“But flesh, when its soul is with its blood, you shall not eat it… He who spills the blood of man, by man shall his blood be spilled, for in the Image of G-d did He create man.” [Genesis 8:4,6]
As an Internet program, Project Genesis reaches out to Jews all over the world — this week, we received a wonderful and heartfelt letter of thanks from a Jewish woman in Zimbabwe. Also, of course, a significant number of interested non-Jews join our program, curious about the Jewish religion, customs, and/or practices. We’ve even had a subscriber from the Vatican!
Most of the time, our messages about honesty, ethics, and kindness are appropriate to everyone. At other times, however, we talk about distinctly Jewish practices — Shabbos, holiday observances (the Sukkah, Chanukah candles, the Pesach Seder), etc.
Parshas Noach is the best time to turn the tables. Most every non-Jew curious about Judaism will inquire what Judaism has to say about non-Jews — it’s only logical, and it’s only appropriate that we address this question.
Unlike the other religions of the world, Judaism does not believe that everyone must become a Jew in order to approach G-d or earn a place in the World to Come. When King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he asked of G-d that He hear the prayers of all who pray towards that Temple: “Also a gentile who is not of your people Israel, but will come from a distant land for Your Name’s sake… and will come and pray toward this Temple, may You hear in Heaven Your dwelling-place, and do according to all that that gentile calls out to You…” [I Kings 8:41-43]
Judaism neither solicits converts, nor suggests that non-Jews must follow all the Jewish practices and laws. Quite to the contrary! Maimonides writes in the Laws of Kings 8:10:
“Moshe Rabbeinu (Rabbi Moses) did not give the Torah and the Commandments to anyone but Israel, as the verse says, ‘The Inheritance of the Congregation of Jacob.’ [It was also given] to anyone from the other nations who desires to convert… but we do not force anyone who does not want [to accept them] to accept the Torah and the Commandments.”
But even so, Jewish prayers call for the day when “all humanity will call upon Your Name… they will all accept upon themselves the yoke of your Kingship….” How is a non-Jew to come close to G-d, to do His will? What does it mean to “accept the yoke of His Kingship” if the Jewish Commandments do not apply?
The answer is found in G-d’s statement to Noach, father of all humanity. As Noach leaves the Ark, G-d tells him that he may eat meat — but not while the nefesh [soul] of the animal remains in its blood, meaning that a limb or blood taken from a living animal is prohibited. Murder is also forbidden, and Noach is told to set up courts to judge murder and other crimes.
All told, Judaism teaches that G-d gave seven laws (or more accurately, seven categories of legal obligations) which are incumbent upon all humanity:
1) Not to eat a limb or meat that was severed from a live animal
2) Not to curse the name of G-d
3) Not to steal or rob
4) Not to worship idols
5) Not to commit adultery or have other forbidden sexual relationships
6) Not to murder a fellow man
7) To establish courts of justice, to pronounce and mete out decisions for all mankind, and to ensure observance of the previous laws.
And with this, concludes Maimonides (8:11): Anyone who accepts these Seven Commandments, and is careful to do them, this person is one of the ‘Pious of the Nations of the World’ and has a share in the World to Come. This is provided that s/he accepts them and performs them because they are G-d’s Command, part of His Torah, which our Rabbi Moses informed us were Commanded previously to the sons of Noach.
In our day, there are scattered non-Jewish congregations that have accepted upon themselves these “Seven Noachide Laws.” There are organizations and web sites devoted to them, their needs and their studies. The best I’ve seen is www.hamayim.org [HaMayim is Hebrew for “The Water,” explained on the “About Us” page.] For those interested, there is much to learn!
Good Shabbos, [and for those not called upon to celebrate the Shabbos, Have a Great Weekend!]
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2003 Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.