How to become a Noahite
In the Talmud, and codified by Maimonides, it is written that it is not sufficient for a non-Jew to just keep the seven laws in order to "have a portion in the world to come".
As Maimonides says:
- Everyone who accepts the seven commandments and is careful to perform them – this person is of the Chasidei Umos HaOlam, and he has a portion in the world to come. He accepts them and performs them because they were commanded by the Kodosh Baruch Hu revealed to us by the hand of Moshe Rabbenu that the Bnei Noah were previously commanded in these things.
He also says:
- One who accepts these [basic laws] is called: Ger Toshav in every place, and he must accept [these laws] on himself in front of three judges. And all who have taken upon themselves to circumcise, and twelve months have past without circumcision – this person becomes like other nations [who have not accepted the Noahide laws].
A translation of Maimonides may be found here. (Please remember when reading other laws of Maimonides that he is only one authority, and other great Rabbis have given their opinions. Not all of Maimonides opinions have been accepted as halacha).
Are You a Noahide Already?
All of humanity are 'children of Noah' by definition, so the question is really "are you an observant Noahide?" (i.e. one who is promised a share in the world to come).
One answer is that many religions and legal systems come very close to qualifying as living up to the Noahide standard, but fall short on a few areas. So by supplementing or reforming an existing faith, one may live up to the Noahide requirements. Some Rabbis are of the opinion that reforming and correcting existing national faiths is the highest form of Noahide. For example Aime Palliere, a Noahide taught by Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh, remained a Roman Catholic and continued going to church (albeit with a modifed intepretation).
Alternatively, another approach is to join one of the many communities of Noahides worldwide. These communities are best for people who have fallen out with establish religion and wish to take on some of the Jewish customs. Some Rabbis are of the opinion existing religions are beyond repair, or that Noahides are forbidden from creating a religion. They feel that taking on a voluntary set of customs, untainted by idolatry, is the highest form of Noahide.
How to become a Noahide
To become an observant Noahide is to be assured of a 'portion in the world to come' by entering into a covenant with G-d, of which the Jewish people are also a part. It is to enter into a recognized relationship with the Jewish people, rather being completely outside of any legal system recognized by Judaism.
The requirements are generally considered:
- To enter into the Covenant of Noah (decide to be a good person)
- To follow the commandments of G-d (keep the seven laws)
- To become part of one of 'seventy' legal systems (necessary for the seventh law)
- And to accept the 'rabbinic' interpretation of scripture. (keep the above laws for the right reasons)
Once one makes this step, the 'size' of one's portion in the world to come is determined by prayer, repentance, good deeds and good character. This may sound very similar to the teaching of other religions, particularly within the Abrahamic tradition, and it should be so. Judaism teaches that the Noahide covenant is the foundation of any proper society and religion.
According to the Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah, to achieve formal status, a non-Jew today has to make a declaration before a Beis Din of Jews. According to many authorities, there is value to the declaration of a person before a rabbinical court — beis din — that he or she accept and takes upon himself or herself the mitzvos of Bnei Noah. Therefore it is incumbent upon the beis din to accept such declarations from almost anyone who wants to make them.
The Noahide Declaration
According to the Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah, the beis din facilitates declarations to allow Noahides to have a deeper and potentially more rewarding religious experience. This is according to the teaching that someone who observes a commandment after being obligated to do so is greater [perhaps: 'receives a greater reward'] than someone who voluntarily decides to keep a commandment whenever he or she fells like doing so.
The Noahide stands before the beis din and makes a declaration of intent. This is not an oath, and there is currently no way to enforce compliance by the beis din. This is the most minimal form of declaration that can be made. In the Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah, after making the declaration, the beis din gives out a certificates saying that such-and-such person made such a declaration. Nothing more is written on the certificate. The declaration expresses intent on the part of the applicant to uphold Noahide law. It does not imply in any way that the beis din agrees with the applicant's actions, understanding, or approach to Noahide law.
Noahide declarations are often based on the wording of Maimonides:
To be a Chasidei Umos HaOlam, Righteous Gentile:
- I accept — the authority of G-d in giving
- The seven commandments — which are: Prohibition of Idolatry, Prohibition of Blasphemy, Prohibition of Homicide, Prohibition of Sexual Immorality, Prohibition of Theft, Prohibition of Limb of a Living Creature, Imperative of Legal System.
- I will be careful — in all their subdivisions and details, including dinim — the laws of the courts
- To perform them — to live my life in such a way as not to break these laws.
- Because they were commanded by G-d — I recognize the spiritual component of these laws, including spiritual reward and punishment.
- Revealed to us by the hand of Moshe Rabbenu — through Rabbinic tradition.
- That we were previously commanded in these things — reaffirming the ancient law & covenant)
To be a Ger Toshav, Partial Convert
- I accept [these laws] on myself in front of three judges — I recognize and submit to the authority of this court.
- This is in "every place" — which some authorities understand to mean local rabbinical judges anywhere in the world.
One must remember that unlike 'conversion' to Christianity or Islam, the Noahide declaration is not a conversion process — It is not marked with some right of passage, nor with some interrogation of proper dogma or belief — rather it is a declaration of intent to uphold the seven laws and their details, to become part of the jurisdiction of his/her nation's Noahide courts, and acceptance of the authority of Rabbinic tradition in these matters.
The wording used in various Noahide pledges differs greatly, for example the Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah at one time used this declaration:
- "I pledge my allegiance to HaShem, G-d of Israel, Creator and King of the Universe, to His Torah and its representatives, the developing Sanhedrin. I hereby pledge to uphold the Seven Laws of Noah in all their details, according to Oral Law of Moses under the guidance of the developing Sanhedrin. May HaShem bless and aid me, and all B'nai Noach in all our endeavors for the sake of His name. Blessed are You G-d, King of the universe, who has caused me to live, sustained me, and brought me to this day."
Becoming a Noahide or Converting to Judaism
As far as becoming an observant Noahide or converting to Judaism goes, these are two very different paths. Besides the obvious differences, there is the question of legal jurisdiction. A convert intends to be under the complete authority of the Jewish court of law as interpreted by the Jewish court system. A Noahide must place himself under the authority of his nations' Noahide courts, and be a good national. Just as a convert should seek the welfare of the Jewish nation (as Ruth said "your people will be my people..."), a Noahide should seek the welfare of his nation. In the Talmud (Bava Kama 38a), it is written that like the Jews, the Noahide nations have also been sent into exile because they didn't keep their part of the covenant. Some understand this to mean that they must find themselves and who they are. Like the Jews, they too have a mission and purpose in this world.
Which 'Nation' do you belong to?
There are those that claim that it is important that a Noahide declares the court system he/she is following, in addition to his pledge of upholding the seven laws. This is because it is impossible to uphold the Imperative of Legal System without belonging to a legal system.
Rabbi Yaakov Anatoli (1194-1256) in HaMelamed put it this way:
- When the Noahites were enjoined concerning Justice, they were put under obligation to create legal arrangements .... It is incumbent on the judges to draw up rules of equity that shall be appropriate for that particular country, as exemplified by the manner in which this matter is handled currently by the nations, severally. Likewise, it is incumbent upon merchants and upon the members of the trades to establish regulations for themselves... and whatever emerges as the law in this manner is law, as much as that which is written in the Bible. Furthermore, anyone violating this law violates Scripture, because Scripture commands the individual to accept the decisions of the contemporary jurists. The dictum, "The law of the land is the Law," relates to this concept.
Finding a Rabbinical Court
Have you contacted Chabad in your area? They are usually open to Noahide issues.
Is it possible for you to travel to Jerusalem to meet with the Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah?
Is it possible to assemble a Beis Din of observant Jews in your area to listen to your declaration?
There are some rabbinic opinions that one must observe the Seven Laws as a binding legal requirement. For Noahides in the United States, one way to do this is to register with the the United Noachide Council. The UNC functions as a complementary court system to the United States court system, and is registered to handle certain legal cases. The intention is to allow a Noahide to fulfill the Noahide Covenant and in all your ways know G-d(Proverbs 3:6). The idea being that even something as simple as stopping for a red traffic light, when done with the correct intention, can be a mitvah with spiritual reward.
Please fill out the following information and send it to the UNC:
The UNC is working in other countries to set up complementary court systems, to make up for the lack where those countries legal systems have fallen short of the basic requirements for the proper functioning of society and religion.
- Mishne Torah: Laws of Kings 8:11
- Mishne Torah: Laws of Kings 8:10
- Rabbi Yosef Gikkitila, Rabbi Nathaniel ibn Fayumi, Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno, Rabbi Menachem Meiri, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Rabbi Yaakov Emden, Rabbi Henry Pereira Mendes, Rabbi Israel Lipschutz, Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
- "The Unknown Sanctuary" by Aime Palliere.
- Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak (Rashi), Maimonides, Rabbi Yehudah ben Betzalel Loewe (Maharal), Rabbi Isaac Luria, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (Chabad), Rabbi Zevi Yehudah Kook, Rabbi Yoel Schwartz
- Based on Maimonides use of the word "accept" (המקבל)
- At least concerning the existance of the seven laws. There are differing rabbinic opinions whether recognizing rabbinic tradition is required, some hold that accepting these seven laws as 'divine' is enough.
- Maimonides holds that the declaration is only required for a Ger Toshav. He holds that Ger Toshav only applies to those who live in Israel under a sovereign Jewish (Torah) State, others disagree. According to many authorities, there is value to the declaration of a person before a rabbinical court even outside of Israel.
- alternatively, "as written in the Bible"
- This should be replaced with the Jerusalem Court's actual wording
- Quoted by Reuben Margolioth, Margolioth Hayarn. Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1958, volume 11, page 20. (Sanhedrin 56b, section 9.)