- Main article Judaism and Other Religions
In Wikinoah, we attempt to present a range of traditional and authentic opinions concerning Noahidism and Noahide faith(s) within halakhic Judaism. To highlight the different approaches a selection of Rabbis have been chosen with an aim of highlighting the widest array of opinions, for the purpose of beginning discussion; this is not designed to be either a complete anthology of approaches, or a definitive word on categorizing the authories on this subject. The intention is to give us the language to distinguish and describe approaches, websites, groups, and leaders.
Why is this important?
The way halakhic Judaism views non-Jewish nations is of fundamental importance when trying to understand how to approach our national customs and faiths. Are our native traditions obstacles to the advancement of Noachide teachings (Exclusivist), are they neutral awaiting the illumination of Torah (Inclusivist), or they distorted truths awaiting reform (Universalist/Pluralist)? Do the non-Jewish nations have a subsidiary role to play in the process of world-redemption (Hierarchical) or do we have our own equally important role (Collective)? Is it best to approach Noachide teachings through the lens of rationalism (Historical-Mission) or spiritually (Metaphysical)? Is Noahidism one faith or many faiths? Is it built from the ground up, adding fulfilling traditions to the Seven Laws? Or perhaps from the top down, judging and filtering existing faiths & traditions through the lens of the Seven Laws? Within halakhic Judaism various Rabbinic authorities have approached this problem from several angles.
How the approaches are categorized
The sources we will be examining need to be categorized in multiple dimensions; to divide them simply between “pro-dialogue” and “anti-dialogue” would be to erase their richness. The most obvious of these dimensions is that which categorizes positions as exclusivist, inclusivist, or pluralistic.
Let me explain. For the exclusivist, one's own community, tradition, and encounter with G-d is the one and only exclusive truth; all other claims on encountering G-d are a priori false. Judaism is the sole path to G-d; those who are not Jews are at best bystanders in the Divine scheme, and at worst antagonists. This view can be found in some Talmudic texts and in many later commentators. Some renowned authorities in this category are: Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak (Rashi), some readings of Maimonides, Rabbi Yehudah ben Betzalel Loewe (Maharal), Rabbi Zevi Yehudah Kook, Rabbi Isaac Luria, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn.
For the exclusivist, the other religions are simply false. There is no broader, outside world whose claims need to be harmonized and addressed; there is only the realm of the “other side.” While this position may be at odds with ethical (and therefore universal) sensitivities, it plays a powerful sociological role for groups who feel embattled and threatened by the majority culture.
For the inclusivist, other religions are explained by his own religion. All humanity is beloved by G-d and chosen from amongst all creation. As Zephaniah has prophecied, the nations will in messianic times all call upon G-d. The distinction between Israel and the nations is the presence – or absence – of the Sinai revelation. All have the image of G-d, but the Sinai experience is only for Jews. He acknowledges a world outside his own, but relies on his own worldview to make it comprehensible and give it meaning. He speaks the language of his own theology, and uses its vocabulary to describe outsiders. Some renowned authorities in this category are: Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, some readings of Maimonides, Rabbi Yosef Gikkitila, Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno, Rabbi Yaakov Emden, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.
In this, he differs from the pluralist, who will address others in their own language. The pluralist can be criticized for trying to step outside his own religious language rather than pushing its boundaries, but can be admired for naming others in their own terms.
The pluralist accepts that truth is not in the possession of any one tradition, understanding religion as a way of approaching, rather than defining and naming, G-d. He accepts his limitations in understanding the wider world and believes G-d is present and active within the world. Some renowned authorities in this category are: Rabbi Yosef Gikkitila, some readings of Maimonides, Rabbi Nathaniel ibn Fayumi, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Rabbi Henry Pereira Mendes, Rabbi Israel Lipschutz, Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.
The irrelevantist considers other faith communities as religions worthy of tolerance without a theory of other religions. Although this approach is not particularly useful for understanding Noahidism, it deserves mention because is the most common approach of halakhic Jews today. Some renowned authorities in this category are: Rabbi Menachem Meiri, and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik.
Each of the above can be sub-categorized
Judaism has a messianic mission to spread the doctrine of monotheism throughout the world. The monotheistic religions of the other nations both reflect the success of the mission until now, and play a role in the mission’s continued advance toward the messianic age. It transforms the millennia of Diaspora into part of the redemptive progress of history, with all that entails for remembering and feeling the pains accumulated along the way.
Non-Jewish nations finds themselves not as part of a historical progression, but in the metaphysical realm. Other religions will be seen not as means of bringing individuals or nations to monotheism but as performing a metaphysical role. In this, it might be a particularly useful basis for discussions with metaphysically-inclined Noahide nations; For example a mutual encounter with the Greek Orthodox Noahides concerning theories of Divine glory, blessings and energies. However, metaphysical models are limited in their utility in an era where few embrace, or even understand, metaphysical language.
Israel is a chosen people, who transforms the world. Other religions share a common root of Judaism; all religions are of the same tree with Judaism as the trunk. The religions are not needed for Jewish self-understanding, but to fail to recognize the nature of the branch religions is to fail to properly understand the world. Jews are to be role models, spreading the enlightenment of experienced, non-intellectual knowledge of God to all.
An approach that clearly affirms a common core of all religions, which over time became encrusted and thereby lead to devolution of various faiths. Unlike Hierarchical, each of the nations have a unique perspective which cannot be shared or even understood by the others. All nations must seek the collective activity of all humanity’s seeking to return to the original core. At Sinai the Jewish people were entrusted with teachings that can begin, but not complete, the process of reform. The Biblical vision of becoming a light unto the nations is as part of a joint effort to worship together. The eventual goal is a messianic restoration to Eden.
Here is a brief overview of these approaches (listed chronologically):
- Main article Rambam Approach
Conservative and described as "harsh" approach, decreeing capital punishment for the smallest crimes. Assumes that current religions are false, but part of the process of preparing mankind for the truth. Maimonides' writings are embedded within a more theologically contradictory halakhic grid. Maimonides' complex position is sometimes interprested as exclusivist, inclusivist or pluralist, centered on historical-mission.
- Main article Tosafists Approach
Liberal approach based on what its opponents have accused as being compromises for commercial and social reasons. Assumes that current religions are distorted Bnei Noach faiths. They postulate that certain early Christian leaders (such as Peter) were trying to teach Noahidism. This approach is inclusivist & hierarchical and assumes that there are many Noahide faiths. This category includes the teachings of Rabbi Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg, Rabbeinu Tam, the Mahzor Vitri and more recently Rabbi Judah David Eisenstein.
- Main article Rabbi Benamozegh's Approach
Liberal approach based in part on teachings rooted in Jewish mysticism. Assumes that current religions are distorted Bnei Noach faiths. This approach is pluralist & collective and assumes that there are many Noahide faiths. This category includes the teachings of Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh and Rabbi Nachman of Breslov on Noahides.
- Main article Rabbi Soloveitchik's Approach
Conservative and isolationist approach. Held by the majority of halachic Jews today. Generally a "live and let live" approach. While denying that either Christianity or Islam qualifies as a noahide faith, it does not require them to change their faith. This approach is irrelevantist and avoids the question as to the nature of the Noahide faith.
- Main article Chabad Approach
Conservative approach based in part on teachings rooted in Jewish mysticism but mostly on the Rambam. Assumes that current religions are false and obstacles to the emergence of a true noahide faith. Based on the teachings of the Arizal (who counts 72 nations) and Rambam, exile is a manifestation of the cosmic reality of breakage and evil. The nations are not merely the non-Jews or anti-Israel; they are the same stuff as the evil at the beginning of creation. This leads to the notion that non-Jews have no souls, although this has been modified by the teachings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn. This approach is exclusivist & metaphysical and assumes that there is only one Noahide faith. This category includes the teachings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn as well as any other exclusivists quoted by Chabad based Noahide groups.
- Main article Oath Brit Approach
An innovative approach to the Noahide laws. Liberal approach based in part on a reading of the prophets and some Jewish mysticism, but mostly on the teachings of Rabbi Moshe Kerr. This approach is inclusivist & Historical-Mission and assumes that there is only one Noahide faith and attempts to define that faith in terms of traditions, customs and practice.