The Oral Torah (Tractate Sanhedrin, ch. 7) explains how all of these 7 Noahide Commandments are encoded within the Hebrew text of the verse Genesis 2:16: “And L-rd G-d commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat.’” However there are also other confirming passages which are perhaps more direct (in that they deal with only one or a small number of these laws at a time).
The 7 Noahide Laws are rules that all of us must keep, regardless of who we are or from where we come. Without these seven things, it would be impossible for humanity to live together in harmony.
These laws were communicated by G‑d to Adam Noah, ancestors of all human beings. That is what makes these rules universal, for all times, places and people:
Laws made by humans may change according to circumstance. But laws made by the Creator of all souls over all of time remain the same for all people at all times..
If we would fulfill these laws just because they make sense to us, then we would change them, according to our convenience. We would be our own god. But when we understand that they are the laws of a supreme G‑d, we understand that they can not be changed, just as He does not change.
Today, we are on the verge of a new era for humankind, a time when we will finally live together in peace and the world will be filled with divine wisdom. Those who keep these basic rules will have a share in that world, since, after all, they took part in making it possible.
Although these teachings were recorded in the sacred Jewish texts, for many centuries Jews were not able to speak about them to the people they lived amongst. But in recent times, the foremost rabbi of the Jewish people in the 20th century, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, encouraged Jews to publicize these teachings, so that the world can prepare for the times of peace and wisdom that are swiftly approaching.
These are called the Noahide Laws because they are the heritage of humanity from our oldest ancestors. Since all humanity are descendants of Noah, who survived the Great Flood, all people today are Noahides.
Jewish tradition tells that six of these laws were given to the first human being, Adam. A seventh law, the prohibition against eating the limb of a living animal, was given to Noah when humankind was permitted to consume meat.
These seven principles are general ones. Many other teachings, all intuitive to the upright human mind, branch out from these.
These include the practice of charity and acts of kindness, honoring and respecting parents, prayer to G‑d and contemplation of His wisdom and greatness.
This also means not acting recklessly towards the magnificent creation that has been entrusted to our stewardship.
Nobody needs to convert or join a particular church or temple to keep these principles and laws. But it is important to keep them because this is what the supreme G‑d wants of every one of us, and not only because they are wise and good laws.
Anyone who keeps these basic rules for that reason—regardless of race, nationality or culture—is considered a righteous person and granted eternal life upon leaving this world.
These are the Seven Laws of Noah which have been categorized for our benefit by the Jewish People. These seven laws are a combination of laws mentioned directly in the text and category markers for other laws which were commanded to Adam and Eve, Noah, or other people in general and which are not part of any other covenant. The idea here is the idea of fairness and justice; when God provides light it will behoove us to follow that light.
For example, when God said that we are made in his image, and by the fact that he has given us commands, we are not to engage in idolatry. This is as much out of respect, and recognition that God saved us from the flood, than anything else. You will note that the Jewish people were kind enough to share their thoughts on Idolatry with us, however, all of Idolatry is essentially self-evident. You yourself, made in the image of God, have a direct connection to God in that sense; if you worship or pray in any other way than using your personal connection to God you are performing Idolatry. In such a sense, all idolatry is the worship of some intermediary placed before God's face; beside his face, etc. or in-place-of. All of the various categories of Idolatry could be understood as a variation on this theme.
Even if idolatry could have immense benefits for us we are forbidden from engaging in it. For example, people coudld threaten us with death if we don't convert. Or, it might be something simple like paying less taxes if you can declare a donation to the local Temple of (insert idol here). Even if we face death from this we must not worship any other God. This is an acknowledgement that God is sovereign, and that God will preserve us and bless us for not worshiping an idol. Turning down any such benefits of any kind is a demonstration of our filial devotion to God; “blood is thicker than water”.
Note: I have re-ordered the laws in what appears to be chronological order, or at least a more familiar order. I am unaware of any prescribed order to list these commandments.
Do not worship a False Deity. Genesis 2:16 states: “And L-rd G-d commanded to the man, saying…” This Divine command to Adam implies that only the One True G-d, the Creator of the spiritual and physical realms, should be obeyed and honored as the Deity, and the greatest honor is to serve and worship Him. Thus, one should serve and worship only the One True G-d, and not any idol.
Judaism does not require non-Jews to convert to Judaism. Islam, for example, is a purely monotheistic religion that is perfectly acceptable for Muslims. The Christian doctrine of a Trinity is problematic for Jews but it may be acceptable for Christians. (The concept of worshipping God “with partners” is relevant not only to Christians but also to Hindus. The practical applications of this, however, are far beyond our scope.) Non-Jews are free to relate to God in different ways than Jews. What non-Jews may not do, however, is worship idols in lieu of God.
“Idols” includes not only statues of wood and stone but also the heavenly spheres, works of nature or anything else that one might worship. Even if one acknowledges God as the Creator, he still may not worship an idol under the misguided intention that he is honoring God by honoring one of His servants.
As with the other universal laws, this prohibition contains what are many different mitzvos for Jews: making an idol, having an idol made by others, serving the idol in its normal fashion, etc. Likewise, non-Jews may not engage in the “mystic arts” like divining and necromancy, as these draw a person away from the service of God. Unlike Jews, non-Jews may pretend to bow to an idol in order to save their own lives. (This is what Naaman, the general of Aram, committed to do when his boss, the king, would take him to houses of idolatry. The prophet Elisha approved of this course of action – see 2 Kings chapter 5.) Commentary by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Blasphemy is perhaps the most reprehensible thing there is. It is so unthinkable that this mitzvah is called “birkas Hashem,” blessing God, when, of course, we really mean the opposite (God forbid). Like Jews, non-Jews are not permitted to curse God. We see this throughout the Book of Job. When Job’s life goes completely down the tubes, he is advised to “curse God and die.” This does not mean that doing so would cause Job to be Divinely struck dead; it means that he would be liable of the capital crime of blasphemy–and Job was a non-Jew.
This mitzvah includes not only a prohibition against blasphemy but also against desecrating God’s Name. The obligation of non-Jews to pray also falls under the aegis of this category. Commentary by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Genesis 9:5-6 exhibits an explicit prohibition of Murder directly associated with the promise of the Rainbow.
Murder is another mitzvah that we can easily see applied from the time of Adam. Cain killed Abel, for which he was punished–a clear indication that murder was already prohibited! After the flood, God was very explicit in prohibiting murder, in Genesis 9:5-6. The prohibition against murder includes such additional aspects of life-taking as suicide and abortion. (See Talmud Sanhedrin 57b for the inclusion of abortion among the Noachide laws.)
Like Jews, a non-Jew may kill in self-defense or to save a potential victim from a murderer. This is not, however, license to kill unnecessarily. For example, if someone kills a pursuer when wounding him would have been sufficient to save the victim, he would be liable for murder. Commentary by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Typically rendered as “adultery,” this category actually includes far more. Incest, homosexuality, bestiality and other prohibited relationships are all part of this mitzvah. This category also includes the prohibition against castrating any human or animal. (Rape is not part of this category, since the man and woman might be permitted to marry. Rape is, however, prohibited under the category of theft, as the offender takes something from the victim by force.)
This is another mitzvah that we can easily see was given to Adam before it was restated to Noah. Genesis 2:24 addresses the sanctity of marriage, saying that a man should cling to his wife and they should be like a single person. Non-Jews, however, are not obligated in the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply. The Talmud in Sanhedrin (59b) explains that any commandment that was given twice, namely before Sinai and again at Sinai, applies to both Jews and non-Jews. A mitzvah like being fruitful and multiplying, which was stated before the revelation at Sinai but not repeated, only applies to Jews.
Unlike Jews, non-Jews can marry people forbidden by marriage to a relative after the death of the impeding relative. For example, a man may marry his stepdaughter after the death of his wife, or his daughter-in-law after the death of his son. (It would seem that one may not marry his stepmother even after the death of his father.) Also, Jews would be liable for adultery with a betrothed maiden but non-Jews are not liable for adultery until after the couple’s marriage has been consummated. Commentary by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Like Jews, non-Jews are not allowed to steal. For non-Jews, however, this single commandment includes a number of things that are individual mitzvos for Jews: not stealing with stealth, not robbing by force, not kidnapping, not cheating a customer, not denying a debt, not moving a boundary marker, etc. It also includes those things that are meant to serve as a safeguard against stealing, such as not coveting another’s possessions.
Theft is one of the mitzvos that are easy to see applied from the time of Adam. God told Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, which they did. Being told not to take something and then taking it is the very definition of theft. As Rashi on Genesis 6:11 points out, theft is the sin that ultimately condemned the generation of the flood. Commentary by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Genesis 9:4 explicitly commands not to eat the limb of a live animal
Like Jews, non-Jews may not eat “eiver min hachai,” a limb torn from a live animal. This law was stated explicitly to Noah in Genesis 9:4. This mitzvah is the one that may or may not have been commanded to Adam.
In Genesis 9:3, Noah was given permission to slaughter animals for food, something that had been forbidden to previous generations. If Adam was a vegetarian, then of course eiver min hachai is a moot point. But was Adam a vegetarian? He couldn’t slaughter a lamb for food, but what if he found one that had been killed by a lion? Could he eat it? If so, then eiver min hachai would apply to a limb lost by an animal in an accident. (See Tosfos on Sanhedrin 56b.)
Rashi on Genesis 37:2, that Joseph spoke badly of his brothers, explains that he accused them of eating a limb torn from a live animal, among other things. Rashi does not explain, however, how such a misunderstanding could take place. Well, it goes like this: a difference between this halacha for Jews and non-Jews involves meat taken from an animal after it is slaughtered but before it is actually dead. The halacha is that this meat is not considered eiver min hachai for Jews but non-Jews must wait until the animal is completely dead before removing any meat. (This is because shechitah, ritual slaughter, is only a mitzvah for Jews.) Joseph’s opinion was that, before the Torah was given, Jacob’s sons were halachically non-Jews and meat taken after slaughter was forbidden to them. His brothers felt that they were halachically Jews, so that meat taken after slaughter was permitted to them. Commentary by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
The final mitzvah commanded to all mankind was to establish courts of justice, not only to enforce the other six laws but also to legislate for the betterment of society.
This is another mitzvah we can see in action from before the Torah was given. When Shechem raped Dina in Genesis chapter 34, her brothers took it out on the entire city. Why? What did they do? Simple: they turned a blind eye to the crime. They refused to bring Shechem to trial, which made them guilty of failing to enforce justice.
This mitzvah includes many details that are separate commandments for Jews: to appoint judges, to treat the litigants equally, not to accept bribes, not to favor a VIP nor to rule based on compassion for a poor person, not to testify falsely, and more. Commentary by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
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