Judi's Journal 11-4-2011

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The Noahide Laws

By Judi Siegal

At this time of the year, Jews all over the world read the story of Noah and the Ark. In this well-known tale, Noah, a righteous man in his time, builds an ark to hold all the species of earth because he has been told by God that God will destroy the earth because of humankind’s wickedness. Noah and his family are saved from destruction and at the end of the story, the Almighty makes a covenant with Noah that never again would a global flood destroy the world; the sign of this solemn oath was the rainbow in the sky. A familiar segment found in the Hebrew Bible, it also is studied by Christians and Muslims. While the tale is intriguing and teaches many lessons, it is what happens after the Flood, which is most interesting.
God gives human beings three laws, which the rabbis have increased to seven by which humankind is to live. These are the laws that non-Jews are supposed to follow in order to live in a moral and just manner. (Jews, have other obligations as well.) The laws are known as the Noahide laws, after Noah, the man who built the ark.
The numeration of the laws appears in the Tosefta Sandedrin 9:4 and in the Talmud 58 a/b. The first law is: Not to murder. After the Great Flood with its devastation of human life, the earth’s people are admonished that all flesh is created in the Divine Image.
The second law deals with stealing. People were not to take things that were not theirs to possess.
Law number three has to do with idolatry. As there is only one Creator, so was that one Creator or God the one to be worshipped.
The fourth law concerned itself with sexual morality. Incest and adultery were forbidden acts. At the end of the Noah story, Noah gets drunk and uncovers himself in his tent. (Gen. 9:21) There has been much speculation as to what was going on here and many scholars believe sexual impropriety had occurred in some form.
Law number five has to do with the consumption of food. After the Flood, humans are allowed to eat meat. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were vegetarians. In a humorous play I wrote about the famous couple, I have Eve asking Adam what there was to do in the Garden. Adam tells Eve that they could “grab a veggie burger” and then go meet all the animals! Here, in this law, humans are to slaughter animals in a humane way, not “tear a limb from a living animal” nor consume its life source, blood. Incidentally, the rules of keeping kosher derive partially from this verse.
The sixth law is a prohibition against blaspheming the name of God. It would make sense that after all was said and done, God was to be revered and the Divine name was to be kept holy.
The seventh law is a positive one. It required humankind to establish laws and courts of justice. How was humanity and civilization to continue if not within a code of law?
If humanity follows these Noahide rules, then the righteous of all nations will have a share in the world to come (be saved).
This is a concept that is considered basic and is accepted by all branches of Judaism. God has rachmoness, compassion; on the creatures he/she has created according to Jewish belief and loves all people.
The next time you see one of the glorious rainbows we have here in Florida, keep in mind God’s promise to humankind: that of brighter days to come and peace to all the inhabitants of the world.

Judi is a former teacher and Jewish educator.  She lives in Sun Valley with her husband, Phil.