Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Seven Noachide Laws - Sheva Mitzvot B'Nei Noach

If you don't already know this, you should: You don't have to be Jewish to merit olam haba, the afterlife.

In other words, Hashem loves non-Jews too. 

And even better, you don't have to wear anything in particular, or subscribe to a particular religion, or eat kosher! All non-Jews have to do to please Hashem is basically live a good life. And most religions in the world pass muster! (And I once heard a shiur that generally all modern atheists also would, but that is more complicated than I care to argue right now. But I found it convincing.)

In order to merit olam haba, be on Hashem's Nice List, and be a generally good person, you must follow the seven Noachide laws, which are the commandments that Hashem gave to Noah when he emerged from the Ark after the flood. Non-Jews who abide by these laws are called B'Nei Noach. (Arguably, you could call people who abide by these laws without realizing it B'Nei Noach too.)

The B'Nei Noach are an actual religious group, and anyone considering conversion should consider them first. If you're coming from another religion, maybe you could stay that religion. Or maybe you could join the "official" B'Nei Noach and even attend your local synagogue. Only if you rule out Noachidism for you personally should you move on to considering conversion.

I'll admit that I took the following formulation from Wikipedia. I think it's worded more clearly than other places I found.
  • Prohibition of idolatry 
  • Prohibition of murder
  • Prohibition of theft  
  • Prohibition of sexual immorality
  • Prohibition of blasphemy
  • Prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive
  • Establishment of courts of law (aka, set up a system of justice)
So what's up with the living flesh one, right? The example thrown around most is crab. Because they can regrow their legs, commercially-sold crab legs are often removed from a living animal. Some people expand this as a prohibition against cruelty to animals in general. 

I still can't get my family to stop eating crab. This bothers me. I would think that not tearing off animal's limbs and eating them while the creature still lives would be the easiest thing on that list. It makes me ill just thinking about it.

If you are interested in learning more about B'Nei Noach, a reader of this blog blogs at Creed of Noah.


  1. That's absolutely disgusting. Do you have any references for that so I can share?

    1. that's Funny! But whats the point when Y/H/V/H states to keep the Sabbath holy it is a MARK/SIGN ( my ephasisis) that you are his people and he is yours.

  2. I don't know about the shiur you heard, but I believe it is generally accepted that B'nei Noach are commanded to believe in God. See Nissim Gaon, Hakdama to Meseches Berochos, and Margolios Hayam, Sanhedrin 56a. (It seems that the Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzva 432 held that non-Jews are obligated to fear God, though one could argue on that point.) The Margolios Hayam explains this is included in the prohibition of blasphemy.

    It seems quite logical. The pleasure of the afterlife is being close to God. The degree of reward is dependent upon the desire of the person to be close to God in this world, (fulfilling the commandments etc.) If during your lifetime you don't actively believe in God, it seems absurd that you would be rewarded in this way.

    Good luck re: the crabs.

  3. I know every person seeking conversion is first pointed to the Noahide laws, but I wonder how feasible this is? For one, unless you live in a few certain places, there are no communities of Noahides and, while most major world religions are likely close, there are others who would say that most of them would violate the prohibitions on idolatry.

    For me, looking at the prospect of living my life as a B'Nei Noach was a very depressing thought. To me, it meant being cut off from a people, wandering lost and alone, trying to figure out life without the support and structure of Torah and mizvot. For others, I can see how it might seem far less strict and confining, but then I wonder, how exactly does a Noahide pray? Marry? Bury their dead? What community do they cling to? Who do they go to for pastoral counselling?

    I wonder how many people consider conversion and do decide to instead follow the Noahide path?

  4. Redacted - I would have thought that one of the benefits of keeping the "7 mitzvas" would be that there is no need for any of the things that you mentioned. You could marry anyone, live anywhere you like... You can keep all those mitzvas without relying upon a community.

  5. @Skylar - I'd have to say that the perspective of an already-married person (to a non-Jew, it turned out) was pretty much the same. For me, a lot of it was looking at my kids. If we didn't convert, who would they date and marry? How would they explain to their Jewish friends? Basically, all the same reasons a young single person would choose conversion came back to us in the form of our children, plus our own reasons as adults seeking to be a part of a community that fit with our beliefs in Torah and mitzvot.

    I have to say, and I might be the only person who felt this way, that each time someone pointed out B'Nei Noach to me, it stung a little. I can't put my finger quite on why it hurt, though. It was almost like I was seeing the whole great feast of Judaism laid out in front of me and then being told, "Oh, but you can't have all this...besides, shouldn't you just be happy with the cake in front of you? After all, there's no cake on the buffet."

    I know maybe that's a goofy way of putting it, but to me, the freedoms and ease of remaining at B'Nei Noach pale in comparison to the idea of being included in the Jewish people. Sure, this path is a LOT harder. Sure, there are heavy responsibilities this way and often I'm not sure how I'll measure up, but there also so much rich tradition and a real sense of tribe and community.

    I'd rather give up the cake and have something with more substance.

  6. A point that sometimes gets lost in discussions about Noahidism is that the Noahide Laws are a universal moral code for all humanity, not a way to be a "Jewish convert wannabe" or "Judaism lite" or even a new religion. The idea is that all men and women can naturally serve God in their own way, in whatever way is culturally appropriate for them, as long as it follows the 7 general laws. That's why I disagree with the all-or-nothing approach of "If you already believe in the Torah why not convert?" The religious structure of formal communities or "official" status with a beit din is nice for those who want it, but it isn't needed.

  7. The Rambam says (Laws of Kings 8:11) that one who accepts the seven Laws out of intellectual conviction but not because G-d commanded them cannot be counted among the pious of the Gentiles, but rather among their wise men. In light of this, it is difficult for me to see that an atheist would receive that title even if they don't practice idolatry and observe the other 6 commandments.

  8. "Personally, I think it's a dead end for just about everyone, as the world stands right now. My options were to daven at shul and constantly confuse people who thought I was Jewish, dating atheists and agnostics (because I wasn't going to date a Jew and I wasn't going to date someone who thinks Jews are going to Hell)"

    This was more or less my personal experience. I became convinced of Judaism's truth in college, at around 19-20, but subscribed to the Noahide laws at the time, not feeling confident that conversion was for me. I maintained very close ties to the Jewish community where I lived, and over the subsequent years found myself turning to Judaism more and more to frame how I approached my life in general. By early med school I really started to feel a yearning to get married, and start a family, but I didn't see how I could possibly share my feelings about Judaism with the women I knew in a way that would make me feel confident that they understood. And seeing how my relationship with Judaism was so fundamental to my happiness, that was a big deal to me. The secular ones would dismiss many of the conservative morals as old-fashioned, and the religious (Christian) ones would most typically emphasize belief in Jesus as something fundamental to raising a family, something which I could not in good conscience support.
    I ended up converting, and later getting married, and B"H I am so glad I decided to pursue this route.
    I do think, however, that the period of time I observed the noachide laws was valuable, however. It's important to be able to "feel out" what living a certain lifestyle would entail. And I know based on personal experience that living the life of a Noachide would realistically only provide so much satisfaction. This in part helps me when I encounter frustrating aspects about Judaism, or I consider some of the hardships that are involved. I realize what the alternative entails, and pound for pound I'll take what I have any day of the week.

  9. There is no isur of ever min hachai for sea creatures.

  10. Originally posted: September 23, 2011 at 4:38 AM

    Dena, I'm afraid I don't :(

    AlterBochur: It's similar to the argument that Jews raised in non-observant homes are not considered knowledgeable Jews. The argument was (very very roughly) that people who choose atheism today are choosing what they think to be the best answer based upon what they know, but that if they were given "proper instruction," they would believe in Hashem. The same discussion involved the traditional (and almost universally rejected) idea of suicide as an affront to Hashem. (Since nowadays people are usually being influenced by factors other than wanting to "stick it to Hashem," as a participant called it.)

  11. Originally posted: September 23, 2011 at 4:46 AM

    Redacted and Anonymous: I want to come back to this at another time. But in short, I found that there was no one appropriate to date, no community for me to join, no religious leader to help me apply the sheva mitzvot to daily life like we do with halacha, and no support system to raise children in. And I never thought about the burial part before, but that's a good one!

    Personally, I think it's a dead end for just about everyone, as the world stands right now. My options were to daven at shul and constantly confuse people who thought I was Jewish, dating atheists and agnostics (because I wasn't going to date a Jew and I wasn't going to date someone who thinks Jews are going to Hell), and rabbis who didn't know how to advise me on anything as a non-Jew. Heaven help me if there hadn't been any sources of Jewish learning around me. Also, I had a very hard time with adjusting the text of the siddur because they weren't "our" forefathers and "we" were not commanded. It was awful. And it looked like a horrible, lonely existence. Note that I was a single in college at the time.

    However, I think it's an excellent option for someone already-married who is considering conversion but happily married to a non-Jew. But for single people? No way.

  12. I did not know that about the crab legs. That's horrifying. I am not a fan of seafood in the first place but that's just absolutely awful.

  13. The prohibition of blasphemy does not necessarily imply belief in Hashem. Neither does
    Maimonides belittle people - or exclude them from Noahidism - if they follow the commandments for intellectual reasons. On the contrary, he calls them 'wise' instead of 'pious'. Thus, Maimonides acknowledges the difference of two approaches - intellect or affect - without judging their relative merit. The point he makes is, that it is important to reach the same conclusion.
    As for blasphemy, an atheist or an agnostic is quite able of blaspheming or belittling the Name of Hashem. One does not need to believe to swear or curse in vain.

    The prohibition of meat torn from a living animal. I do not think, that crabs are a really good example for this Prohibition. Far more, it has to do with slaughtering practices in general. One aspect of kosher meat (among many others) is, that the draining of the blood ensures, that the animal in question is really dead before dissection Begins. This is certainly not the case in modern abbattoirs where in many cases the animal is still alive when dissection begins - due to slaughtering Speed required. With a stunned animal, it is not easy to verify actual death.
    I myself rely on Kosher or Halal meat to fulfil this Mitzvah.

    As for conversion to Judaism, please consider that Hashem may have had a reason for not making you Jewish. In my case I had an atheist Father, Grandfather and Great Grandfather of Jewish stock and a non jewish Mother. Where does that leave me?
    Being Jewish involves being part of a Chosen Nation or Tribe. This was Chosen to be the example or the intstructional Authority on Torah = Instructions. i.e. the instructions of Hashem manifested in/on a model society, founded at Sinai and including every person present.
    Not really a very comfortable position to be in.
    Conversion also means leaving your Family. This in turn would imply disrespect for your Father and Mother. A convert would thus be in constant conflict with the fourth commandment at Sinai. Remember, that the command to respect your parents is an absolute and not dependent on your parents beliefs or conduct.