The Seven Laws of Noah (Hebrew: Sheva Mitzvot B'nei Noach), also referred to as the Noahide Laws or the Noachide Laws (from the Hebrew pronunciation of "Noah"), are a set of imperatives which, according to the Talmud, were given by God as a binding set of laws for the "children of Noah" - that is, all of humanity.
Accordingly, any non-Jew who adheres to these laws because they were given by Moses is regarded as a righteous gentile, and is assured of a place in the world to come (? Olam Haba), the final reward of the righteous.
According to the Talmud, the rabbis agree that the seven laws were given to the sons of Noah. However, they disagree on precisely which laws were given to Adam and Eve. Six of the seven laws are exegetically derived from passages in Genesis, with the seventh being the establishing of courts.
According to the Genesis flood narrative, a deluge covered the whole world, killing every surface-dwelling creature except Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, and the animals taken aboard Noah's Ark. According to this, all modern humans are descendants of Noah, thus the name Noahide Laws is referred to the laws that apply to all of humanity. After the flood, God sealed a covenant with Noah with the following admonitions (Genesis 9):
And in the twenty-eighth jubilee Noah began to enjoin upon his sons' sons the ordinances and commandments, and all the judgments that he knew, and he exhorted his sons to observe righteousness, and to cover the shame of their flesh, and to bless their Creator, and honour father and mother, and love their neighbour, and guard their souls from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity. For owing to these three things came the flood upon the earth ... For whoso sheddeth man's blood, and whoso eateth the blood of any flesh, shall all be destroyed from the earth.
According to Acts, Paul began working along the traditional Jewish line of proselytizing in the various synagogues where the proselytes of the gate [e.g., Exodus 20:9] and the Jews met; and only because he failed to win the Jews to his views, encountering strong opposition and persecution from them, did he turn to the Gentile world after he had agreed at a convention with the apostles at Jerusalem to admit the Gentiles into the Church only as proselytes of the gate, that is, after their acceptance of the Noachian laws ".
The article "New Testament" states:
For great as was the success of Barnabas and Paul in the heathen world, the authorities in Jerusalem insisted upon circumcision as the condition of admission of members into the church, until, on the initiative of Peter, and of James, the head of the Jerusalem church, it was agreed that acceptance of the Noachian Laws -- namely, regarding avoidance of idolatry, fornication, and the eating of flesh cut from a living animal -- should be demanded of the heathen desirous of entering the Church.
Seven commandments were commanded of the sons of Noah:
According to the Talmud, the Noahide Laws apply to all humanity. In Judaism, B'nei Noah (Hebrew, "Descendants of Noah", "Children of Noah") refers to all of humankind. The Talmud also states: "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come". Any non-Jew who lives according to these laws is regarded as one of "the righteous among the gentiles".
The rabbis agree that the seven laws were given to the sons of Noah. However, they disagree on precisely which laws were given to Adam and Eve. Six of the seven laws are exegetically derived from passages in Genesis. The Talmud adds extra laws beyond the seven listed in the Tosefta which are attributed to different rabbis, such as the grafting of trees and sorcery among others,: 30-31Ulla going so far as to make a list of 30 laws. The Talmud expands the scope of the seven laws to cover about 100 of the 613 mitzvoth.: 18
In practice Jewish law makes it very difficult to apply the death penalty. No record exists of a gentile having been put to death for violating the seven laws. Some of the categories of capital punishment recorded in the Talmud are recorded as having never been carried out. It is thought that the rabbis included discussion of them in anticipation of the coming messianic age.
The Talmud lists the punishment for blaspheming the Ineffable Name of God as death. The sons of Noah are to be executed by decapitation for most crimes, considered one of the lightest capital punishments, by stoning if he has intercourse with a Jewish betrothed woman, or by strangulation if the Jewish woman has completed the marriage ceremonies, but had not yet consummated the marriage. In Jewish law the only form of blasphemy which is punishable by death is blaspheming the Ineffable Name (Leviticus 24:16). Some Talmudic rabbis held that only those offences for which a Jew would be executed, are forbidden to gentiles. The Talmudic rabbis discuss which offences and sub-offences are capital offences and which are merely forbidden.
Maimonides states that anyone who does not accept the seven laws is to be executed, as God compelled the world to follow these laws. However, for the other prohibitions such as the grafting of trees and bestiality he holds that the sons of Noah are not to be executed. Maimonides adds a universalism lacking from earlier Jewish sources.: 18 The Talmud differs from Maimonides in that it considers the seven laws enforceable by Jewish authorities on non-Jews living within a Jewish nation.: 18Nahmanides disagrees with Maimonides reasoning. He limits the obligation of enforcing the seven laws to non-Jewish authorities taking the matter out of Jewish hands. The Tosafot seems to agree with Nahmanides reasoning.: 39 According to some opinions, punishment is the same whether the individual transgresses with knowledge of the law or is ignorant of the law.
Various rabbinic sources have different positions on the way the seven laws are to be subdivided in categories. Maimonides', in his Mishneh Torah, included the grafting of trees. Like the Talmud, he interpreted the prohibition against homicide as including a prohibition against abortion.David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra, a commentator on Maimonides, expressed surprise that he left out castration and sorcery which were also listed in the Talmud.
The Talmudist Ulla said that here are 30 laws which the sons of Noah took upon themselves. However he only lists three, namely the three that the Gentiles follow: not to create a Ketubah between males, not to sell carrion or human flesh in the market and to respect the Torah. The rest of the laws are not listed. Though the authorities seem to take it for granted that Ulla's thirty commandments included the original seven, an additional thirty laws is also possible from the reading. Two different lists of the 30 laws exist. Both lists include an additional twenty-three mitzvot which are subdivisions or extensions of the seven laws. One from the 16th-century work Asarah Maamarot by Rabbi Menahem Azariah da Fano and a second from the 10th century Samuel ben Hofni which was recently published from his Judeo-Arabic writings after having been found in the Cairo Geniza. Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes suggests Menahem Azariah of Fano enumerated commandments are not related to the first seven, nor based on Scripture, but instead were passed down by oral tradition.
In earlier times, a Gentile living in the Land of Israel who accepted the Seven Laws in front of a rabbinical court was known as a ger toshav (literally stranger/resident). The regulations regarding Jewish-Gentile relations are modified in the case of a ger toshav.
Noahide law differs radically from Roman law for gentiles (Jus Gentium), if only because the latter was enforceable judicial policy. Rabbinic Judaism has never adjudicated any cases under Noahide law, Jewish scholars disagree about whether Noahide law is a functional part of Halakha ("Jewish law").
Some modern views hold that penalties are a detail of the Noahide Laws and that Noahides themselves must determine the details of their own laws for themselves. According to this school of thought - see N. Rakover, Law and the Noahides (1998); M. Dallen, The Rainbow Covenant (2003) - the Noahide Laws offer mankind a set of absolute values and a framework for righteousness and justice, while the detailed laws that are currently on the books of the world's states and nations are presumptively valid.
In recent years, the term "Noahide" has come to refer to non-Jews who strive to live in accord with the seven Noahide Laws; the terms "observant Noahide" or "Torah-centered Noahides" would be more precise but these are infrequently used. Support for the use of "Noahide" in this sense can be found with the Ritva, who uses the term Son of Noah to refer to a Gentile who keeps the seven laws, but is not a Ger Toshav. The rainbow, referring to the Noahide or First Covenant (Genesis 9), is the symbol of many organized Noahide groups, following Genesis 9:12-17.
To various modern theologians the Noahide laws represent the inclusive nature of Judaism because they affirm the equality of Jews and non-Jews. To other intellectuals these seven laws represent natural law which are accessible to all through intellect and do not require revelation. According to Robert Eison the second stream of thought ignores how a non-Jew could access these laws without the Jewish revelations. To Eisen, these set of laws impose a Jewish understanding of morality upon non-Jews. To Eisen, the Noahide laws represent more of a barrier between Jews and non-Jews, because non-Jews are forbidden to observe Jewish laws.
The Jewish scholar Maimonides (12th century) held that Gentiles may have a part in the world to come just by observing Noahide law and accept it as given by Moses. Such children of Noah become the status of Chasidei Umot HaOlam - Pious People of the World, and are different from children of Noah who only keep the seven laws out of moral/ethical reasoning alone. He writes in his book of laws:"
Anyone who accepts upon himself and carefully observes the Seven Commandments is of the Righteous of the Nations of the World and has a portion in the World to Come. This is as long as he accepts and performs them because (he truly believes that) it was the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Who commanded them in the Torah, and that it was through Moses our Teacher we were informed that the Sons of Noah had already been commanded to observe them. But if he observes them because he convinced himself, then he is not considered a Resident Convert and is not of the Righteous of the Nations of the World, but merely one of their wise.
Some later editions of the Mishneh Torah differ by one letter and read "Nor one of their wise men." The later reading is narrower. Spinoza read Maimonides as using nor and accused him of being narrow and particularistic. Other philosophers such as Hermann Cohen and Moses Mendelssohn have used more inclusive interpretations of the passage by Maimonides. In either reading, Maimonides appears to exclude philosophical Noahides from being Righteous Gentiles. Thus Maimonides emphasizes that a truly Righteous Gentile follows the seven laws because they are divinely revealed and thus are followed out of obedience to God.
The Apostolic Decree recorded in Acts 15 is commonly seen as a parallel to Noahide Law; however, some modern scholars dispute the connection between Acts 15 and Noahide Law, the content of Noahide Law, the historical reliability of the Acts of the Apostles, and the nature of biblical law in Christianity. The Apostolic Decree is still observed by Eastern Orthodoxy and includes some food restrictions.
Maimonides stated that God commanded Moses to compel the world to accept these seven commandments. In 1983 Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson urged his followers to actively engage in activities to inform non-Jews about these seven commandments, which had not been done in previous generations.
After Rabbi Schneerson started his Noahide Campaign in the 1980s, a codification of the exact obligations of the Gentiles in the spirit of the classical Shulchan Aruch was needed. In 2005, Rabbi Moshe Weiner of Jerusalem accepted to produce an in-depth codification of the Noahide precepts. The work is called Sefer Sheva Mitzvot HaShem, (The Book of Seven Divine Commandments) published 2008/2009. As it was approved by both of the then presiding chief rabbis of Israel (Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar and Rabbi Yonah Metzger) as well as by other Hasidic and non-Hasidic halachic authorities, it can claim an authoritative character and is referred as a Shulchan Aruch for Gentiles at many places.
In 1987 President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation speaking of "the historical tradition of ethical values and principles, which have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws, transmitted through God to Moses on Mount Sinai", and in 1991, Congress stated in the preamble to the 1991 bill that established Education Day in honor of the birthday of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Chabad movement:
Whereas Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society and upon which our great Nation was founded; Whereas these ethical values and principles have been the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization, when they were known as the Seven Noahide Laws [...]
In January 2004, Sheikh Mowafak Tarif, the spiritual leader of Israeli Druze, signed a declaration, which called on non-Jews living in Israel to observe the Noahide Laws. He was joined by the mayor of Shefa-'Amr.
In order to find a precedent the rabbis went so far as to assume that proselytes of this order were recognized in Biblical law, applying to them the term "toshab" ("sojourner," "aborigine," referring to the Canaanites; see Maimonides' explanation in "Yad," Issure Biah, xiv. 7; see Grätz, l.c. p. 15), in connection with "ger" (see Ex. xxv. 47, where the better reading would be "we-toshab"). Another name for one of this class was "proselyte of the gate" ("ger ha-sha'ar," that is, one under Jewish civil jurisdiction; comp. Deut. v. 14, xiv. 21, referring to the stranger who had legal claims upon the generosity and protection of his Jewish neighbors). In order to be recognized as one of these the neophyte had publicly to assume, before three "?aberim," or men of authority, the solemn obligation not to worship idols, an obligation which involved the recognition of the seven Noachian injunctions as binding ('Ab. Zarah 64b; "Yad," Issure Biah, xiv. 7).
[...] The more rigorous seem to have been inclined to insist upon such converts observing the entire Law, with the exception of the reservations and modifications explicitly made in their behalf. The more lenient were ready to accord them full equality with Jews as soon as they had solemnly forsworn idolatry. The "via media" was taken by those that regarded public adherence to the seven Noachian precepts as the indispensable prerequisite (Gerim iii.; 'Ab. Zarah 64b; Yer. Yeb. 8d; Grätz, l.c. pp. 19-20). The outward sign of this adherence to Judaism was the observance of the Sabbath (Grätz, l.c. pp. 20 et seq.; but comp. Ker. 8b).