Optional observances for non-Jews

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Is a Bnei Noah required or forbidden from taking on Jewish observances? This article discusses specific questions concerning: Shabbat, Tefillin, Mezuzah, Tzitzit, and using a Jewish Prayer book. Various halachic opinions are given on which parts of Torah observance (if any) are forbidden to non-Jews, and one ruling from a Jewish court which specifically deals with Noahide issues is brought.

Additional questions need to be addressed such as whether a Bnei Noah is encouraged or discouraged from voluntarily taking on any of the Jewish mitzvot.

The possibility that mandatory Noahide "mitzvot" exist, beyond the seven laws, is outside the scope of this article. This would include observances either decided upon or "inherited" by the Noahide community itself, such as circumcision, tithing, various prayer customs, etc.

Rambam Approach


In the Rambam's Mishneh Torah, as listed in the book Path of the Righteous Gentile the following Jewish commandments as forbidden to Noahides:

  • Observing the Sabbath in the manner of the Jews (resting from the actions that were needed for the building of the Tabernacle during the Exodus from Egypt)
  • Observing the Jewish holy days in the manner of the Jews (resting in a similar manner to the Sabbath)
  • Studying those parts of the Torah that do not apply to the Noahides’ service of G-d
  • Writing a Torah scroll (the Five Books of Moses) or receiving an aliyah to the Torah (reading a portion of the Torah at a public gathering)
  • Making, writing, or wearing tefilin, the phylacteries worn during prayer that contain portions of the Torah
  • Writing or affixing a mezuzah, the parchment contain­ing portions of the Torah, to one's doorposts or gateposts

The particular list of observances is from the Rambam's Mishneh Torah in the section on Laws of Kings, is specifically dealing with those Jewish observances which are restricted only because of their inherent level of sanctity/holiness. That issue does not apply to tzitzis. However, the Rambam did cite restrictions on tzitzis for Gentiles as a practical matter, in his section of Mishneh Torah on Laws of Tzitzis.[1]

Rabbi Benamozegh Approach


As far as taking on Jewish customs, please note that the idea of "voluntarily taking on" mitzvos from the list of 613 mitzvos with a few exceptions, is based on the Rambam's exposition of Noahide law. Other authorities, such as Rabbi Benamozegh, describe Noahidism differently. They imply that each of the 70 nations has its own "mitzvos", its own unique way to serve G-d. If a national faith were to be divorced from idolatry and adhere to the seven laws, it would be more appropriate for a non-Jew to follow their customs than to adopt Jewish ones. In fact in an ideal world, a non-Jew would be obligated by his or her national faith, just as a Jew is obligated in theirs. According to this view, a Bnei Noah is discouraged from taking on Jewish customs (although they can learn from them). For this reason Judaism doesn't seek proselytes, because non-Jews have their own purpose to fulfill, and proselytism interferes with this.

Rabbi Schochet (United Noahide Academies)


According to the United Noahide Academies forum, Rabbi Schochet says: Noahide men (or women) should not buy their own tallis gadol to use during their daily morning prayers, or a tallis katan to wear continually (even with the tzitzis fringes not showing). The tallis is a uniquely Jewish symbol. Thus a Noahide who wears a tallis is likely to be mistaken for a Jew in a synagogue service or in other settings (including the places where a Noahide might go without hesitation, but which would be forbidden for an observant Jew to be seen there).

Also, if a tzitzis fringe on a Noahide's tallis came undone on the end and he retied it himself, it would be forbidden for a Jew to put on that tallis, since it would no longer be fulfilling the mitzvah, and thus the four-corned garment would be forbidden for him to wear. This is one reason why a Noahide should not have his own tallis, because it might get acquired or borrowed by a Jew.

But even without that possibility, Noahides should not acquire and/or wear tallis or tefillin, or do the other things quoted above from the book "Path of the Righteous Gentile." There are and must remain these clear lines of distinction between Jews and Gentiles.

Furthermore, tallis and tefilin, though somehow related in practice to Jewish prayer, actually are independent mitzvos and have nothing to do with prayer-services and do not add to them. They are distinct mitzvos on their own. Thus it should be emphasized that the only "enhancing tools" for prayer by Noahides are sincerity and submission to G-d.[2]

Director Michael says: The scriptural observance of the Jewish mitzvah of tallis does not require that a tallis be worn, or that the tzitzis fringes must be showing.

The scriptural commandment is that IF a Jewish man decides to put on any four-cornered garment (four sharp corners, not rounded corners, on a "garment" as it defined by Torah law), it must have kosher tzitzis fringes affixed to it on all the four corners. The tzitzis fringes do not have to be visible to others in order to satisfy the commandment.

For example, when a Jewish man buys a four-cornered plastic rain pancho, he is required to cut one of the corners into a rounded shape so he can wear it without having to have kosher tzitzis fringes tied on the corners.

That is an aspect of the mitzvah that a Noahide CAN perform without hesitation. The Noahide can buy a four-cornered garment which does not have tzitzis, cut one of the edges into a round shape, and then wear it however he wishes (on the outside, or as an under-shirt). He can even tie his own tzitzis-like fringes (even with seven strings to represent the Seven Noahide Laws, etc. etc.) on the three sharp corners and the one rounded corner. This can be worn as an outside garment whenever desired IF it will not be mistaken at first glance for a Jewish tallis (like the example of a plastic rain pancho). Or it can be worn on the inside with the fringes not showing.[3]

Chabad Approach


The Law contains two parallel (but separate) paths for the world: 613 commandments for the Jews, and 66 commandments (contained in the 7 Noachide Laws) for gentiles. Once a Noachide is committed to keeping the 66 mitzvos, he may (and really should) take on the responsibility for additional mitzvos, with certain clear exceptions: Non-Jews may not observe Shabbos (or holidays) in the manner of Jews (by avoiding the 39 categories of work), nor may non-Jews put on tefillin or tzitzis, put up a mezuzah, or be called up for a public Torah reading in a synagogue. There are other restrictions as well, including certain limitations on Torah study (depending partly on individual circumstances).

But many or most of the 613 mitzvos can be observed by Noachides for spiritual benefit. Indeed, some of these additional commandments are important (though technically not required) for gentiles to observe, while other commandments would also be a good idea.

Our generation, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe has repeatedly declared, is the last generation of exile and darkness, and the first generation of Moshiach (the Messiah) and the Redemption. All of us -- Jews and Noachides -- have an urgent responsibility to transform the world immediately in order to bring Moshiach, and this involves going well beyond the minimum of the Law.[4]

Rabbi Yoel Schwartz (Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah)


Question: Which parts of Torah observance are forbidden to non-Jews? It seems there are a variety of opinions..at least among the things I've read from various sources. Has the Sanhedrin ruled on optional observances for non-Jews? Specifically I want to know about: Shabbat, Tefillin, Tzitzit, Prayer book. Is a non-Jew allowed to put on a tallit in private prayer at home? Is a non-Jew allowed to don tefillin in private prayer at home? Is a non-Jew allowed to pray the Amidah? Is a non-Jew allowed to observe Shabbat like a Jew as long as they do one of the 39 prohibited melachot?

Answer: The spokesman for the Beis Din provided this reply:[5]

The Sanhedrin has accepted the ruling of Rabbi Haim Kaniewski[6] in שונה הלכות that, if a ben noah - after having taken upon himself the "seven", wishes to take upon himself ANY other mitzva including Shabbat - he may do so.
As you may remember there were discussions about which kind of Tsitsith a BN should wear.
As far as recommending their observance - that is quite another story. - RYH

Commentary: This means that according to Jewish law, as poskened by this court, a ben noah who has taken on the seven laws, is permitted to keep Shabbat [apparently as Jews do]. They are also permitted to wear Tsitsith. (And based on previous statements this also includes praying from a Jewish Siddur).

However, just because a BN is permitted according to Jewish law to do these things, this does not mean that a BN is necessarily recommended to do so.

  • There are some authorities (like Rabbi Benamozegh) who recommend that BN follow their own form of worship (for example he recommend that Aimé Pallière continue in a modified form of Catholicism).
  • The Rambam disallows a few mitzvot for the BN, but otherwise he says that there is reward in BN taking on Jewish mitzvot. It should be noted that the Rambam does not recommend BN to take on Jewish mitzvot, but says אין מונעין אותו לעשות אותה כהלכתה "they are not prevented from taking them on according to their precise observance [in Judaism]".
  • Rabbi Schwartz takes a middle ground. He does not recommend or discourage BN to take on Jewish mitzvot. Based on Rabbi Kaniewski, he rules that it is permitted for an observant BN to take on any mitzvah. For those mitzvot which the Rambam advises against, Rabbi Schwartz recommends that they be modified their observance in various ways, and various ways have been discussed. This is a recommendation, not a ruling.

Practically speaking this means that one BN should not condemn another BN who does or does not keep Shabbat or wear Tsitsit. The problem with the Siddur is that there are statements which don't make sense for a BN to say, but there is nothing in a Jewish siddur which is forbidden for a BN to pray. As far as the advisability of taking on Jewish mitzvot, there are several issues involved and the beis din will hopefully address them in the future.


  1. http://www.asknoah.org/forums/archive/index.php?thread-15.html
  2. ibid.
  3. ibid.
  4. JAHG-USA Web Site: The Law is Only a Minimum
  5. http://thesanhedrin.net/forums/viewtopic.php?p=2485#2485
  6. הרב חיים קנייבסקי, שונה הלכות The Rambam holds that a Noahide should not observe the Shabbat in the manner that a Jew does. Nor should he make a point of abstaining from hard physical work on the Shabbat. A Noahide should not give occasion for a Jew to break the Shabbat. Yet Rashi says that every Ger Toshav (a non-Jew living in Eretz Yisrael in the time of the Jewish Temple, who has formally accepted the obligation to observe the Noahide laws in front of a Jewish court) has to uphold and keep the Sabbath (Rashi, Kritot 9, Yevamot 40). There is room to suggest that the Noahides, even nowadays, by accepting to fulfill the seven commandments, are in the same category as a Ger Toshav and should, according to Rashi, be required or at least allowed to keep the Shabbat.