16. Shabbat III - Practical Conclusions for Non-Jews

Introduction & Review Thus Far

This is a summary of what the sources have taught us so far:

Sanhedrin 58b – Cites Genesis 8:22 which prohibits all mankind from keeping Shabbat. The verse prohibits cessation from work for a 24 hour period. Prior to Sinai, the respite of Shabbat was for God alone.  At Sinai, the Jews were commanded to partake in the experience of Shabbat as a sign of their unique status.

Rashi, Radbaz, Rav Moshe Feinstein commenting on the Rambam – For the sake of this prohibition, it does not make difference as to why one rests for an entire day. Even if one sets aside an entire day only to recuperate from work, he still transgresses. The Radbaz clarifies, though, that this is only if one establishes a regular, fixed day. To take an occasional day off is permitted.

Midrash Rabba – Explains that the prohibition of non-Jewish observance of Shabbat takes on special poignancy after the giving of the Torah. The Jews were commanded at Sinai to partake of the divine rest of Shabbat as a sign of their covenant. Anyone else who tries to do so is interposing between God and Israel.

The Patriarchs – The patriarchs, we are taught, kept the Torah.  However, both the nature of their observance and their identity as Noahides are not clear enough for us to draw any practical conclusions. Additionally, there is a principle that we do not learn halakha, practice, from the actions of the patriarchs.

Binyan Tzion – When the verse in Genesis prohibits the observance of Shabbat (by prohibiting a cessation of labor), it is not using the Torah’s definition of labor. Instead, it is using the colloquial definition of labor. From here, it would appear that a non-Jew may keep Shabbat by observing the Jewish definition of Sabbatical labor, yet may not abstain from the colloquial definition of labor.

This interpretation does not seem to be relied upon by many of the above cited authorities who imply that even the Jewish definition of labor is prohibited for non-Jews. This Binyan Tzion also contradicts the Midrash’s understanding of the Jewish Shabbat as a unique sign between God and Israel.

Maimonides Hilkhos Melakhim 10 : 9

§9 A non-Jew1 who delves into the Torah is obligated to die. They should only be involved in the study of their seven commandments.

Similarly, a non-Jew who rests, even on a weekday, observing that day similarly to a Shabbat, is obligated to die. Needless to say, this is also the case if he creates a festival for himself.

In the Torah, the Hebrew word “Shabbat” may refer to the Shabbat, the seventh day, or any day upon which labor is prohibited by the Torah. This would include festivals. The Radbaz quotes Rashi who writes2 that any  kind of rest for any reason should be prohibited. However, the Radbaz adds “This is if he establishes a day for rest; however, occasional cessation from labor is not prohibited.”

The general rule governing these matters is this: they may not originate a new religion or create/perform mitzvot for themselves based on their own reasoning. Either convert and accept all the mitzvot or uphold their commandments without adding or detracting from them.

Maimonides explains that the reason for the prohibition of Shabbat observance by non-Jews is chiddushei dat, originating a new religion (discussed at length in a prior lesson). Chiddushei dat would preclude Noahides from observing Shabbat even by refraining from the Jewish definition of labor; the 39 melachot.

If a gentile delves into the Torah or Shabbat, or innovates a religious practice, he is beaten, punished, and informed him that he is obligated to die for his actions. However, he is not actually executed.

HaRav HaGaon Moshe Feinstein, ztz”l

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explains that chiddushei dat is a general prohibition against Noahides adopting Jewish practices as religious observances. However, the prohibition of observing Shabbat and the strictures on Torah study are singled out by Maimonides due to their severity.

In Conclusion

According to the Binyan Tzion, Noahides may not establish any 24 period as a time of rest from work. By work, he means whatever is colloquially defined as work.

According to Maimonides, Noahides may also not observe Shabbat by refraining from the Jewish definition of work (the 39 Melachos). This would be chiddushei dat.

Chiddushei dat would also prohibit Noahides from marking Shabbat in anyway by using Jewish rituals such as lighting candles, making Kiddush, making the blessing for bread over two loaves, etc.

The conclusion of the poskim is, therefore, that Noahides may not observe Shabbat in anyway by refraining from work for a 24 hour period or by adopting Jewish rituals. Noahides may not either establish a regular 24 hour period of rest even for non- religious reasons.

This is also the conclusion of Rabbi Moshe Weiner in The Divine Code.

Letter of the Law vs. Spirit of the Law

A Noahide has two options as to how to deal with the question of labor on Shabbat. He may either take the liberal approach, which follows only the strict letter of the law, or he may take a pious, conservative approach acknowledging both the spirit and letter of the law.

The letter of the law is that a Noahide may not commemorate Shabbat by regularly refraining from work for an entire day. It does it matter if one rests from daybreak-to- daybreak or from nightfall-to-nightfall. He should not refrain from the colloquial definition of work. However, a Noahide may refrain from labor using the Jewish definition of “work,” provided that he not observe all of the Jewish prohibitions of labor. He should turn on a light, make a fire, write, or do at least one prohibited act so that his observance of Shabbat is not a complete observance. Otherwise he would transgress the prohibition of observing Shabbat.

We should keep in mind that this observance of Shabbat, however, is meaningless. Observance of Shabbat means resting from the 39 labors defined at Sinai.  The purpose in a Noahide doing one prohibited labor is so that he does not run afoul of the prohibition of observing Shabbat. That means that his one-prohibited-labor invalidates the entire observance. Therefore, despite resting for a whole day, he never actually kept Shabbat anyway!

Furthermore, as we mentioned earlier, God only asked Israel to share in Shabbat. A Noahide who does so is imposing his will upon God. As we saw in earlier lessons, this is a severe issue.

Although this mode of behavior is in step with the letter of the law, it fails to acknowledge the spirit of the law. It is a liberal approach to Torah law and Noahism.

The Spirit and Letter of the Law: The Shabbat of a Pious Noahide

One, who seeks to go beyond the letter of the law as a matter of piety, will refrain from any observance of Shabbat. A pious, God fearing, religious Noahide will not attempt to observe Shabbat in any way by resting. A Noahide who imitates Jewish observance of Shabbat is a less observant Noahide than one who does not observe Shabbat at all!

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