Prayer under Noahide Law

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Prayer is an active effort to communicate with G-d or either to offer praise, to make a request, seek guidance, confess sins, or simply to express one's thoughts and emotions. The words of the prayer may either be a set hymn or incantation, or a spontaneous utterance in the praying person's own words.

Prayer in Jewish Law (for Noahides)

Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein

Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein says:[1]

Reuben Margolioth writes: "Justice, Blasphemy, Idolatry…" It is astonishing that there is no mention here of that principal principle, the most fundamental of fundamentals: the belief in the existence of G-d! For regardless of whether the Ten Commandment phrase "I am the L-rd your G-d," is counted as a separate Positive Command, as Maimonicles maintains, or whether it is not counted as a separate Positive Command, as the author of Halakhoth Gedoloth maintains, in any event it is the belief in G-d which must serve as the foundation for all the commands and prohibitions .... It would seem, therefore, that it is to be reckoned as part of the law on blasphemy.[2]

Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein notes two aspects of Margolioth's statement require attention. The first is that he obligates the Noahite to believe in a Divine Being; the second is that this obligation is seen as a concomitant of the Blasphemy law. In the first part of his statement Margolioth is not alone, for various writers ascribe to Noahism an obligation to believe in G-d. Probably, the earliest explicit mention of this view is found in the introduction to the tractate Berachoth, penned by the Gaon Nisim.

Whatever is a matter of common sense and native intelligence has been incumbent upon mankind from the very day that G-d placed man on earth .... Concerning the Seven Laws which are exegetically derived, not all of them really required revelation, as for example, the obligation to recognize the L-rd, the obligation to obey Him, and the obligation to worship Him, all of which are rooted in native intelligence; and for example, Homicide and Theft which would be prohibited as a matter of native intelligence...[3]

One additional aspect of man's relationship with G-d that deserves consideration here is prayer. Nisim Gaon mentions the Noahite's "obligation to worship Him," in the quotation recorded under Martyrdom under Noahide Law. The original Hebrew for "to worship Him" is l'avdo, which in precise legal terminology often has reference to worship through prayer.[4] Of course the Gaon may have been using the word in its loose, general sense. Even so, prayer could qualify as one form of worship.

Rabbi Moses Feinstein

Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein says that there is a responsum devoted to prayer in Noahism, penned by Rabbi Moses Feinstein in the wake of the debate over the desirability and constitutionality of having non-denominational prayers recited in the American public school classroom. The responsum reads:

On the question of whether a Noahite is required to engage in prayer, it is elementary that he is not so required, because prayer is not enumerated among the Noahic commands in Sanhedrin 56, nor is it mentioned by Maimonides...
However, with reference to whether such prayer would be reckoned a mitzvah it seems to me that when a Noahite prays he does accrue reward, for it is stated in the Book of Isaiah, "My abode shall be proclaimed a house of prayer unto all the nations," and Rashi comments there, "Not unto Israel alone."
Thus, while they need not engage in prayer, it is plain that Noahites do accomplish a mitzvah whenever they do pray. For if this were not so, what point would there be to proclaiming His a house of prayer for all peoples...
This freedom from having to engage in prayer is, however, limited to the question of periodic praying, I think, and does not apply for prayer that arises from some need. For when a Noahite is pressed by need, such as when he is injured or forlorn, he definitely is expected to pray. Neither is it strange for this obligation to go unmentioned among the Seven Laws, because such prayer relates to the basic belief in G-d, that He alone provides, that He heals the sick. For if anyone were to neglect to pray to G-d, were not to turn to Him, it would indicate that he does not believe in Him, but in other forces. And while the belief in G-d receives no mention among the Seven Laws, surely it is incumbent on the Noahites. For when the Seven Laws are observed without concern for the fact that G-d, in the Torah, commands their observance, they are not being properly observed; and their practitioner does not qualify as "one of the pious people of the world," as Maimonides indicates at the conclusion of Chapter Eight ["Laws on Kings"]. Clearly, Noahites must believe in G-d and, likewise, believe that He bequeathed the Law. Consequently, it is only proper that pleas for health and sustenance be directed to Him alone.
Now, on the question of whether a Jew should pray with a non. Jew and use the same text, on the order of, "May it please You, L-rd of the Universe, to grant me the bounties of life," where the non-Jew may mentally be addressing his Faith, and the Jew addressing G-d. I can see no prohibition here, as long as the prayer was composed by the laity...
On the question of the short prayer which the children recite in the public schools: This prayer seems purposefully to contain no allusion to the religion of the majority, inasmuch as the schools also serve Jews and other groups residing in our vast country.
Those governing our land are men of good will who do not seek to force their beliefs on the minorities, and the text of the prayer reflects this ....
On the question of whether the Noahite may pray mentally, and still merit his reward: We know that the Israelite may not pray mentally, as stated in Magen Avraham 101:2. We conclude similarly for the Noahite, that he would not be rewarded for such prayer since it is not executed in the proper manner. And although anyone who is disabled is supposed to pray mentally, just to make the best of a bad situation, but he does not fulfill the requirement with such prayer, as indicated by the fact that according to most authorities he would have to repeat his prayers upon suddenly returning to normalcy. See Mishnah Berurah 62:7 and Biur Halacha. Therefore, those who are suggesting silent devotion in lieu of the school prayer are in error.[5]

In Rabbis Clorfene and Rogalsky's work "The Path of the Righteous Gentile"[6] they adds few more quotes from the same work by Rabbi Moses Feinstein:[7]

When a Noahide prays he certainly obtains reward as we learn from the Prophet Isaiah, "My abode shall be declared a house of prayer unto all the nations of the world" (Isa. 56:7).
Even though they are not commanded to engage in prayer, it is evident that a Noahide does fulfill a commandment whenever he prays. (Note: In the preface, it was stated that commandment is a translation of the Hebrew word, mitzvah, which also means connection with G-d.)
When a Noahide is pressed by personal emergency, he is definitely expected to pray to G-d. Such prayer demonstrates a basic belief in G-d, exhibiting trust that He alone gives sustenance, that He alone heals. One who does not pray to G-d in time of dire need demonstrates that he does not believe in Him but in other forces.
The question arises, if a Noahide prays merely in his thoughts will he merit reward or must he pray verbally? We must conclude that he would not be rewarded for mental prayer as it is not prayer performed in the proper manner. Since prayer is a bond between the physical being and a personal G-d, one must use physicality to create this bond, which means verbal prayer.
The Noahide's prayer should not consist solely of suppli­cations but should also include praises to G-d.
The act and experience of praying to G-d (and it should be obvious that it is forbidden to pray to any being other than G-d) has limitless levels. Whether one supplicates G-d for his needs and wants, or for help in times of danger or stress, or engages in deep meditational prayer in order to elevate oneself spiritually, prayer is always a mystical experience, a communion with the infinite Creator of one's own soul. Through prayer, man can strip his consciousness from all materialism and physicality, divorcing himself from his animal nature, and become a totally spiritual being. Through prayer, one can attain a level close to that of prophecy.[8]
And King David wrote, "Praise the L-rd, all nations, extol Him all the peoples" (Ps. 117:1). This verse from Psalms refers specifically to the prayers of the Children of Noah.
"And the dove came to him at the time of evening and, behold, an olive leaf plucked in her mouth, so Noah knew that the waters had abated from upon the face of the earth. And he waited yet another seven days, and he sent forth the dove and she did not continue to return to him again" (Gen. 8:10‑12).
This dove with the olive branch in her beak is the universal symbol of peace. The Talmud teaches that the dove said, "Rather my food be bitter as the olive branch in the hand of the Holy One, blessed be He, than sweet as honey in the hand of flesh and blood" (Eruvin 18).
"Behold I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the L-rd. And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to the fathers" (Mal. 3:23,24).

Rabbi Yoel Schwartz (Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah)


Noahides are not commanded to have formal prayers. It should be left to the individual how, what, and when he will pray. Prayer is permitted, but not commanded. There are several types of prayers; requests, recognition of G-d’ s grandeur, thanksgiving to Him for good things that He has done for a person and strengthening ones faith, as it is stated in many places in the book of Psalms. It is advisable to turn toward the direction of Eretz Yisrael, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount when praying.

A Siddur for Bnei No’ach should be established for those who wish to have guidance in prayer. Below are some suggestions for formal prayer that might be included in a Bnei Noah Siddur:

1. Regular prayers might be said everyday that could include a statement saying, “Know today, and place it on your heart, that Hashem is the L-rd in the heavens above and on the earth below—there is nothing else.” Also he might recite the affirmation,”Hear O Israel…”

2. Prayer in time of emergency or danger: A person who finds himself in danger should recite an appropriate chapter from the book of Psalms, for example, chapter 20. If the emergency is due to illness, chapter 103. If he needs to strengthen his belief in G-d so as to receive His help, chapter 121.

3. A Prayer of Thanksgiving: Psalms, chapter lO7 or chapter 136. In the Standing Prayer emphasize, “and all the living will give thanks to You forever, selah.”

4. Special prayers during holidays: It is worthwhile to pray for world peace. When saying such a prayer, one might add, “G-d of the world, give peace to the world, thereby allowing all living creatures that You created to enjoy all of your blessings.” On the Sabbath one could recite from the book of Psalms, chapters 92 and 104.

5. Blessing before or after the meal: It is worthwhile that after the main meal of the day (whether at noon or in the evening) a Noahide should wash his hands if they have become soiled during the meal (before the meal there is no command for the Noahide to wash his hands in a ritual matter as do the Jews. This is specifically a Jewish practice. It is, however, necessary to wash them for sanitary purposes.) and utter a blessing of thanksgiving to Hashem for the good that He has given to him. It can be something like this: “Blessed are You, King of the Universe, Who feeds the whole world with His goodness, pleasantness, grace and mercy. He gives bread to all flesh and the world is full of His mercy. Due to his great goodness, we have never lacked and will never be in need of food forever. His great Name feeds and gives everyone his livelihood, does good to everyone, and prepares food for all those that he has created.” A person can, of course, change this, especially if some good things have occurred to him lately. Each person who chooses to say this prayer should do so individually (as opposed to having one person say it for all). Clearly, these prayers are to be directed solely to Hashem, and not to any intermediary.

6. Repentance: A Noahide who has sinned against G-d or his fellow man must repent and be sorry for what he has done. He must undertake that he will not commit this sin again. He should make a personal prayer to G-d, requesting mercy. If he has hurt a fellow person, or if he has done damage to that person’s property, he must compensate him, as the people of Nineveh compensated each other, and he must request that person’s forgiveness.[9]

Prayer in Noahide Law

School prayer in its most common usage refers to state sanctioned prayer of students in schools. Depending on the country and the type of school, organized state sanctioned prayer may either be permitted or proscribed. If permitted, the school prayer may be a required activity or may be optional for students. If proscribed, school prayer may be restricted or banned outright. The separation of church and state, as in the United States, is one legal reason given for proscribing state sanctioned school prayers. Freedom of conscience, as in Canada, is another.

United States

School prayer is an issue that has been controversial in the United States since the early 20th century. In the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, school days customarily opened with an oral prayer. However, citing separation of church and state as specified in the First Amendment and applied to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment, opponents of the practice were successful in getting mandatory prayer abolished through the judicial process, though not eliminating prayer altogether. Proponents of school prayer have worked to reestablish the practice. These recent proponents are largely, but not exclusively, Christians of various denominations. However, some major Christian denominations are opposed to the practice.

In the U.S., staff-sanctioned prayer in public schools was effectively outlawed by two landmark Supreme Court decisions: Engel v. Vitale [1962] and Abington School District v. Schempp [1963]. Following these two landmark cases came the Court's decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman [1971]. This ruling established the so-called "Lemon test" which states that in order to be constitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment any practice sponsored within public schools must: 1) have a secular purpose, 2) must neither advance nor inhibit religion, and 3) must not result in an excessive entanglement between government and religion.

The issues surrounding this ruling seemed fairly straightforward until the 1990s, when the courts began addressing prayer at school extracurricular events with less clarity. While some courts allowed student prayers from the podium at graduation exercises, a federal appellate court in Houston ruled in 1999 that student-led prayer in a huddle before a football game is unconstitutional. Much of the recent controversy has revolved around prayer at school athletics events. Guidance was provided by the Supreme Court in Santa Fe v. Doe [2000] when it upheld a lower court ruling invalidating prayers conducted over the public address system prior to high school games at public school facilities before a school-gathered audience.

Regarding the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the courts have consistently ruled that students' expressions of religious views through prayer or otherwise cannot be abridged unless they can be shown to cause substantial disruption in the school. Reinstatement of state-sponsored prayer has been attempted in different forms in a number of areas of the U.S. Few areas allow oral prayer, but some introduced a "moment of silence" or "moment of reflection" when a student may, if he or she wishes to, offer a silent prayer.

Besides citing separation of church and state, some opponents question why children cannot simply pray during non-school hours, or during school hours but not as part of an organized, state-sanctioned activity.

At Graduation

Recently, some high schools have banned prayer from graduation ceremonies. In May 2006, the ACLU of Tennessee convinced Munford High School's principal to ban official prayer at graduation. [1] In response, students pulled out cards with the L-rd's Prayer written on them and began to read. Also, some have concluded that the school's ACLU club faculty adviser has lost her job over the incident. [2]

United Kingdom

In England and Wales, the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 states that all pupils in state schools must take part in a daily act of collective worship, unless their parents request that they be excused from attending.[3] The majority of these acts of collective worship are required to be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character", with two exceptions:

  • Religious schools, which should provide worship appropriate to the school's religion (although most religious schools in the UK are Christian.)
  • Schools where the Local Education Authority's Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education has determined that Christian worship would not be appropriate for part or all of the school.

Despite there being a statutory requirement for schools to hold a daily act of collective worship, many do not. OFSTED's 2002-03 annual report [4], for example, states that 80% of secondary schools are failing to provide daily worship for all pupils


British Columbia

Prior to 1944, in British Columbia, the Public Schools Act (1872) permitted the use of the L-rd’s Prayer in opening or closing school. In 1944, the government of British Columbia amended the Public Schools Act to provide for compulsory Bible reading at the opening of the school day, to be followed by a compulsory recitation of the L-rd’s Prayer. This amendment appeared as section 167 of the Public Schools Act, and read as follows: [5]

167. All public schools shall be opened by the reading, without explanation or comment, of a passage of Scripture to be selected from readings prescribed or approved by the Council of Public Instruction. The reading of the passage of Scripture shall be followed by the recitation of the L-rd’s Prayer, but otherwise the schools shall be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles. The highest morality shall be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed shall be taught. 1948, c.42, s.167

The compulsory nature of the Bible reading and prayer recitation was slightly modified by regulations drawn up by the Council of Public Instruction. These regulations provided that either a teacher or student who has conscientious ground for objecting to the religious observances may be excused from them. The procedure to be followed in such cases was outlined in the regulations, which follow in full:

Division (15)—Scripture Readings (Section 167)

15.01 Where a teacher sends a written notice to the Board of School Trustees or official trustee by whom he is employed that he has conscientious objections to conducting the. ceremony of reading prescribed selections from the Bible and reciting the L-rd’s Prayer (as provided by Section 167 of the Public Schools Act), he shall be excused from such duty, and in such case it shall be the duty of the Board of School Trustees or official trustee concerned to arrange with the Principal to have the ceremony conducted by some other teacher in the school, or by a school trustee, or, where neither of these alternatives is possible, by one of the senior pupils of the school or by some other suitable person other than an ordained member of a religious sect or denomination.

15.02 Where the parent or guardian of any pupil attending a public school sends a written notice to the teacher of the pupil stating that for conscientious reasons he does not wish the pupil to attend the ceremony of reading prescribed selections from the Bible and reciting the L-rd’s Prayer at the opening of school, the teacher shall excuse the pupil from attendance at such ceremony and at his discretion may assign the pupil some other useful employment at school during that period, but the pupil so excused shall not be deprived of any other benefits of the school by reason of his non-attendance at the ceremony.

In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms received royal assent. Section 2 of the charter guaranteeing freedom of conscience and freedom of religion trumped Section 167 of the Public Schools Act (1872).

The challenges to Christian opening and closing exercises occurred mainly in Ontario with the crucial case being fought in The Ontario Court of Appeal in 1988.[6]

Zylberberg v. Sudbury Board of Education (Director)

The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the use of the L-rd’s Prayer in opening exercises in public schools offended the Charter s. 2(a). 1988. (1988), 65 O.R. (2d) 641, 29 O.A.C. 23 (C.A.).

The education regulations did not require the use of the L-rd's Prayer and there was an exemption provision. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the regulation infringed religious freedom because schools could use only the L-rd's Prayer rather than a more inclusive approach. The exemption provision actually stigmatized children and coerced them into a religious observance which was offensive to them.

The Ontario Court of Appeal was persuaded by the argument that the need to seek exemption from Christian exercises is itself a form of religious discrimination. The judges described as insensitive the position of the respondents that it was beneficial for the minority children to confront the fact of their difference from the majority.

In 1989, Joan Russow challenged, in the British Columbia Supreme Court, the Public Schools Act (1872)’s requirement that in British Columbia all public schools were to be opened with the L-rd’s Prayer and a Bible reading. The argument was similar to the Zylberberg case and the result was the same with the offending words in the act being struck out as being inconsistent with freedom of conscience and religion guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Russow v. British ColumbiaThe B.C. Supreme Court follows Zylberberg case to strike down use of the L-rd’s Prayer in schools. 1989. (1989), 35 B.C.L.R. (2d) 29 (S.C.) The British Columbia Supreme Court incorporates the Ontario Court of Appeal's decision in Zylberberg in its entirety.

From 1871 to 1989, observance of school prayer had declined.

With the unfavorable court decision, the requirement for Christian morning exercises was replaced with the following clauses found in the School Act (1996) in British Columbia.[7]


76 (1) All schools and Provincial schools must be conducted on strictly secular and nonsectarian


(2) The highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed is to be

taught in a school or Provincial school.


As a declared 'laicist' (roughly 'religiously neutral', secular) state since the French Revolution in 1789, France has no school prayers. In fact, public servants are advised to keep their religious faith private, and may be censured if they display it too openly. The French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools goes beyond restricting prayer in schools, and bans the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by pupils in public primary and secondary schools.


Unknown to many people in the West, the predominantly Muslim country of Turkey is in the public sphere a strongly secular nation. In this regard, it is much like France, on whose system of laicism its founder Kemal Atatürk modeled the rules on religion when he reformed his country in the early 20th century. School prayer is therefore unknown, and suspected religious motivations can cause serious difficulties for public servants.


External links


  1. Lichtenstein, Aaron. "The Seven Laws of Noah". New York: The Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press and Z. Berman Books, 2d ed. 1986
  2. Reuben Margolioth, Margolioth Hayam. Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kock, 1958, volume 11, page 18 (Sanhedrin 56a, section 25).
  3. Nisim Gaon, "Hakdama," Berachot. Wilna: The Widow and Brothers Rom, 1900.
  4. See Positive 5 and Exodus 23:25.
  5. Moses Feinstein, Responsa Igroth Moshe. New York: published by the author, 1964, Volume 11 ("Orach Chaim"), Responsurn 25, pages 196-198. Translation from the original Hebrew is by Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein.
  7. Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chaim, volume 2, responsum 25, pages 196‑198
  8. Jerusalem, Eye of the Universe, Kaplan, chapter 5
  9. Noahide Commandments by Rabbi Yoel Schwartz, Translated by Yitzhak A. Oked Sechter, Reviewed and corrected by Yechiel Sitzman in consultation with Rabbi Yoel Schwartz