s not even in the written Torah!!! (Penrod just confirmed it’s not in the oral Torah.)
So what we do have implied here is that this “universal Shabbat” is a modern invention. And since at least I haven’t heard of it before the late 20th century (or early 21st) then somehow a shabbat, a universal one, gets created without a command in Torah or from God.
And these “universal” aspects of the Shabbat … what are they? The knowledge that God made the earth in six days and rested on the seventh? But that knowledge isn’t tied to a day. I could remember that on a Wednesday. Why link that to “a universal shabbat” that, by “accident,” happens to fall on the same day as the real Shabbat which the Jews keep? As this knowledge isn’t linked to a keeping of any day, then that makes this “universal shabbat” idea redundant. So this universal aspect has nothing to do with making special a certain day.
Is there some other universal aspect that can be compellingly linked to making a certain day special? I can’t think of one.
Again the hand goes up: “OK, David, so what? Don’t call it “Shabbat” then! Call it a seventh day celebration! Call it whatever you like! The fact is that we recognise God’s creating everything and resting on the seventh day.”
If this is about knowledge, learning and knowing something, what does that have to do with literally making more effort to make the seventh day of the week any different for the non-Jew? As I’ve said before, there is no link, especially not a divine one.
Personally, I think the root of all this is a mix of a genuine desire to worship God and a personal selfish craving for ritual. The Gentile eager to express a feeling of devotion and praise to God sees no such act or ritual in his own obligation and cannot see sufficient “worship” in obeying God, taking care of others and being a good example, learning the 7M and the principles of decency and justice, only in ritual and symbolic acts. This sincere Gentile can then only see a viable option of expressing that urge in keeping days like the Jew, wearing special clothes like the Jew, using prayerbooks like the Jew, having a special diet like the Jew, putting up symbols on the door like the Jew, etc. The attraction to the symbolic rather than seeing the divinity in the “mundane” command or the mundane acts of goodness and decency, even at sharing a smile with a sad neighbour, a small act that could “rectify” someone’s “world,” means that the 7M is not enough, living up to the responsibility of being made with an element of the Judge (“image of God”), that is not enough.
Is this the bitter aftertaste of living in this mixed up world of religious plurality, where “closeness to God” is not seen in being a person of integrity but a person adorned with symbols and rituals? Where we aim to find books to talk to God but deprecate learning how to follow his rules, study them in-depth or imitate his ways?
Can I tell you something? I guess I’m gonna do it anyway. I’ve NEVER, never, heard a God-fearing Gentile say “prayer is not enough; sabbath days are irrelevant; how do I learn to perfect my conduct from day to day?” Isaiah 1 is dead, isn’t it?
I got off-track, didn’t I?
Main point? The universal shabbat is pure fiction catered for the Gentile eager to join with the Jew in worshipping God. There is a real Shabbat which was commanded to the Jew. He was both commanded to remember to keep it holy and to guard/observe it as part of his exclusive covenant. But, in reality, there is no other Torah-mandated or even Torah-encouraged weekly seventh day shabbat, no such seventh day celebrations.
When a Gentile reflects on creation, studies his Torah, cherishes family and social time, his doing it on a Saturday has no difference in quality than him doing it on a Thursday or a Tuesday. If he lights a candle, it doesn’t separate a day for himself in a divinely ordained sense, like a Jew. It just burns wax and lights an area, something it would do on any other day.
When Ursula the Gentile devotes herself to God in thought and action and it consumes her on a Wednesday so that she shouts out in ecstasy, overwhelmed with the thought of the greatness and awesomeness of the Uncreated, and then Brian the Gentile does the same thing on a Saturday, the fact Brian’s ecstacy fell upon the seventh day means nothing better in terms of quality.
And for a Gentile, remembering God’s creating on a Saturday doesn’t make it a shabbat any more than remembering it on a Monday makes Mondays a shabbat.
In this sense, I don’t condemn anyone, any fellow non-Jew, for remembering the creation days on the seventh day. Why not, after a blogpost like this? Because simply remembering (I mean that as “bringing to mind,” no rituals, no candles) that God created the universe in six days and rested the seventh is a good thing and can be done any day.
Now calling it any sort of shabbat is another thing and is erroneous.
Penrod attempted to make a difference between “must” and “ought” with regards to a person of the non-Jewish nations remembering or celebrating the Shabbat on his “universal shabbat.” He reveals that he’s not saying a Gentile must do it, but rather that a Gentile ought to do it for some benefit, because it is beneficial.
But with the fictional quality of the “universal shabbat,” the difference of ought and must is redundant. It’s just as redundant as asking whether we ought to or must eat a dodo or whether we should or must kill stones or whether I should or must visit the real Santa Claus.
It’s my hope that Penrod properly keeps the shabbat he’s now commanded to keep and remember, seeing as he is now a naturalised Jew. I also hope Gentiles who respect God’s seven laws and aim to live in integrity and decency see Penrod’s universal shabbat for what it is, a modern unfounded innovation, and treat it as such.
This is a rant. Feel free to pass this one by if … wait, why do you need a warning or disclaimer? Let me get on with this.
It’s quite obvious, isn’t it? But I’ll say it again in a different way. My first language is English. That’s my native tongue. I know other languages to some extent, but I understand English the best.
When someone talks to me in another language and then they try to explain terms in English, being a native English speaker, I will understand that foreign terms based on the English explanation.
Because of the fact that my God-given obligations are found in the Jewish tradition, I tend to have to deal with Hebrew terms. For me, that makes sense. Many Torah-faithful Jews in history, for them their native tongue is either Hebrew or Aramaic. So they’re going to communicate, write whole books and commentaries in that language. I’m fine with that and am thankful for translations when they come.
But an irritation for me is when I’m dealing with someone who has enough mastery of English, sometimes wholly fluent in the language, who is either communicating with me or with an audience that is mainly native English speaking or who may find English more accessible than Hebrew, and that speaker or writer chooses to throw in Hebrew words almost at a whim. Either this person will speak out those Hebrew words in the midst of an English sentence or they’ll write such words. I’ve heard whole teachings where this happens throughout and it irritates me no end.
Why? If that person is talking to me or with me as an intended audience (although it make be in the format of a public forum), then it’s fairly obvious that I’m not a Jew and that I communicate in English. So there’s little sense in talking to me in Hebrew. Even if I know biblical Hebrew, as it’s not a conversational language for me, then it’s still inappropriate. It doesn’t fit; it’s not fitting or suitable. If a person actually wants to communicate with me hoping to make sure there’s as much understanding as possible, then please, reach me where I’m at.
Is that too much to ask?
I can imagine the arrogant voice: “but I’m trying to elevate you; you should try harder to reach where I’m at and learn the Hebrew.”
But why? My world is mainly English. If I want to talk to the people around me, it would be unhelpful to talk Hebrew. I have to understand something at my level to incorporate it into my world and it be more palatable to those around me.
What makes the “Hebrew word dropping” phenomenon more odd is that usually there is an English word beside the Hebrew word to translate it or make it understandable. Now some may say, “well, isn’t that what you want, someone to speak at your level, in English?” It may seem nice to some, to translate the word for me so that I know what that person is talking about. And I would say “no.” Why?
Firstly, placing the English word next to the Hebrew makes the Hebrew word redundant. What was the point in using the Hebrew then? If you can just replace it with an English word, then … (I’m sure you know where I’m going) why not use the English word in the first place???
Secondly, by placing that English word as an explainer, whenever I see the Hebrew word, I won’t see the Hebrew word; I’ll still be thinking of the English explainer, the English word. So again the Hebrew word is redundant.
Maybe the writer or speaker just has a poor grasp of English and needs to speak Hebrew for personal ease. But that doesn’t make sense when that person is speaking mostly English. It doesn’t make sense if they’ve added that explainer English word since that shows they know enough to use it! And if their English is so weak, shouldn’t that cast doubt on the English they are using, whether they are actually able to properly convey their foreign Jewish ideas?
Maybe some would complain that there are subtle nuances in Hebrew that a person would miss if they spoke English. But do you know what happens when that complainant explains the nuance? He uses English!
“Wait! So if you speak English, I’ll miss the nuance, but to understand the nuance … you … you talk in English?”
Am I missing something?
I had a recent interaction with someone, a new someone. He just blatantly came out and referred to “sons of Noah.” No “bnei Noach.” No “noahides” or “noahites.” Just “sons of Noah.” It was something so simple. And yet I thought to myself, why had I continued to use the Hebrew phrase, bnei Noah, as if it couldn’t be translated? What’s wrong with saying “children of Noah?” Or “descendants of Noah?”
I notice the so called “gerrings” and their main two teachers, and the fact that they repeatedly speak of either “ger” or “ger toshav” as if the phrase cannot be translated into English, even though bible translators of all languages, including English, have been translating the term for centuries. But I guess there may not be as much interest in being part of the group if they called themselves “the foreign immigrants” or “the foreign residents.” I wouldn’t use “the strangers that sojourn” or “stranger in the gates” because that’s older english for what I’ve already said, “stranger” historically meaning, amongst other things, “foreigner,” “sojourning” referring to being a lesser resident (as opposed to a native), and “in the gates” referring to “in your cities,” as it is translated in modern translations.
Sometimes I think couching a term in a foreign language (foreign to me, as Hebrew is) can give a false sense of allure and also leaves it open to reinterpretation and spiritualization or allegorizing, as can be seen by keeping “ger” in its Hebrew form, and then claiming that people who still habitually live in their homelands or lands of nationality or something like that, lands outside of Israel, that these people are foreign residents in Israel???
What about the word “halakhah?” How many times have I heard that word? Again, for me, it’s treated like a word that cannot be translated. “Well, it means the way you should go or walk.” What, you mean like an instruction? “No, it’s more authoritative than that.” What, like a legal instruction?
You know, maybe it’s just that people think that, like with the Jewish festival of Sukkot (they say it like a name, so, I don’t tend to translate proper names … or I tend not to … hmmm), people think that they’re trying to practice for the time when the prophecy of Zephaniah 3:9 is fulfilled and the whole world speaks in a pure language, which people interpret as being Hebrew. Hmmm … I need to figure out the reasoning of that. “God prophesied it was going to happen, so I’ll practice.” Does that mean that in the times before the Babylonian captivity, Jews would move to Babylon to practice for the coming captivity? I’m sure someone could help me see what is meant.
The fact is that in the here and now, many people speak languages and have cultures other than Hebrew. And the message can be brought in the various languages, along with explanations. If an individual chooses to learn Hebrew for practical reasons, like fact-checking claims, then it’s fine. But for ease of communication, shouldn’t it be that the lessons are just given in the vernacular or the message given in the language of the audience?
This is why I appreciate the Divine Code from AskNoah, Secular by Design by Alan Cecil, Torah for Gentiles by Elisheva Barre and many other books out there that actually cater for the audience … and, yes, they write almost wholly, if not wholly, in English! When I’ve heard rabbi Weiner of AskNoah speak, he’s just talks English without repeatedly dropping Yiddish or Hebrew. The same with my communications with Dr Schulman or Mori Shelomoh bar-Ron.
Personally, from now on, I’m going to try to keep my language approachable. That means that, as I naturally speak English, I’ll write English. I just leave Hebrew words in if I have to, if I feel it’s necessary and only with explanations. But if I don’t have to, I won’t repeat it too often in an article.
Hey, this is about me and my approach. I’m not dictating to anyone else to follow me. The more I learn, the more I understand the importance of embracing what I am and distancing myself from what I’m not, and doing these things for the right reasons. I do see Israel as set apart from the other nations and the other nations having their gifts and roles. I’m gonna respect the divide, the boundary to honour the one who set them, and maybe be a more effective communicator with my “fellow” Gentiles.
Hmmm … rant over?
I think so.
It’s nice to meet a friendly person. I did so recently, but in the midst of friendly dialogue, he said something that I felt needed a deep and reasoned response. And of course I gave that response … errr … well … well it seemed … … OK! OK! I ranted, alright! LoL! Yes, I think I ranted. A short statement of honest opinion gets a “David lecture.” I’m kinda sorry.
But I put a little too much effort in my response, too many words. So I thought I’d put it here where it can get a bit more selfish spotlight. [Damn, I’m really selling myself here, making myself look good! *sarcasm*]
Anyway, I saw a statement I had seen so many, too many times, that special days help people religiously and spiritually, and that the seven laws are insufficient and inadequate for the normal human being. Being me, that tugged a nerve so I … well, here’s a slightly edited version of how I responded. I’m sure my rating will increase when people realise that all this is a retort at 5 or 6 lines of text. And from a person who is actually being nice to me.
Personally, I feel that “spiritual” and “religious” are both vague and ambiguous terms that I don’t relate to. The amount of people that say to me “I’m not religious, I’m more spiritual” … each time I find myself wondering what they are talking about and I wonder to myself if they really know what they are talking about. Living in the UK, I find many people to be ignorant of these issues and seem to mix up so-called spirituality with just being over-sentimental or over-sensitive emotionally, and they seem to use “religion” to just … well actually that’s quite messy as well, as if they equate religion itself with God and with a inflexible negative institution. I tend to dislike using such words because of their vagueness. It’s for the same reason that I stay away from the term “noahide.”
I can understand being moral, or generous or rational. And I can understand the need to take focus off oneself, to focus on others or to focus on a greater cause. Those things to me are truly fulfilling or at least should be.
So while Gentiles are craving ritual, seeking out sabbaths or ritual days to keep or wondering about mezuzot and tefillin, I’m beginning to see that as not desires to worship God or get “close to him” but as relics and vestiges, baggage of the idolatry they left behind. Instead of trying to put their efforts into helping the community, like through volunteering to help the poor or striving to be a moral role model for those in their “mundane” or routine daily lives, instead of devoting themselves to becoming experts in the seven laws or general moral decency, be a better Gentile in their Gentile lands, they prefer to strive for Jewishness-in-action and Jewishness-in-ritual, deprecating the notion of being a “plain child of Noah,” associating the Hebrew terms that simply mean “of the nations” or “foreigner” with idolatry and paganism.
I’ve seen at least three obvious occasions where a Gentile who declared them-self beyond the seven laws or needing more show such a lack of faith, a lack of self-restraint in their language that they threw insults in a public forum no better in quality than the ravings of an atheistic drunken football hooligan (UK version of football) and even insult God’s laws for Gentiles like a God-rejecting blasphemer. And just like so-called “good cops” who silently watch a immoral cop do injustice or even protect it, other Jews and Gentiles who agree with the “group” or rabbis of those lout-mouthed Gentiles just stand back or continue the subject ignoring the vile diatribe, not calling out against the verbal vomit.
So when I read a genuine person like yourself repeat what I’ve heard from Gentile and Jew alike about the seven laws “not being enough for the average human being and thinker,” it somewhat pains me that even good people miss what the Talmud teaches about study of just those seven laws making a Gentile like a high priest. It should be known that the seven laws are not only “broad precepts,” and as the Sefer haChinuch implies, teaches about a greater morality that isn’t so bound to a legal obligation that would result in the death penalty, such as how the prohibition of stealing can teach about not “coveting” or immorally craving someone else’s possession.
And, me being an antiestablishmentarian, it’s always ludicrous to me that other Gentiles say so much about the seven laws not being enough, throwing down the law concerning justice saying it can’t be kept, while at the very time supporting political causes and governments that violate or undermine the seven laws as easy and as often as a human breathes. I laugh and sigh at the patriotic or nationalistic Gentile (and Jew at times) who say the seven laws is not enough. It’s like saying “a good simple meal with pure water are not enough” while feasting on processed and poisoned fast food.
So I respectfully disagree with you about 7 principles that say what not to do as not being enough. For a Gentile in an idolatrous and immoral culture (including the idolatrous worship of govt or the state), such a “simple” law does two things (amongst others): it gives the Gentile a strong and unrelenting detox against the idolatry and immorality within and without him; and it prepares his mind, his inner man, for actual closeness to God’s truth and morals just like the Hebrew word for “(divine) commandment” teaches about linking a person to God’s truth and drawing him ever-closer.
A time ago, I had a great debate/discussion with Dr. Michael Schulman from AskNoah Intl. It was great because it was one of those occasions where we were on opposite sides of a point, but we walked away still respecting each other. He still had the friendly policy of answering my questions when he had the time and I still offered whatever help I could give to furthering the cause of the Seven Laws.
Don’t get me wrong. We disagree. If we didn’t disagree, there’d be no debate. But, like some others I interact with, we can disagree without demonizing one another.
Anyway, in this debate, I originally held the position that you can only be proud of something that you’ve done or achieved; to just be something simply by accident of birth is nothing to be proud of. When Dr. Schulman chimed in, he gave some points that sufficiently showed that I was wrong in my position. I also looked at the definitions of “pride.” After reading and considering, I willingly conceded the point.
Now the definitions of pride include the following:
1. A sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect.
2. Pleasure or satisfaction taken in an achievement, possession, or association: parental pride.
3. Arrogant or disdainful conduct or treatment; haughtiness.
a. A cause or source of pleasure or satisfaction; the best of a group or class: These soldiers were their country’s pride.
b. The most successful or thriving condition; prime: the pride of youth.
5. An excessively high opinion of oneself; conceit.
Knowledge of the different meanings of pride really educated me on how to view the English word. And it helps with the direction of this post.
One point that Dr. Schulman brought up was the idea of Jewish pride. This is pride taken in being Jewish. For many native Jews, this is a pride about something that is an “accident” of birth, without choice or action, a responsibility, a role and a heritage, a wealth of opportunity just because one was born Jewish. With that accident of birth comes the guardianship of the Torah and the obligation to learn keep the individual Jew’s portion of the 613 commandments.
Now if I set aside the negative definitions of “pride,” we have the definition, “a sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect.” This is not arrogance or an excessively high opinion of oneself. It’s the proper value of one’s own dignity. Dr Schulman used words like “self-worth” and “self-identity” to bring home the point. And if there is one thing I know (as an outsider), it’s that there is great dignity and self-worth in being a Jew, especially if that Jew strives to live within that God-given role.
He kicked the point firmly in my mind when he asked me to think about the concept of “proud to be human.” Now what is the “proper dignity” in being human? Well, humans are made in God’s image, endowed with intellect and speech. Humans are given divine attention. God actually cares about what we do. We are his beloved creatures. And all humans are given directions, commandments from God for our good. And these are all “accidents” of birth.
So yes, pride can be taken in just being a human being. There is worth and value in that.
Ok, you can probably guess what my final step is. What about pride in being a Gentile, a non-Jew, a goy, a descendant of Noah?
Now this role is almost synonymous in terms of blessings with being a human. But when I say I’m a Gentile (non-Jew), I am saying I’m not a Jew. When I say I’m a “goy,” in terms of its neutral meaning, I’m saying I’m from a nation that is outside of Israel. When I say I’m a descendant of Noah, nowadays that’s mean, in terms of obligation, I have Noahic responsibilities, not the responsibilities of an Israelite or Jew. In fact, biblically, I would be the nochri of Deuteronomy/Devarim 14 (see Onkelos or Targum Jonathan, “bar ammin” “son of a gentile”), the ben nekhar of Leviticus/Vayiqra 22:25 (see Rashi), which actually means a total foreigner, as opposed to being any form of resident of Israel, native born or otherwise.
Now could I have any pride in being a Gentile? Do I have “proper worth” remaining not only a non-Jew, but an outsider to Israel?
I smile to myself with this one. Why? Because I’ve heard people in effect say “no” to this, or “hardly,” “scarcely.” Some people say that there is something toxic about being part of the nations rather than part of Israel. Some do their best to escape from being “a plain non-Jew” to get a status that gives them some attachment to Israel. Some say the ideal for any human is to become a Jew, scoffing the idea of staying a non-Jew only being commanded seven beggarly laws. I grew up almost idolising Jews even though I hardly had any contact, physical or personal, with them, maybe none at all. And reading the Jewish Bible, which spends most of its time talking about not only the lows of the Jews, but also the fantastic heights of being a Jew, even part of me wonders how one could be proud to be a Gentile.
But then I have to stop thinking with emotion and start thinking with reasoning and memory.
Think about it! Hmmm … OK, David, say that to yourself! If any reader agrees, they can do it for themselves.
But yeah, think about it! Reflect on what I’ve just said. Where does a Jew get his pride from? From God! Where does human pride come from? From God! So where do you think a Gentile can get his pride from, his valuation and self-estimation/self-esteem? From the very same place: from God.
Every human and human group has a God-given role and purpose, a place in this great orchestra of life. A good number of rabbis have given their view on the role of the Gentile. The one I’ve seen taught in a variety of ways is to “settle the world,” meaning to maintain and uphold “civilisation,” in the proper sense of the world.
This doesn’t just talk about technology and politics, but also morality and wisdom. In fact, if science, human production and productivity and politics are given too much priority, and morality and wisdom are pushed down the list of priorities – pretty much how western culture seems to be today – then there will be a lot more evil and foolishness in the world. And civilisation will be in ruins.
That’s what happens when we Gentiles fail in our role. So it is just as vital for a Gentile to lay hold onto his commandments, the further morality they teach, and onto the principles of reflecting the image of God each one of us has which encourages “imitateo Dei,” imitating God.
And you know what? This is done as a Gentile, a “nochri” or “goy.” This is done not by someone attempting to become a part of Israel in one form or another. It’s done by someone living smack-dab in the middle of the nations as one from the nations and embracing his God-given role. He uses those gifts, talents and opportunities granted to his own people group and then doesn’t try to dissociate, cut himself off, forsake his tribe to become a “stranger” in the tribe of Israel. He may know some of the Jewish teachings, may even know a rabbi, a Jew, or two. Or maybe he doesn’t know one at all. But he takes his seven and lives by them even when his own people group and their political leaders have, for all intents and purposes, has thrown them off, as most countries, if not all, have done, including the modern state of Israel.
This individual doesn’t need to adopt Jewish practices to feel fulfilled. To him, the shabbat is a holy day given to the people God sanctified. He has his own job to get done and his saturdays are free for him to do that. He understands that accepting God and praising Him is not a Jewish practice but is a natural response, but he also recognises that his own commandments do not condemn someone who doesn’t acknowledge God or any other so-called deity (although rationally and with regards to truth, that position is a foolish one). Every righteous act can lead a person closer to truth and makes a positive difference in the world so he encourages fairness and justice and tries to help in the building of the foundations and bedrock of the morality and wisdom the ways he can without seeking to attach to his Jewish brothers, or to import their rituals, “to take on commandments,” or worrying about where his charity will go to if he chooses to give it to a Jewish cause.
That individual can be proud to be a Gentile, just as a Jew can be proud to be a Jew.
As we’re in the midst of the Jewish holy day season, a time when certain Gentiles feel inner stirrings about whether to keep the festivals commanded upon the Jews, I feel it’s fitting to publicize a comment I received in response to an old article I wrote about the subject. The original article was called “A Noahide not keeping the Jewish Holy Days.”
Some person unknown to me (I’ll leave her name out article, out of respect) thought she would share with me her thoughts. Since she made a public comment on a public blog, and it seems like an excellent opportunity for me to share both sides of the discussion, I’ll share her side unedited, and then my side with some minor corrections.
Just so that you know, I don’t mince my words, so I’ll seem curt to gentler folk.
So she said:
So studying under our local Orthodox rabbi (and writing in to others), and meeting with local Orthodox Jews in their homes, I’ve understood that the prohibition against observing Shabbos is a moot point anyway. I’ve fulfilled my obligation to break Shabbos jist by flipping on a light, or putting on lipstick, or driving to synagogue. Breaking it on purpose one time is all it takes; other than that, one can be as observant as they want – as long as they acknowledge that it isnt required, and dont treat it as an obligation bit rather something they do out of love for HaShem and Judaism (I say Judaism since the Noahide IS practicing the Jewish faith, just applying halacha as it applies to him as a non-Jew). So I can be observant along the lines of an Orthodox Jew, as long as I dont freak out if I break tradition now and then, or push other people to observe as strict as me, or keep the Shabbos completely.
A rabbi with Netiv commented in a lecture once that maybe Shabbos is so strict and complicated for the purpose of protecting non-Jews. Since it takes so much effort and knowledge to keep Shabbos properly (and family participation), it would be nearly impossible for a Noahide to casually obseeve Shabbos in a way that would warrant death. Besides, the process for the death penalty is so hard to carry out that it’s practically unheard of – even back when Israel had a functioning religious court.
Also, rabbis dont all agree about banning non-Jews from studying Torah, since the Talmud clearly speaks about the ban being against idolaters. It also applies to those non-Jews who only study for the purpose of twisting the meaning of the text to hurt Jews, or for those who interpret Torah however they want and dont take the traditional Jewish interpretation into account.
Judaism teaches that even non-Jews are judged during the High Holy Days, so it’s wise and righteous to observe them; even most parts of the prayers. It just isnt required. But the prophets state clearly that all flesh will be judged by HaShem together, and that all the earth will bring sacrifices to the Temple (as they also did in the past), and that non-Jews in the world to come will celebrate Succot.
A person couldnt study the Noahide laws without studying Torah, since it’s Torah (and the rabbinic texts) that explain how the Noahide laws are applied in practical life. The seven “laws” are really 7 full *categories* of law that the Torah and Talmud expand upon. Even if you only want to study the parts of Torah that apply to the 7 laws, everyone knows that the Torah isnt written by category. Many of the laws overlap, and they’re all mixed together. Theyhave an organization, but not one that is easy to single out for strictly Noahide study. Also, I heard a rabbi say once in his lecture that it’s wise to know some basic customs and Torah law outside the Noahide laws, so that you know what doesnt apply to you as a non-Jew and how to support the observance of Jews you worship with. Also, if we will be bringing sacrifices to the third Tenple, then we need to have a basic understanding of those laws as well, since we will be coming into contact with priests and need to know how those things apply to Noahides in the Messianic age. So, even though the rabbis mentioned above are famous and well-respected, their views arent always upheld by the other sages or today’s rabbis. I think participation in the community and its celebrations of HaShem build relationship and unity – between the people and with HaShem. We just do it in a way that allows for some freedom, to renind the Jewish people to keep a free heart and a flowing relationship with HaShem instead of getting stuck in the rut of legalism like some people do. Jews teach us discipline and focused spirituality, while we teach them spontaneity and creative relationship with HaShem – law balanced with spirituality. But if we arent there participating and active, that dance comes to a stop and the purpose of the Noahide’s existence is partially lost. Blessings and Shalom.
Here’s my response:
“… the prohibition against observing shabbos is a moot point.”
I’ve learned it quite differently. The fact that you talk about people observing it as much as they want as long as they “break a detail” shows it’s not a moot point at all.
I’m reminded strongly of rabbi Israel Chait’s article, “Bnai Noah – the religion, the danger,” which can be found at beingnoahide.com/bnai-noah-the-religion-the-danger/ as well as other places, how a Gentile who knows the seven has to curb his religious urges to do new things. I also remember the words of the prohibition in the Talmud and the Rambam, about the prohibition about keeping a sabbath on any day of the week. You see, that’s breaking part of the law, i.e., keeping it on a different day. Yet it’s still forbidden to do. Yet here you are, talking about Gentiles keeping shabbos as much as they want, they just have to break a rule.
And that’s another thing. You talk about being “observant” (your words) of the sabbath yet breaking a rule. Therefore you’re not observing any sabbath because you’re breaking its rules. Any Jew who broke a sabbath-day rule would know he hasn’t kept the sabbath (i.e., he’s broken it), yet you amazingly think the opposite applies to you, that by breaking a rule, you’ve done something positive, you’ve been “observant” of the sabbath!?!
And I can’t pretend that this makes sense. I can’t even say you’re honouring God because God commanded that special day on the Jewish people and nation, a sign between him and them. It links them to him BECAUSE he commanded it to them. Yet I look at your body of law, our body of law, the seven laws for the descendants of Noah, and there is no such link/command from God between the sabbath and yourself. So you’re essentially doing it, adding a faux-shabbos (a pseudo-sabbath) to your routine or occasional “toe-dip” all for your self-satisfaction. It’s about your cravings, not God’s command. Now, that’s all well and good; do what you want for your own cravings or self-serving agenda. It may fill a religious hole you have. But there’s little praise-worthy in what you’re doing that I can see. But I’m sure the rabbis you’ve learned from can justify what you’re doing, keep you going. I’m just a lone Gentile, more concerned with my obligations than trying to innovate new practices or modifying what God gave to the Jews (such as doing it all except breaking a law).
But to repeat, your very testimony on my blog, for me, is ample evidence that the prohibition from the Talmud is far from being a moot point and is VERY relevant in our days and times.
I know you said you do such things out of love for God. You express that love by looking elsewhere, the ritual laws of the Jews, and trying to see how you can use their stuff. I express it differently. I’m zealous for my God where I take what he’s given me, the seven laws and being made in his image as a NON-Jew, and make the most of that without taking and using what he gave to someone else.
“I say Judaism since the Noahide IS practicing the Jewish faith, just applying halacha as it applies to him as a non-Jew”
Again we disagree. I see two bodies of law: the 7 and the 613. The 613 is supposed to be what Judaism centred on, it’s the “Jewish faith.” The seven laws is not the Jewish faith at all. It’s not even a faith/religion. It’s meant to be the foundation of our Gentile legal system and moral system. So we’re not applying Jewish halacha. The seven laws is the non-Jewish code. See The Living Law: The Seven Noachide Laws which clearly shows the seven laws is not “the application of the Jewish faith by non-Jews.”
“the Talmud clearly speaks about the ban being against idolaters.”
It’s sad that you’ve been taught this. The ban was against “non-Jews” on a whole, not just “idolators.” I know the word used in sanhedrin 59a and in mishneh torah, laws of kings, 10:9. It is either a gloss, a cover word, for the christian censors but was originally just the neutral word “goy” meaning all non-Jews; or if the “gloss” term is the original used then it still can be used for any Gentile. And the reasoning the Talmud gives for the ban applies to ALL non-Jews, not just idolators. I’m happy to provide evidence. But the notion that the ban was only for idolators is incomplete and inaccurate.
“Judaism teaches that even non-Jews are judged during the High Holy Days, so it’s wise and righteous to observe them; even most parts of the prayers.”
A non-sequitur is a mistake in reasoning where a person makes a conclusion that doesn’t follow on from the premises. In your case, it is this statement: God judges non-Jews on holy days so it’s wise to observe them. That makes no sense. The only way that would make sense is if God judged/condemned Gentiles for not keeping the holy days. You’ve not shown that. I don’t see where a Gentile is required to keep the holy days or their prayers.
Actually, if God judges Gentiles on holy days, then he would be judging them because of their conduct throughout the year. Therefore it would make sense that the Gentile keeping a holy day or saying a prayer is wholly irrelevant as opposed to changing his lifestyle to obey the commandment meant for that Gentile (i.e., not the Jewish ones) and to fulfil what it means to be made in God’s image. It’s through actual teshuvah (returning to God’s ordained ways) on any day of the year that a Gentile can affect his judgment, not by keeping days or saying prayers that are irrelevant to him.
So, to say again, your reasoning doesn’t follow. It’s following God’s law for Gentiles and living up to his “image” that helps a Gentile, not seeking Jewish laws.
Tell me when you start actually slaughtering ritual sacrifices for non-Jews, and then I’ll pay attention to what you said about bringing sacrifices in a future temple. Until then, … well there’s just nothing to respond to.
Oh, and Gentiles keeping succot in the third temple times … again, irrelevant to how I should live now.
You talked about us Gentiles teaching the Jews about “spontaneity and creative worship,” and that if we don’t participate part of the “noahide” purpose is lost. If you think part of our purpose is to do that, as if the Jews couldn’t figure it out themselves, I think you’ve been misinformed or reached wrong conclusions. The Jews are not so robotic that they need Gentiles to show them what to do. And, looking at the state of Gentile countries and the way our laws oppose the seven laws, I’d say our purpose is VERY different. In fact, I’d say this:
1) looking at the state of Gentile countries and how they oppose the seven laws for Gentiles and their other immoralities, it’s obvious the Gentile hasn’t done his/her job correctly; and
2) looking at the state of Israel and how its legal system opposes the Torah laws for Jews and their other immoralities, it’s obvious the Jew hasn’t done his/her job correctly.
Instead of trying to build this Jews/Gentiles commune where everything and everyone is mixed (up), I believe we should each take the time to focus on our own separate responsibilities. Let the set-apart people actually be set-apart. Let them correct themselves, and let’s work on correcting our mess. As rabbi Hirsch taught, the kingdom of God will flourish when we each do our SEPARATE jobs, keeping our DIFFERENT laws. I’m not saying let’s be isolated from one another, but on the other hand, let’s not blur the divide God created for GOOD reason.
I don’t believe that we have to have a filtered teaching where we’re only taught Gentile-relevant stuff. It may all be as mixed up with the Jewish stuff as you claim (and it may not be). But as long as what a Gentile learns helps him/her to know one’s own obligations and keep it without blurring the lines between Jew and non-Jew (as a sabbath-“observant” Gentile would do) then it’s all good.
So Katz published his article which can be found here. In that article, he put his own spin on an Torah ruling by Rema in such a way that he then inferred from it that AskNoah International (which had quoted from that ruling by Rema) is identifying all “Noahides” as “akum.” That false accusation by Katz is an offense called “motzei shem rah,” a law Jews like Katz are supposed to keep.
Note: “Akum” is an acronym found in the Talmud and in legal writings by the “Rishonim” and “Acharonim,” Torah authorities from different parts of Jewish history. It literally stands for “Avodai Kochavim U’Mazolos” (worshippers of stars and planets). But as you will see later, contextually, it often is not limited to that meaning. But Katz does not explain that, something that can be seen as deceptive. Katz added his spin by claiming that “akum” as it appears in that ruling by that rabbi called “Rema” only means an idolator, implying that no other categories of Gentiles are included in Rema’s ruling.
As I wrote my previous article, I chose to look at AskNoah’s posts to see if “akum” there really had the limited meaning that Katz not only applied to the word, but that he also imposed upon Ask Noah.
Let me quote what is posted in that discussion thread on Asknoah.org – the words of rabbi Moshe Weiner, the author of the Divine Code (with my highlights added).
It is known that Gemara (Talmud) and Halachic (Torah Law) authorities used an over-all term for all Gentiles (non-Jews) as AKUM (acronym of “Ovdei Kochavim Umazalos,” I.E. “Idol-worshipers”).
Examples: Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 124:6: “Any ‘Akum’ that does not worship idols…” [in regard to laws of wine touched by a non-Jew] – it is obvious that a Gentile here is called “Akum” as a general name, and not because he is indeed an idol worshipper.
Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 2:1: “The slaughter by an ‘Akum’ that does not worship idols…”
Therefore wherever “Akum” is mentioned in Talmud and Halachic literature, it means every Gentile (non-Jew) (unless explicitly said otherwise!)
Radvaz (gloss on Rambam, Laws of Kings 10:10 – in regard to observant Bnei Noach (not idol worshipers!) clearly writes the BN should not put on tefillin or affix a mezuza!
Therefore, although the Rema uses the inclusive term “Akum,” one cannot understand this as a permission for a non-Jew that is not an idol worshiper to affix a mezuza.
To claim otherwise is playing games with semantics.
A “Noahide” in modern terminology is not an idol worshiper – indeed he is forbidden to do so (Rambam, Laws of Kings, ch. 9); nevertheless, he is not a Ger Toshav either.
According to AskNoah’s correct explanation of Rema: Both a Noahide (I.E. a Righteous Gentile) and a Gentile idol-worshiper may not affix a mezuza to his doorpost. (from response #10 in the AskNoah forum post called “Mezuzah” at https://www.asknoah.org/forum/showthread.php?tid=96)
I chose to set the teaching of AskNoah apart from my article because my article may be strewn with mistakes and views that AskNoah may not share. But at least here it can be made clear the following:
Rabbi David Katz doesn’t speak for AskNoah, nor does he have the authority to impose his (mis)interpretations upon their words.
AskNoah’s understanding of akum in those words by Rema is not negative towards any non-Jew as it is simply understood in the context there as “non-Jew,” as rabbi Moshe Weiner proved.
If I feel like it, I’ll critique rabbi Katz’s next blogpost. But then again, if I don’t, I won’t.
Thanks for reading this.
It’s been a while since I wrote on this blog. I have a bit of time and an opportunity so I’ll just take an article that was shared and critique it.
It’s an article called “The Modern Noahides of Noahism are Aku”m” written by rabbi David Katz. It can be found here. Or it should be better titled “I’m attacking a strawman; watch out for hay!”
In this article, Katz aims at something he refers to as “neo-noahism.” What is that? You tell me. He says,
Modern [invented] Noahism is a contemporary man-made religion. In the post Vendyl Jones era, Noahides are being rounded up to conform to a secular neo-noahism.
Now I know some people who identify as “noahides” in a way that distinguishes them from Gentiles on a whole. I know some who claim to use “noahides” to refer to all Gentiles. I think both these groups would be as puzzled as I am about what the hell Katz is talking about. I believe that they like me would wonder how aiming to keep and learn the depth of the seven divine laws would be “a man-made religion.” I myself am wondering why Katz would, rather than attempting to be clear and direct in his points, instead use ambiguous terms like “secular neo-noahism.” Is he using secular as in “godless?” Is he using secular as “worldly?”
And who distinctly is he referring to? There are various groups and individuals who follow the seven law teaching with differing approaches. Is he referring to those who primarily use Maimonides’ teachings in the Mishneh Torah? Is he referring to those who follow the Divine Code of rabbi Moshe Weiner? Is he referring to the more solitary individuals who follow Ramban and Hirsch? Who is he talking about?
You see, rather than actually pinning down individuals or approaches, he creates an outline, fills it with straw, and then, from the get-go, before even giving definitions and individuals, he starts the deconstruction of his imagined figure.
Neo-noahism has created a special distinction for non-Jews by referring to them as akum. The immediate logical question is what does akum mean? It means idolater. But that would imply that all non-Jews are idolaters. Neo-noahism would then respond that akum also is a general term for any non-Jew.
So Katz stuffs words into the strawman so that it can talk. And the Katz-invigorated scarecrow says that akum is a general term for any non-Jew.
Of the two or three people who actually read this blog … oh … oh wait, … was I being too generous with myself? Too proud? OK, let me correct myself.
Of the one and a half people who actually read this blog (myself included), who has heard it said, as a norm, that “idolater” or “akum” is a general term for any non-Jew? I guess I’m one of the people who read my blog, I can answer.
Now I’ve read that the word “akum” was a gloss, a word used by Jews to cover the general term “goy” which does normally just mean “non-Jew” so that their texts wouldn’t be burned by christian censors (for example, see https://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/47762/akum-nochri-and-goy). I thought that was common knowledge. So in the Talmud, in Sanhedrin 56a-60b, whenever akum is used, it generally replaces the historically neutral word, “goy.” Go check out the Talmud at http://www.mechon-mamre.org and you will see many times that “goy” is meant to be used.
Now, before the excited follower of Katz should jump in and say “goy means idolator,” the main source used to get that definition is Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah which was written centuries after the Talmud and doesn’t claim that this “idolator” understanding of “goy” is meant to be used throughout all time. Hell, the small section of the Mishneh Torah that does say it gives no license for it to be used throughout the whole Mishneh Torah.
Now I did what Katz failed to show that he did: I looked for people who claimed that akum/idolator was a general term for all Gentiles, and I found one. It is rabbi Moshe ben Chaim from http://www.mesora.org. I found an article of his that seems to clearly show his using akum/idolator to refer to all Gentiles. It’s at http://www.mesora.org/GentilesandTorahStudy.htm. I’ll quote him.
Now, a proof for my argument is derived from Talmud Sanhedrin 59a. It states there that an idolater who studies Torah is culpable of death. But that very Talmudic portion then asks, “Why is this prohibition not an eighth ‘Noachide’ law?” Consider carefully: this Talmudic question cannot be asked, if this portion were not including Noachides in the general term “Star Worshipper”. The Talmud is clearly referring to all Gentiles including Noachides, with its general reference of “idolater”.” (Gentiles and Torah Study, by Rabbi Moshe ben Chaim, http://www.mesora.org/GentilesandTorahStudy.htm)
Now I strongly advise you to read rabbi Moshe ben Chaim’s (rMbC) article. In fact, I think you should read it a number of times. I did. Firstly I can see that rMbC takes a wholly different approach to me. He doesn’t even see “akum” as a gloss for “goy.” He takes “akum”/idolator as if it’s both part of the Talmud and part of the Mishneh Torah. Secondly, and amazingly, I can see that it doesn’t help Katz’s case at all. In fact, it will be very applicable later on where Katz attempts to take on AskNoah.
RBmC’s approach to “akum” is as different to Katz’s as a sharp scalpel in the hands of a calm surgeon is different to a sledgehammer in the hands of a enraged brute. [No, I’m not saying Katz himself is an enraged brute; I’m comparing approaches, not men.] Whereas Katz uses akum/idolator as a slur on all Gentiles who are not part of his “gerring” group or who don’t fit into or reject his category of “ger toshav,” smearing all non-“gerim toshavim” as idolators, rMbC sees a more subtle teaching, looking more at the role a Gentile can take when approaching his own seven laws and those laws in the Jewish Torah that are meant to distinguish Jews from Gentiles.
Now I’m not saying I wholly agree with rMbC’s take on akum/idolator (or more properly “akum/star-worshipper”) but he at least shows it may be possible to see the Talmud and other Jewish resources as referring to Gentiles as “akum/star-worshipper” without belittling Gentiles who are not part of Israel, as Katz is happy to do a can be seen later on in his article.
I’ve not seen anyone else make the claim Katz’s straw-golem makes. But when Katz begins to attempt to criticize AskNoah for an approach they take, rMbC’s approach is going to rear its head again.
Anyways, to make a long message short, I believe if Katz is gonna claim something about someone, even his scarecrow, he should do what he and a good number of his followers (not all of them) fail to do: get a number of direct and relevant quotes from the source(s) they oppose. The claim that “akum in and of itself is a general term for non-Jew” and some real group of “noahides” say this, is a baseless claim.
Let’s go on.
Neo-noahism defines its Noahide congregants as Faithful and observant Noahides [B’nei Noach] as opposed to secular and plain descendants from Noach. In other words, in Noahism, there are [only] two kinds of people in this world: Jews and non-Jews. And there are [only] two kinds of non-Jews: observant ones and secular ones.
Again, Katz fills his strawman with his own words and not a quote is in sight. I’ve not heard anyone making this claim. But then again, I’m just a loner in the UK. Maybe there are whole mobs of Noahides from … what was that thing again … oh, “neo-noahism,” walking around the streets of Denmark or the United Slaves of America labelling themselves observant and the rest as secular.
Look, even my friend, Alan Cecil, who wrote a book about what he calls “noahide philosophy,” a book called “Secular by Design,” even he doesn’t call one group of non-Jews “observant” and the next group “secular.”
So this Katzian scarecrow seems to have a life of its own unrelated to “noahides” on a whole.
Now here comes a lengthy quote from Katz. But bear with me. You’ll see why it’s important as you read it.
At this point I have introduced to you the bulk of their terminologies in reference to non-Jews; remember there is only one category of non-Jew in contrast to the Jew. They are just non-Jews. And they are:
– B’nei Noach
– observant [ones]
– secular [ones]
…and there are more that are beyond the scope of this blog post
Try to paint a picture of a classic ‘Noahide’ within these terms. He is a non-Jew. I suppose he isn’t idolatrous, i.e. he is not a practicing Christian. Today there is no longer any Biblical idolatry left in the world. He is somewhat righteous; pious from the nations. He keeps the 7 Laws happily and responsibly. He is frum, observant, and therefore faithful. Until now this sounds really good, and if we are sticking to context, our Noahide stands on good ground.
Before continuing, I would like to point out that up to now we have not given any source text [Hebrew original] and we have described him purely from opinions and colloquial terms. If it happens to be technically correct in some areas, it is not intentional to the point where we can draw conclusions. And please keep in mind this is all English. Also keep in mind, this is how Noahides today are being taught in this style and format. They are not presented with anything deeper, more authentic, Hebrew, nor made aware of the bigger picture going on in this discussion [according to Torah].
Isn’t this oozing with subtle toxicity? “somewhat righteous?” “just opinions and colloquial terms?” “Noahides today are taught in this style and format … not presented with anything deeper, more authentic, Hebrew, nor made aware of the bigger picture?” In the eyes of Katz – shall I call him “Katz the humble? – the classic “Noahide,” the gentiles of today taught by their various teachers, bereft of Katz’s guidance, don’t have access to the deeper more authentic and Hebrew truth. And if they don’t have his “bigger picture,” then logically they must have a smaller picture, a narrower view.
Should I still call him “Katz the humble?”
Then I come upon a faulty conclusion based on false premises as he continues,
Do you see a problem with this picture?
Our good characterized Noahide is clearly being seen in a positive light. But there is an elephant in the room. He is a non-Jew… And therefore he is an akum. No matter how high he climbs, he is still an akum. He is a Shabbos goy, and he is being told he will never not be a Shabbos goy. The most he can hope for is to be a supremely loyal and faithful and observant Shabbos goy. He is an akum. Some would call that [as mentioned above] an idolater. Others would quickly chime in and say akum just means non-Jew. But the conflict is how can a legitimate righteous and pious Noahide be forever confined within the term akum?
All of the laws [halachot] for akum would then be applied to our Noahide. The Noahide [observant] is then halachically the same as the nonobservant [Ben Noach]. Nothing was gained from piousness.
So based on the false notion that “idolator” is a general name for non-Jews, he presents fallacy upon fallacy. He essentially asks, “how can a righteous person forever be trapped in the term idolator?” But no “noahide” I know (I’m using “noahide” to refer to that group that distinguishes itself from Gentiles on a whole) made Katz’s faulty claim. You’ve, here in this article, read how I see the common knowledge regarding akum and goy. It’s altogether unrelated to the Katzian straw-golem. See jewfaq.org/m/glossary.htm where it says:
Lit. nation. A non-Jew, that is, a member of one of the other nations. There is nothing inherently insulting about the term; the word “goy” is used in the Torah to describe Israel.
See also the article by Gil Student at angelfire.com/mt/talmud/goy.html.
“Goy” simply meaning “one from the nations outside of Israel” is fairly synonymous with the term “ben noah,” a descendant of Noah who is not part of bnei Yisrael, used in Sanhedrin 56a.
So this idea that the modern “noahide” is trapped in the status of idolator, essentially equal to a Gentile who breaks the seven laws, unable to rise higher, who can only look forward to being a “loyal shabbos goy” [is it just me, or is he portraying something like a faithful lapdog?], this idea is, to put it diplomatically, an unfounded statement without merit. I’ll leave it to you to imagine the non-diplomatic version of that.
As I’ve said elsewhere, the goodness or “piety” of a Gentile is not limited to the strict letter of a halachah or legal statement. For us, to not be distinctly commanded something doesn’t mean it is not expected of us. Not only are our laws not strictly and specifically detailed precepts and sub-precepts, as taught in Sefer HaChinuch, but the rational obligations or responsibilities that come about just because we’re made in God’s image, all of these show that we Gentiles are capable of a lot more.
Before I continue, I know that a particular individual (and I don’t believe he’s alone) can’t get his head around the fact that we can be expected to do something good or abstain from something bad when there is no explicit command concerning it, but this article isn’t about that subject, and I’ve dealt with it somewhere else … I think.
The way these principles and laws can perfect a person highlights that a lot can be gained through so-called “piety.
Now dig a little bit deeper, if there is a halacha for an akum idolater, the same halacha applies to the Noahide.
If they’re both Gentiles, bnei Noah, what’s the issue? An idolator is forbidden from worshipping idols. So is a person who hasn’t committed idolatry. An idolator is forbidden from theft. So is any other Gentile. Katz makes a redundant statement here. I’m sure it had meaning in his own head. Not much further though.
Simple logic [along these lines] mandates that I [the Jew] am to consider the akum idolater the exact same as the pious Noahide.
That may be Katz’s subjective reasoning. He gave no Jewish or Gentile Torah law to back it up. A wise Jew would judge a person based on actions, not label. But just imagine that: Katz sees a non-Jew worshipping an idol and another Gentile avoiding the prohibited acts diligently, but who doesn’t respect Katz’s teaching about “ger-dom.” I have to question his reasoning and integrity if he treats or considers both the same.
Katz then takes issue with AskNoah advising a Gentile not to put up mezuzah. In this portion of his text, he clearly points to AskNoah as being a main source for “Noahism,” which he had earlier called a manmade religion. Just to make sure you see I’m not misquoting the guy, here’s the first bit he said.
An example of this is in the following question that was asked and posted on asknoah.org: “Can Noahides put up a Mezuzah scroll on their doorposts, though they are not commanded to do so?
You can see he’s referring to AskNoah. And then he says shortly after,
Let me be clear: Someone asked the official site for Noahism whether or not a Noahide may hang a mezzuza on their doorpost…
So he’s clearly saying that AskNoah is promoting a manmade religion! It reminds me of when a follower or friend of his, James Rogers, on a public youtube video literally gave the middle finger to AskNoah. That’s the attitude that Katz and some of his ilk foster. Not much evidence provided that AskNoah is part of or promulgater of a manmade religion, but the accusation can be thrown with ease, as many weightless objects are. Actually giving substance to those empty accusations is something else entirely, something which “Katz & the acolytes” seldom do when it matters.
Anyway, so Katz’s beef with AskNoah in this case is that, to him, they give advice that he thinks is only for his overgeneralized “akum.” Someone on the asknoah forum asks about putting up mezzuzah on their house, and AskNoah says a Gentile shouldn’t do this based on a teaching from an ancient rabbi called “Rema.” Sledgehammer Katz goes to the source (apparently) and sees that Rema was saying that the “akum” cannot put up mezzuzah. With AskNoah giving this advice to an observant Noahide, the sledgehammer approach kicks in in Katz’s mind, and to him AskNoah have made all Gentiles, observant and non-observant, nothing but idol-worshippers.
But then two things stand in the way of Katz’s indictment against AskNoah, perhaps three.
1) the gloss;
2) the other approach; and
3) the question of AskNoah’s approach.
My issue is that there is a chance, a fairly good chance, that the akum used in Rema is another gloss that just replaced the original “goy,” and thus it actually rightly forbids any one that is not a native or naturalised Jew from putting up mezzuzot.
I’m not sure why anyone would have an issue with that prohibition. As many places actually state, this is one of those laws that is meant to separate Jew from non-Jew. If anyone respects the holiness and separate nature of the Jewish nation, there should be no issue with such reasoning. This is stated in rMbC’s (rabbi Moshe ben Chaim’s) article, the importance of establishing a separatedness between Jews and the Gentiles.
That’s leads sweetly to the next point: the different approach. As I said before, I did find someone who held that “akum” is the proper reading of the Talmud, Mishneh Torah and possibly other resources; and that was rMbC. But take a look at his article, all of it. Not only does this man accept the “akum” reading without worrying about treating observant Gentiles as idol-worshippers, his approach also highlights a non-derogatory way of understanding Rema.
In rMbC’s understanding, both the “ben noah” and the “akum” refers to the same non-Jew but with respect to different laws. For him, there is a part of the Mishneh Torah where Maimonides has to clearly distinguish the individual who is a star-worshipper from Gentiles who are not (Laws of Forbidden Foods 11:8). So he makes clear in that place, to paraphrase, “when I say idolator in this section, I do actually mean star-worshippers.” But in other places, he uses the word interchangeably with “goy” or “ben noah” (the bog-standard non-Jew).
But in Laws of Kings chapter 10, Rambam uses akum to refer to the same Gentiles (bnei Noah, “noahides”) who were commanded the seven laws in the previous chapter. The difference in chapter 10 though is that he’s warning non-Jews not to do things in the mindset of the idolator, to not only create religions and “divinely commanded” rites, but also in eroding the set-apart role of the Jew, by studying irrelevant parts of Torah, keeping Sabbaths, etc.
And why is it stated in other places that non-Jews shouldn’t keep specific “sanctifying” Jewish commands? To preserve that sanctity. In rMbC’s eyes, the mindset of the akum is to erode that set-apartness. And these “ingredients” also apply to the Jewish command of mezzuzot and a possible understanding of Rema.
So with this understanding, Rema is referring to the non-Jew and how these special Jewish laws “view” any non-Jew as an idolator. To clarify, the understanding of akum is only in relation to those laws a non-Jew is not supposed to do as opposed to actually condemning the Gentile wholesale as an idolator. I think I’m getting the gist of rMbC’s approach here. But as I repeatedly say, check his article out first, listen to it for a few times and see if you get the gist too.
Now remember! I don’t fully accept rMbC’s argument although it has its compelling qualities. But he is an example to show that there may be other ways of viewing the oral tradition’s use of akum to refer to Gentiles other than Sledgehammer Katz’s “an idolator is all you can be without becoming a ger toshav.”
Now the last point, the third point, is the question of AskNoah’s actual position and approach to Rema and “akum.” It is very easy for Katz to come along, quote Dr Schulman of AskNoah, and then smear all of it with Katz’s own understanding. Remember, it is not AskNoah that says “all Gentiles are idolators,” it’s only Katz giving his essentially baseless view of what seems to him to be the only logical conclusion of AskNoah’s position. Please take note of a clear fact of Katz’s article: At no point does he give a quote from Dr Schulman about his approach to the word “akum” and how it applies to Gentiles. For him and his followers/friends, AskNoah is one of the enemies, so it’s not as if he will do the honourable thing and get the clarification from Dr Schulman and then quote what he actually said about his approach. Instead, I just read Katz attempting to shout his view where AskNoah is silent.
I can see the laughing, scoffing face of one of his friends/followers in my mind gleefully scorning, “But he quoted asknoah; you can’t deny it: He quoted asknoah!” It’s best to combat emotion with cold, hard facts. I’d reply that I know Katz quoted AskNoah’s conclusion about mezzuzah, but he didn’t quote anything where they explain how they view and approach the use of “akum” to refer to Gentiles.
Then I just walk away and discontinue.
So Katz comes to his article’s after attempting to foist himself into the minds of AskNoah to give more life to his lifeless scarecrow. After claiming that AskNoah makes all Gentiles idolatrous, he ends with this:
But the Torah is merciful, and allows for a third category, one who proactively rejects idolatrous ways according to the Torah. This is called Ger Toshav. It exists today, and the idolatry that they reject is called shituf; the idolatrous behaviour, thoughts, etc. while today there is no outright idolatry. Many have left their idolatrous ways, but fulfillment comes through a full rejection of all forms of idolatry, even shituf. This takes the Noahide out from being categorically ‘akum’
I’ve dealt with his “ger toshav” futility in another article. I won’t drag that corpse around anymore. But he say that no outright idolatry exists today. Well, that’s definitely an opinion. It’s not backed up by Rambam who calls christians idolators. Having left christianity, and still having experiences with christians and their teachings, I don’t see any value to his opinion. You can take a look at my article “The Shituf Excuse: Preserving Madness because it’s Permissible.” In fact, even books like Michael Dallen’s book, “The Rainbow Covenant,” and Clorfene’s old book, “Path of the Righteous Gentile,” only permits shituf as long as it remains conceptual, just a belief. But once that partner or intermediary is worshipped as a god, it’s [outright] idolatry. Having read the Divine Code, I conclude that its discussion on intermediary- and shituf-worship is one of the best laid-out positions on the topic (see “The Divine Code,” the footnote that continues from pg 136-138). Outright idolatry exists according to the halakhah given in Rambam and the Talmud and other places.
What’s clear from Katz’s article is that it is neither his strawman, the imagined “neo-noahism,” that condemns all Gentiles as idolators. It’s not AskNoah, the kingpin of his so-called “manmade religion.” It’s not rMbC. Oh, he mentioned “secular,” but it isn’t Alan Cecil that’s condemning all the world as idolatrous. It’s not … man, I don’t know who this phantom is that he’s meant to be attacking. But there is one person in his article who condemns the world as idolatrous except for those who jump on board his “ger toshav” train: it’s Katz himself.
I remember being on facebook, in a group debating the fact that the new testament teachings contradict the Torah. And then someone appeared promoting David Katz’s book, “World of the Ger.” Amongst his opinion, he stated that he was a “ger toshav” and that all the nations of the world are toxic, that there is no real hope for the Gentile who remains an outsider to Israel. Looking at David Katz’s own blogpost, it becomes clearer and clearer to me where the source of such ideas stems from.
You know, there have been times where I wanted the more educated rabbis to publicly condemn Katz. But seeing some of what his partner, rabbi Clorfene, has said about those that disagree with his view, even if they did speak, I doubt that would make a difference. What stands too true is the words of the Rebbe, the warning that we Gentiles have to really know and understand the seven laws for ourselves so as not to rely upon certain Jews, like Katz.
Written in a facebook post, by Robert Higgs. Although it only mentions Americans, it applies to politicians internationally.
“Are you ever struck by the number of ultra-criminal individuals — people who have great amounts of blood on their hands (e.g., Henry Kissinger, Ed Meese, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama — who are not only not in prison, not only permitted to move about freely in society, but are treated as decent individuals and, on some occasions, feted as great and honorable ones? Truly has it been observed that the person who kills one or two is a murderer, but the person who kills thousands or even millions is a national hero.”
This is a personal one, not really focused on the seven laws, but it’s something I feel like sharing. Hope you don’t mind.
So I travel in an automobile.
I know that’s an odd way of writing it that way … but the kind few who read my stuff know of my antiestablishmentarianism (lol, what a word!) and may have a slight awareness of the legal weirdness with the word “drive.” If you don’t, then just accept my weird phraseology.
So I travel in an automobile. And recently the headlights on that automobile died. It was at night that I found out so I learnt of what lights I still had. There were still functioning lights on the car, some lights to make me more visible during the day, floodlights (too strong for normal night travel), and some weak lights used to support the headlights. But none of these lights were good for night travel in normal weather, being too strong for other drivers or too weak to illuminate the way ahead, and it was needful for me to travel far distances so I still used it.
In what could be seen as an unwise move, I transported my family to a town over 20 miles away because of an appointment my wife had, and while there night fell and I had to get my family home.
So I took a chance and traversed on roads I believed to be well-lit.
I was wrong.
What I thought was a well-lit motorway had sections with no light whatsoever.
It was at that time that I discovered that the daylights were the brightest lights I had on the car in such darkness, but such was the workings of my car that to turn those lights on would mean that my backlights would turn off. I guess it’s logical, right? Those lights are for the day where no backlights are needed. The only problem is that at night, those backlights make me visible to those behind me, especially on dark roads. Having those backlights off at night makes it way easier for a following driver not to see me and increases the risk of that driver smashing into the rear end of my automobile.
If I turned on the weaker lights, they would make me visible to others and the backlights would be on, but I wouldn’t be able to see any of the road ahead. On a well-lit road, I could work with this. But on those dark stretches, those lights were useless.
I spent the whole journey looking around me, toggling between daylights but no backlights to see the road when there were other cars were far off, and weak lights with backlights when other cars were much closer and could light the way. It’s the mercy of God that I didn’t cross the path of road pirates (the govt thugs, the police) who would likely use this as an opportunity to extort money from me whilst attempting to fill their quotas.
Now why the hell am I even writing about this? To remind myself of two lessons I learned throughout that ordeal that seems to mean more than just travelling safely in a automobile at night.
1) Sometimes a person will not know how little light they have until they find themselves in the dark.
This reminds me of horror video games that I watch at times where the player are given a flashlight that is so dim that much of a room or a path is still in such darkness that a threat could be lurking.
You see, the meaning or application I get from this lesson is that sometimes the only way I can see how ineffectual my efforts or skills or learning are is to be landed into trouble. It warns me that I have to pay careful attention to what I’m doing and not to get any arrogance in my abilities before I’m really tested. Actually I should avoid deluding myself with arrogance about what I’m doing.
I may just be doing practically nothing.
There may be other meanings. If someone’s reading this, maybe you see a different meaning.
The other lesson is as follows.
2) Sometimes a little light is practically useless for a task.
I think I’ve been told that a little light can dispel a lot of darkness. And this may be true in certain cases.
But as I travelled down that dark road with those weak lights, I realised how a little light can be useless in other cases. It doesn’t dispel the dark. It just makes you a bit more visible.
And that can be both a good and a bad thing depending on who’s looking at you or for you.
But for certain tasks, where clarity and energy is needed, a little light on its own is practically useless
I hope I remember these lessons and see the depths and useful nature of them. I think I may need them in future.
Oh, by the way, my wife got those headlights fixed that same night …
Just in case you were wondering.
For me, this article has been long overdue. It’s been in my mind to do on my blog for some time. Even though I wrote an article on the same subject elsewhere, I wanted to re-do it here, keep the mental juices flowing rather than mechanically copy-pasting it from its original source.
So here goes.
When I was in the final phases of being a christian, before I rejected Jesus as any sort of messiah or prophet or anything of practical relevance, I believed it was forbidden to eat blood and that it was wrong to eat meat with blood still in it. I would take steps to remove any blood that was in the meat I bought to cook and eat.
And I thought the source of this conclusion was Genesis 9:4. Here’s what it said in the King James Version, which I would read.
But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.
Now although some would say that this isn’t a terrible translation, I was led to interpret it like this:
“Don’t eat blood!”
“Don’t eat meat with blood in it.”
Now people who can actually read the text would notice that I was not really taking meaning from the text. The text did not say “don’t eat blood.” So that “interpretation” was not really proper exegesis. It says nothing about blood on its own.
But some may agree with my other conclusion, that a person should not eat meat with blood in it.
But years later, before I had wholesale accepted the oral tradition or the seven laws (but I was learning about them) I spotted an error in my reading.
You see I was reading it like this:
“But flesh with its blood you shall not eat.”
But what does it really say?
But flesh with its soul, its blood, you shall not eat.
Each word has a meaning and has importance. So why had I ignored those words “its soul?” Or better yet, what did that word mean?
The Hebrew word, nefesh, is rendered a number of ways in English. The KJV and the JPS render it here as “life.” Others translate it as “soul.” Hebrew dictionaries available online like Brown-Driver-Briggs, Strongs, Gesenius use words like “soul, living being, life, vitality.”
So the word seems to have something to do with being alive.
So the text seems to be talking about flesh with its life, flesh that is alive.
I could have just stopped here and thought that the text is still talking about blood, the red stuff, and thus it still says, don’t eat flesh with its life, its red stuff. And thus nothing has changed.
Now the question to ask is this: does the context mention blood? And if so, how is it used?
Let’s look. Genesis 9:3-6.
3) Every moving thing that lives shall be for food for you; as the vegetation I’ve given you everything. 4) Only flesh with its life/soul, which is its blood, you shall not eat. 5) And surely your blood of your lives I’ll require; at the hand of every beast will I require it; and at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man’s brother, will I require the life of man. 6) He who sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man.
Now what I have to ask myself is if the word “blood” here simply refers to the blood, the red stuff, regardless of whether an animal or man is alive or dead? Is verse 4 really telling me that if I have a dead animal, any red stuff is forbidden?
When God says, “I’ll require the blood of your lives,” is he simply talking about any speck of the red stuff? When he says “he who sheds a man’s blood,” are we talking about any release of red stuff? If I slip and cut my knee so that it bleeds, have I sinned by shedding my own blood? If someone else cuts me, have they transgressed this law?
Now the odd thing is that it’s widely understood that the usage of “blood” in the verses that follow verse 4 refers actually to the life or, loosely, lifeblood. And we’re not just talking about drops of blood either. The text is still talking about “life.”
For example, if I strangle someone to death, and not one drop of blood is shed, I would still have transgressed the law against “shedding blood.” Now this would seem odd only if I had ignored what verse 4 seems to really be saying and understood “blood” in a hyper-literal way to speak of any of the red liquid in an animal or human.
What do I mean by ignoring what verse 4 said?
Didn’t verse 4 warn me how it was going to be using the word “blood?” Didn’t it tell me that “life” is “blood?” Or that I’m supposed to understand “blood” as “life?” Didn’t it say “flesh with its life, which is its blood …?” That’s not simply “the red stuff.”
The use of “blood” in the text should tell me that we’re not talking about “any red stuff” neither in verse 4 nor in verse 6. In this context, it’s talking about an element of life.
So based on the context, I’m not being told to wash meat before I eat it; just like I’m not being told specifically not to remove any blood from someone else.
I conclude, like the sages of old, that this passage forbids eating flesh taken from a living animal. I now reject the idea that this text isolates “the red stuff” and forbids its consumption.
In other words, the prohibition of eating meat taken from a living animal seems closer to the simple reading of the text than a simple general prohibition against any blood. That may be in the law for Jews but not for the descendants of Noah on a whole.
I could have quoted rabbinical sources, but I’m focusing on my own conclusions here.