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Noachide Laws

NOACHIDE LAWS, the seven laws considered by rabbinic tradition as the minimal moral duties enjoined by the Bible on all men (Sanh. 56–60; Yad, Melakhim, 8:10, 10:12). Jews are obligated to observe the whole Torah, while every non-Jew is a "son of the covenant of Noah" (see Gen. 9), and he who accepts its obligations is a ger-toshav ("resident-stranger" or even "semi-convert"; see Av. Zar. 64b; Maim. Yad, Melakhim 8:10). Maimonides equates the "righteous man (ḥasid) of the [gentile] nations" who has a share in the world to come even without becoming a Jew with the gentile who keeps these laws. Such a man is entitled to full material support from the Jewish community (see ET, 6 (1954), col. 289 S.V. ger toshav) and to the highest earthly honors (Sefer Ḥasidim (1957), 358). The seven Noachide laws as traditionally enumerated are: the prohibitions of idolatry, blasphemy, bloodshed, sexual sins, theft, and eating from a living animal, as well as the injunction to establish a legal system (Tosef., Av. Zar. 8:4; Sanh. 56a). Except for the last, all are negative, and the last itself is usually interpreted as commanding the enforcement of the others (Maim. Yad, Melakhim, 9:1). They are derived exegetically from divine demands addressed to Adam (Gen. 2:16) and Noah (see Gen. R. 34; Sanh. 59b), i.e., the progenitors of all mankind, and are thus regarded as universal. The prohibition of idolatry provides that, to ensure social stability and personal salvation, the non-Jew does not have to "know God" but must abjure false gods (Meg. 13a; Kid. 40a; Maim. Yad, Melakhim, 10:2ff.). This law refers only to actual idolatrous acts, and not to theoretical principles and, unlike Jews, Noachides are not required to suffer martyrdom rather than break this law (Sanh. 74a; TJ, Shev. 4:2). They are, however, required to choose martyrdom rather than shed human blood (Pes. 25b and Rashi). In view of the strict monotheism of Islam, Muslims were considered as Noachides (cf. ET, loc. cit., col. 291, n. 17), whereas the status of Christians was a matter of debate. Since the later Middle Ages, however, Christianity too has come to be regarded as Noachide, on the ground that shittuf ("associationism" – this was the Jewish interpretation of Trinitarianism) is not forbidden to non-Jews (see YD 151). Under the prohibitions of blasphemy, murder, and theft Noachides are subject to greater legal restrictions than Jews because non-Jewish society is held to be more prone to these sins (Rashi to Sanh. 57a). The prohibition of theft covers many types of acts, e.g., military conquest (ibid., 59a) and dishonesty in economic life (ibid., 57a; Yad, Melakhim, 9:9). A number of other Noachide prescriptions are listed in the sources (see Sanh. 57b; Mid. Ps. 21; Yad, Melakhim, 10:6), e.g., prohibitions of sorcery, castration, mixed seeds, blemished sacrifices, injunctions to practice charity, procreate, and to honor the Torah (Ḥul. 92a). These are best understood as subheadings of "the seven laws." Noachides may also freely choose to practice certain other Jewish commandments (Yad, Melakhim, 10:9–10). Jews are obligated to try to establish the Noachide Code wherever they can (ibid., 8:10). Maimonides held that Noachides must not only accept "the seven laws" on their own merit, but they must accept them as divinely revealed. This follows from the thesis that all ethics are not ultimately "natural," but require a theological framework (see Schwarzschild, in: JQR, 52 (1962), 302; Fauer, in: Tarbiz, 38 (1968), 43–53). The Noachide covenant plays an important part in both Jewish history and historiography. Modern Jewish thinkers like Moses *Mendelssohn and Hermann *Cohen emphasized the Noachide conception as the common rational, ethical ground of Israel and mankind (see H. Cohen, Religion der Vernunft (1929), 135–48, 381–8), and see Noah as the symbol of the unity and perpetuity of mankind (ibid., 293). Views differ as to whether the ultimate stage of humanity will comprise both Judaism and Noachidism, or whether Noachidism is only the penultimate level before the universalization of all of the Torah (see TJ, Av. Zar. 2:1). Aimé *Pallière, at the suggestion of his teacher Rabbi E. *Benamozegh, adopted the Noachide Laws and never formally converted to Judaism.


S. Krauss, in: REJ, 47 (1903), 32–40; L. Finkelstein, in: JBL, 49 (1930), 21–25; L. Blau, in: Abhandlungen… Chajes (1933), 6–21; P.L. Biberfeld, Das noachidische Urrecht (1937); ET, 3 (1951), 348–62; R. Loewe, in: Studies in Memory of Leon Roth (1966), 125–31, 136–44. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (1988), 1:61, 96, 122, 174f., 208; 3:1562; idem, Jewish Law (1994), 1:67, 108, 138, 194, 234; 4:1853; EA 3/2/84 Naiman v. Chairman Central Elections Committee, 39 (2) PD 293, 298–302; N. Rakover, The Law and the Noachides, Jewish Law and Legal Theory (1993); J.D. Bleich, "Capital Punishment in the Noachide Code," in: Jubilee Volume in Honor of Rav Soloveitchik, 1 (1984), 193–208; A. Enker, "Onesh Mavet be-Sheva Miẓvot Benei No'aḥ," in: Iyyunim be-Mishpat Ivri u-ve-Halakhah (1998), 85–128; A. Kirshenbaum, "Ha-Kellal Ein Adam Mesim Aẓmo Rasha be-Hilkhot Benei No'aḥ," in: Dinei Yisrael, 2 (1971), 71–82.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.