The Noachide Laws are seven laws considered by rabbinic tradition as the minimal moral duties required by the Bible on all men. While Jews are obligated to observe the whole Torah - 613 commandments, every non-Jew is considered a "son of the covenant of Noah" and he who accepts these obligations is considered a righteous person who is guaranteed a place in the world to come.
The seven Noachide laws, as traditionally enumerated are:
- Do Not Deny God
- Do Not Blaspheme God
- Do Not Murder
- Do Not Engage in Incestuous, Adulterous or Homosexual Relationships.
- Do Not Steal
- Do Not Eat of a Live Animal
- Establish Courts/Legal System to Ensure Law Obedience
Except for the seventh law, all are negative commands, and the last itself is usually interpreted as commanding the enforcement of the others. They are derived exegetically from divine demands addressed to Adam and Noah, the progenitors of all mankind, and are thus regarded as universal. Noachides may also freely choose to practice certain other Jewish commandments and Maimonides held that Noachides must not only accept these seven laws on their own merit, but must also accept them as divinely revealed.
The prohibition of idolatry provides that the non-Jew does not have to "know God" but must disregard false gods. This law refers only to actual idolatrous acts but, unlike Jews, Noachides are not required to suffer martyrdom rather than break this law. They are, however, required to choose martyrdom over murder. The Tosefta (Av. Zar. 8:6) records four possible additional prohibitions against: (1) drinking the blood of a living animal; (2) emasculation; (3) sorcery; and (4) all magical practices listed in Deuteronomy 18:10–11.
Even though the Talmud and Maimonides stipulate that a non-Jew who violated the Noachide laws was liable to capital punishment, contemporary authorities have expressed the view that this is only the maximal punishment. According to this view, there is a difference between Noachide law and halakhah. According to halakhah, when a Jew was liable for capital punishment it was a mandatory punishment, provided that all conditions had been met, whereas in Noachide law death is the maximal punishment, to be enforced only in exceptional cases.
In view of the strict monotheism of Islam, Muslims were considered as Noachides 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 Trinitarianism is not forbidden to non-Jews.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved
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