Path of the Righteous Gentile: Seven Laws of Noah
The Seven Laws of Noah
1. With respect to God’s commandments, all of humanity is divided into two general classifications: the Children of Israel and the Children of Noah.
2. The Children of Israel are the Jewish people, the descendants of the Patriarch Jacob. They are commanded to fulfill the 613 Commandments of the Torah.
3. The Children of Noah comprise the seventy original nations of the world and their branches. They are commanded concerning the Seven Universal Commandments which are known as the Seven Laws of Noah.1 These seven universal laws are the elementary and basic principles of civilized humanity. The seven laws pertain to idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, forbidden sexual relations, eating the limb of a living animal, and establishing courts of law.
4. All Seven Universal Laws are prohibitions.2 Do not wonder at this. Negative commandments are of a higher order than positive commandments, and their fulfillment, which takes more effort than positive commandments, earns a greater reward.
5. Men and women are equal in their responsibility to observe these seven commandments.3
6. It is a matter of dispute as to when a person becomes responsible for his or her actions under these laws. One opinion holds that it depends on the intellectual development of the individual.4 According to this opinion, as soon as a child has attained the maturity to understand the meaning and significance of the Seven Universal Laws,5 he is obligated to the fullest extent of the law.
The other opinion is that a boy reaches the age of legal responsibility at his thirteenth birthday and a girl at her twelfth birthday.6
7. The Children of Noah are permanently warned concerning the Seven Universal Laws. This means that ignorance of the law is not a valid defense. One cannot claim, for example, that he did not know that idolatry was one of the seven commandments. Nor can he claim that he did not know that bowing down to an idol constitutes idolatry.7 Therefore, one is duty bound to study the Seven Universal Laws to the best of one’s ability and to teach the knowledge of them to one’s children.
8. When one of the Children of Noah resolves to fulfill the Seven Universal Laws, his or her soul is elevated. This person becomes one of the Chasidei Umot ha-Olam, the Pious Ones of the Nations, and receives a share of the Eternal World.8 The Holy Scriptures call one who accepts the yoke of fulfilling the Seven Universal Laws a ger toshav, a proselyte of the gate. This person is permitted to live in the Land of Israel and to enter the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and to offer sacrifices to the God of Israel.9
9. Although the Children of Noah are commanded only concerning the Seven Universal Laws, they are permitted to observe any of the
10. A Noahide who, though forbidden, engages in learning Torah or observes the Sabbath in the manner of Jews, or reveals novel meanings to verses in the Torah, may be physically restrained and informed that he is liable for capital punishment by divine decree, but he is not put to death by a court of law.
Note: The action taken against this person is only meant to dissuade him from doing forbidden acts.
11. The responsibility of The Seven Noahide Laws is a yoke of faith in God. This means that the laws must be observed solely because God commanded them. If the Children of Noah observe these Seven Universal Laws for any reason or intention other than to fulfill God’s will, no divine reward for the performance is received. This means that if one of the Children of Noah says, “These laws seem sensible and beneficial, therefore I will observe them,” his actions accomplish nothing is not a Ger Toshav (Resident Foreigner) nor is he considered one of the Chasidei Umot HaOlam.16
12. A Noahide who studies Torah is comparable to the High Priest of the Jews, for both are rewarded with a share of the World to Come.17
13. If one of the Children of Noah wishes to accept the full responsibility of the 613 Commandments of the Torah, he or she can convert and become a Jew in every respect. One who elects to do this is called a Ger Tzedek, a righteous proselyte.18
613 Commandments of the Torah for the sake of receiving divine reward.10 According to some opinions the exceptions to this are:
A. Observing the Sabbath in the manner of the Jews. This means that the Children of Noah may not completely rest from the 39 creative work activities that were needed for the building of the Tabernacle during the Exodus from Egypt. This is a complicated subject whose details and implications are outside the scope of this book, but will be addressed at greater length in a later work.
B. Observing the Jewish holy days in the manner of the Jews. This also means resting from the creative work activities in a similar manner to the Sabbath.11
D. Studying those parts of the Torah that do not apply to the Noahides’ service of God. This prohibition, like the others, may apply to some Children of Noah and not others.12
D. Writing a Torah scroll comprised of the Five Books of Moses.
E. Receiving an aliyah to the Torah.13
Note: A prime purpose of the Seven Universal Laws is to teach the Children of Noah about the Oneness of God. Therefore, it is permissible and even imperative that he acquire this knowledge from Torah study. This includes the entire twenty-four books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Also, the study of any part of the Torah that brings one to greater knowledge concerning the performance of the Seven Noahide Commandments is permissible.
It is a principle of Judaism, however, not to seek converts, and one who requests conversion is generally discouraged. Should the person persist in the desire to convert, counsel should be taken only with an Orthodox rabbi or scholar, for conversion not in accord with Halakha, Torah Law, is no conversion at all, and conversion supervised and granted by rabbis who themselves do not follow the laws of the Torah are null and void, neither recognized in heaven nor by any God-fearing Jew.
14. It is incorrect to think that since the Children of Israel have 613 Commandments and the Children of Noah have seven commandments, the ratio of spiritual worth is proportionally 613 to 7. The truth is that the Seven Universal Laws are general commandments, each containing many parts and details, whereas the 613 Commandments of the Torah are specific, each relating to one basic detail of the Divine Law. Therefore, the numerical disparity in no way reflects the relative spiritual worth of the two systems of commandments.19
The prime difference in the service of the Israelite and that of the Noahide is that the Noahide sees the existence of existence, that is, he refines the world, whereas the Israelite sees the non-existence of existence, that is, he reveals divinity in the world. Of course, refining the world reveals its inherent divinity and revealing divinity inevitably refines the world.
15. The statutory penalty for intentionally transgressing any one of the Seven Laws of Noah is capital punishment.20
A Noahide who inadvertently violates one of his commandments is exempt from all punishment. The sole exception is a person who murders unwittingly but negligently. Although the courts will not punish the killer for manslaughter, he may be killed by a blood redeemer. The blood redeemer is someone close to the slain party who seeks retribution. The blood redeemer in turn will not be killed
for his actions.21 According to others, in the case of murder, a transgressor of the Noahide Law who is ignorant of the law receives the death penalty in a court of law.
16. If the courts cannot punish an individual for lack of witnesses or any other reason, the transgressor will be punished from heaven by divine decree.22
17. Besides the Seven Universal Commandments, the Children of Noah have traditionally taken it upon themselves to fulfill the commandment of honoring father and mother.23
18. Some authorities are of the opinion that the Children of Noah are obligated to fulfill the commandment of giving charity.24 Others state that it is proper and meritorious for the Children of Noah to give charity but that it is not actually commanded of them.25
19. If a Noahide who follows the Seven Universal Laws gives charity, the Israelites accept it from him and give it to the poor of Israel. Through the merit of giving charity to the Jewish poor, one is given life by God and saved from death. But if a Noahide does not accept the yoke of the Seven Noahide Laws, but remains an acum and gives charity, it may not be given it to the needy of Israel. His charity is given to poor Noahides only.26
20. If one of the Children of Noah arises and performs a miracle and says that God sent him, then instructs others to add to or subtract from any of the Seven Universal Laws or explains them in a way not heard at Mount Sinai, or claims that the 613 Commandments given to the Jews are not eternal, but limited to a fixed period of time, this person is deemed a false prophet and incurs the death penalty.27
21. There is an oral tradition that the Children of Noah are forbidden to interbreed animals of different species or to graft trees of different kinds,28 although some authorities hold that they are permitted to do either.29 However, they may wear shaatnez 30 and they may plant different seeds such as grape and wheat in the same field, which are acts forbidden to Jews.31 Forbidden interbreeding and grafting are not punishable in courts of law.
22. The Sages of Israel state that descendants of the children of Ketura, the sons of Abraham’s concubine, Hagar, who were born after Ishmael and Isaac, must by law be circumcised. Since today the descendants of Ishmael are intermixed with the descendants of the other sons of Hagar, all are obligated to be circumcised on the eighth day after they are born. Those transgressing this are not liable for the death penalty.32 This law applies to Semitic peoples, although all other nations are allowed to circumcise if they desire.
24. In accord with the Seven Universal Laws, mankind is enjoined against creating any religion based on his own concept. He either develops religion based on this Divine Code of Laws or becomes a righteous proselyte, a Jew, and accepts all 613 commandments of the Torah.34
Note: Concerning making holidays for themselves, Noahides may participate in the celebration of Jewish holidays, such as Shavuot, celebrating the Giving of the Torah, since the Children of Noah received their commandments at the same time, or Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and Day of Judgment, since all mankind is judged by God on that day, so it should therefore be important to the Noahide as well as the Israelite. Rosh Hashanah is also the day that Adam, the First Man, was created by God, and all mankind is descended from Adam just as it is from Noah.35 The Noahide celebrates these holidays in order to bring additional merit and reward to himself.
Moreover, the Noahide is strictly forbidden to create a new holiday that has religious significance and claim that it is part of his religion, even if the religion relates to the Seven Noahide Laws.
For example, it would be forbidden to make a holiday celebrating the subsiding of the waters of the Great Flood or anything similar. All the more so, it is forbidden to institute holidays that ascribe religious significance to events unrelated to the Seven Noahide Laws. Celebrating secular activities and commemorating historical events, even if they involve a festive meal, are permissible.
25. The nations of the world acknowledge the existence of God and essentially do not transgress the will of God. Their failing is an inability to be nullified to God, and they deny His Oneness by thinking that they themselves are separate entities, calling Him the God of gods. Therefore, we find that when they transgress the Seven Noahide Commandments, it is only because a spirit of folly enters them and covers the truth, concealing it from them.36 But from their essential being, they are not able to transgress the Will of God. Therefore, even Balaam, the wicked prophet who had sexual relations with his donkey, a clear transgression of the Seven Noahide Laws, said, “I am not able to transgress the word of God (Numbers 22:18).”
26. The commandment to be fruitful and multiply was given to Noah, but inasmuch as it was not repeated at Mount Sinai, this commandment is not considered part of the Seven Universal Laws.37
However, the Children of Noah have the obligation to make the entire earth a dwelling place for mankind.38 This is minimally achieved by every couple giving birth to a male and a female child who are in turn capable of reproduction.39
A couple that bears more children is credited with bringing more spiritual goodness into the world, assuming that these children are reared in an environment of morality by observing the Seven Universal Laws.
27. A Noahide who strikes an Israelite, causing even a slight wound, though he is theoretically condemned for this, does not receive the death penalty.40
28. When a Noahide dies, he is to be buried in the earth, “for out of it were you taken; for you are dust and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).” This does not mean that a Noahide transgresses one of the Seven Commandments by utilizing another process such as
Sefer HaArchin Chabad, volume 2, The Nations of the World, chapter 1, cremation or cryogenic preservation, but he or she will lack the atonement that burial in the earth accomplishes.41
29. By observing the Seven Universal Laws, mankind is given the means by which it can perfect itself. The individual, through these laws and the pathway they open for him, has the power to refine his essential being, reaching higher and higher without limit.
It was taught in the school of Elijah the Prophet, “I call heaven and earth to bear witness, that any individual, man or woman, Jew or Gentile, freeman or slave, can have the Holy Spirit bestowed upon him. It all depends on his deeds.”42
King Solomon, the wisest of men, wrote, “Ultimately, all is understood: fear God and observe His commandments, for this is the completion of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).”
1 Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 56a
2 The Ramban lists establishing Courts of Law as a positive command.
3 Encyclopedia Talmudica, The Children of Noah, volume 3, page 348
4 Rabbeinu Asher (the Rosh), responsa number 16
5 This is known as a “bar daat,” a child of knowledge, i.e., one whose intellectual development is sufficient for him or her to make reasonable choices.
6 Babylonian Talmud, Nazir 29b, commentary of Rashi: “And Rabbi Yose…”; Likutei Sichot, volume 5, page 421
7 However, he can claim that he did not realize that a certain idol was an idol, for that is not ignorance of the law.
8 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 8:11
9 Ibid., Laws of Forbidden Relationships, 14:7
10 Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zara 64b; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 10:9.
11 There are several fundamental differences between resting on the Sabbath and resting on a Jewish holiday. A full discussion of these details and implications will similarly be included in a later work.
12 The Rambam in the Mishneh Torah forbids these categories to the “acum,” a term for an idol worshipper, literally meaning one who worships stars and constellations. This would indicate that a Noahide who has elevated his soul by accepting the Seven Laws may well be permitted to engage in Torah study, Shabbat observances, etc.
13 Being called up to a communal reading of selected portions of the Torah. 65 Talmudic or Halakhic study of subjects that pertain exclusively to the Jew’s service of God is expressly forbidden to an acum,
14 i.e., a Noahide who worships idols and is, therefore, not one of the Chasidei Umot Haolam (Pious Gentile). The acum damages his soul if he studies portions of the Torah that do not pertain to him.
15 Sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 19th Kislev 5745 (1984)
16 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 8:11
17 Babylonian Talmud, Baba Kamma, 38a
18 Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah, Laws of Conversion, chapter 268, law 2
19 The Seven Laws of Noah, Lichtenstein, chapter 9,
20 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 9:14. This is the opinion of the Rambam. The subject will be discussed more fully in Chapter 11, Courts of Law 67
22 Commentary of Rashi on Exodus 23:7 and 21:13;Babylonian Talmud,
23 Nahal Eshkol, Laws of Circumcision, chapter 39, number 6
24 Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 56b, commentary of Rabbeinu Nissim, “And He commanded him – these are the judges”
25 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 10:10 26 Ibid.
23. One opinion maintains that only the six sons of Hagar and not their descendants were obligated to be circumcised.33
27 Ibid., Foundations of Torah, 9:1
28 Ibid., 10:6
29 Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah, chapter 297, note 3, commentary of the Shach 30 Clothing containing both wool and linen.
31 Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 56b
32 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, chapter 10, law 7, 8
33 Babylonion Talmud, Sanhedrin 59b, commentary of Rashi, “And if you want to say circumcision…”
34 Babylonian Talmud, Baba Kamma 38a
35 Me’am Loez, Genesis, chapter 13, page 194
36 section 3, page 269
37 Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 59b
38 Sefer HaChinuch, First Commandment
39 Shulchan Arukh, Even HaEzer, chapter 1, law 5
40 Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 10:6
41 Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 46b
42 Tana D’Bei Eliyahu, beginning of Chapter 9.