Seven Laws of Noah
The Seven Laws of Noah (Hebrew: שבע מצוות בני נח Sheva Mitzvot B'nei Noah), also referred to as the Noahide Laws or the Noachide Laws (from the English transliteration of the Hebrew pronunciation of "Noah"), are a set of imperatives which, according to the Talmud, were given by God as a binding set of laws for the "children of Noah" – that is, all of humanity.
Accordingly, any non-Jew who adheres to these laws because they were given by Moses is regarded as a righteous gentile, and is assured of a place in the world to come (Hebrew: עולם הבא Olam Haba), the final reward of the righteous.
The seven Noahide laws as traditionally enumerated are the following:
- Do not deny God.
- Do not blaspheme God.
- Do not murder.
- Do not engage in illicit sexual relations.
- Do not steal.
- Do not eat from a live animal.
- Establish courts/legal system to ensure obedience to the law.
According to the Talmud, the rabbis agree that the seven laws were given to the sons of Noah. However, they disagree on precisely which laws were given to Adam and Eve. Six of the seven laws are exegetically derived from passages in Genesis, with the seventh being the establishing of courts.
According to the Genesis flood narrative, a deluge covered the whole world, killing every surface-dwelling creature except Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, and the animals taken aboard Noah's Ark. According to this, all modern humans are descendants of Noah, thus the name Noahide Laws in reference to laws that apply to all of humanity. After the flood, God sealed a covenant with Noah with the following admonitions (Genesis 9):
- Flesh of a living animal: "However, flesh with its life-blood [in it], you shall not eat." (9:4)
- Murder and courts: "Furthermore, I will demand your blood, for [the taking of] your lives, I shall demand it [even] from any wild animal. From man too, I will demand of each person's brother the blood of man. He who spills the blood of man, by man his blood shall be spilt; for in the image of God He made man." (9:5–6)
Book of Jubilees
The Book of Jubilees, generally dated to the 2nd century BCE, may include an early reference to Noahide Law at verses 7:20–28:
And in the twenty-eighth jubilee Noah began to enjoin upon his sons' sons the ordinances and commandments, and all the judgments that he knew, and he exhorted his sons to observe righteousness, and to cover the shame of their flesh, and to bless their Creator, and honour father and mother, and love their neighbour, and guard their souls from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity. For owing to these three things came the flood upon the earth ... For whoso sheddeth man's blood, and whoso eateth the blood of any flesh, shall all be destroyed from the earth.
According to Acts, Paul began working along the traditional Jewish line of proselytizing in the various synagogues where the proselytes of the gate [e.g., Exodus 20:9] and the Jews met; and only because he failed to win the Jews to his views, encountering strong opposition and persecution from them, did he turn to the Gentile world after he had agreed at a convention with the apostles at Jerusalem to admit the Gentiles into the Church only as proselytes of the gate, that is, after their acceptance of the Noachian laws (Acts 15:1–31)".
The article "New Testament" states:
For great as was the success of Barnabas and Paul in the heathen world, the authorities in Jerusalem insisted upon circumcision as the condition of admission of members into the church, until, on the initiative of Peter, and of James, the head of the Jerusalem church, it was agreed that acceptance of the Noachian Laws — namely, regarding avoidance of idolatry, fornication, and the eating of flesh cut from a living animal — should be demanded of the heathen desirous of entering the Church.
The earliest complete rabbinic version of the seven laws can be found in the Tosefta where they are listed as follows.
Seven commandments were commanded of the sons of Noah:
Halakha and the Seven Laws
According to the Talmud, the Noahide Laws apply to all humanity. In Judaism, בני נח B'nei Noah (Hebrew, "Descendants of Noah", "Children of Noah") refers to all of humankind. The Talmud also states: "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come". Any non-Jew who lives according to these laws is regarded as one of "the righteous among the gentiles".
The rabbis agree that the seven laws were given to the sons of Noah. However, they disagree on precisely which laws were given to Adam and Eve. Six of the seven laws are exegetically derived from passages in Genesis. The Talmud adds extra laws beyond the seven listed in the Tosefta which are attributed to different rabbis, such as the grafting of trees and sorcery among others,: 30–31 Ulla going so far as to make a list of 30 laws. The Talmud expands the scope of the seven laws to cover about 100 of the 613 mitzvoth.: 18
In practice Jewish law makes it very difficult to apply the death penalty. No record exists of a gentile having been put to death for violating the seven laws. Some of the categories of capital punishment recorded in the Talmud are recorded as having never have been carried out. It is thought that the rabbis included discussion of them in anticipation of the coming messianic age.
The Talmud lists the punishment for blaspheming the Ineffable Name of God as death. The sons of Noah are to be executed by decapitation for most crimes, considered one of the lightest capital punishments, by stoning if he has intercourse with a Jewish betrothed woman, or by strangulation if the Jewish woman has completed the marriage ceremonies, but had not yet consummated the marriage. In Jewish law the only form of blasphemy which is punishable by death is blaspheming the Ineffable Name Leviticus 24:16. Some Talmudic rabbis held that only those offences for which a Jew would be executed, are forbidden to gentiles. The Talmudic rabbis discuss which offences and sub-offences are capital offences and which are merely forbidden.
Maimonides states that anyone who does not accept the seven laws is to be executed, as God compelled the world to follow these laws. However, for the other prohibitions such as the grafting of trees and bestiality he holds that the sons of Noah are not to be executed. Maimonides adds a universalism lacking from earlier Jewish sources.: 18 The Talmud differs from Maimonides in that it handles the seven laws as enforceable by Jewish authorities on non-Jews living within a Jewish nation.: 18 Nahmanides disagrees with Maimonides reasoning. He limits the obligation of enforcing the seven laws to non-Jewish authorities taking the matter out of Jewish hands. The Tosafot seems to agree with Nahmanides reasoning.: 39 According to some opinions, punishment is the same whether the individual transgresses with knowledge of the law or is ignorant of the law.
Subdividing the Seven Laws
Various rabbinic sources have different positions on the way the seven laws are to be subdivided in categories. Maimonides', in his Mishneh Torah, included the grafting of trees. Like the Talmud, he interpreted the prohibition against homicide as including a prohibition against abortion. David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra, a commentator on Maimonides, expressed surprise that he left out castration and sorcery which were also listed in the Talmud.
In Chullin 92a-b Ulla says that here are 30 laws which the sons of Noah took upon themselves. However he only lists three, namely the three that the Gentiles follow: not to create a Ketubah between males, not to sell carrion in the market and to respect the Torah. The rest of the laws are not listed. Talmud commentator Rashi remarks on this that he does not know the other Commandments that are referred to. Though the authorities seem to take it for granted that Ulla's thirty commandments included the original seven, an additional thirty laws is also possible from the reading. Two different lists of the 30 laws exist. Both lists include an additional twenty-three mitzvot which are subdivisions or extensions of the seven laws. One from the 16th-century work Asarah Maamarot by Rabbi Menahem Azariah da Fano and a second from the 10th century Samuel ben Hofni which was recently published from his Judeo-Arabic writings after having been found in the Cairo Geniza. Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes suggests Menahem Azariah of Fano enumerated commandments are not related to the first seven, nor based on Scripture, but instead were passed down by oral tradition.
The 10th-century Rabbi Saadia Gaon added tithes and levirate marriage. The 11th-century Rav Nissim Gaon included "listening to God's Voice", "knowing God" and "serving God" besides going on to say that all religious acts which can be understood through human reasoning are obligatory upon Jew and Gentile alike. The 14th-century Rabbi Nissim ben Reuben Gerondi added the commandment of charity.
Ger toshav (resident alien)
In earlier times, a Gentile living in the Land of Israel who accepted the Seven Laws in front of a rabbinical court was known as a ger toshav (literally stranger/resident). The regulations regarding Jewish-Gentile relations are modified in the case of a ger toshav.
Noahide law differs radically from Roman law for gentiles (Jus Gentium), if only because the latter was enforceable judicial policy. Rabbinic Judaism has never adjudicated any cases under Noahide law, Jewish scholars disagree about whether Noahide law is a functional part of Halakha ("Jewish law").
Some modern views hold that penalties are a detail of the Noahide Laws and that Noahides themselves must determine the details of their own laws for themselves. According to this school of thought – see N. Rakover, Law and the Noahides (1998); M. Dallen, The Rainbow Covenant (2003) – the Noahide Laws offer mankind a set of absolute values and a framework for righteousness and justice, while the detailed laws that are currently on the books of the world's states and nations are presumptively valid.
In recent years, the term "Noahide" has come to refer to non-Jews who strive to live in accord with the seven Noahide Laws; the terms "observant Noahide" or "Torah-centered Noahides" would be more precise but these are infrequently used. Support for the use of "Noahide" in this sense can be found with the Ritva, who uses the term Son of Noah to refer to a Gentile who keeps the seven laws, but is not a Ger Toshav. The rainbow, referring to the Noahide or First Covenant (Genesis 9), is the symbol of many organized Noahide groups, following Genesis 9:12–17.
The Jewish scholar Maimonides (12th century) held that Gentiles may have a part in the world to come just by observing Noahide law and accepts them as given by Moses. Such children of Noah become the status of Chasidei Umot HaOlam - Pious People of the World, and are different from children of Noah who only keep the seven laws out of moral/ethical reasoning alone. He writes in his book of laws:"
Anyone who accepts upon himself and carefully observes the Seven Commandments is of the Righteous of the Nations of the World and has a portion in the World to Come. This is as long as he accepts and performs them because (he truly believes that) it was the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Who commanded them in the Torah, and that it was through Moses our Teacher we were informed that the Sons of Noah had already been commanded to observe them. But if he observes them because he convinced himself, then he is not considered a Resident Convert and is not of the Righteous of the Nations of the World, but merely one of their wise.
Some later editions of the Mishneh Torah differ by one letter and read "Nor one of their wise men." The later reading is narrower. Spinoza read Maimonides as using nor and accused him of being narrow and particularistic. Other philosophers such as Hermann Cohen and Moses Mendelssohn have used more inclusive interpretations of the passage by Maimonides. In either reading, Maimonides appears to exclude philosophical Noahides from being Righteous Gentiles. Thus Maimonides wants to emphasis that a truly Righteous Gentile follows the seven laws because they are divinely revealed and thus are followed out of obedience to God.
Christianity and the Noahide Laws
The Apostolic Decree recorded in Acts 15 is commonly seen as a parallel to Noahide Law; however, some modern scholars dispute the connection between Acts 15 and Noahide Law, the content of Noahide Law, the historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles, and the nature of Biblical law in Christianity. The Apostolic Decree is still observed by Eastern Orthodoxy and includes some food restrictions.
Maimonides stated that God commanded Moses to compel the world to accept these seven commandments. In 1983 Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson urged his followers to actively engage in activities to inform non-Jews about these seven commandments, which had not been done in previous generations.
Sefer Sheva Mitzvot Hashem
After Rabbi Schneerson started his Noahide Campaign in the 1980s, a codification of the exact obligations of the Gentiles in the spirit of the classical Shulchan Aruch was needed. In 2005, Rabbi Moshe Weiner of Jerusalem accepted to produce an in-depth codification of the Noahide precepts. The work is called Sefer Sheva Mitzvot HaShem, (The Book of Seven Divine Commandments) published 2008/2009. As it was approved by both of the then presiding chief rabbis of Israel (Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar and Rabbi Yonah Metzger) as well as by other Hasidic and non-Hasidic halachic authorities, it can claim an authoritative character and is referred as a Shulchan Aruch for Gentiles at many places.
In 1987 President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation speaking of "the historical tradition of ethical values and principles, which have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws, transmitted through God to Moses on Mount Sinai", and in 1991, Congress stated in the preamble to the 1991 bill that established Education Day in honor of the birthday of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Chabad movement:
Whereas Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society and upon which our great Nation was founded; Whereas these ethical values and principles have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization, when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws [...]
In January 2004, Sheikh Mowafak Tarif, the spiritual leader of Israeli Druze, signed a declaration, which called on non-Jews living in Israel to observe the Noahide Laws. He was joined by the mayor of Shefa-'Amr.
- According to Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, Entry Ben Noah, page 349), most medieval authorities consider that all seven commandments were given to Adam, although Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M'lakhim 9:1) considers the dietary law to have been given to Noah.
- Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, entry Ben Noah, introduction) states that after the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people were no longer in the category of the sons of Noah; however, Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M'lakhim 9:1) indicates that the seven laws are also part of the Torah, and the Talmud (Bavli, Sanhedrin 59a, see also Tosafot ad. loc.) states that Jews are obligated in all things that Gentiles are obligated in, albeit with some differences in the details.
- Compare Genesis 9:4–6.
- "Melachim uMilchamot 8:11". www.chabad.org. last two sentences of the three. Retrieved 2015-06-24.
- Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot M'lakhim 8:14
- Encyclopedia Talmudit (Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, entry Ben Noah, end of article); note the variant reading of Maimonides and the references in the footnote
- "The Seven Noachide Laws - Jewish Virtual Library". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
- Rabbinical authorities disputed whether there was only one or several commandments given to Adam: see 56a/b
- James C. VanderKam. The Book of Jubilees (Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001. ISBN 1-85075-767-4. ISBN 978-1-85075-767-2. pp. 17–21.
- Jubilees at wesley.nnu.edu, This is R. H. Charles' 1913 translation from the Koine Greek, but Jubilees is also extant in Geez and multiple texts found at Qumran which are still being examined.
- "Jewish Encyclopedia: Jubilees, Book of: The Noachian Laws". Jewishencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
- "Saul of Tarsus". Jewishencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
- "Jewish Encyclopedia: New Testament — Spirit of Jewish Proselytism in Christianity". Jewishencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
- Lewis Ray Rambo, Charles E. Farhadian, eds. (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion. Oxford University Press. p. 591.
- Encyclopedia Talmudit, Hebrew edition, Israel, 5741/1981, entry Ben Noah, introduction
- Sanhedrin 105a
- Martin Goodman (2007). Judaism in the Roman World: Collected Essays. BRILL. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
- Sanhedrin 56a/b, quoting Tosefta Avodah Zarah 9:4; see also Rashi on Genesis 9:4
- Chullin 92a-b
- Joel Lurie Grishaver, Rabbi Stuart Kelman, eds. (1996). Learn Torah With 1994-1995 Torah Annual: A Collection of the Year's Best Torah. Torah Aura Productions.
- https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0004_0_03929.html Jewishvirtuallibrary.org]
- per Novak, 1983:28ff.
- "Sanhedrin" (PDF). Halakhah.com 56a. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Judges, Laws of Sanhedrin, chapter 14, law 4
- "Melachim uMilchamot 9:7". www.chabad.org. Retrieved 2015-06-24.
- "Sanhedrin" (PDF). Halakhah.com 56b. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- "Sanhedrin" (PDF). Halakhah.com 57a-b. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- "Mishneh Torah Shoftim, Laws of Kings and their wars: 8.13" (PDF). Halakhah.com. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- "Mishneh Torah Shoftim, Laws of Kings and their wars: 10:8" (PDF). Halakhah.com. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Lawrence H. Schiffman, Joel B. Wolowelsky, eds. (2007). War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition. KTAV Publishing House, Inc.
- Babylonian Talmud, Makkot 9a, commentary of Rashi
- "Mishneh Torah Shoftim, Laws of Kings and their wars: 9:6" (PDF). Halakhah.com. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- "Sanhedrin" (PDF). Halakhah.com 57b. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Sanhedrin 56b.
- "Chullin 92a-b" (PDF). Halakhah.com. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
- Mossad HaRav Kook edition of the Gaon's commentary to Genesis
- "The Thirty Mitzvot of the Bnei Noach". noachide.org.uk. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
- Kol Hidushei Maharitz Chayess I, end Ch. 10
- Encyclopedia Talmudit, Hebrew edition, 5739/1979, entry Ger Toshav
- "Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah.". Jewishencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
- "Sanhedrin" (PDF). Halakhah.com 59a-b. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- cf. Bleich
- Encyclopedia Talmudit, Hebrew edition, 5741/1981, Appendix, entry Ben Noah, introduction
- Mishneh Torah, Shoftim, Laws of Kings and their wars 8:14 or 8:11
- Reuven Brauner (2012). "TRANSLATION OF THE FINAL CHAPTER OF THE RAMBAM'S MISHNEH TORAH" (PDF). Halakhah.com. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- T. M. Rudavsky (2009). Maimonides. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 178–179. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- Moshe Halbertal (2013). Maimonides: Life and Thought. Princeton University Press. p. 253. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- The Acts of the Apostles (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries), Yale University Press (December 2, 1998), ISBN 0-300-13982-9, chapter V
- Joseph Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries), Yale University Press (December 2, 1998), ISBN 0-300-13982-9, chapter V
- Karl Josef von Hefele's commentary on canon II of Gangra notes: "We further see that, at the time of the Synod of Gangra, the rule of the Apostolic Synod with regard to blood and things strangled was still in force. With the Greeks, indeed, it continued always in force as their Euchologies still show. Balsamon also, the well-known commentator on the canons of the Middle Ages, in his commentary on the sixty-third Apostolic Canon, expressly blames the Latins because they had ceased to observe this command. What the Latin Church, however, thought on this subject about the year 400, is shown by St. Augustine in his work Contra Faustum, where he states that the Apostles had given this command in order to unite the heathens and Jews in the one ark of Noah; but that then, when the barrier between Jewish and heathen converts had fallen, this command concerning things strangled and blood had lost its meaning, and was only observed by few. But still, as late as the eighth century, Pope Gregory the Third (731) forbade the eating of blood or things strangled under threat of a penance of forty days. No one will pretend that the disciplinary enactments of any council, even though it be one of the undisputed Ecumenical Synods, can be of greater and more unchanging force than the decree of that first council, held by the Holy Apostles at Jerusalem, and the fact that its decree has been obsolete for centuries in the West is proof that even Ecumenical canons may be of only temporary utility and may be repealed by disuse, like other laws."
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Gentile: Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah: "R. Emden (), in a remarkable apology for Christianity contained in his appendix to "Seder 'Olam" (pp. 32b–34b, Hamburg, 1752), gives it as his opinion that the original intention of Jesus, and especially of Paul, was to convert only the Gentiles to the seven moral laws of Noah and to let the Jews follow the Mosaic law; this explains the apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding the laws of Moses and the Sabbath."
- The Divine Code, Rabbi Moshe Weiner, Ed. Dr. Michael Schulman Ph.D., Vol, I., p. 21, 2008, publ. Ask Noah International
- Letter of Blessing (for Sefer Sheva Mitzvoth HaShem) , Rabbi Yonah Metzger, Chief Rabbi of Israel, p.1.
- "The Rebbe and President Ronald Reagan". Chabad.org. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
- "Druze Religious Leader Commits to Noachide "Seven Laws"". 2004-01-18. Retrieved 2014-01-18.
- Barre Elisheva. "Torah for Gentiles – the Messianic and Political Implications of the Bnei Noah Laws", 2008, ISBN 978-965-91329-0-4.
- Bleich, J. David. "Judaism and natural law" in Jewish law annual, vol. VII 5–42
- Bleich, J. David. "Tikkun Olam: Jewish Obligations to Non-Jewish Society" in: Tikkun olam: social responsibility in Jewish thought and law. Edited by David Shatz, Chaim I. Waxman and Nathan J. Diament. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1997. ISBN 0-7657-5951-9.
- Broyde, Michael J. "The Obligation of Jews to Seek Observance of Noahide Laws by Gentiles: A Theoretical Review" in Tikkun olam: social responsibility in Jewish thought and law. Edited by David Shatz, Chaim I. Waxman and Nathan J. Diament. Northvale, N.J. : Jason Aronson, 1997. ISBN 0-7657-5951-9.
- Cecil, Alan W. "The Noahide Code: A Guide to the Perplexed Christian." (Aventura: Academy of Shem Press, 2006). ISBN 0-9779885-0-3.
- Cohen, Yakov Dovid. "Divine Image " Insights into the Laws of Noah, published by The Institute of Noahide Code 2006 ISBN 1-4243-1000-8 online www.Noahide.org
- Cowen, Shimon Dovid. "Perspectives on the Noahide Laws – Universal ethics". The Institute of Judaism and Civilization (3rd edition) 2008 ISBN 0-9585933-8-8 www.ijc.com.au
- Clorfene C and Rogalsky Y. The Path of the Righteous Gentile: An Introduction to the Seven Laws of the Children of Noah. Targum Press, 1987. ISBN 0-87306-433-X. Online version.
- Dallen, Michael. The Rainbow Covenant: Torah and the Seven Universal Laws ISBN 0-9719388-2-2 Library of Congress Control Number 2003102494 and online excerpts and comics
- Lichtenstein, Aaron. "The Seven Laws of Noah". New York: The Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press and Z. Berman Books, 2d ed. 1986. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 80-69121.
- Novak, David. The image of the non-Jew in Judaism: an historical and constructive study of the Noahide Laws. New York : E. Mellen Press, 1983.
- Novak, David. Natural law in Judaism. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998.
- Rakover, Nahum. Law and the Noahides: law as a universal value. Jerusalem: Library of Jewish Law, 1998.
- What does God expect from non-Jews
- Ask Noah International and "The Divine Code" – Shulchan Aruch (Code of Torah Law) for Gentiles
- Institute of Noahide Code
- Academy of Shem: Educational resources for Noahides
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Laws, Noachian
- Wikinoah: Online resource of history, halacha, publications, and websites concerning Bnei Noah
- Detailed explanations of the Noahide Laws for Beginners
- Seven Laws of Noah Animated video