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UNDERSTANDING THE SEVEN NOAHIDE LAWS – Part 2

בס”ד

THE 7 NOAHIDE LAWS IN TANAKH

The sages teach:

Adam HaRishon (the first man) was commanded concerning six things: the prohibitions of idolatry, blasphemy, murder, sexual transgressions, and theft, and the obligation to establish laws and courts. The sages teach that hints to these six commandments and the 7th Noahide Law (given later to Noah) are found in Genesis 2:16.

16. “And the L-rd G-d commanded the man, saying”: According to the literal meaning, He commanded the prohibition against eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the next verse, and the literal meaning of His statement, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat” is granting permission to eat of all the other trees in the garden, while “of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat…”

But, the verse seems superfluous, since it could have simply said, “And the L-rd G-d commanded the man, saying: Of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat”. The Sages explained from here that the deeper intent of the verse is to hint to the Seven Noahide Laws, six of which were commanded to Adam on the day that he was created. The Sages identified which words in the verse correspond to which of the Noahide Laws, based on similarity of the Hebrew words with words in other verses throughout the entire Tanach:

commanded: This is a hint to the commandment to make a system of courts of law.
L-rd: This is a hint to the commandment not to blaspheme the L-rd’s Name.
G-d: This is a hint to the commandment not to worship idols.
the man: This is a hint to the commandment not to murder.
saying: This is a hint to the prohibition of forbidden sexual relations.
Of every tree of the garden: And not of that which was taken without permission, by theft [this is a hint to the prohibition against stealing].
you may freely eat: This is a hint to the prohibition of eating meat torn from a living animal.

The Sages intended to teach that this verse contains hints to all the Seven Laws that were commanded to the descendants of Noah for all generations. Although Adam was not commanded regarding meat torn from a living animal, but rather  a prohibition against killing any living animal and eating of its flesh, nonetheless Adam and his descendants were eternally commanded regarding eating meat, as is hinted to in the limitation G-d added to the words “you may freely eat”. Adam was not permitted to slaughter at all in order to eat. Noah was permitted to slaughter, but forbidden to partake of meat torn from a living animal, and this was commanded to the descendants of Noah for all generations,[2] as the verse which G-d spoke to Noah states, “Nevertheless, flesh with its life, which is its blood, you shall not eat”. From this point on, humans were allowed to kill an animal for food or for other necessary human needs. But they are expressly forbidden to eat any meat of a living animal. It should be noted that causing any unnecessary harm to an animal is forbidden as an offshoot of this commandment.[1]

People find the above hints difficult, because they come from an extensive Talmudic analysis of the verse. It has much more practical relevance to look at the specific verses for each Commandment in the Five Books of Moses. Let’s look below at the different commandments and the verses where we can find them:[2]


1. Prohibition of idolatry – the opposite: Embrace G‑d’s Oneness, get to know Him

In Genesis 2:16, G-d commanded Adam, indicating that only the One True G-d, the Creator of both the spiritual and physical realms, should be revered and obeyed as the Divine.

And G-d Hashem commanded the Human, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat;וַיְצַו֙ ד’ אֱלֹקים עַל־הָֽאָדָ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר מִכֹּ֥ל עֵֽץ־הַגָּ֖ן אָכֹ֥ל תֹּאכֵֽל׃  

This command underscores that the highest form of honor is to serve and worship Him alone. Hence, it is essential to worship and serve only the One True G-d and not any false deity or idol. This commandment emphasizes the exclusive devotion owed to G-d and serves as a reminder to avoid the worship of anything other than the true Creator.

2. Prohibition of blasphemy / Do not curse Him – the opposite: Bless Him for what you receive from Him and pray to Him regarding everything that concerns you.

Exodus 22:27 warns of a Jewish man who blasphemed against G-d.

You shall not revile G-d, nor put a curse upon a chieftain among your people.אֱלֹקים לֹ֣א תְקַלֵּ֑ל וְנָשִׂ֥יא בְעַמְּךָ֖ לֹ֥א תָאֹֽר׃  

Leviticus 24:10-17 expands on this, recounting the story of a man who violated this commandment in a fit of rage. The Hebrew text in Leviticus 24:15 uses the phrase “ish ish” (“any man”),

And to the Israelite people speak thus: Anyone who blasphemes G-d shall bear the guilt;וְאֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל תְּדַבֵּ֣ר לֵאמֹ֑ר אִ֥ישׁ אִ֛ישׁ כִּֽי־יְקַלֵּ֥ל אֱלֹקיו וְנָשָׂ֥א חֶטְאֽוֹ׃  

emphasizing that anyone, regardless of their background, who curses G-d will bear the consequences of their sin. This double expression of “ish ish” is meant to include all humanity, both Jews and Gentiles. Thus, it teaches that blasphemy is prohibited for Gentiles as well, and it carries the same gravity as it does for Jews. This is confirmed in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 56a), which clarifies that blasphemy is considered a capital offense for Gentiles just as it is for Jews.

3. Prohibition of murder – the opposite: Guard human life

The prohibition against murder is established in Genesis 9:5-6,

But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of humankind, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of everyone for each other!וְאַ֨ךְ אֶת־דִּמְכֶ֤ם לְנַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶם֙ אֶדְרֹ֔שׁ מִיַּ֥ד כׇּל־חַיָּ֖ה אֶדְרְשֶׁ֑נּוּ וּמִיַּ֣ד הָֽאָדָ֗ם מִיַּד֙ אִ֣ישׁ אָחִ֔יו אֶדְרֹ֖שׁ אֶת־נֶ֥פֶשׁ הָֽאָדָֽם׃  
Whoever sheds human blood,
By human [hands] shall that one’s blood be shed;
For in the image of G-d
Was humankind made.
שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱלֹקים עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם׃  

where G-d declares that He will demand an accounting for the soul of anyone who kills another human being. This is further emphasized by the statement: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, his blood shall be shed; for in the image of G-d He made man.

  1. Prohibition of sexual transgressions – the opposite: Live a moral family life

Five of the six types of forbidden relationships for Gentiles are outlined in Genesis 2:24, where it says that a man shall leave his parents and unite with his wife, becoming one flesh.

Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh.עַל־כֵּן֙ יַֽעֲזׇב־אִ֔ישׁ אֶת־אָבִ֖יו וְאֶת־אִמּ֑וֹ וְדָבַ֣ק בְּאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וְהָי֖וּ לְבָשָׂ֥ר אֶחָֽד׃  

This forbids relations with one’s mother, a woman who has been a partner or wife to one’s father, a woman who is currently partnered or married to another man, another male, or an animal. Additionally, non-Jews are prohibited from having relations with their maternal sisters, as seen in Genesis 20:12, where Abraham referred to Sarah as his sister. Although they shared a paternal grandfather, such relations were considered taboo.

Father-daughter relations are universally understood to be included, evident from Lot’s disgrace after having relations with his daughters following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:29-36, and clarified in Genesis 20:1). Both male-male and female-female relations are deemed abominations by G-d, as indicated in Leviticus 18:3, which condemns the immoral practices of the ancient Egyptians and Canaanites. These practices are referred to as “abominable traditions” in Leviticus 18:30.

  1. Prohibition of theft – the opposite: Respect the property of others

The prohibition of theft is inherent in the permission granted to Adam and Eve by G-d in Genesis 2:16 to eat from the trees of the garden.

And G-d Hashem commanded the Human, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat;וַיְצַו֙ יְ”הֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהִ֔ים עַל־הָֽאָדָ֖ם לֵאמֹ֑ר מִכֹּ֥ל עֵֽץ־הַגָּ֖ן אָכֹ֥ל תֹּאכֵֽל׃  

This implies that without this permission, they would have been forbidden to take anything, as the property did not belong to them. This includes the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which was explicitly forbidden to them under penalty of death (Genesis 2:17). This Noahide commandment against theft was reiterated by Abraham in Genesis 21:25.

Then Abraham reproached Abimelech for the well of water which the servants of Abimelech had seized….[3]וְהוֹכִ֥חַ אַבְרָהָ֖ם אֶת־אֲבִימֶ֑לֶךְ עַל־אֹדוֹת֙ בְּאֵ֣ר הַמַּ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר גָּזְל֖וּ עַבְדֵ֥י אֲבִימֶֽלֶךְ׃  
  1. Ensure justice – the opposite: Prohibition of injustice

Establishing laws and courts of justice is a fundamental aspect of maintaining order and fairness within a society. According to the opinion of Rambam (but not of Ramban; see the explanation at the end), this concept is exemplified in the story of Shechem, Dinah, and Shimon and Levi, the sons of Jacob from the book of Genesis. In Genesis 34:2, it is recounted

Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, chief of the country, saw her, and took her and lay with her and disgraced her.וַיַּ֨רְא אֹתָ֜הּ שְׁכֶ֧ם בֶּן־חֲמ֛וֹר הַֽחִוִּ֖י נְשִׂ֣יא הָאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּקַּ֥ח אֹתָ֛הּ וַיִּשְׁכַּ֥ב אֹתָ֖הּ וַיְעַנֶּֽהָ׃  

Shechem’s actions of taking Dinah against her will amounted to kidnapping, which is a form of theft and was forbidden. However, the men of Shechem’s city did not convene a court of justice to convict him for his crimes, thereby becoming guilty of transgressing the Noahide commandment to establish courts of law. In response to this transgression, Jacob’s sons Shimon and Levi took matters into their own hands and formed a court, convicted Shechem and the men of his city for their respective transgressions, and executed them. This demonstrates the importance of having established laws and courts of justice to ensure that crimes are punished appropriately and that society functions fairly.

The necessity of establishing laws and courts of justice is further emphasized in the commandments given to Noah regarding the trial and punishment of a murderer, as stated in Genesis 9:6

Whoever sheds human blood,
By human [hands] shall that one’s blood be shed;
For in the image of G-d
Was humankind made.
שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱלֹקים עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם׃  

This specific Noahide commandment, mandates the prosecution and penalty of a murderer. According to Talmudic Sages, this entails the murderer being prosecuted in a court by qualified witnesses, and if convicted, facing capital punishment.

The Noahide Law specifies that all non-Jewish societies, are obligated to uphold justice by establishing righteous courts of law. Therefore, the story of Shechem, Dinah, and Jacob’s sons serves as a lesson in the importance of establishing laws and courts of justice to ensure fairness, punish wrongdoing, and maintain societal order.

  1. Prohibition of eating eiver min hachai ( meat of a living animal) – the opposite: Respect animal life

Adam and Eve were initially not permitted to kill animals for food, and this prohibition continued until after the Flood. After Noah and his family emerged from the Ark, G-d permitted the consumption of meat for the first time. However, with this permission, G-d also gave Noah and his descendants a specific commandment: not to eat meat taken from a living animal. This commandment is found in Genesis 9:4

You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it.אַךְ־בָּשָׂ֕ר בְּנַפְשׁ֥וֹ דָמ֖וֹ לֹ֥א תֹאכֵֽלוּ׃  

This prohibition emphasizes the sanctity of life and the humane treatment of animals. Even if an animal is stunned or rendered insensitive, it is forbidden to consume its flesh while it is still alive. This commandment prohibits the consumption of flesh taken from a live animal.

Therefore, this commandment serves as a reminder of the responsibility humans have towards animals and the respect owed to the lives of all creatures. It reflects G-d’s concern for the well-being of both humans and animals, ensuring that the act of consuming meat is done in a manner that upholds ethical standards and preserves the sanctity of life.

The above is presented in the table below with each Noahide Commandment and corresponding Biblical text:

Commandment Biblical Text
Prohibition of idolatry                Genesis 2:16
Prohibition of blasphemy               Exodus 22:27 / Leviticus 24:15
Prohibition of murder                  Genesis 9:5-6
Prohibition of sexual transgressions   Genesis 2:24
Prohibition of theft                   Genesis 2:16 / Genesis 21:25
Ensure justice                         Genesis 34:2 / Genesis 9:6
Prohibition of eating eiver min hachaiGenesis 9:4

Keep in mind that the 7 Commandments must have been known to people from the earliest Biblical times, because one can only pass judgment on someone for transgressing when they know or it’s obvious what the rules are. This applies to the judgment that G-d passed on the world, leading to the Flood, the judgment that the sons of Jacob passed on Shechem, and the judgment that G-d passed on Sodom and Gomorrah.

The reasons for the judgments are:

1. The Flood: The world was filled with violence and corruption, and people turned away from G-d, engaging in idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed. (Genesis 6:5-13)

2. Judgment on Shechem: According to Rambam: Shechem violated Dinah, which was a grave offense against her and her family. Additionally, the men of Shechem did not seek justice for the crime, showing disregard for the moral law. (Genesis 34:1-31) According to Ramban: Shimon and Levi seized upon the opportunity to punish the men of Shechem for their long-time violations of the commandments against idolatry and forbidden sexual relations.

3. Judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah: The cities were known for their wickedness, including sexual immorality, arrogance, and their punishment of compassion for the poor and needy. (Genesis 18:20-21; 19:1-29)

These examples illustrate that judgment was passed because people were aware of the commandments and moral standards they were expected to follow, yet they chose to violate them.

By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources:

[1] See the blog NOAHIDES AND THE RAINBOW,  Some Commentaries on Noah’s Ark, Bi’ur Torat Moshe: Explanation of the Book of Moses by Rabbi Moshe Weiner
[2] Adapted mostly from the AskNoah article sources of the 7Commandments 
[3] Steinalz explains: On this same occasion, Abraham reprimanded Avimelekh with regard to the well of water that Avimelekh’s servants had stolen. Abraham had previously dug a well, which Avimelekh’s servants then took by force. (Source Sefaria)

See also Part 1: UNDERSTANDING THE SEVEN NOAHIDE LAWS – Part 1


Texts from Sefaria.org

With thanks to Dr. Michael Schulman and Rabbi Tani Burton for the feedback and imput

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