Thoughts on Noahidism
Confusion reigns supreme!
I'm not a rabbi, or a preacher, or any sort of religious figure. Nor am I an aspiring leader or figurehead, quite the opposite. That means what I'm about to write is highly suspect, perhaps should even be ignored.
But I feel a need to write this because I've grown highly frustrated with the many fallacious and unsupported claims surrounding the “Righteous Gentile movement”... and I am very wary of those who are trying to set themselves up as figureheads. And, there are a ton of crazy people out there. (Myself included.)
Many of those professing on the web to being a Righteous Gentile are, at best, confused. The majority of Righteous Gentiles were former christians, and now they're trying to figure out how to adapt their previous religious approach as christians to being Righteous Gentiles. It's worthwhile to discuss the resulting problems.
- 1 Complex answers to simple questions
- 2 What's a Noahide? A Righteous Gentile?
- 3 How does Righeous Gentiles/Noahidism interact with other religions? What's the spiritual basis of it?
- 4 Being a TOG is one alternative.
- 5 Is Noahidism truly a legitimate belief? Or is it merely a creation of, say, the Chabad Lubavitch?
- 6 Can one pray to Hashem and still be a TOG?
- 7 Can one personally study the Torah and still be a TOG?
- 8 Orthodox? Conservative? Reform?
- 9 Can one attend shul and still be a TOG?
- 10 Which of the 613 mitzvot may TOGs follow?
- 11 Holidays
- 12 Waaah! There are obligatory mitzvot I don't want to obey!
- 13 Summary
- 14 Other resources
- 15 Jews And Hasidic Gentiles
- 16 Other sites
- 17 See Also
- 18 External Links
Complex answers to simple questions
This is not intended to be a complete introduction to Noahidism/Righteous Gentiles (or whatever you want to call it). Click here for a fairly decent introduction. Or, check out the Wikipedia Entry for Noahide Laws.
Instead, I've prepared a list of short responses on various subjects which have come up. Again, these are just my opinions, not even based on talking to a rabbi; I haven't found one (yet?) who was interested in talking with me.
There are other sites which have answers to many of these questions, even entire sites devoted to Noahidism. Unfortunately the answers vary greatly depending on who's doing the writing, and it seems to me many of the sites are sponsored by folks with less than pure motives. I'm also a little skeptical of the Chabad-sponsored sites; that's not to say they're wrong, but I don't feel comfortable saying they're 100% correct.
There are still other websites which, unfortunately, are definitely wrong and/or biased in negative ways. All I can say is, be very skeptical of what you read on the web.
My alternatives were to give it up entirely, or figure out some reasonable answers on my own. I've chosen the latter course, at least for now.
Many of the answers I give seem to rely on various minutae within the Torah and Talmud. As an inherently self-sufficient person, I prefer to find these things for myself rather than relying on what other questionable people say. That doesn't mean you have to learn these things the hard way; but you should check my references whenever possible, and always be willing to listen to contrary opinions.
Clearly you shouldn't rely solely on what I write, as I offer this merely as an expression of my personal opinion. I will try to make my reasoning clear and provide sources where I can, but that's not a useful substitute for answers from someone well-versed in Torah. If you need definitive answers, please don't rely on Internet web sites! Ask your rabbi!
What's a Noahide? A Righteous Gentile?
According to the Torah everyone is a Noahide/Noachide! That is to say, everyone is a child of Noah. That's really all Noahide means. So there's no “Noahide” religion. There's no Righteous Gentile religion or church either. (Nor, in my opinion, should there be.)
Instead there's Judaism, and there's the place Gentiles are expected to hold within Judaism. A Righteous Gentile has actively acknowledged and accepted the covenant given to Noah after the flood. G-d agreed to certain things, and everyone is obligated to accept the agreement and follow the commandments thereof.
If you follow the seven Noahide Laws, you're a Righteous Gentile. If you don't, you're not a Righteous Gentile. Simple as that.
I happen to find the term “Righteous Gentile” bothersome. For me it suggests christian preachers screaming about how “y'all gotta get righteous or the Devil's gonna get'cha,” blah blah blah. From here on I'll use the abbreviation TOG, which stands for “Torah-Observant Goy.” I feel that term is a little closer to what I'm actually trying to say than “Righteous Gentile.”
(Also note that if you do a Google search for “Righteous Gentile”, there are many references to people who saved Jews from the Holocaust. While I think what those people did was a good thing, that doesn't necessarily make them “Righteous Gentiles.”)
How does Righeous Gentiles/Noahidism interact with other religions? What's the spiritual basis of it?
Part of being a TOG is believing in a single G-d. That's implicitly one of the commandments; two, in fact. (The related commandments are “no idolatry,” and “no blasphemy.”) If you worship jesus, or buddha, or some other idol or human being, then you can't be a TOG. (But there is currently a lot of debate over the issue of jesus worship and Noahidism, as some Rabbis have stated one can still worship jesus and be a TOG.)
The B'nei Noah/Righteous Gentile movement is, at first glance, somewhat bereft of spirituality. No required rituals, no required holidays, a dearth of spiritual beliefs; you're not even required to pray. Very few people would be satisfied with that as a religion because that doesn't sound like much. In a way you have to “add in spirituality” as needed or desired.
On the other hand, being a TOG isn't a lesser status than being Jewish, at least according to the Talmud, as a TOG has just as much right to the World to Come. It's simply a different way of living one's life.
There's a big difference between what one is required to do, what one is permitted to do, and what one is forbidden to do. That's where the complications creep in, not to neglect personal motivations and the dreaded politics bogey.
Why participate in this belief?
(I have yet to completely fill in this section, yet it's really the most important question of all. It'll be one of the last things to be finished because there are other things which need to be explained first. And I need to make sure I understand my own motivations before I go leading people astray. Granted that I'm probably already doing that, before writing a lot of half-witted nonsense about spiritual motivations I want to better understand my own.)
Some people believe in Hashem, share in many of the beliefs stated in the Torah, but have never felt a strong desire to convert to Judaism. Conversion is a tremendous commitment, and a potential convert must be certain it's the right thing to do.
Being a TOG is one alternative.
Judaism has been against proselytizing for a long time, although many centuries ago the Jewish community was quite active in trying to convert others. As Judaism already has a way for non-Jews to participate without becoming converts, there's little motivation or reason for actively seeking proselytes. In fact, rabbis try very hard to discourage converts, because they want to make sure that every potential convert is sincere and highly motivated.
Click here for an article from Beliefnet showing how some individuals are badly confused about what it means to be Jewish; this also helps to show why Jewish proselytism probably isn't a good idea. The authors of that article treat one's religion as if it were belonging to some sort of social club. (It's also interesting how many of the adjectives are blatantly loaded: Jews are a “privileged minority”, for example.)
Is Noahidism truly a legitimate belief? Or is it merely a creation of, say, the Chabad Lubavitch?
It's legitimate in the sense that the Torah and Talmud describe how Gentiles have a certain place within Judaism. And, there are a number of passages in the Talmud specifically concerned with the correct behavior of Gentiles and whether Gentiles may participate in various mitzvot. If Gentiles weren't expected to observe some of the commandments (or there was no tradition of Gentiles interacting with Jewish beliefs) there wouldn't have been any need to discuss these issues.
Chabad is behind much of the effort to get the Righteous Gentile movement into the mainstream consciousness, but it's clear they didn't make it up out of whole cloth. Chabad is sometimes seen as outside the norms of traditional Judaism; but they have accomplished many positive things, and I don't see any problem with what they're trying to accomplish here.
It's important for Gentiles to be aware that they have an alternative to incorrect and potentially idolatrous beliefs such as christianity and atheism, or conversion to Judaism. There's a happy middle ground.
Maimonides explains in the Mishneh Torah that anyone who follows the seven laws will earn a place in the World to Come, but only if they believe the laws are from G-d rather than just “a good idea.” (I believe the relevant quotes are also in The Essential Maimonides, a book well worth reading in any case.) The distinction may not be obvious, but is somewhat rational: obeying something because we want to is totally different from obeying something because we have to.
Can one pray to Hashem and still be a TOG?
Yes, of course. Prayer is, in fact, Highly Recommended. But it's not required, at least not explicitly.
How you pray is pretty much up to you. As long as you're praying to G-d and not, say, jesus, you're OK.
On the other hand, Jewish belief is that there are right and wrong ways to pray. While this does not apply to Gentiles in the sense that they are required to pray in any particular way, it's still not a bad idea to learn about this.
There are various suggested prayers floating around. If they work for you, great. If they don't, fine.
I do suggest reciting a prayer upon awakening. It's a very positive way to start the day.
Can one personally study the Torah and still be a TOG?
Click here for a separate page devoted to the subject. (I felt it was worth a separate page because of its importance, the complexity of the question, and the fact that it's so heavily debated.)
Orthodox? Conservative? Reform?
I hate to bring this up because it shouldn't be necessary for TOGs to get involved in politics. But, unfortunately, it's part of today's reality and one must deal with it.
Judaism has been around for a very long time, at least 3300 years. Then there's the new Conservative and Reform movements which were created about 250 years ago. They aren't Judaism.
(Orthodox is a term borrowed from christianity by the Conservative and Reform movements. I prefer not to use it, because it implies that there are valid alternative Judaisms. There aren't.)
One of the key tenets of Judaism is that the Written Torah was scribed by Moses as communicated by G-d, not to be altered. If you disagree with this, you're not practicing Judaism. You've just created your own separate religion based entirely on gut feelings.
The Conservative and Reform movements deny that the Torah was given by G-d. They do this because they have objections to some of the mitzvot given in the Torah.
Many Conservative/Reform practitioners vehemently disagree with this. They have any number of overly complicated explanations as to why they believe as they do, including pseudo-scientific explanations of the origin of the Torah, claims that Judaism has evolved in various significant ways over the last 3000+ years, etc.
But when one considers that the only practical difference between the movements is which mitzvot are obeyed (and how), the real issue becomes crystal clear. If they didn't have a problem with the mitzvot as given, they'd stick with Judaism. But some of the mitzvot interfere with their desired lifestyle, so let's make those optional, right?
And for that matter, the main differences between Judaism and the beliefs of a TOG are also related to mitzvot, and a TOG's lack of “a Jewish soul”. TOGs have just as many mitzvot to obey (about two hundred are of practical application), but any other than the 66 derived from the Seven Laws are completely optional. Jews are required to obey all 600+ mitzvot, of which... two hundred or so are of practical application.
Can one attend shul and still be a TOG?
Sure! If you can find a shul where both you and the congregation will be comfortable.
Some christians are obsessed with converting Jews into fellow jesus-freaks, and they sometimes show up at shuls to harass people. This unfortunate behavior can result in ‘strangers’ being made unwelcome. In other words, you pays your nickels and you gets your choice.
Call your local “orthodox” shul and ask to discuss this with a rabbi. He'll give you better advice than I can. (Since the Chabad movement is actively promoting obedience of the Noahide laws, they would be a good place to start.)
Which of the 613 mitzvot may TOGs follow?
An excellent question; and one without a precise answer, according to the web. It is best to be conservative in this matter.
Some hold that any Gentile who follows anything other than the Seven Laws is punishable by death. Others believe we can follow any of the mitzvot.
(By the way, the “punishable by death” isn't to be taken literally; it merely means it's a Very Very Bad Thing. Death penalties for failing to adhere to mitzvot haven't been enforced for a very long time, if ever. And presumably there aren't roving gangs of armed Yidden peering into people's homes to see if they're illegally studying the Torah or accidentally obeying one of the Forbidden Mitzvot. But, maybe there are...)
We can certainly say that certain mitzvot are forbidden to Gentiles, at least according to the Talmud. In particular, setting aside a day as the Sabbath is not allowed per Genesis 8:22, according to Sanhedrin 58b. Here are the verses in question as taken from the JPS 1917 translation:
21And the Lord smelled the sweet savour; and the Lord said in His heart: ‘I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. 22While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.’
I find it a stretch to go from G-d promising not to flood the earth again to “you're not allowed to celebrate the Sabbath”. But, it's better to err on the side of caution; and I personally don't mind being allowed to work. Consider it to be a bonus.
(I believe the argument is that since the harvest shall not cease then you need serfs to work the harvest, and that means the serfs TOGs aren't allowed to rest.)
Maimonides objects to TOGs celebrating the Sabbath because one is not allowed to make innovations in religion or create new commandments. [[Maimonides is worth listening to. I have doubts about some of the others; some of them even believed that divination and sorcery really worked (Ramban).]
Bala Kamma 38a discusses the issue of whether TOGs may follow other mitzvot than those derived from the seven laws. I believe the most appropriate quote is:
Greater is the reward of those who, having been enjoined, do good deeds, than of those who, not having been enjoined, do good deeds.
This says, those who are required to do a good deed and do it merit more than someone who isn't so required. This implies one still receives merit even though it isn't required—just not as much.
G-d won't be too terribly unhappy if one were to honor the old and the wise, eat a strictly kosher diet, not stand by idly when a human life is in danger, not take revenge, not bear grudges, not spread gossip, not afflict orphans or widows, not wrong strangers in speech, dress modestly, give to charity, etc. One may even do these things accidentally. (I have yet to afflict orphans or widows.)
The essential point is, you have to recognize you're not required to obey these mitzvot, it's purely voluntary. (The same distinction between obeying the Noahide Laws because one wants to versus being required to do so.) There are many mitzvot which may be voluntarily obeyed by TOGs, about two hundred in total.
It's A Very Bad Idea to imitate the Jewish practices of laying tefillin, wearing a tallit or a kippah (though nobody's going to complain if you wear a hat), placing mezuzot on doorways, etc. If for no other reason, you wouldn't want someone to think you were Jewish when you weren't. But, more importantly, these practices are explicitly reserved for Jews.
The usual disputes are related to observation of the Sabbath and holidays. Understandable, because participating in these rites would seem to align one closer with the Jewish community. My understanding is as I stated above, that it's permitted so long as it's entirely voluntary and sufficiently dissimilar from the Jewish ways of observing these holidays.
For example, one can “honor” the Sabbath so long as one does at least some small amount of work and doesn't make it a mandatory event. If your employer requires you to work on the Sabbath, then don't lie to them by telling them you can't. You can make it clear that you'd prefer not to work on the Sabbath, but that's entirely different from not being permitted to do so.
Waaah! There are obligatory mitzvot I don't want to obey!
Good. That's the way it's supposed to be.
Let us consider a religion where the only required laws are ones everyone wants to obey or are impractical to violate. Like, “you are not allowed to go to work on Sundays,” “you are permitted to have sex with anything on two legs,” “you may not blow up the universe,” etc.
Seems kinda pointless. Might as well skip the religion, because it's not benefitting us in any way. It's simply confirming what we already wanted to do, or forbidding us to do things we can't do in the first place.
It's easy to obey a commandment when we want to obey it. The real test is to obey commandments we don't like.
There's a welcome place for the Gentile within Judaism, and a way for the Gentile to obey G-d's commandments without conversion. TOGs are seen by G-d to be just as virtuous and deserving as the children of Israel. Unless you feel strongly compelled to convert to Judaism, there's no need to do so.
Many Righteous Gentiles want to set up their own places of worship and their own communities. This is a terrible mistake! It's but a tiny step to go from that to creating an entirely separate religion, and we can see the kinds of problems that can create (christianity). Better for TOGs to take an active part in existing communities instead of trying to create separate belief systems.
I haven't found much information specifically for TOGs on the web or elsewhere which I feel is totally trustworthy. For that matter, I doubt anything I write is totally trustworthy either, though I will say that what I write is both from a skeptical viewpoint and is as grounded in Torah as I can possibly make it.
I believe just about anything written on the Being Jewish website is reliable, both from a Torah standpoint and from a ‘political’ standpoint. They do an excellent job of explaining why they believe as they do, instead of making blatant claims with nothing to back them up.
Jews for Judaism is pretty reliable as well, although I wouldn't pay a whole lot of attention to what's discussed on the message boards with regards to ‘Righteous Gentiles’. Their articles are especially helpful if you're wondering just what is wrong with christianity.
There are many other Jewish-related sites which can be helpful, such as Judaism 101\, [http://www.aish.com/ aish.com, torah.org, Ask Moses, etc. However, much of the information om those sites simply doesn't apply to TOGs, and it will take time and study to determine what's important and what isn't. But I believe most of everything they have to say specifically regarding Righteous Gentiles is correct.
Jews And Hasidic Gentiles
Jews And Hasidic Gentiles is a Chabad-Lubavitch-sponsored website which discusses the “Hasidic Gentile” movement. They advocate obedience of the Seven Laws, but also encourage adhering to as many optional mitzvot as possible. It's a Hasidic spin on the Righteous Gentile movement.
It's extreme, as would be expected from Chabad Lubavitch, but their suggestions appear reasonably grounded in Jewish belief. They take an ‘in your face’ approach, but they've always been totally open and honest about that.
If you're looking for reasons to obey other mitzvot than those required by the Seven Laws, there's your answer. I also really like the name “Hasidic Gentiles” because it's clear, direct and easily understood, as is the advice which is given. They also have a useful prayer guide if you're looking for specific suggestions.
The site is, of course, affiliated with the controversial Chabad Lubavitch movement and espouses the beliefs of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. To get some idea of why the movement is controversial, read the Chabad article on Wikipedia. It's fairly neutral in tone, which is a remarkably difficult task to achieve for such a controversial subject.
Many of the Righteous Gentile-specific sites have problems. They make claims about what is permitted and what isn't, but fail to back them up. Several appear to be attempts to set up various figureheads for the Righteous Gentile movement. One site I came across condemns a couple of the popular Noahide-related books, but fails to explain what's wrong with them. Other sites go way overboard, or try to combine christianity and Noahidism. Most sites focus on various interpretations of the Seven Laws without any additional information or support.
None of this is helpful.