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by Rabbi Yaakov Menken

I was trying to decide upon a topic this week, when a dedicated reader from UC Davis asked the following (based upon something found in the Artscroll Chumash): "What are the 'seven universal commandments'"? Topic found.

Unlike the other religions of the world, Judaism does not believe that everyone must become "Jewish"; we neither solicit converts, nor do we suggest that everyone must follow our ways in order to approach G-d. Quite to the contrary! Maimonides in the laws of Kings (8:10) says:

Moshe Rabbeinu (Rabbi Moses) did not give the Torah and the Commandments to anyone but Israel, as the verse says, "The Inheritance of the Congregation of Jacob." [It was also given] to anyone from the other nations who desires to convert... but we do not force anyone who does not want [to accept them] to accept the Torah and the Commandments.

But even so, we are to be "a light unto the Nations" - and we pray that the day will soon come when "all humanity will call upon Your Name... they will all accept upon themselves the yoke of your Kingship...." Has G-d nothing to say to gentiles? How is a non-Jew to come close to G-d, to do His will?

The answer is that G-d gave seven laws (or more accurately, seven categories of legal obligations) which are incumbent upon all humanity:

1) Not to eat a limb or meat that was severed from a live animal

2) Not to curse the name of G-d

3) Not to steal or rob

4) Not to worship idols

5) Not to commit adultery or have other forbidden sexual relationships

6) Not to murder a fellow man

7) To establish courts of justice, to pronounce and mete out decisions for all mankind, and to ensure observance of the previous laws.

And with this, concludes Maimonides (8:11):
Anyone who accepts these seven commandments, and is careful to do them, this person is one of the 'Pious of the Nations of the World' and has a share in the World to Come. This is provided that s/he accepts them and performs them because they are G-d's command, part of His Torah, which our Rabbi Moses informed us were commanded previously to the sons of Noah.

In our day, there are scattered gentile congregations that have accepted upon themselves these "Seven Noachide Laws", the most well-known being a congregation in the southeastern United States led by a minister who found Christianity too inconsistent. Today, they invite a Rabbi to explain passages from Torah and Talmud related to the Seven Noachide Laws, and they study them on a weekly basis.

Text Copyright © 1994 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.

The author is the Director of Project Genesis.



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