Torah Knowledge For Non-Jews Vol. 1
1. Introduction to the Noahide Laws
1.6. Illicit Sex
Marriage in the Noachide world is at once straight forward and complex. The complexity mainly comes from the consensus that marriage is only real if two people are called “married” in a written contract. The Noachide model does not require a contract, or any formal documentation or ceremony to signify that two people are married.
This is backward to our way of thinking but not to the Torah’s approach to the issue. Marriage with the first man and woman had nothing to do with contracts, only a mutual decision to be one. The patriarch Isaac and his wife Rachel were married when Isaac took Rachel into his mother’s tent (with her consent).Without consent, it is rape, a form of theft of the person.
Part of what adds to our confusion over the simplicity of Torah marriage is that those who know anything about Judaism know that a contract is required for a Jewish marriage. One might ask why a contract is required for a Jew but not a Gentile. The answer to this question is the same to most other situations where the Jewish people are called on to do something extra, or to do something in a slightly different way. As a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation the Jewish people must always be separate or distinct from the rest of humanity; and as priests they are required to be holy. Their status as a holy nation, a kingdom of priests, means that they must hold themselves up to a higher level of strictness.
Although the Noachide laws are less strict on the definition of marriage, if properly observed the Noachide laws maintain and promote holiness within marriage. All human beings are required to be Holy. We all must strive to separate ourselves from the profane and attach ourselves to the Holy One-God. Marriage, universally accomplishes this.
Who Can Marry?
In our day there is debate on what constitutes marriage. Given the gay rights movement that wishes to have its relationships recognized as marriage, it is important for us to have a clear understanding of what marriage is. There are those that say marriage is only constituted by a piece of paper or by a ceremony. If this is so then anyone should be able to get married. Others argue that because it is only a piece of paper it cannot give voice to what a real relationship is between a man and a woman or two men or two women or between a man and his sheep or a woman and her dog and so forth.
It appears that people have become confused over the entire marriage business. In the non-Jewish world the marriage contract is an invention of society to clarify business and legal matters. A determination of who is married and who is not will lead to taxing status, financial rights in banking matters, and life and death decisions. Such contracts have nothing to do with the spiritually significant relationship between a man and a woman in a Holy relationship blessed by God.
Marriage understood from the Torah perspective is defined primarily as a relationship that is not one of six kinds of relationships (for Noachides). A Noachide Marriage cannot exist if it is between a man and his mother, a man and his father’s wife, a man and a married woman, a man and his maternal sister, a man and another man, a man and an animal.This leaves a relationship of a man with an unmarried woman as the proper definition of who can get married for Noachides.
Since Noachides do not have a marriage contract there must be some way of determining who is married and who is not. A marriage is not only a private agreement between two people but also a publicly known (assuming they live around people) exclusive relationship (exclusive between a man and a woman although it is still possible for a man to have several wives).
The Torah says1: “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be united with his wife and they shall become one flesh.” This verse implies that a man will leave the home of his parents and create a new home with his wife. Meaning, they will live together.
Living together in a home is a public statement that the couple is exclusive to one another. Once the public and private (the relationship has been consummated) nature of the relationship has been established the couple is considered married.
A Couple is considered divorced when either partner leaves the common domain (or home).2 This method is far easier than having to get a “Get” or article of divorce (as is necessary for the Jewish people who sign a marriage contract). It allows either partner to end the relationship, not just the husband as is true under Jewish marriage.
1. Hilchot Melachim 9:4
2. Bereishit 2:24