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PROMOTING THE 7 LAWS OF NOAH: IS IT A REQUIREMENT FOR NOAHIDES?

בס”ד

It is forbidden for a Jew or non-Jew to worship idols. It is forbidden to cause a Jew to transgress a prohibition or obligation of the 613 Jewish Commandments and it is forbidden to cause a non-Jew to transgress a prohibition of one the 7 Noahide Commandments. One of the 7 Commandments is the prohibition against idolatry.

The Noahide Commandment against idolatry is hinted at in Genesis 2:16-17. “And the L-rd G-d commanded the man, saying: Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat from it, for on the day that you eat from it, you shall die.” In the analysis of this verse in the Talmud[1], it is written:

Rabbi Yohanan says, “G-d,” this alludes to [the Noahide prohibition of] idolatry; and so, it states: “You shall have no other gods before Me” [Exodus 20:2].

Therefore, it is forbidden to proselytize others to serve an idol or/and to make them enthused about it, or to persuade or tempt them to accept idolatry.

Noahides sometimes wonder if they should actively try to encourage other non-Jews to accept the 7 Noahide Commandments. The answer is yes (as explained below). But an argument is heard that “Noahides should not proselytize because Jews do not engage in active proselytizing.” This statement itself reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about this issue.

Why does Judaism not have the conversion drive of Christianity or Islam?

A person from the nations does not have to become a Jew (which can only be done through an Orthodox Jewish conversion) in order to have a personal relationship with G-d. But Orthodox Jewish conversion is an option that a Gentile can pursue.

There is no obligation within Torah law for Jews to encourage non-Jews to convert actively, and there are several reasons why there must not be such a policy. The following are two main reasons:

  • 1. Some Christians and Muslims with insincere motives claim to convert to Judaism, but they do so with a plan to proselytize Jews to those other religions once they are admitted into a Jewish community.[2]
  • 2. It is essential that non-Jews who want to convert to become Jews should steadfastly seek to do so entirely of themselves for the sake of taking on the Jewish commandments of their own free will (not, for example, because they are in a relationship with someone who is Jewish).

Non-Jews who want to convert should be strong in their commitment, so they will not eventually fall back from full Jewish observance after they convert.

However, non-Jews who want to convert to become Jews entirely of their own free will, with good intentions, can pursue that option. Maimonides himself wrote a beautiful letter of encouragement to a unique individual, Ovadia HaGer (Ovadia the convert) who converted from Islam to Judaism.[3] In the letter, Maimonides assures him that a convert is in some ways even greater than someone born Jewish. While the latter can trace his or her lineage to their ancient forbearers, a convert traces his or her lineage directly to the Almighty Himself[4] [since it is the Almighty Who recreates the person as Jew, when the person’s authentic conversion takes place].

Jews have an opportunity to encourage non-Jews to observe the 7 Laws of Noah

Through Adam, G-d gave 6 (some Sages say 7) commandments to be observed. Through Noah, G-d added the prohibition of consuming meat which was separated from a living animal.[5] All non-Jews are commanded to observe these 7 Noahide Commandments, and their details, to the best of their ability. When G-d gave the Jewish Commandments to the people of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai, He also re-affirmed through Moses the 7 Commandments for the non-Jews.[6]

The Rambam writes:

Anyone who accepts upon himself the fulfillment of these seven mitzvot (commandments) and is precise in their observance is considered one of “the pious among the gentiles” and will merit a share in the World to Come. This applies only when he accepts them and fulfills them because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah and informed us through Moses, our teacher, that Noah’s descendants had been commanded to fulfill them previously.[7]

Furthermore, a non-Jew will attain his highest level of observing these commandments if he bases his observance on the fact that “the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah,” and if he observes them correctly in accordance with the details that the Torah tradition sets forth. The only way that this information can come to the non-Jews is from the Torah laws that have been given to the Jewish people, because Torah was given only to the Jewish people through Moses, at Mount Sinai.[8]

Opinions among the Rabbis are divided as to whether it is an obligation on the Jewish people or an individual Jew to teach the 7 Commandments. However, it is an honorable task to undertake this duty. Anyone who feels called to bring non-Jews to G-d helps spread the knowledge of G-d’s unity throughout the world so that more and more people accept G-d and worship only Him.

Thus, non-Jews are obligated to observe their 7 Commandments from the Torah, and Jews possess the Torah and this knowledge. Therefore, Torah-observant Jews must encourage non-Jews to observe these commandments. This must be done in a peaceful and respectful manner. It is the presentation of the truth; what a non-Jew then does with it is his own free will and choice, but when he knowingly violates them, he is liable.[9]

Non-Jews have an opportunity to encourage other non-Jews to observe the 7 Laws of Noah

The Jewish people are called the “light of the world.” [10] They have the knowledge to teach the 7 Commandments to the non-Jews, but what about non-Jews who believe in their 7 Commandments?  Should they encourage other non-Jews to accept the 7 Commandments?

Rabbi Moshe Weiner writes: “This commandment to Moses to compel all the nations of the world to accept the seven Noahide precepts is not incumbent merely on the Jews, but also upon all the nations of the world; anyone who has the power to compel others to act in the correct way is obligated to do so.”[11]

Anyone who violates one of the 7 Commandments and does not repent and improve his way is a transgressor in G-d’s eyes.[12]

When you are someone who observes the 7 Commandments, it is only natural to truthfully urge people to change their ways, to accept the 7 Noahide Commandments, to which they are obliged.

People sometimes mistakenly call this “proselytizing” a non-Jew to accept Noahidism. The correct term for this is “kiruv” in Hebrew because Noahidism is the faith that the non-Jew is inherently born into. It is assigned to him from the outset by G-d, his Creator. Therefore, if it happens that a non-Jew is found to be professing a differing faith or belief, the obligatory effort to draw the person back to his inherent faith should be called “kiruv”, which means “bringing back to being close” – bringing the non-Jew back to his natural/inherent/assigned faith.[13]

A common translation for “kiruv” is “outreach”. This means “reaching out” to a Jew who is currently distant from his inherent faith (Judaism), or to a Gentile who is currently distant from his inherent faith (Noahidism), in order to draw the person back to being closer to G-d.

Similarly, Rabbi Moshe Weiner writes:[14]

To help a person who is a denier of Torah or an idol worshipper because of the habit of his upbringing, and has never known the truth because he has not learned it, it is incumbent on one who does know the truth* to teach him G-d’s truth and the commandments that apply for him as a Gentile, and to correct and improve his ways.

*This applies for both Jews and pious Gentiles who know the truth and details of the Noahide Commandments, if they are able to explain these obligations persuasively.

Promoting the 7 Commandments is perhaps a big task. But it is a moral obligation for every human being, both Jews and non-Jews, to point it out to his fellow man if he sees him violating one of this person’s commandments or coming to some other sin, in order to improve the person’s life and bring him to live the good path that G-d has given to mankind. This should be done in a calm and kind manner, always from the heart and not from one’s ego. One does not have to do this if one knows that the other person will challenge one’s words or will not accept them, or that one would be putting himself in danger. However, it is wise to distance oneself from such a person so that he will not think that his wrong way of living is being accepted.[15] A Noahide is obligated to try to prevent a person from sinning, and this is part of the obligation to uphold observance of the Noahide Commandments. On a broader scale, the obligation of a society to set up a legal system is one of these commandments.

All this is because G-d made the world to be inhabited in a good way, as expressed in Isaiah 45:18

For thus said G-d, the Creator of the heavens, Who alone is G-d, Who formed the earth and made it, Who alone established it, Who made it not waste, but formed it for habitation: “I am G-d and there is no other.”

In this way, pious Jews and non-Jews will draw the time of which Zechariah 14:9 spoke closer: “And G-d shall be Sovereign over all the earth; in that day there shall be one G-d with one Name.”

Christians sometimes have an urge from their past to move into active efforts for converting people. Everyone knows missionaries who stand on the bridge with leaflets or ring people’s doorbells. Everyone also knows that in most cases this causes irritation and frustration among the people addressed. This says enough about their method; it is [thankfully] counterproductive.

Personally, I am called on to be active in propagating the 7 Noahide Commandments by writing and actively engaging in bringing this message to the world.

An important requisite for teaching the 7 Commandments to people is to begin by living them properly. Show people who you are, and what your values and standards are, and make them curious by your way of speaking and acting righteously.

I have chosen to take an active stance to spread awareness of the 7 Commandments, by getting involved in Sukkat Shalom and actively maintaining a website where people can find information. The Internet is where people seek their information, and so in that light, there needs to be places where correct information can be found. This is not to say that people should feel obliged to carry out my way of propagating the information.

By Angelique Sijbolts

Thanks to Dr. Michael Schulman for his instructive feedback and informative input
Thanks to Rabbi Tani Burton for his feedback

Sources:

[1] Sanhedrin 56b – 6
[2] See the Youtube: Shocker! Christian missionaries posing as ultra-Orthodox rabbis exposed by Rabbi Tovia Singer!
[3] Teshuvot HaRambam vol. 2
[4] See the article: Did Maimonides Accept Contemporary Converts as Jewish?
[5] See the article: The 7 Laws of Noah, which explains which types of animals are included in this prohibition.
[6] See the article: When did the 7 Laws become Torah Law at Sinai?
[7] Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim (Laws of Kings) 8:11
[8] To Perfect the World, The Lubavitsher Rebbe’s Call to Teach the Noahide Code to All Mankind, p. 23
[9] Rambam, Laws of Kings 8:10
[10] Isaiah 42:6
[11] The Divine Code, 4e edition, Part I, topic 3:1
[12] Rambam, Laws of Repentance 3:14
[13] The word kiruv is used for the obligatory effort to “bring a Jew back to being close” – that is, to bring the Jew back to his natural/inherent/assigned faith. To express this in another way: when a Jewish baby is born, he is close to G-d because he has no sins. As he grows older, he may encounter situations that bring him to sins, which distance him from G-d. When someone helps the Jew give up one of his sins or to observe one of his commandments which he neglected, the Jew is brought back closer to G-d. This is “kiruv.” By the same token, this applies to a non-Jew who is brought back closer to G-d through accepting and observing his 7 Noahide Commandments.
[14] The Divine Code, 4 edition, Part I, topic 1:12
[15] The Divine Code, 4e edition, Part I, topics 4:8 and 8:7-8

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