In Judaism, the Seven Laws of Noah (Hebrew: שבע מצוות בני נח, Sheva Mitzvot B’nei Noach), otherwise referred to as the Noahide Laws, are a set of imperatives which, according to the Talmud, were given by GOD as a binding set of universal moral laws for the “sons of Noah”, that represent all of humanity.
According to the Jewish law, non-Jews (gentiles) are not obligated to convert to Judaism, but they are required to observe the Seven Laws of Noah to be assured of a place in the World to Come (Olam Ha-Ba), the final reward of the righteous. The non-Jews that choose to follow the Seven Laws of Noah are regarded as “Righteous Gentiles” (Hebrew: חסידי אומות העולם, Chassiddei Umot ha-Olam: “Pious People of the World”).
The seven Laws
The seven Noahide laws as traditionally enumerated in the Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 56a-b and Tosefta Avodah Zarah 8, 4 are as follows:
- Do not worship idols.
Do not in any way profane the Oneness of GOD, it means recognize that there is only one GOD and that He cares about everything in Creation, even what every single human being does, because He wants us to care for His World and to prove ourselves righteous stewards, just as He is Righteous and Holy.
- Do not curse GOD.
Not to curse your Creator is not only not to blame GOD when things go wrong in your life, but also not to deny Him or reject His teachings. You cannot deny the grace of what great things have already been granted to us in life, and this applies to everyone, starting from the very great privilege of being born and being able to live.
- Do not commit murder.
Do not kill. The value of human life, every life even that of sinners, cannot be measured. Destroying a single human life corresponds to destroying the entire World (as the Jewish tradition states and also the Qur’an in 5, 32), because with the death of that person, his possible descendants also cease to exist, and his ancestors themselves die. It follows that by sustaining a single human life, one sustains an entire universe.
- Do not commit adultery, bestiality or sexual immorality.
Harnessing and channeling the human libido. Incest, adultery, rape and are forbidden, and the thing that leads to proper evolution has been proven over the Centuries that is the family unit, the foundation of human society. Sexuality is the source of life and therefore nothing is more sacred than the sexual act, but so, even when it is abused, nothing can be more destructive to the human being.
- Do not steal.
Whatever personal benefit one may wish to receive, no one can be justified if someone else suffers the cost. Similar to the Eighth Commandment of Moses this law compels honest work because depriving the victim of the fruits of their labor is a great sin. So we can take it as the Will of GOD not to steal from those for whom we work, with whom we work or among whom we work. But stealing can occur in many forms besides stealing while working or directly from someone. Any time we take something of value from its rightful owner without consent, we are committing theft. Misappropriating resources or funds for personal use is theft. Using deception to make sales, gain market share, or increase prices is theft because deception means that what the buyer consents to is not the real situation.
- Do not eat meat torn from a living animal.
Respect the lives of all GOD’s creatures. As superior and intelligent beings, we have a duty not to cause undue pain to other creatures, and even in eating and feeding ourselves there must be respect.
- Establish courts of justice.
Establishing just courts and ensuring justice in our World is a duty for believers who have knowledge. With each small act of justice, we are restoring harmony to our World, synchronizing it with a supernal order. That is why we must maintain the laws established by our government for the stability and harmony of the country.
According to the Talmud, the seven laws were given first to Adam and then to Noah. However, the Tannaitic and Amoraitic rabbinic sages (1st-6th centuries CE) disagreed on the exact number of Noahide laws that were originally given to Adam. Six of the seven laws were exegetically derived from passages in the Book of Genesis, and the seventh was the establishment of courts of justice.
According to the Flood narrative in Genesis, a flood covered the entire World, killing every creature inhabiting the surface except Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, and the animals taken aboard the Ark. According to the biblical narrative, all modern humans are descendants of Noah, so the name Noahide Laws refers to the laws that apply to all humanity. After the flood, GOD sealed a covenant with Noah with the following admonitions (Genesis 9, 4-6):
Meat of a living animal: “However, the flesh with its vital blood [in it], you shall not eat.” (9, 4)
Murder and Courts: “Moreover, I will demand your blood, for [the taking of] your life, I will demand it [also] from any wild animal. Also from man, I will demand the blood of every brother of man. He who sheds the blood of man, from man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of GOD he made man.” (9, 5-6)
Book of Jubilees
The Book of Jubilees, generally dated to the second century B.C., may include an early reference to the seven Noahide laws in verses 7, 20-25:
And in the twenty-eighth jubilee Noah began to impart to the sons of his sons the ordinances and commandments and all the judgments that he knew, and he exhorted his sons to observe righteousness, to cover the shame of their flesh, to bless their Creator, to honor their father and mother, to love their neighbor, and to protect their souls from fornication, impurity, and all unrighteousness. For because of these three things came the flood upon the earth … For whoever sheds the blood of man, and whoever eats the blood of any flesh, they shall all be exterminated from the earth.
According to the Talmud, Noahide laws apply to all humanity. In Judaism, the term B’nei Noach (Hebrew: בני נח, “Sons of Noah”) refers to all of humanity. The Talmud further states, “The righteous of all nations have a part in the world to come.” Any non-Jew who lives by these laws is considered to be one of the righteous among the Gentiles. According to the Talmud, the seven laws were given first to Adam and then to Noah. Six of the seven laws were exegetically derived from passages in the Book of Genesis, and the seventh was the establishment of courts of justice.
Talmudic sages expanded the concept of universal morality within the Noahide laws and added several other laws beyond the seven listed in the Talmud and Tosefta that are attributed to different rabbis, such as prohibitions against committing incest, cruelty to animals, mating animals of different species, grafting trees of different species, castration, emasculation, homosexuality, pederasty, and witchcraft among others, with some sages, such as Ulla, going so far as to make a list of 30 laws. The Talmud expands the scope of the seven laws to cover about 100 of the 613 mitzvot.
Conclusions: What the Laws Mean Today
These Laws today represent for the “non-Jewish” world a hope, namely the hope of being accepted as inhabitants of the Holy Land, and therefore of the Divine Plan and the World to Come, even if one is not born of a Jewish mother. Not birth delineates a believer, but his behavior and respect for the Laws.
Moreover, these precepts must be a warning to all those who consider themselves elected Jews, and who close their doors to the needy, the stranger, the refugee. We cannot close our eyes when a needy person passes by, because that person may one day be blessed by GOD and deserve to return to His Graces. History is a spinning wheel, we must know how to understand it in order to continue to evolve.
Today we stand on the brink of a new era for humanity, a time when we will finally live together in peace and the world will be filled with divine wisdom. Those who abide by these basic rules will have a part in that world, for after all, they participated in making it possible.
Although these teachings were recorded in the Hebrew Sacred Texts, for many centuries the Jews were unable to speak about them to the people among whom they lived. But in recent times, the foremost rabbi of the Jewish people of the 20th century, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, has encouraged Jews to publicize these teachings so that the world can prepare for the rapidly approaching times of peace and wisdom.
- Editors (14 January 2008). “Noahide Laws”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Edinburgh: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Archived
- Novak, David (1992) . “The Doctrine of the Noahide Laws”. Jewish-Christian Dialogue: A Jewish Justification. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press
- Novak, David (2011) . The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism: An Historical and Constructive Study of the Noahide Laws. Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. Toronto: Liverpool University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv1rmj9w
- “Sanhedrin” (PDF). Halakhah.com 56a. Archived (PDF) from the original on 21 February 2015. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Moses Maimonides (2012). “Hilkhot M’lakhim (Laws of Kings and Wars)”. Mishneh Torah. Translated by Brauner, Reuven. Sefaria.