Noahidism is a monotheistic ideology based on the Seven Laws of Noah. Those who subscribe to the observance of such laws and their supporting organizations are referred to as B’nei Noah, Children of Noah or Noahides.
All humanity are descendants of Noah. Noah and his three children Shem, Ham, and Japheth survived the Flood aboard the Ark, along with their wives. Once the survivors were able to leave the ark for dry ground, they began to start new families and repopulate the earth. When Noah’s family left the Ark, God made a covenant with them. According to this covenant included the Seven Laws of Noah. Thus, to the B’nei Noah, which is all living humans, as descendants of Noah, are subject to observe the Noahide laws, although Jews as the people to bear the light of Torah before humanity, have further responsibilities placed on them.
The term “Noahide” has come to refer to non-Jews who strive to live in accord with the seven Noahide Laws; the terms “observant Noahide” or “Torah-centered Noahides” would be more precise but are infrequently used. The rainbow, referring to the Noahide or First Covenant (Genesis 9), is the symbol of many organized Noahide groups, following Genesis 9:12-17. A non-Jewish person of any ethnicity or religion is referred to as a (“daughter”) or (“son”) of Noah, but most organizations that call themselves (b’nei noach) are composed of gentiles who are keeping the Noahide Laws.
Noahide law differs radically from the Roman law for gentiles (Jus Gentium), if only because the latter was an enforceable judicial policy. Rabbinic Judaism has never adjudicated any cases under Noahide law (per Novak, 1983:28ff.), although scholars disagree about whether the Noahide law is a functional part of (“Jewish law”).
Seven Laws of Noah are:
Prohibition of Idolatry: You shall not have any idols before God.
Prohibition of Murder: You shall not murder. (Genesis 9:6)
Prohibition of Theft: You shall not steal.
Prohibition of Sexual promiscuity: You shall not commit any of a series of sexual prohibitions, which include adultery, incest and bestiality.
Prohibition of Blasphemy: You shall not blaspheme God’s name.
Dietary Law: Do not eat flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive. (Genesis 9:4)
Requirement to have just Laws: Set up a governing body of law (e.g. Courts)
Modern movement: A modern movement known as the B’nei Noah or B’nei Noach has appeared in which members endeavour to follow the Noahide Laws. Small groups calling themselves the B’nei Noah (children of Noah) have recently organised themselves to form communities to abide by these laws and lead their lives with morality. The High Council of B’nei Noah is particularly reflective of an apparent success at forming ties with Orthodox Judaism and Observant Noahides. There are different approaches within Judaism to B’nei Noah whereby Orthodox Judaism believes that the Jewish people have a duty to provide information to the people interested to implement the Noahide Laws.
Some of their organizations include: A High Council of B’nei Noah was endorsed on January 10, 2006 by a group established in Israel in 2004 that claims to be ‘the new Sanhedrin’; this Council was set up to represent B’nei Noah communities around the world.
United Noahide Council: In April 2006, Noahide leader Billy Jack Dial founded a noahide council called the “United Noachide Council, Inc.” to serve the needs of Noachides worldwide. It was the second council to be formed in conjunction with the Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah.
Acknowledgment of B’nei Noah: There is spiritual value to non-Jews by even just acknowledging the seven laws.
Second Century BCE, Book of Jubilees: An early reference to Noachide Law may appear in the Book of Jubilees 7:20-28, which is generally dated to the 2nd century BCE: “And in the twenty-eighth jubilee [1324-1372 A.M.] Noah began to enjoin upon his sons’ sons the ordinances and commandments, and all the judgments that he knew, and he exhorted his sons to observe righteousness, and to cover the shame of their flesh, and to bless their Creator, and honour father and mother, and love their neighbour, and guard their souls from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity. For owing to these three things came the flood upon the earth … For who so sheddeth man’s blood, and who so eateth the blood of any flesh, shall all be destroyed from the earth.” This is R. H. Charles’ 1913 translation from the Koine Greek, but Jubilees is also extant in Geez and multiple texts found at Qumran which are still being examined.
First Century CE, Acts 15 – Council of Jerusalem: According to Acts, Paul [Saul of Tarsus] began working along the traditional line of proselytizing in the various Greek synagogues where the proselytes of the gate [a biblical term, Exodus 20:9] and the Greek Jews met; and only because he failed to win these Jews to his views, encountering strong opposition and persecution from them, did he turn to the Gentile world after he had agreed at a convention with the apostles at Jerusalem to admit the Gentiles into the Church only as proselytes of the gate, that is, after their acceptance of the Noachian laws (Acts 15:1–31).
Legal status of an observer of Noahide Laws: The Noahide Laws offer mankind a set of absolute values and a framework for righteousness and justice, while the detailed laws that are currently on the books of the world’s states and nations are presumptively valid.
Christianity and the Noahide Laws: Jesus, and Paul after him, intended to convert the Gentiles to the Noahide laws while allowing the Jews to follow full Mosaic Law.
New Testament Proselytism in Christianity: The success of Barnabas and Paul in the heathen world, were in conflict with the authorities in Jerusalem who insisted upon circumcision as the condition of admission of members into the church, until, on the initiative of Peter and James, the head of the Jerusalem church, it was agreed that acceptance of the Noachian Laws namely, regarding avoidance of idolatry, fornication, and the eating of flesh cut from a living animal, should be demanded of the heathen desirous of entering the Church. Some scholars dispute the connection between Acts 15 and Noahide Law and the nature of Biblical Law in Christianity.
From the perspective of traditional Jewish Law, if a non-Jew is to be accepted to live among the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, then that person must keep the Noahide Laws, and a number of additional laws and regulations apply as well. Such a person is called a Ger Toshav, a “Sojourning Alien” amid the people of Israel. A Ger Toshav is the only kind of non-Jew who Jewish law permits to live among the Jewish people in the Land of Israel when the land is run according to Halacha and there is a Sanhedrin and a Temple. Jewish law only allows the official acceptance of a Ger Toshav as a sojourner in the Land of Israel during a time when the Year of Jubilee (yovel) is in effect. Ger Toshav should not be confused with a Ger Tzedek, who is a person who prefers to proceed to total conversion to Judaism, a procedure that is traditionally discouraged by Judaism and allowed to take place only after much thought and deliberation over converting.
Public endorsement of Noahide Laws:
Israeli Druze: The spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Mowafak Tarif, signed a declaration calling on all non-Jews in Israel to observe the Noahide Laws as laid down in the Bible. The mayor of the Galilean city of Shefa-’Amr (Shfaram) where Muslim, Christian and Druze communities live side-by-side also signed the document. The declaration includes the commitment to make a better, more humane world based on the Seven Noahide Commandments and the values they represent commanded by the Creator to all mankind through Moses on Mount Sinai. Jewish ambassadors from six different countries declared, in the name of the states they represent, their support of the universal teachings of Noahide Laws. They represented Poland, Latvia, Mexico, Panama, Ghana, and Japan. They were part of a special program organized by Harav Boaz Kali. The Abu Gosh mayor Salim Jaber accepted the seven Noahide laws.
Support for the spread of the Seven Noahide Commandments by the Druze leaders reflects the Biblical narrative itself. The Druze community reveres the non-Jewish father-in-law of Moses, Jethro, whom Arabs call Shoaib. According to the Biblical narrative, Jethro joined and assisted the Jewish people in the desert during the Exodus, accepted monotheism, but ultimately rejoined his own people. In fact, the tomb of Jethro in Tiberias is the most important religious site for the Druze community.
The Seven Laws of Noah were recognized by the United States Congress in the preamble to the bill that established Education Day. Presidential Proclamation 5956, then-President George H. W. Bush, recalling Joint House Resolution 173, and recalling that the ethical and moral principles of all civilizations come in part from the Seven Noachide Laws, proclaimed March 26, 1991 as “Education Day, U.S.A.” Subsequently, Public Law 102-14, formally designated the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s birthday as “Education Day, U.S.A.”, with Congress recalling that “without these ethical values and principles the edifice of civilization stands in serious peril of returning to chaos”, and that “society is profoundly concerned with the recent weakening of these principles that has resulted in crises that beleaguer and threaten the fabric of civilized society”.Whereas Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society and upon which our great Nation was founded; known as the Seven Noahide Laws.
Subdividing the Seven Laws: Various rabbinic sources have different positions on the way the seven laws are to be subdivided in categories. Maimonides lists one additional Noahide commandment forbidding the coupling of different kinds of animals and the mixing of trees. Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (Radbaz), a contemporary commentator on Maimonides, expressed surprise that he left out castration and sorcery which were listed in the Talmud.
Noahide laws as a basis for secular governance: Traditionally, Judaism regards the determination of the details of the Noahide Law as something to be left to Jewish rabbis. This, in addition to the teaching of the Jewish law that punishment for violating one of the seven Noahide Laws includes a theoretical death penalty, is a factor in modern opposition to the notion of a Noahide legal system. Jewish scholars respond by noting that Jews today no longer carry out the death penalty, even within the Jewish community. Jewish law, in contemporary practice, sees the death penalty as an indicator of the seriousness of an offense; violators are not actually put to death.
The tenth century Rabbi Saadia Gaon added tithes and levirate marriage. The eleventh century Rav Nissim Gaon included “listening to God’s Voice”, “knowing God” and “serving God” besides going on to say that all religious acts which can be understood through human reasoning are obligatory upon Jew and Gentile alike. The fourteenth century Rabbi Nissim ben Reuben Gerondi added the commandment of charity.
The sixteenth century work Asarah Maamarot by Rabbi Menahem Azariah of Fano (Rema mi-Fano) enumerates thirty commandments, listing the latter twenty-three as extensions of the original seven, which includes prohibitions on various forms of sorcery, as well as incest and bestiality. Another commentator, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes suggests these are not related to the first seven, nor based on Scripture, but were passed down by oral tradition. Talmud commentator Rashi remarks on this that he does not know the other Commandments that are referred to. Though the authorities seem to take it for granted that Ulla’s thirty commandments included the original seven, an additional thirty laws is also possible from the reading.
The tenth century Shmuel ben Hophni Gaon lists thirty Noahide Commandments based on Ulla’s Talmudic statement, though the text is problematic. He includes the prohibitions against suicide and false oaths, as well as the imperatives related to prayer, sacrifices and honoring one’s parents.
Theft, robbery and stealing covers the appropriate understanding of other persons, their property and their rights. The establishment of courts of justice promotes the value of the responsibility of a corporate society of people to enforce these laws and define these terms. The refusal to engage in unnecessary lust or cruelty demonstrates respect for the creation itself as renewed after the Flood.
The prohibition against committing murder includes a prohibition against human sacrifice. Maimonides, in his Mishnah Torah, interpreted the prohibition against homicide as including a prohibition against abortion.