Give thanks unto the Lord: call upon His Name: make His deeds known among the peoples. - Psalm 105:1
For Conversation on What Noahides Were Meant to Be, click here.
WHAT NOACHIDES WERE MEANT TO BE
by Rabbi Michael Katz
One of the most fundamental questions facing B’nai No’ach (Noahides) today is what does G’d expect of them.
Two schools of thought have surfaced and each can find sources to support its opinion
The first school of thought holds that B’nai No’ach were meant to behave in a manner similar to Jews without the full restrictions of the commandments that restrict while, at the same time, refine Israel. This school looks at the commandments that were given to Israel and considers that they represent the will of G’d and, as such, they should be adopted not only by Israel.
This school looks to Rambam (Maimonides), who says that B’nai No’ach may adopt any of the commandments given to Israel - with limited exceptions.
An example of a Biblical source that supports this school is that of Redak (Rabbi Dovid Kimchi) on Bereishis (Genesis) who says that Noah took many more kosher animals into the Ark than non-kosher animals to provide food for his family after the Flood when meat would become permitted for food. Even though Redak backtracks somewhat by saying that kosher animals are more suitable for eating for all humansand has nothing to do with later kosher laws, his words still resonate with those who would argue that kosher laws are good for everyone.
The second school of thought holds that the Covenant that G’d made with Noah and his children does not, and is not meant to, emulate Jewish practice. The laws governing B’nai No’ach were taught with appropriate elaboration in the Academy of Shem and Ever (respectively, son and grandson of Noah.) When we are told that Jacob studied in this Academy we should assume that he was not the only student. What is unfortunate is that Jacob was the only student who was able to transmit his knowledge to his descendants, while the other students of the Academy have disappeared from the pages of history without leaving an impression.
Consider the city of Shechem at the time of Jacob’s tragic encounter with it after leaving the home of his father-in-law. The citizens of Shechem were B’nai No’ach. Presumably they lived lives that were not similar to that of Jacob and his sons. Their behavior and beliefs must have been different as is implied in the Biblical account. Yet, we assume that they were living their lives in accordance with Noachide law. So much so, in fact, that one of the Gaonim established a Noachide law (that women should enter marriage with a dowry) from the behavior of the people of Shechem. So much so that Rambam justifies the killing of the people of the city on the grounds that they deserved death for having violated Noachide law in not defending Dinah and judging the wrongdoing of Shechem. One should, therefore, assume that they were not deserving of death for violating any of the other Noachide laws because they were behaving correctly in all other regards.
Certainly the citizens of Shechem were not observing Jewish Festivals in any form or abstaining from work on the Sabbath. These laws had not yet even been given to Israel.
The citizens of Shechem saw no need to consult with Jacob. They knew what was required of them from their own teachers who transmitted the knowledge from Noah and his sons.
However, the teachings of the Academy of Shem and Ever survive only in the pages of Jewish Law and Tradition. This historical glitch has forced a symbiotic relationship between Jews and B’nai No’ach to form. B’nai No’ach today do not have any other sources to consult. They turn to rabbis knowledgeable in the Talmud and Legal Codes as their only link to understanding what it is that G’d expects of them.
We thus have a situation that links those gentiles who have discovered the Noachide Covenant with Jews regardless of which school of thought one follows with regard to the original destiny of B’nai No’ach.
One can argue both sides of the question: Is this good for the Jews? On the one hand, Jews have new friends who see their own destiny inextricably tied to that of the Jews and will, therefore, rise to the defense of Jews and Israel. On the other hand, Jews are now accused of fishing in Christian and Muslim waters looking for converts.
We definitely sense that recent developments in the mission of the Jews to spread the Light of Torah to the entire world have Messianic overtones. May we merit seeing the establishment of Truth in all of this amazing world, which was and continues to be the greatest gift that G’d has given to mankind.
Rabbi Michael Katz
October 29, 2006
Marcheshvan 7, 5767