Torah Knowledge For Non-Jews Vol. 2

DISCLAIMER

Noahide Nations has an extraordinarily high level of confidence in the content of the Torah teachings provided by our Rabbis and Instructors.  However, any views and opinions expressed in these teachings do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Noahide Nations, the Academy of Shem or the International Torah Fellowship.

2. Noahide Idenity in the Modern Era II

2.1. Defining Noahide Identity I

Until this point, we have only discussed ger toshav as a possible gentile identity. The term ben noach (Noahide), or bnei noach (the plural of Noahide) occurs in about fifty places in the Talmud and Rashi. However, it is used primarily in its simple meaning, “a child of Noah,” as a generic term for all non-Jews. Is it possible that the term ben noach, Noahide, implies more? Is there an actual, positive identity called “Noahide?”

Our examination of this question is covered in the following sections:

A)    Two Very Difficult Paragraphs

B)    Identifying the Problems

C)     Making Sense of Maimonides’s §10 and §11

D)    How Does a Non-Jew Accept the Sinaitic Aspect of the Noahide Laws?

A)    Two Very Difficult Paragraphs

The answer to this question depends upon two frightfully difficult paragraphs in Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah,1 his code of Torah law. Here are the two paragraphs in full:

[Note: The bracketed letters have been inserted for ease of reference]

§10. [A]Moses our Teacher gave over the Torah and Mitzvos only to the Jewish people, as it is written: “It is an inheritance to the congregation of Jacob” (Deut. 33:4). And all who wish to convert from among the nations, “as you are, so shall the convert be before HaShem” (Num. 15:15). However, for those who do not wish to accept Torah and Mitzvos, we do not force them to do so.

[B] And so too it was commanded to Moses by the Almighty to force the peoples of the world to accept the commandments charged to the children of Noah. [C]All who do not accept them shall be executed. One who accepts them is called a Ger Toshav

§11. [D] All who accept the Seven Mitzvos and are careful to observe them are called MiChasidei Umos HaOlam (of the Pious Peoples of the World) [E] and they have a share in the World to Come. [F] This is provided that one accepts and observes them because they were commanded to him by the Holy One, in his Torah, and [G] reaffirmed by Moses. [H] However, one who observes them based on intellectual reason alone is neither called a Ger Toshav nor MiChasidei Umos HaOlam (of the Pious Peoples of the World). He is, rather, “of the wise ones” of the gentiles.2

B)    Identifying the Problems

Using the reference letters I have inserted into the text, let us go through the difficulties point-by-point.

[A]  Moses our Teacher gave over the Torah and Mitzvos only to the Jewish people, as it is written: “It is an inheritance to the congregation of Jacob” (Deut. 33:4). And all who wish to convert from among the nations, “as you are, so shall the convert be before HaShem” (Num. 15:15). However, for those who do not wish to accept Torah and Mitzvos, we do not force them to do so.

This section is fairly innocuous, stating simply that the Torah is the unique possession of the Jews, yet all who want to convert and become Jewish may voluntarily do so. Additionally, no gentile may be coerced into converting.

[B]  And so too it was commanded to Moses by the Almighty to force the peoples of the world to accept the commandments charged to the children of Noah.

Our paragraphs are capstones to a chapter dealing with the conquest of the land of Israel. For example, §1 of this chapter opens:

When the army's troops enter the territory of gentiles, conquering them and taking them captive…

§9, immediately preceding our selection, reads:

Similarly, a treaty cannot be made with a city which desires to accept a peaceful  settlement  until  they  deny  idol  worship,  destroy  their  places  of worship, and accept the seven universal laws commanded Noah's descendants. Any gentile who does not accept these commandments must be executed if he is under our authority.

§10 and §11, therefore, are clarifying the requirement of these conquered peoples to accept the Noahide laws. Yet, if we are speaking about the conquest of Israel, then why does Maimonides use the phrase … to force the peoples of the world…? Maimonides is not speaking only about the gentile inhabitants of Israel, but about the gentiles of the world!

[C]  All who do not accept them shall be executed. One who accepts them is called a Ger Toshav.

This requirement for execution is difficult to understand. The most obvious problem is it has no apparent source. Furthermore, if we understand [B] as requiring forced acceptance of the Noahide laws upon all the peoples of the world, then [C] would require the execution of anyone who refuses. [C] Would even mandate  the execution of those who fulfill the Noahide laws, yet who never accepted them formally before a beis din. This yields a startling conclusion. See [H]:

                          [H] However, one who observes them based on intellectual reason alone is neither called a Ger Toshav nor MiChasidei Umos HaOlam (of the Pious Peoples of the World). He is rather “of the wise ones” of the gentiles.

We see that a person who observes the Noahide laws based on reason alone is not someone who has accepted these laws before a beis din. Therefore, according to [B] and [C] such a “wise one of the gentiles” would also be executed for failing to accept the Noahide laws.

The net result of this simple reading of Maimonides is to erase the identity of the  ben noach, the Noahide, entirely. According to such a reading, the only available options to a gentile are conversion to Judaism, becoming a ger toshav, or being executed!

§11 only creates more problems for us:

[D]  All that accept the Seven Mitzvos and are careful to observe them are called MiChasidei Umos HaOlam (of the Pious Peoples of the World)

The classification of MiChasidei Umos HaOlam, of the Pious Peoples of the World, has no clear Talmudic precedent.3 This is only true, however, of our modern editions of the Talmud. Sanhedrin 110b discusses the reward earned by “the children of the wicked of the idolaters.” Rashi, commenting on this passage, similarly refers to the merit of the children “of the righteous of the idolaters.” In both instances, the Mesoras HaShas4 indicates that earlier versions of the texts, both the Talmud and Rashi, read “the children of the nations of the world,” and “the pious peoples of the world,” respectively. It is likely that our modern text is the product of an offended church censor.

What is odd, though, is the tying of this status of MiChasidei Umos HaOlam, of the Pious Peoples of the World, to the acceptance of the Noahide laws.

[E]  and they have a share in the World to Come.

This passage presents little that is surprising. The Talmud has already demonstrated that gentiles receive reward for fulfilling their mitzvos.5 However, we again have the question: why is the receiving of the eternal reward of the world to come dependent on the status of MiChasidei Umos HaOlam, of the Pious Peoples of the World, and becoming a ger toshav?

 [F]  & [G] This is provided that one accepts and observes them because they were commanded to him by the Holy One, in his Torah, and reaffirmed by Moses.

Maimonides requires acceptance of the Noahide laws based upon Sinaitic revelation, rejecting the validity of acceptance based upon the original Noahic6 covenant. Without acceptance based on Sinaitic revelation, a gentile does not receive reward in the World to Come for fulfilling his Noahide obligations.

[H] However, one who observes them based on intellectual reason alone is neither called a Ger Toshav nor MiChasidei Umos HaOlam (of the Pious Peoples of the World). He is, rather, “of the wise ones” of the gentiles.7

Maimonides informs us that not only is acceptance based upon the Noahic covenant insufficient, but even fulfillment of the Noahide laws based upon reason or logic is unacceptable. One who observes the Noahide laws based upon reason8 does not merit being called pious, but only wise.9 Furthermore, one who observes his laws based upon reason appears precluded from receiving any reward – Maimonides only grants reward to one who accepts the laws based on belief in Sinaitic revelation (see [D] and [E] above).

 

______________________________________________________________________________________

1 Hilchos Melakhim 8:10-11.

2 The text of this last phrase differs in the editio princeps (Rome, 1480) and almost all subsequent printed editions.  These versions read : … one who observes them based on intellectual reason alone is neither called a Ger Toshav nor MiChasidei Umos HaOlam (of the Pious Peoples of the World), and is not “of the wise ones” of the gentiles. This is almost certainly the error of a careless copyist (the mistake being in the transcription of a single letter). Many of the earliest manuscript versions read … He is, rather, “of the wise ones” of the gentiles. Later scholars also cite this version of the text as correct. See Teshuvos Maharam Alashkar 117, Rav Yosef ben Shem Tov’s Kevod Elokim 29a, and, more recently, Iggros Reiyah I:89. Recent critical editions of Maimonides have corrected this text to read … He is rather “of the wise ones” of the gentiles. See Rabbi Shabtai Fraenkel’s edition of the Mishneh Torah. See also the editions prepared by Rabbi Yosef Qafih and Yeshivat Or Vishua.

3 In Chullin 92a, Rav Yehuda uses the term tzadikei umos ha-olam, the righteous of the gentile nations, in his interpretation of Zecharia 11:13. Rav Yochanan in the name of Rav Shimon Ben Yehotzadak, however, says that it refers to the righteous of Israel. See Maharsha and Rashi with the Hagahos HaBach.

4 Marginal gloss authored by Rabbi Yehoshua Boaz (d. Italy 1557). It provides cross references and critical notes to the Talmudic text.

5 Bava Kama 38a; Sanhedrin 105a.

6 Maimonides and Tosafos disagree as to whether or not all seven Noahide laws were given to Adam (the view of Tosafos Sanhedrin 56b, d.h Achol Tochal, and possibly Rashi to Sanhedrin 57a, d.h. l'Mishri Basar), or if only the first six were given to Adam and only the seventh given to Noah (the view of Maimonides, Hilkhos Melakhim 9:1). My favoring of the term “Noahic” rather than “Adamic” for the original covenant is not meant to imply one view over another. I use “Noahic” for its consonance with the term “Noahide,” which is the common descriptor for these laws.

7 See note 2, above, on the text of this final phrase.

8 Apparently, meaning as a concept of natural law or social necessity.

9  The term MiChachmei Umos HaOlam, of the wise of the nations, has Talmudic precedent. It appears in

Pesachim 94b and Rosh HaShanah 12a in a discussion of the secular wisdom of the gentiles.