Aaron Lichtenstein

From Wikinoah English
Jump to: navigation, search

Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, Ph.D., teaches at the City University of New York (CUNY), and has taught at New York University, Yeshiva University, University of Denver, Jews' College (London), and Yeshiva Hechal HaTorah. He is the author of "The Seven Laws of Noah" (Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press) and also "Noachide Communities Throughout the Ages", was staff editor at the Encyclopedia Judaica, and authored a dozen of its articles on the Marranos of Portugal. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, following the general consensus of halacha, sees the Seven Laws as Categories. In Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein's opinion it is possible to look at all seven laws with the view towards establishing the extent to which they, severally, correspond to the Jewish law directed at Jews. His study seeks to resolve the question raised in the correspondence as to the categorization of the Laws of Noah. He sought to prove that the earliest sources on Noahism, and the writers who deal with these sources conscientiously, view the seven categories as subject heads for a mass of legal dicta.

The Seven Laws of Noah

His intention was not to simply define Noahide law in terms of an expanded list of sixty six laws, rather only to prove that the volume of Noahide Law is greater - when compared to the volume of Israelite Law - than a ratio of 7 to 613 would indicate. His book "The Seven Laws of Noah" demonstrates the breadth of Noahic legislation.[1]

His study of Noahism concentrates on those aspects of Jewish law which Jew and Gentile have in common. Rabbi Lichtenstein felt this was necessary in order to effect the comparison which comprised the essence of his study. In due course, however, he came across instances of point-blank dissimilarity in legislation for Noahide and Jew. Some of these dissimilarities were treated in passing.[2] Seen from the present vantage point, a systematic study of the why, where, when, what, and how of these varying legal dicta is the next necessary step toward gaining insight into the substance of Noahism.[3]


Rabbi Lichtenstein felt that his study demonstrated that the Seven Noahide Laws are more than seven stark pronouncements. He claims that, as envisioned by the Talmudists, each of these seven laws represents a significant legislative area and that each area may encompass numerous legal dicta. This fact has been underscored by the compilation of a list of biblical laws that are operative in Noahism, within the seven laws. The listing yields a total of sixty-six Imperatives which pertain to the Noahide system as well. The breakdown of the list, as established in the foregoing, is as follows:

  1. Theft (16)
  2. Justice (19)
  3. Homicide (1)
  4. Illicit Intercourse (10)
  5. Limb of a Living Creature (2)
  6. Idolatry (10)
  7. Blasphemy (8)

As a consequent, the ratio of 613 to 7 should not be considered the indicator in any comparison between the Israelite and Noahide systems as to the relative mass of legal material. Instead of this ratio, which is roughly 100 to 1, one should consider the ratio of 613 to 66, roughly 10 to 1. What is more, even a 10 to 1 ratio constitutes an underestimation of the relative breadth of Noahide legislation when one takes into account the number of the 613 commands which are not now - during the post Exilic period - in force. These commands, whose practical validity depends on the existence of a Jewish theocracy in Palestine, should probably not be included in effecting an accurate comparison between the two systems, because one should not expect that Noahide law be involved with dicta that are tied to singularly, Jewish national and historical phenomena. In other words, those of the 613 commands which are practically valid only when the Jerusalemite Temple is operative should not be used in making any comparison because the state of Jewish religious rites and institutions aught play no role in the constitution of Noahide law in its basic form.

Two hundred seventy-one of the total 613 commands remain in constant effect through both pre-Exilic and post-Exilic times, according to the figure arrived at by Yisrael Mair HaCohen Kagan, known popularly as Chofetz Chaim, in his Sefer HaMitzvoth HaKatzer (An Abbreviated Book of the Commandments), which bears a subtitle that translates: "Selected and gathered herein are all the Positive Commandments that can be fulfilled during the present era; also all the Negative Commandments whose restrictions hold for the present era, according to the enumeration of them by Maimonides and many of his contemporaries.[4]

If one pursues this tack, he emerges with an Israelite/Noahite ratio of 271 to 66, or roughly 4 to 1, a far cry from the ratio that juxtaposing 613 and 7 yields. The ratio of 4 to 1 being considered here is based on the acceptance of the dominant or majority opinion when the inclusion of any commandment is subject to dispute. This procedure has been followed throughout the present study. However, the ratio would continue to improve in favor of Noahism if one were to incorporate such minority opinions as those of Tana Debe Menashei and R. Eliezer and others mentioned earlier. While such minority opinions are properly omitted from the list being compiled, these minority opinions do reinforce our awareness that the Talmudists envisioned Noahide Law as a system of considerable breadth, and more than a haphazard combination of some seven laws. [5]

Further Study

Rabbi Lichtenstein suggests that further study center of the structure, not substance, of Noahide Law is needed at this time. Firstly, he points out, we are left wondering about the meaning of the "seven" in the Laws of Noah. Was it a matter of chance or was it meant to represent the Seven of Significance and Completion, rooted in the seven days of Genesis? Subsequent biblical literature contains hundreds of examples of this number of significance and completion, found throughout the Torah (e.g., the seven weeks of Shavuoth in Deuteronomy 15:9), the Prophets (e.g., the seven priests with seven horns making seven circuits around Jericho, of Joshua 6:4), and the Writings (e.g., the seven periods of Daniel 9:25). Rabbi Lichtenstein says if further study were to demonstrate that the latter meaningful number was intended, we would want to re-think our perception of Noahism in the light of this concept, since the result could well forge a solid link between Noahism and the pattern of biblical thought.

Further, Near Eastern texts, too, show over a hundred examples of the Seven of Significance and Completion, ranging in probable date of composition from Patriarchal times to the Flood epoch, with over a dozen samples in the Gilgamesh materials alone.[6] On this basis, one may attempt again to project the Laws of Noahl Fagainst a contemporaneous background around the Biblica lood and Mesopotamian Deluge by way of test, the initial such attempt by Philip Biberfeld having been criticized in our introductory chapter. Particular attention might be given to a citation such as the purported Prayer of Enheduanna (daughter of Sargon the Great, c. 2250 BC) which begins: "Queen of all the me (rules) ... who grasps in hand the seven me. " These me rules are understood by Sumerologists as being divine norms, duties, and powers assigned at Creation - a concept basic to the ancient world with a range from the dharma (laws) of the Upanishads to the divine Tablet of Destinies of early Assyria.[7] What historical relationship, if any, might be found between the Seven Laws and these seven rules?

What distinguishes these Law at their very core?

Rabbi Lichtenstein ends his work by noting that he had taken note earlier that the Talmud in Sanhedrin 58b, attests to the singular feature in its codification of Noahide law whereby the statutes are organized around a number of negative imperatives. This peculiarity may well be the distinctive mark setting off the structure of Noahide law from Israelite jurisprudence.[8] He says that a study geared to exploit this distinctive structural arrangement could uncover what it is that distinguishes the Laws of Noah from the Laws of Moses at their very core.

With the essence of Noahism in clearer focus, Rabbi Lichtenstein foresees, it may be possible to pursue further the vision that filled the hearts of Elijah Benamozegh and Aime Palliere for a universal ecumenism, based on the juristic and ethical principles of the Laws of the Sons of Noah.


  • Lichtenstein, Aharon, "Book of Psalms in Plain English: A Contemporary Reading of Tehillim", Urim Publications, 2006, ISBN 965-7108-86-1
  • Aaron Lichtenstein, "Noahide Laws from Genesis to Genizah", Dor leDor 14 (1985/86)
  • Lichtenstein, Aharon, "Noachide Communities Throughout the Ages (same as above?)
  • A. Lichtenstein, "The Seven Laws of Noah", New York: Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press, 1981
  • Lichtenstein, Aharon, "Does Jewish Tradition Recognize an Ethic Independent of the Halakha?" in Marvin Fox, editor, Modern Jewish Ethics, Theory and Practice. Ohio State University Press, 1975, pages 62-88.
  • Feinstein, Moses, Responsa Igroth Moshe. New York: published by A. Lichtenstein, 1964, Volume 11 ("Orach Chaim"), Responsurn 25.


  1. Lichtenstein, Aaron. "The Seven Laws of Noah". New York: The Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press and Z. Berman Books, 2d ed. 1986
  2. See "Seven Laws of Noah" Notes 43, 56, 66, 80, 81, 85, 134, 135, 136.
  3. A recent, limited example of this approach is Aaron Kirshenbaum's "The Rule 'no man may incriminate himself' in the Noahide Laws," Dine Israel, Annual of Jewish Law and Israeli Family Law. (Z. Falk and A. Kirshenbaum editors), Tel Aviv University, Volume 2 pages 71-82
  4. Yisroel Mair HaCohen Kagan, Sefer HaMitzvoth HaKatzer, New York Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, 1958. The total given for the Positive Comamndments is 77 (page 29) and the total given for the NegAtive Commandments is 194 (page 78). Because the Chofetz Chaim uses "the enumeration of them by Maimonides and many of his contemporaries," his calculation can be incorporated with a safe probable margin of error into the present study, which also follows Maimonides in the main, while at the same time taking into account the varying opinions of his contemporaries.
  5. For contrast, see how Baron imputes to the talmudic jurists the view that Noahide Law is merely a skimpy, halting legal formulation: "The farthest the Jewish jurists were able to go in recognizing 'natural law' was to formulate six or seven 'Noahite commandments,' to which all peoples must submit and which were to be enforced on all subjects of a Jewish state." (Salo W. Baron, A Social and Religious History ot the Jews, volume VI, page 5.)
  6. James Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts. 2nd edition (1955) pages 48-49: the seven heroes sons of one mother, finished off the seventh, crossing the seventh mountain. Pages 72-92: six days and seven nights Enkidu came, seven pits and seven, seven years of barren husks, the forsaken wife though a mother of seven, seventh day he set free a dove, the seventh day he awoke, the seven Wise Ones laid Uruk's foundation.
  7. Pritchard, op. cit., 3rd edition (1969) pages 579-582, 514-517, 112-113. Perhaps also "the seven ordinances" (me) of the so called Manna's Descent to the Nether World, pages 53-57 (second edition). On dhar"M see Note 12 above.
  8. See previous note and the related paragraphs of the text, above.