© 2020 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
Introduction-1/ The Seven Commandments’ list
1: The USA Congress’ Recognition
The front page of this internet site posts the USA Congress’s recent resolution, recognizing the Seven Laws of Noah as the “base for the moral fabric of our great nation” and signed by President GW Bush, 3-26-91.
By this declaration, the USA has become the first nation ever to publicly honor the Seven Laws of Noah as its moral guidance. Let’s pray that other nations would follow suit.
Let’s highlight some words of the Congress’ declaration:
Whereas Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society and upon which our great nation was founded
Whereas these ethical values have been the bedrock of society from dawn of civilization when they were known as Seven Noahide Laws
Whereas without these ethical values and principles the edifices of our civilization stands in serious peril of returning to chaos
Whereas society is profoundly concerned with the recent weakening of these principles that has resulted in crisis that beleaguer and threaten the fabric of civilized society…
Here the USA Congress is concerned that without the Noahide Laws our society would face serious peril of chaos, inferring to Noah’s Flood.
It behooves every American citizen to be familiar with and follow the Seven Noahide Laws.
The outline of our course
We will first discuss the Seven Commandments as a group. We’ll ask: Who gave them, where and when? What separates them from Moses Ten Commandments?
Then we will focus on the individual Commandment one by one. Over the years we’ve learned that the best approach for that is to use the Book of Genesis as a platform to comprehend the Comprehend the Commandments and derive their specific laws
The material used in our class is drawn from the Talmud, the Torah Commentaries, Jewish prayer books and ancient liturgy. The ideas reflect mainstream (Orthodox) Judaism. Some ideas were actually used in the services at the Holy Temple of Jerusalem.
Recommended Reading: The Seven Laws Of Noah by Aaron Lichtenstein, 1981
2: Commandments for all Mankind
What are the Seven Commandments?
The Seven Noahide Commandments are ancient moral principles that preceded the Ten Commandments of Moses given to Israel on Mt. Sinai. The most commonly used list of the Commandments is as follows
VII: PROHIBITION TO CONSUME BLOOD and LIMBS FROM A LIVING ANIMAL
Note that every Commandment is in a huge “headline” that splits into many sub laws. How large? Some say it involves most of the Talmud (Nachmanides). It would certainly take a lifetime to master these Seven Laws in details.
For instance– it s said that the Patriarch Jacob -considered a “son of Noah” ( Maimonides) – spent 16 years of studying the Seven Laws of Noah in the Torah Academy established by Noah’s firstborn son, Shem near Jerusalem, (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are said to have studied under Shem, as we’ll learn in due course)
A necessary moral code for a decent society
A glance at the Seven Commandments shows that they are the bare necessity for the existence of any decent human society. In fact, all civilized cultures have recognized those Laws in one form or another.
If so, are these laws “natural code of morality” or given to us by God?
Who gave Mankind the Seven Commandments and where?
The very term “Commandments” infers they were given by an authority. Was it Hammurabi? Was it another obscured,forgotten human king?
The Torah ( Bible) however says that they were given to Adam and Eve by God in the Garden of Eden, before they were driven out to live on real Earth.
Indeed, the story of Eden is the only one In the Torah where God speaks as an authoritative Father or a King. You see that in the verse: “The Lord God Commanded on The Adam saying…from the Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil you shall not eat!” (Genesis 2) The rabbis pointed out (Midrash) that the word “Commanded” is strong and superfluous since it could have simply say “He told Adam saying..:.” Hence the Lord God Commanded on Adam not only about the Forbidden Fruit but also about Six (of the Seven) commandments of Noah which are IDOLATRY, ADULTERY, THEFT, JUSTICE and BLASPHEMY.
What about the Seventh? After the Great Flood, God added to Noah and his children another Commandment- the Seventh – as a part of the new Rainbow Covenant with Mankind – under which we still live. The Seventh Commandment prohibits on us the consumption of blood and a limb torn from a living animal. It is designed to teach us to suppress our cruelty and bloodthirsty heart (as we’ll learn in detail) .
Natural Moral Code?
Since most of the Seven Laws of Noah can be traced in every human culture, some scholars regard them as a Natural Code of Morality, a step in mammal’s evolution. This may explain why they are found in any decent society. It is as if they are engraved somehow in our genes and brains as humans.
The Torah agrees that these Laws are found in many societies. After all, these Laws were given to Adam and Eve in Eden (apart from the Seventh which was given after the Flood) and they are primordial. The Garden of Eden is like the cradle of Mankind, where Adam and Eve were FORMED. No wonder why their awareness is shared by all Mankind. This is why they seem “natural.”.
But unlike the scientists, the Torah considers these Laws as Commandments given by God to abide with, to be tested with. They can’t be a mere natural reflexes. Moreover, they came to us along with the Serpent, whose task is to entice us to perform their opposite in rebellion against “Our Father our KING” (Avinu Malkenu) .
Had these Laws been natural, we would all be born with a natural reflex to follow them like any natural drive. The very fact that we harbor an option to do their opposite shows that they are indeed Commandments whose awareness has been planted in us by God – along with the drive to do their opposite, thereby standing in a life-long trial.
Moreover- the notion that the awareness of these Commandments has been planted in us in Eden implies that no human may claim ignorance of them, trying to escape responsibility. No Nazi may claim he/she has never heard that Murdering is forbidden!
.Why after Noah rather than after Adam?
If Six of the Seven Laws were given to Adam in Eden and only one to Noah, why wouldn’t we name them after Adam?
One good answer is that after the Great Flood, Noah and his beautiful wife Naama (we’ll learn about them!) actually replaced Adam and Eve as the Parents of Mankind. We are all Children of Noah, Bnei Noah.
Another answer is that we, today, still live under Noah’s Rainbow Covenant established between God and Noah after the Flood. as we’ll learn, after the Flood Noah refused to go out of the Ark, procreate and start civilization again. He was sure that his descendants would sin again and that the terrible Flood would return. “Why should I procreate for another destruction?” He thought in his heart (Midrash). God then promised him that “next time He would be more patient with his children and would not bring the Flood so fast.” God them placed the Rainbow in the Sky to remind US about the new Covenant under which we still live on contingent. God then “sealed” the Rainbow Covenant by a new Commandment – the Seventh of Noah- which supports our stance against cruelty, Bloodshed and War . This is why the entire group of Commandments are named after Noah (and Naama).
3: The Order on the Commandments’ list
There are several lists of the Seven Commandments using different orders. In our class we will follow the most accepted one listed above. The reasons behind choosing this particular order of the Commandments are as follows
The three laws at the top: IDOLATRY, ADULTERY and BLOODSHED are often bound together, for they incur (potentially) the worst penalty- execution by human court. The rest of the Commandments incur monetary retributions only. .
Another reason- the three Commandments at the top demand that we would surrender our lives rather than violating them.
Thus if forced to sexually violate one’s family- mothers, sisters, daughters, granddaughters – one is expected to die rather than comply.
Same is true for Bloodshed. If forced to commit a murder, one should die rather than comply. .
Yet there is a difference here between Israel and the Nations. Israel is obligated to surrender our lives rather then comply, while the Nations are expected and rewarded for it yet not obligated. As a rule , Israel is treated more harshly and severely than the Nations
There is a wisdom behind the order of the Commandments on the list. They present a cascade where one sin follows or brings the other . Thus
IDOLATRY comes at the very top – since without believing in G-d, there is no meaning for the Commandments. In fact, without fearing God, who or what would hold you back from violating the rest of the commandments?
ADULTERY follows – for if you don’t fear G-d, what would hold you from having an affair with another person’s spouse?
BLOODSHED follows next for having committed ADULTERY, wouldn’t you expect the offended spouse to chase after you with a knife? And wouldn’t you try to get rid of the spouse first? .
THEFT often follows for once you’ve stolen someone’s spouse, wouldn’t you also steal his/hers property?
INJUSTICE follows, for having committed all the above, wouldn’t you attempt to cover up your deeds?
BLASPHEMY follows for if society would permit all the above you’d certainly come to curse your mother, your father and your CREATOR for having brought you to this world.
A sad case as a demonstration.
The cascade of sins predicted by the Seven Commandments is often observed in real life. Here is a sad case:
A decent member of our Orthodox Jewish congregation had a wife whose believe in God was light (IDOLATRY.)
One day her husband – a pillar of faith in our community- return home earlier than usual catching his wife with her lover on the sofa at his home (ADULTERY)
He later said that had he had his gun on him, he would have shot them both on the spot (BLOODSHED)
Moreover- he then discovered that for years his unfaithful wife had embezzled his resources to support her lover’s different failing businesses (THEFT)
Taking his wife to the civil court asking divorce, he had to confront the shrewdest lawyer his wife had hired. This lawyer smeared the husband so badly that he lost his properties and the custody over their children (INJUSTICE.)
Despite his deep agony, the poor husband overcame his temptation to curse G-d (BLASPHEMY) and remained loyal to the community. .
Another example: The story of the Great Gatsby
At first, the Great Gatsby makes a fortune by wicked, godless ways (IDOLATRY)
Then the Great Gatsby discovered that his former sweetheart was living across of him by the lake. She is now married. The Great Gatsby attempts to attract her by conducting lavish parties in his fancy house. He manages to entice her into making love with him (ADULTERY.) Her hurting husband planes to have him killed (BLOODSHED) and even steal his money (THEFT.). The frightened unfaithful wife trying to escape and the car hits a woman. The Great Gatsby attempts to cover up her crime (INJUSTICE) but is finally shot dead by the dead woman’s husband. , .
These stories are so compelling because they follow the cascade of sins inherent in our hearts – and predicted by the Primordial Six Commandments of Adam. .
We are programmed to be tested by them
So entrenched are the Six Commandments of Adam in our souls that it seems we are destined – or programmed- to be challenged by them one by one, day by day, all our lives.
As we wake up every morning we should recall that we are about to encounter these Commandment during the coming day.
We should pray to our CREATOR that He would give us strength to overcome the Serpent and not stumble over IDOLATRY, ADULTERY, BLOODSHED, THEFT and BLASPHEMY.
4: Negative and Positive Sides of the Commandments
The Seven Commandments given to Adam and Noah tell us what NOT to do. They are Prohibitions or Negative Commandments. Thus they say
I: Thou shall not commit IDOLATRY
II: Thou shall not commit ADULTERY
III: Thou shall not commit BLOODSHED
IV: Thou shall not commit THEFT
V: Thou shall not commit INJUSTICE
VI: Thou shall not commit BLASPHEMY
But as a rule, every Negative Commandment also implies a Positive aspect telling us what To Do. Thus
I: IDOLATRY implies that we should believe and worship only GOD
II ADULTERY implies that we should cherish marriage and raise a family
III BLOODSHED implies that we should cherish Peace and control our rage
IV THEFT implies that we should support private ownership and cherish honesty
V INJUSTICE implies that we should establish righteous courts and elect honest judges
VI BLASPHEMY implies that we should support holiness
Thus the Negative and the Positive Commandments are two sides of the same coin. Yet there is a difference:
While the Negative sides are expressed explicitly as open Commandments whose violation incur punishment (by human court or by Heavens)
The Positive sides are only indirectly implied, without open specific retributions
This distinction is important because the Negative aspect is mandatory and incur retributions. The Positive aspect in contrast is only ‘expected’ or ‘recommended’ without punishments.
The Negative ones are enforced,
The Positive ones are only recommended (and rewarded).
Most authorities discussing the Seven Commandments do focus therefore on the Negative side solely, saying little if anything about the Positive aspects.
For instance– Describing ADULTERY, most books would focus on the forbidden sexual relationships. A man should not cohabit with his close family members nor with another person’s spouse. Yet these books would say nothing about marriage, or how to bring holiness into our family life.
The same is true for IDOLATRY. Most authors elaborate on the the Negative side – the laws prohibiting idol worship; yet say nothing about the Positive aspect – how to recognize and worship the True God .
The same goes for BLOODSHED.
INJUSTICE is different . In addition to the Negative side , there is an open discussion of the Positive side- on how to DO JUSTICE. The Commandment obliges all Nations to erect righteous courts in every District and Town, to appoint qualified and learned and hones Judges and to set up dedicated police force.
For Israel, the Positive side of every Commandment becomes an obligation, punishable to human court or by Heavens. Again, Israel is treated more harshly and more demanding way
In our class – to Noahides– we will emphasize both the Negative and the Positive sides of each Commandment- with a difference. . The Negative side is presented as obligatory, while the positive sides as expected and rewarded but not obligated. .
5: Noah’s Seven incorporated onto Moses’ Ten Commandments
Five of Noah’s Seven Commandments were incorporated into Moses’ Ten Commandments of Sinai. Thus-
Noahide Laws…………………Moses’ Ten Commandments
I: Idolatry………………………..II: Thou shall have no other God over my Face
II: Adultery………………………VII: Thou shall not commit adultery
III: Bloodshed……………………VI: Thou shall not murder
IV: Theft………………………….VIII: Thou shall not steal
V: Justice…………………………IX: Thou shall not bear false witness.
Noah’s VI – BLASPHEMY – was also told to Israel ( You shall not curse God, Exodus))
Noah VII – Prohibition to consume Blood and a Living Limb- was also told to Israel
By repeating Noah Commandments to Israel, Moses made them applicable to both Noahide and Israel
Those Commandments that Moses told only to Israel, apply only to Israel
Examples: The Sabbath’s Laws, The Yom Kippur or Passover Laws, the dietary kosher laws and more.
All peoples and Nations listen to Moses
But Modest Moses tells the Nations – to Noah’s Children – to listen also to their Father Noah.
Hence the Nations abide by a Commandment only if it carries two signatures – of Moses and Noah .
A Commandment carrying only Moses’ signature, without Noah, apply only to Israel
6: Can Noah’s Seven Commandments be enforced?
As a rule, the “Noahide Nations” may force each other to abide by Noah’s Seven Commandments (Maimonides).
The logic is simple- Humanity can’t tolerate a community that does not abide by IDOLATRY, ADULTERY, THEFT, INJUSTICE and BLASPHEMY. These laws form the basis of any decent human society (USA Congress) .
Israel– a special Child of Noah – may likewise enforce the Seven Commandments of Noah on Noahide Nations. But Israel may NOT enforce the specific Commandments given by Moses to Israel, on other Noahide Nations. Israel may never “convert” other Noahide Nations by force to become members of Israel . .
For instance: before entering the Land of Canaan, Joshua sent scrolls to all the inhabitants of the Holy Land demanding them to accept and abide the Seven Commandments of Noah . Those who responded positively he left in peace. Those who continued to practice human sacrifices to the Molech and “sacred prostitution” he either chased out or eliminated. And ever since then all the inhabitants of the Holy Land are required to abode by Noah’s Laws.
Having discussed the Seven Commandments as a group,
let’s discuss them next one by one.
6: Historical impact of Noah’s Commandments
The impact of the Seven Commandments of Noah on history is immense.
Thus, Christianity was born when St. Paul was ‘dispatched’ by the elders of the nascent Christian Jewish sect in Jerusalem, to teach the gentiles the Seven Laws plus the “good news of the coming of the Messiah” (see Acts.)
Islam, centuries later, was born when Jewish tribes in the city of Yathrib (now Medinah, north of Mecca) opened their schools to the local pagan Arabs, teaching them the Seven Laws of Noah, and other stories of the Bible. The rest is history.
In fact, other major religions like Buddhism and Shintoism, share similar moral principles with Noah’s Seven Commandments.