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First Covenant

Covenant Connection

Volume 2, Issue 10

June 2007.......Tammuz 5767

Transcending Religion


• Transcending Religion


Religious Tolerance

Religious Service

Symposium, with Andrea Chester's Seven Candles

Riddle of the Exodus

Isaiah 53, the "Suffering Servant"

Bible "Statutes": Milk and Meat



The Seven Universal Laws transcend religion. "Noah's Seven Laws" are for Christians, Hindus, and atheists. The world's Muslims certainly should learn them. And so, certainly, should the world's Jews.

Every person who finds society's "moral breakdown" troubling - polls indicate that more than two-thirds of Americans perceive such a breakdown - should find hope and support in the Seven Laws.

We try to serve two groups, particularly: 1) people who regard the Seven Universal Laws as a body of ethical and moral guidelines, not necessarily as "religion"; and 2) people who may or may not be Jewish but who want to "know the Ways of God," to keep them. We try to help both groups put the Laws into context, as part of the Bible, history, and a larger Master Plan.





People who should be learning the Seven Laws -if only for their ethical and moral content -often reject them, because they think that Noah's Laws are "Judaizing."

This is a big mistake. The Noahide Laws are the bedrock of civilization. Civilization stuggles to survive in the world and many of the mechanisms that well-meaning people would put in place to save it, in ignorance of the Laws, actually work the other way. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Wanting to "do right because it is right," they help make the world worse.

Nothing - no supposedly progressive cause, no history of thwarted expectations - justifies murdering people for Allah. The whole world ought to be able to get on the same page about that. People also ought to recognize that suicide and assisted suicide ("mercy killing," in today's parlance) is wrong. And, for instance, that treating abortion as mere birth control is wrong too.

Giving state sanction to homosexual marriage isn't going to make society better, more tolerant or modest. Declaring certain people to be "unlawful enemy combatants" beyond the protection of law, to subject them to KGB-style "enhanced interrogation techniques," won't make America safer. Turning theft, public corruption and larceny into mere venial sins - easily pardoned, minor sins - won't make America more beautiful.

If civilization is to survive, more people need to know what the Noahide Laws teach about these issues, and how they define right and wrong.

That's speaking of the Seven Universal Laws primarily as ethical and moral principles. Moral philosophers, legal scholars and just plain people, regardless of their attitude to any particular religion, need to come to terms with the Seven. The Seven Universal Laws are the essential "operating manual" for humankind on earth. They are our common moral inheritance. They exist to teach all of us, of every creed, right from wrong.

What about the religious implications of the Laws? Are they "Judaizing"? Israel kept custody of Noah's Laws for all these many centuries; humankind knows what we know about the Laws only because the Jews saved them in the Torah. So, yes, the Seven Laws say something about the Torah. And the Torah says something about the Seven Laws. They both reflect well on each other. But one doesn't need to adore Torah to appreciate the wisdom of Noah's Laws.

Do the Laws apply to atheists? Yes. Do they apply even to people who reject the Bible and the Jewish people? Yes, of course: the Noahide Laws apply to every human being.


Religious Tolerance

One of the greatest things about the Noahide Laws, a badge of their divinity, is how people can keep them in different ways. This legislation is meant for all people in all places at all times. So the Universal Laws are fascinating for their spaciousness - for their tolerance and flexibility.

We took flak after making this point earlier. Fortunately, a great modern sage, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, happened to come to our rescue. R' Steinsaltz also corroborated the rule found in the so-called Hertz Torah, the well-known commentary to the Torah by Rabbi J. H. Hertz, the late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire.

Rev. Jack Saunders and I recommend the Hertz Torah (the one-volume Hebrew-English Pentateuch and Haftorahs, including commentaries, published by Soncino) to every Noahide. (R' Katz, incidentally, prefers Artscroll's Stone edition, or Aryeh Kaplan's Living Torah.) We particularly admire the Hertz's commentary on religious tolerance.

It's tied to the passage in Deuteronomy 4:19, speaking of "the sun and moon and stars, and all the host of heaven," which HaShem - that is, the Lord God, the God of Israel - "allotted unto all the peoples." It indicates that, even though other peoples may choose to worship stars or idols, Israel, of all people, must not.

The Hertz explains that God permits ["has suffered"] others to worship those things "as a stepping-stone to a higher stage of religious belief." R' Hertz writes: "Hence the amazing tolerance shown by Judaism of all ages towards the followers of other cults, so long as these were not steeped in immorality and crime." (Emphasis in the original.)

Torah teaches tolerance. Israel declared war on the Cana'anites in the Land of Israel, Hertz writes, "not because of matters of dogma or ritual, but because of the savage cruelty and foul licentiousness of their lives and cult."

Israel's Sages didn't regard other peoples, such as the Greeks and Babylonians, in the same light as the Cana'anites, he says. Why? Because, he teaches, "they [unlike the Cana'anites] obeyed the laws of conduct which the Rabbis deemed vital to the existence of society, the so-called 'seven commandments given to the children of Noah'."

In fact, Greece and Babylon weren't actually historically so great about keeping the Seven Laws. But the point here, as R' Hertz argues, is that keeping the Seven Noahide Laws has nothing to do with Judaizing. Furthermore, one can keep the Laws, at least at some level, he believes, even without acknowledging or recognizing HaShem as God.

What about the well-known Noahide commandment against idolatry? In Hebrew, the words usually transalted as idolatry are "avodah zorah" - literally, strange worship. We have suggested here before that, in the Noahide context, "strange worship" means truly strange worship - religiously based "savage cruelty" or "foul licentiousness," in the words of R' Hertz. Like burning people or suicide bombing to please Allah, for instance. Such acts also constitute sacrilege, or blasphemy. Beyond being merely strange, they discredit the very concept of religion.

Idolatry, in the Noahide Law, is always clearly sacrilegious. That is, it goes beyond any mere mistake in doctrine. No god worth worshipping enjoys cruelty and murder. No religion worth following makes people behave worse than animals. Idolatry, in the Noahide sense, makes humanity itself look bad.

We who write here often receive criticism when we point out that the Noahide Laws are rarely as strict as people expect them to be. For example, the Universal Laws don't prohibit lesbian behavior. They do require that homosexual conduct between men be outlawed in some manner - at least to drive it indoors, out of the public purview. The idea is, apparently, that it makes all kinds of perverse acts acceptable. But Israel's Rabbis simply dismiss lesbianism as "lewdness" - not a good thing, certainly, but not a capital crime, either.

People offended by that supposed leniency have, solely for that reason, boycotted and denounced Rainbow Covenant, our book, together with this foundation.

Many Noahides believe that the Seven Laws proscribe their former religions. "Our fathers have inherited lies" (Jeremiah 16:19), they think. They were misled, they feel, and they are angry. It shows, too. But anger puts people off.

Angry people who regard every question as an opportunity to insult other people's reality, their most cherished beliefs (literally, their gods), tend not to do a standout job of representing to non-Jews the absolute beauty, spaciousness and greatness of the Torah.



Religious Service

We have another handicap. Take the question, how should a Noahide serve God? The best answer to that question is, it depends.

Here we have an "end-of-days" - the end of the current era, the end of humanity's early adolescence - kind of issue. And Israel lacks clear guidance on this subject. So we who are seriously trying to figure it out are pioneers.

All we can do is our best. Can a Noahide celebrate the seventh day sabbath - shabbos, or shabbot? Can a Noahide celebrate the other Torah holidays? How about the Rabbinic holidays, like Purim and Hanukah? What about keeping kosher? What about circumcision? What about wearing a headcovering during prayer, or a prayer shawl, a tallis? Can a Noahide learn and teach Torah?

Great men of Torah have discussed these things, but their reasoning isn't always clear. The great sage Rashi says that every Noahide who has "abandoned idolatry" needs to - that is, must -celebrate shabbat. And if one needs to celebrate shabbot, one needs to celebrate all the Torah holidays.

Maimonides says that Noahides should confine themselves to studying and keeping the Seven Laws. If non-Jews feel like taking up any of Israel's national observances, the Torah's "righteous statutes,"as well as matters of ritual or worship, they should convert to Judaism, he says. Otherwise, he says, they should refrain from all that and simply "keep the customs of their ancestors."

How could this be? People today often abandon the customs of their ancestors. The world has grown small. One can fly in a day from Tibet to Oklahoma, and communicate with almost anyone, anywhere, at nearly the speed of light. Religions, laws and customs change all the time. In fact, in our time, a religion that doesn't grow and change usually shrinks and dies.

Another problem with this principle is that the Torah itself teaches that, starting with the next era, Israel will stop accepting converts. (It won't be possible to judge the prospective converts' sincerity in an era when the world generally admires the Jewish people.)

What is a Noahide to do then? Keep on upholding what one regards as the errors of one's ancestors? Do nothing "religiously" except try to be a "good person"? Keep the minimal Seven Noahide Laws but don't do anything positive? Don't pray, don't circumcize one's children, keep on eating what one regards as impure foods, and try to ignore shabbat along with all the Torah's holidays and rituals? Maybe one should also acquire some tattoos - for mom and dad and maybe for the kids too?

A new commentary on the Torah, part of a popular series of pamphlets, came out recently. Discussing the Book of Numbers, chapters 13 - 16 (including the incident with the twelve spies), it declares:

"We [the Jewish people] have an obligation to uphold Hashem's Name to the world - a world that is, at best, hostile to the Jewish concept of religion."

Is that really true? Most of our foundation's members are what one might call "Orthodox Noahides" - Torah-oriented Noahides. They believe in God and Torah. They aren't hostile to Israel's religion. To the contrary, they subscribe to it, as non-Jews. The real question is, how should these people uphold HaShem's Name in the world?

We believe that HaShem expects Noahides to do right, to honor His Name, by doing the opposite of what the Noahide Laws prohibit. This is particularly true of Noahides who believe in HaShem - who believe that one should pray to Him directly - and in Torah.

The Laws prohibit idolatry ("strange worship") and sacrilege ("blessing the Name"). So "Orthodox Noahides" obviously need to honor and worship HaShem. And, if they don't learn from the Torah and from the People of Israel (and Israel's example) how to do that, who will they learn from?

People who aren't necessarily Jewish but who want to "know the Ways of God," to keep them, should try to keep them properly. For an Orthodox Noahide, who believes in no other god than God, HaShem, this means celebrating the sabbath, among other things.

What about the well-known precept that a Noahide must never keep the sabbath as a Jew should keep the sabbath? That is, keeping it not just as a happy vacation day, "a remembrance of Creation," but as a distinctly Hebrew, legally consecrated 25-hour period devoted not just to celebrating man's exalted place in Creation but to fiercely and scrupulously guarding God's sabbath - to present a glowing example of dedicated observance to the world.

None of our members who are Orthodox Noahides have ever come close to celebrating the sabbath in that manner. They honor it - it's a symbol of God's sovereignty, if nothing else - but their methods of celebrating and honoring the sabbath are only distantly related to the ways that Orthodox Israel guards and keeps it.





with Andrea Chester's Seven Candles

We promised that we would begin a symposium, starting with this issue, of what it means to be a Noahide.

We said that we expected "to publish very good papers from very good writers." We are starting to deliver on that promise. We include Andrea Chester's regular column, Seven Candles, as part of that promise's fulfillment.

Click on the link below to find out how some of our Noahide members honor the sabbath, and the Torah's other "righteous statutes." Seven Candles column, as we said, goes to this too. We'll also try to follow up on this in later Covenant Connections.

Symposium: Seven Candles, etc: "Keeping God's Ways"



Riddle of the Exodus

Our friends at NoahideNations.com want you to know that James D. Long, author of Riddle of the Exodus, will be giving weekly online classes on the subject of his book, the historic reality of the Exodus. Go to the Noahide Nations Virtual Learning Center, http://noahidenations.virtualyeshiva.com

We like Jim's book. Jim wondered if he could find any trace of Israel's exodus from Egypt in modern Egypt. To his surprise, he found a lot - lying in plain sight, in many cases, in the back rooms of Egyptian museums.

He also discovered that the Egyptian authorities will do whatever it takes to keep outsiders from probing too deeply into those artifacts, or into the ancient ruins of what villagers in Egypt's former Land of Goshen call "the Jews' cities." And he discovered something else, well-known to Egyptologists but unknown to most others - or to us, anyway, until we read Jim's book: that ancient Egypt suddenly "went dark"for several centuries.

Some terrible disaster befell Egypt. Egypt stopped producing artifacts and monuments or commercial records or much of anything. Ordinary people stopped doing ordinary things - which is the very definiton of social collapse. The archaeological record is clear. In fact, It represents exactly the sort of collapse, or downfall, one might expect after the overwhelming scourges - the Ten Plagues, and the subsequent military disaster at the Reed Sea- recounted in the Bible.

Jim calculates that Egypt's incredible social collapse happened precisely in accordance with Torah chronology.

We wish Jim would get some professional Egyptologists to corroborate his findings. A friend of ours who is a distinguished archaeologist looked at them and said that they seemed sound. Unfortunately, our friend is no Egyptologist. But we also wonder about the professional Egyptologists.

Why haven't they been more forthcoming about what everyone wants to know? Why did it take a special television documentary - a recent documentary on the Discovery Channel, The Exodus Decoded, by Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron - to give us the news that archaeologists had found Joseph's seal, for instance? And why did it take a writer like Jim, an amateur Egyptologist, to tell us about ancient Egypt's sudden collapse?\



Isaiah 53

Two new members, Jerry and Norma Reynolds, were good enough to answer our call for an article on the Book of Isaiah, chapter 53. This is the "suffering servant of the Lord " chapter - the question being, what is the identity of that servant? Is Isaiah speaking of a single person or is he speaking of the People of Israel collectively?

See what Jerry and Norma wrote here: Isaiah 53.


The Bible's "Statutes": Milk and Meat

The Bible's "statutes" are the more mysterious parts of the Torah. In the last three issues, we said that the Torah's food laws, particularly, exemplified the class of Divine legislation known as statutes. These are the Divine laws which, unlike Noah's Laws, aren't necessarily logical. Even so, God promises, a time will come when humankind somehow comes to recognize their greatness (Deuteronomy 4:6-8).

Quoting from Rainbow Covenant, on the subject of Israel's dietary laws: "God orders the Jews to purify their diets, to separate the clean from the unclean, and He commends anyone else who decides to do likewise." (See Genesis 7, Deuteronomy 4:6-8, Isaiah 56:6, Psalms 19:9 and 119:1.)

A basic rule of Torah-interpretation, an invariable Principle, holds that the Torah contains no excess words, not even a surplus letter. Yet the Torah warns Israel no fewer than three times, "You shall not cook a kid [a suckling, a young sheep or goat or calf] in its mother's milk."

Obviously, this is a matter of some importance to God. So we look to the larger part of Torah, the Oral Torah, for greater understanding. And we learn that it tells man that it is unholy - it is unrighteous, and certainly insensitive - to eat meat cooked together with the milk of any mother at all.

Rainbow Covenant elaborates on the physical effects of putting milk or cheese into one's stomach right after eating meat. It tends to make one feel heavy and over-full - it's a gross, fatty combination. But the symbolism of the act is even more troublesome.

Quoting again from Rainbow Covenant: "Milk means growth and life for the young of all the higher species. Milk is the symbol of motherhood. It represents the providential mechanism by which the higher creatures, including man, lovingly sustain their own kind - their weakest ones, their youngest."

So milk is the symbol of mothers' love. Meat, of course, is the tissue of a creature which gave its life so that man could eat it.

God gave humankind dominion over all the earth, including these creatures. We are His planetary stewards. He expects us to acquit ourselves honorably before Him. Which gives rise to this question: Shouldn't we respect our stewardship enough to forego the triumph of eating our fellow creatures' milk - the symbol of mothers' love - at the same time as we consume their ultimate contribution to our welfare, the dead flesh of their bodies?

We hope this doesn't make anyone uncomfortable. (Although it is the purpose of religion, as it's said, "to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.") The Torah's laws concerning milk and meat are notNoahide Laws. But they exist, like the whole of Torah, to refine human sensibilities and our practice and understanding of His Ways.




We call on God for help. As the prayer that Israel says every morning just before reciting the Hebrew statement of faith known as the shema asks (please understand that this is much richer in Hebrew than in English): Our Father, the merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy on us, instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teachings with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name.

Amen.Questions? Comments?

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