1. Preface & Overview
For the Jewish people, the twentieth century was the century of the unforeseeable and the unpredictable. The holocaust, the establishment of a Jewish state, the massive Torah-educational system – these are all things that no one could have predicted even 80 years ago. Among these many surprises is the resurgent interest in the seven Noahide laws.
It is peculiar, though certainly apropos, that the impetus for this interest has come not from within the Jewish world, but from without. Since at least the 4th century CE, the identity of Noahide had languished, relegated an arcane, obscure corner of Torah thought. Eventually, Noahism was no longer viewed as an independent religious identity, but as a fence [geder], an academic category or classification, in Torah law. Its renewal as an autonomous belief system began in the late 19th century, emerging from the correspondence between Aime Palliere and Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh.
However, their vision of Noahism is somewhat troubling. R’ Benamozegh’s theology, unconventional and Universalist, saw in Noahism a theological bridge, a tool, to be used to unite and explain his egalitarian vision. Their Noahism was not, therefore, explored via its retroactive position in Torah tradition and thought, but prospectively as part of a proposed theological approach. The subtle use of Noahism in advancement of proposed ideologies became a lamentable trend in the latter half of the twentieth century.
A number of institutes and individuals, holding beliefs atypical of mainstream Torah thought, have found in Noahism material that can be used to advance their ideas and build a base of support among non-Jews. In many cases, this is because these parties have been unable to find popular Jewish support for their agendas. The net effect is that many of those purporting to teach the Noahide laws are actually presenting a skewed vision that fails to examine Noahism independently.
The problem was compounded by the fact that most of the mainstream Torah-observant world remained wholly unaware of contemporary Noahism. This lack of awareness has allowed many of these groups, some of whose teachings are outright heterodoxy, to gain footing as “legitimate” authorities on Noahism.
In the early 21st century, however, this trend has started to reverse. As the mainstream Torah-observant world has become more aware of the resurgent non-Jewish interest in Noahism, it has also become aware of the problematic and often misleading presentation of Noahism by these aforementioned entities.
The response of the Torah-observant mainstream has been to produce a number of studies on Noahism examining it as an independent, autonomous identity in the Torah tradition. Most notable is Rabbi Moshe Weiner’s Sefer Sheva Mitzvos HaShem, translated as The Divine Code, which was the first comprehensive study of Noahism in Torah tradition and law that is wholly unconnected to particular ideologies or movements.
The most important contribution of Rabbi Weiner’s Sefer Sheva Mitzvos HaShem is that it elucidated many necessary, fundamental mechanics of Noahism that should have been properly clarified at the outset of Noahism’s resurrection as a religious identity.
Our program was originally created exclusively for the Rabbinic community, to provide Rabbis with a practical understanding of the Noahide laws. More and more Rabbis worldwide are being approached by non-Jews seeking connection with the Torah. Either they are looking to convert, Judaize, or explore Noahism. A fuller understanding of the Noahide laws and Noahide identity not only presents a solution to the difficulties caused by those looking to Judaize, but also empowers the Rabbinate with a solution to the numerous problems posed by conversion. Many prospective converts are unaware that the Torah does not require conversion to Judaism in order to enjoy a full relationship with the God of Israel.
As we began developing the program, we received tremendous interest from the Noahide community who hungered to know the source material of their faith. In response, we decided to produce a parallel program for Noahides. However, we soon realized that a great gulf existed between the religious needs and backgrounds of the Rabbinic and Noahide communities. After much discussion with Noahide Nations, a Texas-based Noahide organization, the decision was made to merge the two programs into a single track that would satisfy the needs of both communities. The program can thus be studied by Rabbis and Noahides as well as used as a curriculum for teaching both Jews and non-Jews.
Since launching the program with our initial group of Rabbis and Noahides in spring 2014, we have attracted the attention and support of a number of prominent Rabbis, including Rabbis Shalom Arush and Lazer Brody, who graciously offered their enthusiastic endorsement and support of our program.
This program, the first on the Noahide laws produced by a mainstream orthodox institution for the orthodox Torah world, is an ongoing project. The input and feedback of the Noahide community is essential to make certain that the material is presented clearly.
This project was originally made possible via a partnership between Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim and Noahide Nations.
We also owe a great debt of gratitude to HaRav HaGaon Chaim Kanievsky, HaRav HaGaon Asher Weiss, and HaRav HaGaon Moshe Shternbuch, whose tremendous wisdom, guidance, and clarity have helped to resolve many difficult questions in the study and production of this material.
May the Holy, Blessed is He; provide us with strength and clarity to present the Noahide laws thoroughly and in truth.
Rabbi Avraham Chaim Bloomenstiel
Author & Editor of the Noahide Laws Project