Modern Commentary

Torah & Spirit
Family Life






The Noahide Laws


The Sheva‘ Miswot Benei No’ah are seven laws considered by rabbinic tradition to be the minimal moral duties enjoined by the Bible on all men (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 56–60; Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Yad Hazaqah, Melakhim 8:10, 10:12). According to Rabbanite tradition, every non-Jew is a "son of the covenant of Noah" (cf. Bere´shit [Genesis] 9).  Someone, who takes on the  obligations of the Noahide coventant is called a Ger Toshav [reident alien] (Babylonian Talmud, ‘Avodah Zarah 64b; Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Yad Haqakah, Melakhim 8:10).  Maimonides equates the "righteous man (Hasid) of the Goyyim [nations - i.e., non-jews]" who has a share in the world to come even without becoming a Jew with the gentile who keeps the Sheva‘ Miswot Benei No’ah

The Sheva‘ Miswot Benei Noah are defined in the Talmud and the Midrash, where it is claimed they were derived from divine demands addressed to Adam (Bere´shit [Genesis] 2:16) and Noah (Bere'shit Rabbah 34; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 59b).  As with many Rabbanite interpretations, the exegesis used to derive the Sheva‘ Miswot Benei No’ah is forced and relies highly on questionable methods of interpretation, as well as out-right invention.  The Rabbis claim that as Adam and Noah were the progenitors of all mankind, the Noahide laws are to be regarded as universal. 

In order, the Noahide laws are the prohibitions of:

  • idolatry
  • blasphemy
  • bloodshed
  • sexual sins
  • theft
  • eating from a living animal

as well as the injunction to:

  • establish a legal system (Tosefot, ‘Avodah Zarah 8:4; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 56a). 

Under the prohibitions of blasphemy, murder, and theft Noahides are subject to greater legal restrictions than Jews because non-Jewish society is held to be more prone to these sins (Rashi’s commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 57a). 

The Rabbis contend that Jews are obligated to try to establish the Noahide Code wherever they can (ibid., 8:10). Maimonides held that Noahides must not only accept "the seven laws" on their own merit, but they must accept them as divinely revealed. 

Talmudic texts seem constantly to alternate between two terms, reflecting contradictory assumptions as to the basis of the authority of the Noahide laws.  These areas of authority are:  the seven precepts "which were commanded" (SheNisawu) to the Noahides, and the seven precepts "which the Noahides accepted upon themselves" (SheQibbelu ‘Aleihem) (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Qama 38a; Jerusalem Talmud, ‘Avodah Zarah 2:1; Babylonian Talmud, Hullin 92ab; Babylonian Talmud, Horayot 8b; Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 56b). 

The Talmudists, supposedly having received a clear tradition of seven Noahide Laws, had difficulty in explaining why other pre-Sinaitic laws were not included, for example procreation, circumcision, and the law of the sinew. They suggested two somewhat strained principles to explain the anomalies. The absence of circumcision and the sinew is explained through the contention that any law which predated the Torah and was not repeated at Sinai was applicable solely to Israelites (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 59a), whence procreation, while indeed obligatory on non-Jews according to Rabbi Yohanan (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 62a) would nevertheless not to be listed (cf. Tosefot on Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 62a s.v. Benei; Tosefot on Babylonian Talmud, Haghighah 2b s.v. Lo).  

As stated previously - though perhaps only suggested -  the Sheva‘ Miswot Benei No’ah are purely a Rabbanite invention.  In point of fact there is only one command given to man in general before the giving of the Torah at Sinai (that would be applicable to a post Eden world), this is the prohibition of blood consumption.  While this is the case, the concept that the Sheva‘ Miswot Benei No’ah are derived from - the fact that there are universal truths that apply to all man, and that these truths can be derived from the Torah - is not without basis.  However, given their shaky logical and exegetical foundations, the Sheva‘ Miswot Benei No’ah in and of themselves cannot be relied upon to supply these truths.  Rather than turning to the inventions of the Talmud, one should turn to the Torah itself - whose moral guidelines are for all men.