Chochmei Umos HaOlam (חוכמי אומות העולם generally translated as "Mages" or "Wise of the Nations") is the Maimonidian term taken from the Laws of Kings 8:11 for "Noahites" or "Noachites" also known as "Noahides" who do not believe in Judaism. According to Halakhic Judaism, as expressed in the Talmud, the Noahide Laws apply to all humanity through mankind's spiritual descent from one paternal ancestor who in Hebrew tradition is called Noah (the head of the only family to survive during The Flood). Hence in the Oral Torah, בני נח B'nei Noah (Hebrew, "Descendants of Noah", "Children of Noah") refers to all the good people of mankind.
The terms indicate non-Jews who have taken upon themselves the observance of Noahide Law for their own rational reasons. Maimonides seems to imply that Chochmei Umos HaOlam do not have a portion in the world to come, although he doesn't actually say that. The implication therefore is that they will be judged according to their merits.
In Jewish tradition, the terms Ben Noach - Son of Noah or Bat Noach - Daughter of Noah is used to refer to a generic human being. There are seven noahide laws that are applicable for all humanity, regardless of culture or ethnicity. Technically the term Ben Noach or Bat Noach does not necessarily mean that an individually keeps the noahide laws, however in most modern usage this is implied. Orthography: People familiar with the Hebrew letter 'ח' - Khet usually spell the word NOACHIDE, otherwise it is spelled often NOAHIDE for the convenience of English speakers.
Judaism holds that gentiles (goyim "non-Jews [literally 'Nations']") are not obligated to adhere to all the laws of the Torah. Rabbinic Judaism and its modern-day descendants discourage proselytization. The Noahide Laws are regarded as the way through which non-Jews can have a direct and meaningful relationship with God or at least comply with the minimal requisites of civilization and of divine law.
A non-Jew who keeps the Noahide Law in all its details is said to attain the same spiritual and moral level as Israel's own Kohen Gadol (high priest) (Talmud, Bava Kamma 38a). Maimonides states in his work Mishneh Torah (The laws of kings and their rulership 8:11) that a Ger Toshav who is precise in the observance of these Seven Noahide commandments is considered to be a Righteous Gentile and has earned a place in the world to come. This follows a similar statement in the Talmud (tractate Sanhedrin 105b). However, according to Maimonides, a gentile is considered righteous only if a person follows the Noahide laws specifically because he or she considers them to be of divine origin (through the Torah) and not if they are merely considered to be intellectually compelling or good rules for living.
Noahide law differs radically from the Roman law for gentiles (Jus Gentium), if only because the latter was an enforceable judicial policy. Rabbinic Judaism has never adjudicated any cases under Noahide law (per Novak, 1983:28ff.), although scholars disagree about whether the Noahide law is a functional part of Halakha (cf. Bleich).
Three categories of Noahides
There are three main categories of gentiles [see R. Yom Tov ben Avraham Alshevili, Chiddushei HaRitva, Makkot 9a n.].
Chokhmei Umoth Haolam
The first category is the gentile who fulfills his obligations as an ethical monotheist. This person is generally called a Ben Noach (or Noachide) meaning a proud descendant of the biblical Noah. In the Jewish tradition Noah and his sons were commanded to fulfill seven commandments which amount to ethical monotheism [see Aaron Lichtenstein, The Seven Laws of Noah] Those gentiles who observe these commandments are considered righteous gentiles. They are, however, not Jews and are not considered part of Jewish society. They are righteous people and recognized for their accomplishments. However, they remain part of the human brotherhood but not part of Jewish society.
Uncircumcised Hebrews (Chassidei Umos HaOlam)
There are those who go beyond this step and approach a Jewish court and, in exchange for entering Jewish society, they vow to observe their commandments and be ethical monotheists. Such a person is called a Ger Toshav.
By pledging that he will fulfill his obligation to be an ethical monotheist he enters Jewish society. He is not a convert and does not become Jewish. In fact, he can worship any monotheistic religion he chooses. He is, however, a righteous gentile and is gladly received into the Jewish community. He is welcome to live in Jewish neighborhoods (should he so choose), is supported by Jewish charities (if he so needs), and is considered part of the fabric of Jewish society in many ways [see Talmud Pesachim 21b; Talmud Avodah Zarah 65b; Nachmanides, Additions to Book of Commandments, 16; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Zechi'ah Umattanah 3:11, Hilchot Melachim 10:12; Ra'avad of Posquieres, Comments to Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Issurei Biah 14:8].
Both the Ben Noach and the Ger Toshav are righteous gentiles. However, the Ben Noach has not entered Jewish society and perhaps does not wish to. Therefore, he is treated like a stranger. He is respected as a righteous human being, one who is fulfilling his divine purpose in the world. However, he is not part of the Jewish community.
It is of these two categories of gentiles that the Talmudic literature states: Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 8:2
(Psalms 146:8) “G-d loves the righteous.” G-d said: ‘I love those who love Me and so it says (1 Samuel 2:30) “For I honor those who honor Me.” They love Me so I love them in return.’ Why does G-d love the righteous? Because righteousness is not an inheritance or a family trait.
You find that priests are from a priestly family and Levites are from a levitical family as it says (Psalms 135:19-20) “O house of Aaron bless G-d! O house of Levi bless G-d!” If someone wants to become a priest [from the family of Aaron] or a Levite he cannot because his father was not a priest or a Levite. However, if someone wants to become righteous even if he is a gentile he can because it is not a family trait as it says (ibid.) “O those who fear G-d bless G-d!”
It does not say the house of those who fear G-d but those who fear G-d. It is not a family trait. Rather, on their own they chose to fear and love G-d. Therefore, G-d loves them. Midrash Sifra, Acharei Mot 9:13 (Leviticus 18:5) “Which man shall carry out and by which he shall live.”
Rabbi Yirmiyah would say: We see from here that even a gentile who fulfills his laws is like a [Jewish] high priest. He would also say: (2 Samuel 7:19) “And that would be fitting for priests, Levites, and Israelites” is not what it says rather “and that would be fitting for great men – O Lord G-d.” He would also say: (Isaiah 26:2) MainVariation: “Open the gates so the priests, Levites, and Israelites may enter” is not what it says rather “Open the gates so the righteous nation, keeper of the faith, may enter.”
(Psalms 118:20) “This is the gate of G-d; priests, Levites, and Israelites” is not what it says rather “This is the gate of G-d; the righteous shall enter through it.” He would also say: (Psalms 33:1) “Sing joyfully, O priests, Levites, and Israelites” is not what it says rather “Sing joyfully, O righteous, because of G-d.”
He would also say: (Psalms 125:4) “Do good, G-d, to the priests, Levites, and Israelites” is not what it says rather “Do good, G-d, to good people.” We see from here that even a gentile who follows his commandments is [as righteous as the Jewish] high priest.
Those gentiles who have the status of Ger Toshav, who have requested acceptance into Jewish society and have pledged obedience to their commandments, are treated almost like Jews. Those who have the status of Ben Noach because they have not requested acceptance are respected but are not treated like brethren. They receive letter-of-the-law treatment because to treat them beyond that would be to detract from our brothers
What has a Ger Toshav gained if a Ben Noach is treated the same? What extra connection is there between fellow Jews and within the entire Jewish/Ger Toshav society if everyone is treated extra specially?
Consider the case of a family. My brother needs to borrow money and knows that if he asks me I’ll give him the special interest-free family package. This type of family treatment solidifies us as a unit and increases love between us. I don’t hate everyone else because I treat my brother specially but I have an agreement that my family receives special treatment Now, what if a stranger off the street knocks on my door and I give him also my special interest-free family loan? It loses its specialness and there is no difference between my bond with my brother and my bond with some guy off the street. Should I treat every human being equally or should I treat everyone properly and reserve extra-special treatment for my family?
The same applies within the Jewish/Ger Toshav society. All members, both Jewish and gentile, are joined together as a community united in its single goal of worshipping the one G-d. While we treat all human beings with the respect due to someone created in the divine image, those within the Jewish/Ger Toshav society get slightly better treatment. They are handled above and beyond the letter of common human interaction.
There are those who point out these differences in treatment and wish to demonstrate that Judaism is anti-gentile. Quite the opposite. Judaism is one of the few religions that recognizes that even those outside its faith can be saved and allows them into its community. Righteous gentiles have a place in the world to come and can choose to join Jewish society if they wish. If they decline this invitation then they are given the full respect that these righteous people deserve.
The third category is of the gentile who is not an ethical monotheist. He is violating the covenant G-d made with Noah and his descendants and will be punished for those sins. It is with these people that Judaism has a very ambivalent attitude.
On the one hand, they are acting contrary to G-d’s purpose in the world. For this reason, Judaism tries to distance Jews from them. On the other hand, they are people created in G-d’s image and must be respected as such. The compromise is that their positive traits, examples of which we will shortly see, are recognized and respected. However, their negative traits are never fully forgotten and full societal integration with such people is discouraged. Talmud Semachot 1:8
Rabbi Yehudah said: [The euology of a gentile is] Alas! The good, alas! The faithful who eats the fruit of his own labor. [The sages] said to him: What then did you leave for the worthy? He replied: If he [the gentile] was worthy why should he not be lamented in this manner. Professor Saul Lieberman, Greek in Jewish Palestine, p. 77
The virtues enumerated in this eulogy are purely secular; there is no trace of religion in them. The man was good, faithful and enjoyed the fruits of his labor. The Gentiles spoken of is a heathen; he is neither a semi-proselyte nor a Christian; no mention is made of his fear of G-d… The Rabbis understood the heathen society and credited it with the virtues it was not devoid of. Talmud Avot 4:3 [Ben Azzai] would say: Do not regard anyone with contempt, and do not reject anything, for there is no man who does not have his hour and nothing that does not have its place. Talmud Avot 3:10
In recent years, Noahide has come to refer to non-Jews who strive to live in accord with the seven Noahide Laws; the terms "observant Noahide" or "Torah-centered Noahides" would be more precise but are infrequently used. The rainbow, referring to the Noahide or First Covenant (Genesis 9), is the symbol of many organized Noahide groups. A non-Jewish person of any ethnicity or religion is referred to as a bat "daughter" or ben "son" of Noah, but most organizations that call themselves בני נח are composed of gentiles who are keeping the Noahide Laws.
According to the Tanach, B’nei Noah literally the children of Noah are descendants of Noah the only survivor of the flood that destroyed all of humanity. Noah’s children Shem, Ham, and Japheth along with their wives and Noah’s wife Naamah also survived the flood aboard the ark. Once the survivors were able to leave the ark for dry ground they began to start new families and rebuild the earth. The story of Noah culminates in the promise of God to Noah that he would never again destroy the world through a flood. The sign of this promise was the rainbow
The Laws of Adam
Along with the promise of new life God reestablished the six laws originally given to Adam in the garden (prohibition against idolatry, blasphemy, theft, murder, illicit sex and the command to establish courts of justice) and added a new law, the prohibition of eating the limb of a living animal.
Because these laws were given to the new first family of humanity all human beings are obligated to fulfill them. These laws are discussed throughout the Talmud most notably in Sanhedrin 56a. The Medieval sage Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (the Rambam) collected all of the decisions in the Talmud and halachic decisions in his time and laid them out clearly so that everyone would know their obligations. The Rambam called this great work the Mishnah Torah.
Not only were the Jewish Laws recorded with their explanations in the Mishnah Torah, but the Noachide Laws were also collected with their explanation in the Rambam’s great work in Sefer Shoftim in the last book Hilchot Melachim U’Milchamot.
The Great Renewal
Over the last two thousand years since the expulsion of the Jewish people from the land of Israel adherents to the Noachide laws have been sparse if non-existent. Due to the heavy persecution of the Jews, people those not born into the protection of a Jewish community, often chose to convert rather than simply observe the Noachide Laws.
With the regathering of the Jewish people to their land it has been possible for people to once again observe the Noachide Laws. Today a modern movement of adherents of the Noachide law exists; calling themselves B'nei Noah or Noahides in honor of Noah their ancestor who received these laws from God.
Although relatively a new movement B’nei Noah has already made serious strides in developing their emerging community. Although a new movement Noachides recognize the impact of the Noahide Laws on America. Not only has this impact been recognized by Noahides but even former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush officially recognized the roots of American government in the Noahide Laws.Recently a High Council of B’nei Noah was formed by the nascent Sanhedrin to aid in the development of the laws and the community.
Interfaith & Intrafaith
- Jewish views of religious diversity
- Ger Toshav
- Ger Tzedek
- Other religions as potentially Noahide
- Mishneh Torah Shofitm, Wars and Kings 8:14
- Three categories of Noahides
- Just as the term "Children of Israel" not only represents a people (in the case of the Children of Noah the entire World) it also means that those identified with this term hold to a common ideology. The term "B'nei Noah", therefore, represents not only physical descendants of Noah but also "spiritual" descendants.
- Among the Jewish people and B'nei Noah this rainbow is a sign of the Noachide covenant. Man's part of this covenant is to obey the seven universal laws given to Noah by God. For more information on the Noahide Covenant see: ["A Brief Introduction to the Noahide Covenant"]
- See Hilchot Melachim
- The prohibition against idolatry is more complex than it may first appear. For a fuller examination of the complexities regarding idolatry see[Idolatry] and [Idol Chatter]
- [Public Law 102-14, H.J. Res 104]