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Judaism --> Bnai Noach - Children of Noah

Bnai Noach
The righteous of all nations and peoples have a share in the World To Come.

According to Judaism, the Noahide laws apply to all humanity through their descent from Noah after The Flood. In Judaism, B'nai Noach (Hebrew, "Descendants of Noah", "The Children of Noah"), and Noahide, are non-Jews who live in accord with the seven Noahide Laws (below). A non-Jewish person of any ethnic/religion is referred to as a bat (daughter) / ben (son) of Noah. Any organization of B'nai Noach is composed of gentiles who follow these rules.

All denominations of Judaism hold that gentiles (non-Jews) are not obligated to follow halakha (Jewish law and custom); only Jews are obligated to do so. Judaism has no tradition of active conversion, and modern-day Judaism discourages proselytization. Rather, for non-Jews, the Noahide Laws are considered the way to have a meaningful relationship with God.

Maimonides states in his work Mishneh Torah (The laws of kings and their ruler ship 8:11) that a non-Jew who is precise in the observance of these Seven Noahide commandments is considered to be a Righteous Gentile and has earned the afterlife. This follows a similar statement in the Talmud (tractate Sanhedrin 105b). However, according to Maimonides, a share in the World to Come is only earned if a person follows the Noahide laws specifically because they consider them to be of divine origin (through the Torah) and not if they simply consider them a good way to live (in which case they would simply be a wise person). Other authorities do not make this distinction.

The seven laws

The seven laws are first mentioned in Tosefta Sanhedrin 9:4 and Talmud Sanhedrin 56a/b:

  • Do not murder.
  • Do not steal.
  • Do not worship false gods.
  • Do not be sexually immoral (forbidden sexual acts are traditionally interpreted to include incest, sodomy, male homosexual sex acts and adultery)
  • Do not eat anything of the body of an unslaughtered animal (This is a humanitarian command; in many regions the practice was to cut meat from animals still alive, despite the suffering caused. See Kosher).
  • Do not blaspheme.
  • Set up righteous and honest courts and apply fair justice in judging offenders.
    The Talmud says: "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come" (Sanhedrin 105a). Any person who lives according to these laws is known as "the righteous among the gentiles". Maimonides states that this refers to those who have acquired knowledge of God and act in accordance with the Noahide laws.

Various rabbinic sources have different positions on the way the seven laws are to be subdivided in categories. Maimonides (Melakhim 10:6) lists one additional Noahide commandment forbidding the coupling of different kinds of animals and the mixing of trees. Radbaz expressed surprise that he left out castration and sorcery which were listed in Baraita (Sanhedrin 56B). The tenth century R. Saadia Gaon added tithes and levirate marriage. The eleventh century R. 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 fourteenth century R. Nissim ben Reuben Gerondi added the commandment of charity.

The sixteenth century Asarah Maamarot of R. Menahem Azariah of Fano enumerates thirty commandments, listing the latter twenty-three as extensions of the original seven. Another commentator (Kol Hiddnshei Maharitz Chayess I, end Ch. 10) suggests these are not related to the first seven, nor based on Scripture, but were passed down by tradition. The number thirty derives from the statement of Ulla in Hullin 92A though this third century C.E. Talmudic sage lists only three other rules in addition to the original seven, consisting of the prohibitions against homosexuality and cannibalism, as well as the imperative to honor the Torah. Rashi then remarks that he does not know the other Commandments 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.

The tenth century R. Samuel ben Hophni Gaon's list of thirty Noahide Commandments is based on Ulla's Talmudic statement though the text is problematic. He includes the prohibitions against suicide and false oaths, as well as the imperatives related to prayer, sacrifices and honoring one's parents. The commandments, according to Rav Shmuel ben Hophni Gaon (early Middle Ages), cover:

  • Idolatry
    • No idolatry
    • To pray
    • To offer ritual sacrifices only to God
  • Blasphemy
    • To believe in the singularity of God
    • No blasphemy
    • No witchcraft
    • No soothsayers
    • No conjurers
    • No sorcerers
    • No mediums
    • No demonology
    • No wizardry
    • No necromancy
    • To respect father & mother
  • Murder
    • No murder
    • No suicide
    • No Molech worship (infant sacrifice)
  • Property
    • No stealing
  • Sexual Immorality
    • No adultery
    • Formal marriages via bride price & marriage gifts
    • No incest with a sister
    • No homosexuality
    • No bestiality
    • Not to crossbreed animals
    • No castration
  • Food Laws
    • Not to eat a limb of a living creature
    • Not to eat or drink blood
    • Not to eat carrion (for those recognized by a Beth Din)
  • Justice
    • To establish courts and a system of justice
    • No false oaths

The contemporary Rabbi Dr. Aaron Lichtenstein counts 66 instructions but Rabbi Harvey Falk has suggested that much work remains to be done in order to properly identify all of the Noahide Commandments, their divisions and subdivisions.

Theft, robbery, and stealing covers the appropriate understanding of other persons, their property, and their rights. The establishment of courts of justice promotes the value of the responsibility of a corporate society of people to enforce these laws, and define these terms. The refusal to engage in unnecessary lust or cruelty demonstrates respect for the Creation itself, as renewed after the Flood. To not do murder would include human sacrifice as being forbidden.

Basic Judaism - Spreading Torah at the Speed of Light

Oct 1, 2007