Seven Commandments

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The Talmud states: "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come" (Sanhedrin 105a).

Maimonides says any non-Jew who accepts the seven commandments and is careful to perform them – this person is of the Chasidei Umos HaOlam, and has a portion in the world to come. They accept these seven commandments and performs them because they were commanded by G-d in ancient times, as revealed to us by Moshe Rabbenu.

However, if the non-Jew keeps these laws because of intellectual decision – he is not called a Ger Toshav and is not of the Chasidei Umos HaOlam. He is only one of their wise men.[1]

The Seven Laws

The very first time in the Bible that the verb tsavah (צָוָה, “to command”) appears is in the verse "And the L-rd G-d commanded the man saying, of every tree of the garden you may freely eat" (Genesis 2:16). Rabbinic tradition understands this first commandment to Adam HaRishon as including the entire Noahide Law:[2]

  1. And [He] commanded, refers to legal system, and thus it is written, For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment.
  2. The L-rd — is [a prohibition against] blasphemy, and thus it is written, and he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death.
  3. G-d — is [an injunction against] idolatry, and thus it is written, Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
  4. The man — refers to homicide, and thus it is written, Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.
  5. Saying — refers to sexual immorality, and thus it is written, They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and became another man's.
  6. Of every tree of the garden — but not of theft.
  7. Thou mayest freely eat — but not limb of a living creature.

The seven laws listed by the Talmud are[3]

  1. Imperative of Legal System: - An imperative to pursue social justice, and a prohibition of any miscarriage of justice.
  2. Prohibition of Blasphemy: - Prohibits a curse directed at the Supreme Being.
  3. Prohibition of Idolatry: - Prohibits the worship of idols and planets.
  4. Prohibition of Homicide: - Prohibits murder and suicide.
  5. Prohibition of Sexual Immorality: - Prohibits adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality.
  6. Prohibition of Theft: - Prohibits the wrongful taking of another's goods.
  7. Prohibition of Limb of a Living Creature: - Prohibits the eating of animal parts which were severed from a living animal (traditionally interpreted as a prohibition of cruelty towards animals)

Maimonides list them in this order (the order most commonly used)[4]

  1. Prohibition of Idolatry
  2. Prohibition of Blasphemy
  3. Prohibition of Homicide
  4. Prohibition of Sexual Immorality
  5. Prohibition of Theft
  6. Prohibition of Limb of a Living Creature
  7. Imperative of Legal System

Most modern Noahide literature follows this ordering, mostly due to the work of Chabad Lubavitch, which sees in the list a correspondence to the seven Sefiros (For example "Legal System" is a translation of the hebrew word Dinim which seems obviously connected to Malchus, as in Dina DeMalchusa Dina).[5]

Rabbinical Source

The Seven Laws are laws which were binding upon mankind at large even before the revelation at Sinai, and which are still binding upon non-Jews. The term Noachide indicates the universality of these ordinances, since according to Jewish tradition the whole human race is descended from the three sons of Noah, who alone survived the Flood. Although one would think that only those laws which are found in the earlier chapters of the Torah, before the record of the revelation at Sinai, should be binding upon all mankind, yet the Rabbis discarded some and, by hermeneutic rules or in accordance with some tradition [6], introduced others which are not found there. Basing their views on the passage in Genesis 2:16, they declared that the following six commandments were enjoined upon Adam: (1) not to worship idols; (2) not to blaspheme the name of G-d; (3) to establish courts of justice; (4) not to kill; (5) not to commit adultery; and (6) not to rob[7]. A seventh commandment was added after the Flood—not to eat flesh that had been cut from a living animal (Genesis 9:4). Thus,the Talmud frequently speaks of "the seven laws of the sons of Noah," which were regarded as obligatory upon all mankind, in contradistinction to those that were binding upon Israelites only.[8]

While many clarifications to these laws were proposed by some of the tannaim — e.g., the prohibitions against eating the blood of a living animal, against the emasculation of animals, against sorcery, against pairing animals of different species, and against grafting trees of different kinds[9] — so that in one place thirty Noachian laws are mentioned,[10], the prevalent opinion in the Talmud is that there are only seven laws which are binding upon all mankind. In another baraita[11] the seven Noachian prohibitions are enumerated as applying to the following: (1) idolatry, (2) adultery, (3) murder, (4) robbery, (5) eating of a limb cut from a living animal, (6) the emasculation of animals, (7) the pairing of animals of different species[12].

Laws Before Sinai

With regard to the other laws which are mentioned in the Book of Genesis and which were not included among the Noachian laws, as, for instance, circumcision and the prohibition against eating of the "sinew that shrank," the Rabbis laid down the following principle: "Every law that was enjoined upon the Noachide and was repeated at Sinai is meant to apply both to Israelites and to non-Israelites; laws that were enjoined upon the Noachide and were not repeated at Sinai apply to Israelites only".[13] By this principle a number of the pre-Sinaitic laws were excluded from the Noachian laws, although it required a great deal of speculative reasoning to make this principle apply to all cases.[14]

In the elaboration of these seven Noachian laws, and in assigning punishments for their transgression, the Rabbis are sometimes more lenient and sometimes more rigorous with Noachide than with Israelites. With but a few exceptions, the punishment meted out to a Noachide for the transgression of any of the seven laws is decapitation, the least painful of the four modes of execution of criminals (see Capital Punishment). The many formalities of procedure essential when the accused is an Israelite need not be observed in the case of the Noachide. The latter may be convicted on the testimony of one witness, even on that of relatives, but not on that of a woman. He need have had no warning (hatra'ah) from the witnesses; and a single judge may pass sentence on him .[15] With regard to idolatry, he can be found guilty only if he worshiped an idol in the regular form in which that particular deity is usually worshiped; while in the case of blasphemy he may be found guilty, even when he has blasphemed with one of the attributes of G-d's name—an action which, if committed by an Israelite, would not be regarded as criminal.[16]


The Noachide are required to establish courts of justice in every city and province; and these courts are to judge the people with regard to the six laws and to warn them against the transgression of any of them.[17] In the case of murder, if the Noachide slay a child in its mother's womb, or kill a person whose life is despaired of (terefah), or if he cause the death of a person by starving him or by putting him before a lion so that he can not escape, or if he slay a man in self-defense, the Noachide is guilty of murder and must pay the death-penalty, although under the same circumstances an Israelite would not be executed[18]

Only six cases of what would ordinarily be illicit connection are forbidden to the Noachide: (1) with mother; (2) with father's wife, even after the father's death; (3) with a married woman, whether married to a Jew or to a non-Jew; (4) with sister by the same mother; (5) pederasty; (6) bestiality. In these cases also there are differences in the punishment inflicted, dependent upon whether the offenses are committed by a Noachide or by an Israelite.[19] The Noachide is punished with decapitation for all kinds of robbery, whether from a Jew or from a non-Jew, even though the article stolen is worth less than a perutah (the smallest Palestinian coin, for less than which no case can be instituted against an Israelite). The Noachide is executed also if he eat of a limb cut from a living animal, even though the quantity consumed be less than the size of an olive (the minimum portion for the eating of which an Israelite may be punished.[20]

Special Exceptions

The Noachide is free from punishment if he commits a sin unwittingly; ignorance of the Law, however, does not excuse him. If he commits a sin under duress, even one for which an Israelite is obliged to undergo martyrdom rather than transgress (e.g., idolatry, adultery, or murder), he is not liable to punishment [21] A Noachide who slays another Noachide, or worships idols, or blasphemes, or has illicit connection with the wife of another Noachide, and then becomes a proselyte, is free from punishment. If, however, he has killed an Israelite, or has had illicit connection with the wife of an Israelite, and then becomes a proselyte, he must submit to the punishment that is inflicted upon an Israelite found guilty of such a transgression [22].

A Noachide who wishes to observe any of the laws of the Torah is not prevented from doing so. With regard to the prohibition against a Noachide studying the Law or observing the Sabbath, see Gentile in Relation to Jews.

He who observed the seven Noachian laws was regarded as a foreign resident[23], as one of the pious of the Gentiles, and was assured of a portion in the world to come.[24] In Talmudic times the non-Jews of Babylon were apparently sunk in the grossest immorality, so that 'Ula, one of the earlierBabylonian amoraim, complains that out of the thirty laws (see above) which the Noachide accept they observe only three—they do not write a marriage contract (ketubah) for pederasty; they do not sell human flesh in their shops; and they show respect for the Torah.[25]

In the Messianic age the Noachide will accept all the laws of the Torah, although later they will again reject them.[26]


  • Hamburger, R. B. T. ii., s.v. Noachideen;
  • Hirschfeld, Pflichten und Gesetze der Noachideen, in Kobak's Jeschurun, iv. 1-19;
  • Levinsohn, Zerubbabel, ii. 74-87, Warsaw, 1878;
  • Weber, System der Altsynag. Pala"st. Theologie, § 56, Leipsic, 1880;
  • Zweifel, Sanegor, pp. 269 et seq., Warsaw, 1894.S. J. H. G.

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See also


  1. Mishneh Torah, Melachim 8:11
  2. Sanhedrin 56. This is according to Rabbi Johanan. Rabbi Isaac reverses the first and third verses.
  3. Sanhedrin 56
  4. Mishneh Torah, Melachim 9:1
  5. cf. "The Seven Colors of the Rainbow" by Rabbi Yirmeyahu Bindman, chapter 6
  6. see Judah ha-Levi, "Cuzari," 3:73
  7. Genesus Rabbah 16:9, 24:5; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:16; compare with Seder 'Olam Rabbah, ed. Ratner, chapter 5, and notes, Wilna, 1897; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Melachim, 9:1
  8. Tosefos, 'Avodah Zarah, 9:4; Sanhedrin 56a et seq.
  9. Sanhedrin 56b
  10. Hullin 92a; compare Yerushalmi 'Avodah Zarah 2:1
  11. Tanna debe Menasseh
  12. Sanhedrin 56b
  13. Sanhedrin 59a; R. Jose ben H.anina; comp. Bacher, "Ag. Pal. Amor." i. 430 and note
  14. Sanhedrin 59b
  15. Sanhedrin 57a, Sanhedrin 57b; Mishneh Torah, Melachim 9:14
  16. Sanhedrin 56b; see Blasphemy)
  17. ib.; Mishneh Torah, Melachim 9:14,10"11; comp. Nachmanides on Gen. xxxiv. 13, where the opinion is expressed that these courts should judge also cases other than those coming under the head of the six laws, as, for example, larceny, assault and battery, etc.
  18. Sanhedrin 57b; Mishneh Torah, Melachim 9:4; comp. "Kesef Mishneh," ad loc.
  19. see Mishneh Torah, Melachim 9:5-8
  20. Mishneh Torah, Melachim 9:9-13
  21. Mak. 9a; Sanh. 74b; Mishneh Torah, Melachim 10:1,2; comp. "Lechem Mishneh" and "Kesef Mishneh," ad loc.
  22. Sanhedrin 71b; Mishneh Torah, Melachim 10:4
  23. 'Ab. Zarah 64b; see Ger Toshav
  24. Tosef., Sanh. xiii. 1; Sanh. 105a; comp. ib. 91b; Mishneh Torah, Melachim 8:11
  25. Hullin 92b
  26. Yer. 'Ab. Zarah ii. 1