God’s Covenant With All Mankind
Noahism is the ancient religious tradition that began with the original Adamic and Noahic covenants.
When God created man, He communicated numerous expectations and desires as to man’s purpose and behavior. Either these expectations were explicitly commanded unto Adam by God or directly implied by the stories of God’s relationship with His creation. For example, murder must have been prohibited for Cain was punished for killing Abel (Genesis 4:1-12). The generation of the flood was punished for widespread robbery, among other lapses (Genesis 6:5-13). The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for extensive wickedness (Genesis 13:13, 18:20 – 22; See Yalkut Shimoni: Bereishit 83, Sanhedrin 109a and Genesis Rabbah 50 for further examples of the cruelty and sin of Sodom and Gemorah) and, in particular, sexual misconduct (Genesis 19:5).
We see, therefore, that God had expectations for man prior to the giving of the Torah. The Torah itself enumerates these expectations in many places. For example:
God blessed them and God said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply…”
Genesis 1:28 see also Genesis 9:1
…but of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad you must not eat…
But flesh, with its soul, its blood, you shall not eat.
The main canon of God’s expecatations was communicated to Noah after the great flood. Centuries later, when the Torah was revealed at sinai, seven of these original mitzvos, divine commandments, were reaffirmed unto mankind. These seven divine commandments represent the expectations of God for all man, Jew and gentile alike – the universal legacy of Adam and Noah, the progenitors of all mankind. These are known as the Seven Noahide Laws:
I. One may not worship idols; this prohibition precludes belief in any intermediary or divine power other than than God the Creator.
II. One may neither curse nor blaspheme God; we are required to show due honor and respect to the One True God by praying only to Him and honoring His name.
III. One may not murder; this includes prohibitions pertaining to injury and harm caused to other people.
IV. Prohibitions against immoral sexual relations including incest, adultery, and homosexuality.
V. One may not steal; this includes prohibitions against dishonest business practices, misuse of other people’s property, and the requirement to honestly represent oneself in business.
VI. The requirement to establish courts and to maintain a just, virtuous society.
VII. It is prohibited to eat flesh taken from a living animal; this includes a number of prohibitions regulating man’s relationship with the natural world including prohibitions against animal cruelty.
Contrary to what many people think, the ancient Jewish writings record that the Torah was not only intended as the spiritual textbook for the Jewish people, but as the spiritual guide for all mankind. While the Torah commanded the Jews in 613 specific mitzvos, divine commandments, it also teaches the world the details and applications of the Seven Universal Laws of Noah. As the primary source for information on the philosophy and application of the Seven Universal Noahide Laws, the Torah is also G0d’s revelation for the world.
The Torah therefore provides for two religious approaches: for the Jews, Judaism, for the nations of the World, the Noahide Laws. A non-Jew who embraces the relevance and light of the Torah as his spiritual guide is a Noahide.
Noahism has a long heritage that was almost entirely wiped out due to the vicissitudes of history. In the 20th Century the noble spiritual heritage of Adam and Noah has experienced a tremendous revitalization.
Noahism in Ancient Times
Though ancient sources are scarce, there are references from the time of the second temple onwards to non-Jewish worshipers of the Jewish God. These non-Jewish worshipers, known as the Phebomenoi (φοβουμενοι τον θεον), or Heaven-Fearers (alternatively known as sebomenoi, σεβομενοι, theosebes, θεοσεβης, or theophobes, θεοφοβείς, in some sources) apparently adhered to the Noahide laws. Besides Talmudic and Mishnaic references, their existence is also cited in the first century C.E. writings of Joesphus Flavius (The Jewish Wars II: 454, 463, and VII: 45; Antiquities XIV: 110 and XX: 41; Against Apion I: 166,167, and II: 282). At about the same time, the Roman satirists Gaius Petronius Arbiter and Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis mocked those Romans who adopted Jewish beliefs and philosophy yet refused circumcision and full conversion.
The most important archaeological evidence of an ancient Noahide community was discovered in 1976 in Aphrodisias, Turkey. Two inscriptions (see image, left), dating from approximately 210 C.E., were discovered in an ancient synagogue. The first inscription is a list of synagogue founders, all with Jewish names common to the period. The second inscription, however, is a list of non-Jewish names such as Zeno, Athenogoras, and Diogenes. This inscription is prefaced with the words: “And these are those who are God Fearers…” A similar inscription was discovered in the ancient ruined synagogue of Sardis, Turkey. This inscription lists three groups: Jews, converts, and observers of the Noahide laws. We know almost nothing about these ancient groups or their specific modes of observance.
With the ascent of church power and increasing persecution and dispersion of the Jewish community, Noahism fell by the wayside. With the exception of a few individual exceptions, the Noahide faith did not reappear again until the late 19th and early 20th century.
Aimé Pallière & Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh
Noahism reemerged as a religious identity in the late 19th century through the meeting of Aimé Pallière (1868-1949) and Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh (1822-1900). Pallière had lost faith in Catholic doctrine and began a personal search for religious truth. After being exposed to authentic Torah study in his home town of Lyon, he developed an interest in converting to Judaism. For family reasons, conversion was a remote option and Pallière found himself in deep spiritual crisis. His friends in the Jewish community suggested that
he contact Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh, Rabbi of the Sephardic community of Leghorn, Italy.
R’ Benamozegh offered Pallière a solution in the form of the Noahide laws:
We Jews have in our keeping the religion destined for the entire human race, the religion to which the Gentiles are subject and by which they are to be saved, as were our Patriarchs before the giving of the Law. Could you suppose that the true religion which God destines for all humanity is only the property of a special people? Not at all. His plan is much greater than that. The religion of humanity is no other than “Noahism,” not because it was founded by Noah, but because it was through the person of that righteous man that God’s covenant with humanity was made. This is the path that lies before your efforts, and indeed before mine, as it is my duty to spread the knowledge of it also.
Though they only met once, Pallière and R’ Benamozegh corresponded extensively over the next three years until R’ Benamozegh’s passing. Their exchanges formed the core of Pallière’s book Le sanctuaire inconnu, The Unknown Sanctuary, which developed many ideas proposed by R’ Benamozegh in his Israël et l’Humanité, Israel and Humanity.
Pallière and Benamozegh’s thought influenced many to consider the Noahide faith. Subsequently, a few Noahide societies appeared in Europe devoted to the study of Pallière and Benamozegh. However, this movement came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of World War II.
Early 20th Century
In the early 20th century a few major Torah scholars authored studies on the Noahide laws. These are important touchstones for anyone looking to attain a thorough understanding of the Noahide precepts.
The two most significant are the Kuntres Ner Mitzvah, by Rabbi Meir Dan Plotzki (published in his larger work, the Kli Chemda) and the discussion of the Noahide Laws in the Mitzvos HaShem by Rabbi Yonasan Shteif.
Throughout the 20th century, Noahide issues were discussed sporadically by a number of Torah authorities. Most notably, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of Judaism’s greatest decisors of Torah law, wrote a number of important responsa on the Noahide laws. This material is found in many places in his Igros Moshe and is foundational to a practical understanding of the Noahide laws.
Vendyl Jones (1930 – 2010)
Vendyl Jones was arguably the most important figure in the resurrection of Noahism as a religious identity. His impact and importance as a scholar, teacher, and especially as personal example are difficult to overstate.
Jones began his career as pastor of a Baptist church. He resigned his pulpit in 1956 after wrestling with deep doubts as to the truth of Christianity. Though he held advanced degrees in theology and biblical studies, Vendyl decided to restart his entire religious education from scratch. Moving his family to South Carolina, he enrolled in classes at a local Talmud Torah (Jewish elementary school). As he gained facility in Torah study and Hebrew, he sought guidance from local rabbis in observance of the Noahide laws. Jones steadily developed a very sophisticated Noahide religious identity grounded firmly in Torah study and worldview.
In the 1960’s Jones became deeply involved in archaeological pursuits, eventually moving his family to Israel to continue his studies at Hebrew University. Over the next three decades he embarked on a number of important excavations.
Through his lectures on biblical archaeology, publications, lectures, and weekly classes, he not only inspired innumerable non-Jews to explore Noahism, but also brought the Noahide laws back onto the rabbinic radar. Since the destruction of the temple, Noahide observance had become exceedingly rare and rabbinic knowledge of these laws became correspondingly scarce. Vendyl’s personal quest to understand the Noahide obligations inspired many rabbis to reopen these long abandoned areas of study.
As a result of his sincere beliefs and honest quest for truth, Vendyl is regarded by most Noahides and many Rabbis as the father of the modern Noahide movement.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (1902 – 1994)
In 1984 Rabbi Schneersohn (the last leader of the Chassidic court of Lubavitch), called upon the larger Rabbinic community to engage in the study and dissemination of the Noahide laws. His article, published in the rabbinic journal HaPardes, made a deep impression within his own movement, Chabad Lubavitch. Many Chabad Rabbis began studying and teaching the Noahide laws in earnest. The Rebbe also spoke and wrote on the Noahide laws, outlining many of the fundamental principles. His teachings were collected and published as Kol Bo’ai HaOlam by Rabbi C. Miller. The Rebbe further encouraged the creation of authoritative compendia of Noahide law. However, for a number of reasons such a work did not immediately materialize.
The Sefer Sheva Mitzvos HaShem – The Seven Divine Commandments
In the late 20th century, Ask Noah International (ASI) took the initiative to fulfill the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s desire for a complete exposition of Noahide law. They tasked the well-known Jerusalem scholar, Rabbi Moshe Weiner, with the halakhic (Torah law) research and writing of the work. This monumental project cumulated with the publication in Hebrew the first major halakhic (practical) exploration of Noahide laws and beliefs: the Sefer Sheva Mitzvos HaShem. This three-volume work was the first major presentation of the foundational principles of Noahism.
His work is a survey of nearly everything every written in classical Torah sources on the Noahide laws, how they are to be understood, and how they are to be fulfilled. The most important achievement of the Sefer Sheva Mitzvos is that it successfully distills a framework for determining legitimate Noahide practice and identity.
We must keep in mind that for over 1500 years Noahism did not exist as a religious identity. Whatever Noahism may have once been, it effectively went extinct in the 4th century. Like Judaism, Noahism has foundational principles upon which it is built. These principles are found in the core texts of the Torah and Talmud. In order to rebuild Noahism, these foundational principles must be brought out into the light. Any attempt to resurrect Noahism without a solid textual foundation is doomed to failure. Yet, with these foundations in place, the beliefs and identities of Noahism can be rebuilt and made to flourish.
Before the publication of the Sefer Sheva Mitzvos HaShem, the Noahide movement had no scholarly basis upon which to grow and rebuild.
The publication of the Sefer Sheva Mitzvos HaShem is also important in that it provided a point of contact between mainstream Judaism’s scholarly community and the Noahide movement, reintroducing Noahide scholarship to the arena of halakhic (Torah law) discourse.
In 2011, selections of the Sefer Sheva Mitzvos HaShem were translated and published in English as The Divine Code.
Since its publication a number of further studies have been produced. Of particular importance is the Toldos Noach by Rabbi Eliezer Baruch.
The Noahide Movement Today
The Noahide movement today is growing at a rapid pace. Dissatisfaction with the dominant western religions has led many to explore true monotheism and the truth of the Torah. In communities across the globe, Noahides have formed study and worship groups to explore the gentile relationship to the Torah and the fulfillment of the Seven Universal Noahide laws.
For an in-depth Torah study of Noahism go HERE.