Elijah Benamozegh

Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh

The modern Noahide movement was reborn by Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh (1822-1900, Italian of Morrocan origin), Kabbalist, philosopher, liberal scholar whose major work Israel and Humanity summarized his thinking on the topic following correspondence with Aime Palliere (1875-1949), a Catholic who desired to convert to Judaism but whom Rabbi Benamozegh convinced to commit to Noahism. Palliere related his own story in The Forgotten Sanctuary.

Italian rabbi; born at Leghorn in 1822; died there Feb. 6, 1900. His father (Abraham) and mother (Clara), natives of Fez, Morocco, died when Eliyahu was only four years old. The orphan early entered school, where, besides instruction in the elementary sciences, he received tuition in Hebrew, English, and French, excelling in the last-named language. Benamozegh devoted himself later to the study of philosophy and theology, which he endeavored to reconcile with each other.

At the age of twenty-five he entered upon a commercial career, spending all his leisure in study; but his natural tendency toward science and an active religious life soon caused him to abandon the pursuit of wealth. He then began to publish scientific and apologetic works, in which he revealed a great at tachment to the Jewish religion, exhibiting at the same time a broad and liberal mind. His solicitude for Jewish traditions caused him to defend even the much-decried Cabala. Later, Benamozegh was appointed rabbi and professor of theology at the rabbinical school of his native town; and, notwithstanding his multifarious occupations from that time, he continued to defend Jewish traditions by his pen until his death.

View on Noahides

Main article Judaism and Other Religions

Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill in his "Judaism and Other Religions: An Orthodox perspective" explains:

Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh did actually embrace the reading of works of other faiths. Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh (1823-1900) was a preacher and essayist in nineteenth-century Italy, who incorporated the new finding of comparative religion in his Biblical commentaries and who wanted to bring Gentiles, even his Christian contemporaries, back to a true universal Monotheism based on the seven Noahide laws.

In many ways he continues the inclusive-hierarchy model of valuing Jewish monotheism over the trinity and the inclusive-mission model by placing Judaism as the heart of the nations, with the nations following the Noahide laws and the Jews following the commandments. He is most original when he acknowledges the cultural embeddedness of religion and that there is truth in every religion even if their conceptions of monotheism and revelation are deficient. He has theological statements on why Judaism rejects the Trinity, why the New Testament cannot supersede the Sinai revelation, and why Jews accept a progressive revelation in the oral law.

The idea of the personality of God necessarily implies that of the unity of substance. …Christianity which possesses a trinity of persons while maintaining the unity of God's substance…might best be called tritheism. [1]
As for those who tell us that Christianity embodies a new revelation, do they not see that if the Christian mysteries were truly a radical innovation, then the entire system of Divine revelation would be overturned?… It could no longer be a question of a unique and perfect Revelation coming, like the material creation, from the sovereign intelligence of God….From the moment that one abandons the notion of a unique revelation -- with the intention of combating Judaism -- there remains only the hypothesis of multiple religions.
A glance at the pagan mysteries will enable us to understand very clearly the influence of paganism upon the educated class in Israel.[2]
Through dispersion among gentiles, [Judaism] gathers and incorporates the fragments of truth wherever it finds them scattered.[3]

He finds Christianity wanting on monotheism because it has a trinity, and on revelation because revelation is to be eternal and unique, incapable of being superseded by later revelations. Yet, in his writings, he openly compares and contrasts to Judaism, Christianity, pagan mysteries, Taoism, and Hinduism. He creates a vision of a single world religion with Judaism at the pinnacle and that all religions were needed for the progress of mankind.

The Benamozegh Epistles

The following are excerpts from Rabbi Benamozegh's letters to Aime Palliere:[4]

Before all things I wish you to be fully assured that the Noachic religion that you say you heard mentioned by me for the first time (and the majority of people are in your class) is not a discovery that I personally have made, still less is it of my contriving, a sort of more or less happy polemic expedient. No, it is an established fact discussed in every page of our Talmud, generally admitted by our wise men to be little known and much misunderstood.
If I understand you correctly, Noachism seems to you a far distant and superannuated thing, and you ask how, after nineteen centuries of Christianity, after all the religious progress that our Bible and your Gospel represent, I can dream of taking you back to the rudiments of the worship founded after the flood: Is this possible? Yes, and is it possible that you do not see that perpetuity, that future immutability could not exist save on condition that they also existed in the past? There is no doubt that the Bible, aside from the universalistic passion of the prophets, gives the impression that in the carrying out of the compact made with the fathers, God was chiefly concerned with the chosen people, to the exclusion of other peoples. Hence, the accusation leveled against Judaism that it could never rise in its entirety above the conception of a national God. But, can it be imagined for a single moment that after having concerned himself so much with the descendants of Noah, which means with all humanity according to Genesis, God af ter long centuries of waiting would give a special law to the Israelites appointed to be the priests of humanity, and would not have troubled himself in any way about the rest of the human race, rejecting it, until the appearance of Christianity, leaving it totally abandoned, without revelation and without law? And again is it reasonable to conceive that in abolishing the Noachide covenant of Genesis – and where is that abolition to be found - would God during all this long interval leave no other resource to man than the help of his poor reason? This would have been unreasonable, unjust, imprudent, unworthy even of a mortal, for it would entirely undermine faith in the necessity of Revelation.
No, no; all this is impossible, and consequently not only has the Noachide law never ceased to be in force but even Israel, with its special code, Mosaism, was created for it, to safeguard it, to teach it, to spread it. The Jews thus exercised, I repeat, the function of priests of humanity, and found themselves subject in this way to the priestly rules which concern them exclusively: the law of Moses.
But you ask me, where can one find the code of this Noachic Law, of this universal religion, which is true catholicism? First, admit that if this code did not exist, it would be the fault of God himself not to have established it, or not to have assured its perpetuity. Nobody, indeed, will maintain that the Noachic covenant of Genesis is but an unimportant incident and not a matter of great moment. Further, do you not see that Genesis itself contains precepts given to Noah for all his descendants? This solemn covenant of God with Noah and his offspring is recalled by Isaiah (LIV. 9); it is a covenant sanctioned by the divine promise with the rainbow as pledge of perpetuity. Up to the last pages of the Prophets, Noah is with Daniel and Job, one of the three just men, held up as examples.
And yet all this is a small matter compared to the great things which the Talmud reveals to us. This monument of tradition occupies itself in fact with a marked predilection for every thing that concerns the Noachic religion and legislation.[5]

And another:

Not alone does the Talmud comment upon, and develop as far as possible, the Mosaic and prophetic texts on this subject but it opens wide the sources of tradition, rich in many other ways, concerning the ideas of this universal religion. And this, mark well, at the very moment when Israel, its savant in the lead, was exposed to continual persecution and was placed under the ban of humanity. Yes, it was between two scaffolds, between two funeral pyres, that these great sages, these wonderful martyrs, discussed and codified with amazing strength of spirit and with angelic serenity, the religion of humanity, the Noachic law, as much as, and even in greater measure than the Jewish laws themselves.[6]
You seem dissatisfied about the antiquity of Noachism, and you do not realize that antiquity is the most infallible sign of truth. Consequently the further back it goes the more it appeals to us. You ask for subsequent developments. Nothing hinders you from achieving them. It is indeed the spirit of the Noachic revelation, as it is of the Mosaic revelation, an t at is t e same Revelation, that it is changeless and progressive at the same time. You want nothing to do with simple deism and you are right a thousand times; I speak of the deism of the philosophers. As to the Noachic deism, it is the pure monotheism of Moses and of our prophets, and in dogmatic definition, there is in reality, and there should be, no distinction between Mosaism and Noachism. The only difference is of a practical nature. It consists simply in a little more freedom granted according to Noachism as to metaphysical or even theological speculations. Very far from permitting it to sink into pure rationalism, our tradition imposes upon the Noachic proselyte, called later the proselyte of the gate, one formal condition, the acceptance of this same religion, not at all as the simple fruit of human reason but as the teaching of divine Revelation. What more could you desire?
I have just spoken of the proselyte of the gate, that is to say, of the Noachide in person. It is, in truth, with the Noachide himself that the Pentateuch is concerned in specifying that this proselyte is in no way obliged to observe the Mosaic law. This is to say that the Torah obliges us to give to him the animal which is forbidden to us Jews to eat. We must give it to him instead of selling it to the stranger or Gentile or pagan, obvious proof that according to the Pentateuch this proselyte is no longer considered a stranger or pagan, neither is he assimilated to the Jew. So what does he represent, if not precisely this Noachide whose name sounds so strange to your ears? The difficulty which you experience does not hinder the Noachide from becoming a part of the Church Universal; on the contrary, it is the Noachides themselves who make up the faithful, the people of that true catholic church of which Israel is the priest. Israel would have no reason to exist if these people of God did not also exist. What are the priests, I ask you, without the laymen? What would I, a Jew, be if you who are not a Jew were not here as a faithful member of the great Congregation of God in whose services I find myself placed?[7]

And another:

I have said that you are free to become a priest - I mean a Jewish priest - or to remain a Noachide - that is to say, a layman. But know that in remaining a layman you will be free - and the Jew is not so - to take from the Jewish Law and from Mosaism all that suits your personal religious need in the way of precept, but which would not be an obligation, while the Jew has not the freedom to choose; he is subject to the entire law.[8]

And another:

I come to the questions you put to me on the subject of the Code of Noachism. Know that the primitive form of all revelation which continues even after the introduction of the Mosaic Law, and which still exists in our own day in the heart of the Jewish people, the form which biblical teachings have long preserved, comes of oral tradition. The same condition obtained in regard to the first Christian documents, and it is not surprising that the Noachic religion found itself in the same position and that everything connected with it was scattered through the Old Testament, and in the written documents where the ideas of tradition were successively introduced - Mishna[9], Talmud, Midrash, etc.
You would have experienced serious embarrassment if, at the time of the patriarchs ... anyone had asked you where the code of religion was then. Nevertheless, this code existed, and the existence of a religious law constituting a statute to which the Gentiles were bound to conform cannot be contested.
It is thus from the deep source of Hebrew tradition, placed in these literary monuments that I have just named, that one must drink without fear of ever exhausting it. This is its glory and this makes it possible to measure the extent of its mission.[10]

And another:

You seem to see the phantom of individualism rising up against you. Why speak you of isolation? I see all about you an infinite multitude of believers! I grant you that the outward signs may not be visible, but nonetheless you will truly be of the communion of God, the Church of Abraham, which the prophets foretold and which was, in a smaller or larger measure, established in the world by the work of Christianity and of Islam, but above all you will be in the communion of Israel, which must recognize in you the perfectly legitimate representative of Noachism, of the true believers of the future.[11]


Benamozegh was the author of the following works:

  • Emat Mafgia' (The Fear of the Opponent), a refutation of Leon de Modena's attacks upon the Cabala, in 2 vols., Leghorn, 1858;
  • Ger Z.edek. (A Righteous Proselyte), critical notes on Targum Onkelos, ib., 1858;
  • Ner le-David (Lamp of David), commentary on the Psalms, published together with the text, ib., 1858;
  • Em la-Mik.ra (Matrix of Scripture), commentary on the Pentateuch containing critical, philological, archeological, and scientific notes on the dogmas, history, laws, and customs of the ancient peoples, published together with the text under the title Torat Adonai, Leghorn and Paris, 1862-65;
  • T.a'am la-Shad (Arguments for Samuel David []), refutation of Samuel David Luzzatto's dialogue on the Cabala, Leghorn, 1863; (6) Mebo Kelali, general introduction to the traditions of Judaism, published in Ha-Lebanon, 1864, pp. 73 et seq.;
  • Storia degli Esseni, Florence, 1865;
  • Morale Juive et Morale Chre'tienne. Examen Comparatif Suivi de Quelques Re'flexions sur les Principes de l'Islamisme, Paris, 1867;
  • Teologia Dogmatica ed Apologetica, Leghorn, 1877;
  • Le Crime de la Guerre De'nonce' a` I'Humanite', Paris, 1881 (this work won for its author a medal and honorable mention from the Ligue de la Paix, on the proposition of Jules Simon, Edouard Laboulaye, and Frederic Passy);
  • Ya'aneh be-Esh (He Will Answer Through Fire), discussion of cremation according to the Bible and the Talmud, Leghorn, 1886.

Besides writing these works, Benamozegh contributed to many periodicals, his more important articles being: Spinoza et la Kabbala, in Univers Israe'lite, xix. 36 et seq.; La Tradition, ib. xxv. 20 et seq.; Intorno alla Cabbala, in Il Vessilo Israelitica, xli. 3 et seq.; Il Libro di Giobbe, in Educatore, ix. 325 et seq.; Dell' Escatologia, ib. xxv. 203 et seq.


  1. Elijah Benamozegh, Israel and Humanity, translated by Maxwell Luria (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1995), 68.
  2. Ibid, 77.
  3. Ibid, 75.
  4. Lichtenstein, Aaron. "The Seven Laws of Noah". New York: The Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press and Z. Berman Books, 2d ed. 1986., originally published in Palliere, Aime, The Unknown Sanctuary ("Le sanctuaire inconnu"), translated by Louise Waterman Wise. New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1928.
  5. Palliere, op. cit., pages 142-45.
  6. Ibid., Benamozegh's remark that the Talmud deals with Noahic law in "greater measure" than with Mosaic law is an exaggeration, for of the Babylonian Talmud's twenty-five hundred pages not a hundred mention Noahic law, and only once is there lengthy discussion on Noahism: Sanhedrin 56 through 60.
  7. Ibid., pages 147-149.
  8. Ibid., page 150.
  9. No reference to Noahism as a system is to be found in the Mishna. However, the Noahite as a person is mentioned once, in the following context: " A vow not to give anything to any Son-of -Noah . . . " (Mishna, Nedarim 3:11). So in Chaym Y. Kasousky, Thesaurus Mishnae, Hierosolymis: Massadah, 1958, volume 3, page 1196, "Ben Noah".
  10. Ibid., pages 157-58.
  11. Ibid., pages 159-60; these letters charted Palliere's course for the ensuing forty years. His voice, in turn, found many willing ears among Christiam and Jews. His lectures and publications ceased when the Nazis occupied France in 1940 (Alfred Werner, "Aimi Palliere", Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, N.Y., 1942, vol. 8, p. 381). But after the liberation he returned to his writing. His involvement with his work, right up to the time of his death, is described by Roger Rebstock in the preface to the Italian edition of The Unknown Sanctuary: "That November, Aime Palliere turned the manuscript over to the editor .... Several weeks later on the twenty-fourth of December 1949 ... he entered into the light of the Lord he had served . . ." (Palliere, Il santuario sconosciuto. Roffis: Mensile di Israel, 1952, page 7).


  • Lattes, Vita ed Opere di Elia Benamozegh, Leghorn, 1901;
  • Fuenn, Keneset Yisrael, p. 100;
  • De Gubernatis, Dizionario Biografico, p. 125;
  • Zeitlin, Bibl. Hebraica, p. 19.S. I. Br.

See also

External links