Torah Knowledge For Non-Jews Vol. 1
2. Why Should Noahides Study Torah
By Noahide standards, the question “Why study Torah” is a new one.
For a couple of millennia, studying Torah has been forgotten by non-Jews or the study of false religions has taken precedence. Of course, a minority of non-Jews have learned it — or at least read it in bite-sized chunks every Shabbat.
But this is the 21st century, and just because the number of people studying Noahide Torah has been shrinking over the millennia does not mean this trend must continue. So, what is the answer?
We’ll need to do a bit of defining first. After all, there are three key words in this question which are not as obvious as they might look – Noahide Torah and study. The words Noahide Torah mean a multiplicity of things, which in itself might be a cause to study it at least a bit. After all, even if you choose to reject Torah it makes sense to know what it is you are rejecting, if only in outline form.
At its simplest, Torah is the text of the first five books of Moses and is known as the Chumash. But Torah for Noahides is something more than that.
Many sincere Noahides, who read the Torah regularly, simply sit and contemplate the text. Sadly, in terms of the Chumash, many Noahides will pick out those bits that seem most telling for them – a rich story or an important teaching.
But that’s not the best way of understanding. The act of reading is not good enough unless it involves the act of study and then the actual follow through on that which was learned. Every text of Torah is an invitation to wonder. Torah is never simply obvious. The fundamentalist way is, “If that’s what it says, then that’s what it means.” The Jewish approach has always been, “If that’s what it says, then what does it mean?” Each reading demands an explanation. And, it should be for Noahides as well.
This is what is meant by study. By all means, use your own intellectual resources. After all, the Torah belongs to everyone. But let us also be honest about our own limitations. Do not think that everything you can think is everything that can be thought. The thoughtful Noahide, the humble scholar, can stand on the shoulders of giants and use their thinking too.
So, study in this sense involves exploration, challenge, questioning, entering into a conversation with the voices of the our past and our global present.
Now to the real why.
To be simply utilitarian about it, the mind training involved in teasing out a text, checking the authenticity of our understanding of the translation, and digging as deeply as possible into the implications and consequences of each line has been shown to be of massive intellectual and educational value to students through the ages.
It is not as a result of genetics that Jews have regularly shown themselves to be successful scholars. It’s nurture, not nature. The tradition of Torah study has built up a tradition of questioning and clarifying which is simply an incomparably rich skill to cultivate. The same holds true for non-Jews.
But studying Torah gives much more than that. The first book is a magnificently complex record of (often disastrous) human relations. A close study of Genesis will tell you everything you need to know about family dynamics and how to get them wrong. It stretches and challenges our understanding of human responsibility and the order of the world. It goes over and over how spouses might behave toward each other and how siblings, parents and children can mess up – and sometimes come right too. Noahides should pay particular attention to Genesis.
The remaining four books of the Torah are a close study in how to organize a society. It is not for nothing that the founding fathers of America as well as the early British parliamentarians who challenged the concept of the divine right of kings looked to the Torah, to find guidance for how a society should be organized.
The demand for Jews to care for the stranger – the most repeated injunction in the whole Torah — has not yet been fully grasped in all its implications by Jews, let alone the rest of humanity. The laws of inheritance, damages, social responsibility, warfare, property, inclusion, environmental care – you name it, it can be found in the Torah and the commentaries that arise therefrom for both Jews and Gentiles.
The Torah asks us to consider miracles — what they are, if they exist, and how they work. It warns us not to trust miracle-makers, and yet 21st century folk are still easily misled. It describes a world in which virtue is not the sole province of the Jews or even of Jewish leaders. The good are sometimes Jewish and sometimes not. And, certainly, it offers a world where Jews and Noahides are often backsliding and of poor quality. Even Moses fails a final test. Yet, despite all of this it continues to play an optimistic and upbeat tune.
This essay can only scratch the surface of the question, “Why Study Torah” which might compel us to study it. But in the end, it boils down to this: Why would you choose to be an ignorant Noahide? Surely you owe yourself – and the friends you can study it with – a better fate than that.
At the end of the day, when we pray we are speaking to God, when we study Torah it is God speaking to us. If we do not study the depths of what He wants from us we will never hear Him speak.
What do others have to say?
Why should one study Torah? Because it is only through Torah that one can fulfill the one commandment that is the end goal of the entire Torah-the love of God. Why should one study Torah? Because the study brings man close to the source of all reality-the Creator of the Universe. Why should one study Torah? Because through the study of Torah man attains the highest possible state of human existence-the very purpose for which he was created. It is for this reason he was endowed with the "Tzelem Elokim," his divine element. All else that a person may do in life is only a means for the state of mind derived from the learning of Torah. It is the most satisfying state of human existence attainable; one that gives man his true happiness. According to Judaism man's psyche was specifically designed for this experience. In it all psychic energies are involved in a sublime joy and appreciation of intellectual beautification. As such it is the most gratifying experience possible for man.
Rabbi Yisrael Chait
Regarding Torah study, in contrast, the lofty sanctity of the Torah itself is truly above all other actions, so that one who is involved in Torah study lishma (for the right reasons) is made great and elevated over all things. The completeness of a man upon grasping the truths of Torah, even when he does not do an action based on it, is greater and higher than the improvement that he receives from the actions that Torah study enables him to fulfill correctly. Therefore, even though one’s actions are improved only after he has learned, when the knowledge is in place and enables him to act correctly, still the blessing on the Torah that is of Torah origin is the one before the study. This lets us know that the heights of the value of the Torah are in the quest for the knowledge, in and of itself. The study itself is what we refer to as "our life and the length of our days." This is what we gain right away as we start to learn.
HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook
“[T]he nations of the world can only recognize the Torah as the source of all the sparks of truth that their religions contain if they are exposed to the entire Torah in all its glory,” he explained. “They must study Torah in a way that reveals its depth and its profound relevance to their own lives.”
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
The Gemara raises an objection to Rabbi Yoḥanan’s statement from a baraita: Rabbi Meir would say: From where is it derived that even a gentile who engages in Torah study is considered like a High Priest? It is derived from that which is stated: “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My ordinances, which if a man does he shall live by them” (Leviticus 18:5). The phrase: Which if priests, Levites, and Israelites do they shall live by them, is not stated, but rather: “A man,” which indicates mankind in general. You have therefore learned that even a gentile who engages in Torah study is considered like a High Priest.
Talmud - Sanhedrin 59a
“A time is coming—declares my God—when I will send a famine upon the land: not a hunger for bread or a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of Hashem.” Amos 8:11
Simply put, the Torah maintains that the righteous Gentiles of all nations (those observing the Seven Laws of Noah) have a place in the World to Come. But if you do not study the depths of these laws there is no way you can observe them.