The Sons of Noah

NoahOn our daf, Rav Acha bar Yaakov notes that the rule of Reish Lakish leads us to a fascinating situation. The Jewish people have a law of shechita, and the meat of an animal is permitted to be eaten as soon as shechita is done. The gentiles do not have a mitzvah of shechita, but they must not eat a limb from a live animal. Whenever we shecht an animal, the trachea is cut first, followed by the esophagus. As soon as the trachea is cut, the lung immediately becomes permitted, due to shechita, but because the esophagus is not cut, the animal is not yet dead. At that moment, the lung is permitted for a Jew, because shechita was performed on the trachea, but the lung is not permitted for a non-Jew.

When R’ Pappa heard this lesson from R’ Acha, he thought to ask that it seems peculiar that we now have something (lungs) which is permitted for a Jew but prohibited for a non-Jew. However, R’ Pappa refrained from asking, because he realized that R’ Acha had taught his lesson with a reasonable explanation.

R’ Pappa noted that it is not possible that something be permitted for a Jew but be prohibited for a non-Jew. The idea is that when the Jews accepted upon themselves added levels of holiness, more than their being just Noachides, this commitment included added levels of restriction, not less.

Daf Yomi Digest
Distinctive Insight
“Permitted for a Jew, prohibited for a non-Jew”
Chullin 33

This is a strange situation, but in order to understand it, you have to understand how Judaism sees a Jew’s obligation to God as opposed to a non-Jew’s obligation (whether Christian or not).

Without going into all of the history involved, Jews believe that the Torah, which was given to the Children of Israel at Sinai (Exodus 20), obligated the Jewish people to 613 specific commandments or mitzvot. These commandments are only incumbent upon the Jewish people and do not apply to any other people group or religion. Within the 613 commandments, there are mitzvot that only apply to sub-groups within the Jewish people such as men, women, priests, and so on. Sub-groups aside, all Jews regardless of their community or religious roles, are considered to merit a place in the world to come (Romans 11:26; Sanhedrin 11:1).

In Christianity, in order to have a right relationship with God, a person must become a Christian. There is no other “right” status before the Creator of the Universe and “no one comes to the Father” except through Jesus (John 14:6). All Christians are equal before Christ and there are no different sub-groups within Christianity (Galatians 3:28). You’re either all the way in or you’re all the way out.

This isn’t true in Judaism. You don’t have to be a Jew to have a relationship with God.

Jews do not require that non-Jews convert to Judaism in order to “merit a place in the world to come”. Although some Gentiles convert to Judaism out of a desire to take upon themselves the complete responsibilities of a Jewish person and to delight in the beauty of the mitzvot, Judaism’s understanding of God’s desire for the “nations” (i.e. everyone who isn’t Jewish) is for us to obey a much smaller set of commandments given by God to Noah (Genesis 9) referred to as the Noahide Laws. Although there are only seven laws of Noah, they actually expand out into at least 66 specific mitzvot according to my friend Gene Shlomovich, and Hasidic University suggests that the number of mitzvot for which a Gentile is obligated, can be up to 620.

If you’re a Christian, the vast majority of this is likely to leave you unimpressed, since the traditional understanding of the church is that grace fully replaced the Law of Moses (and most Christians aren’t even aware of a “Law of Noah”) and believers do not take their guide for a Christian’s obligations to God from Jewish theology or commentary. Still, for those Christians who feel somehow that they got the short end of the stick as far as the mitzvot are concerned, you can see the matter isn’t as simple as it appears on the surface. It’s not like we got the “Reader’s Digest” version of God’s expectations.

From what I can tell, there’s nothing in the Seven Noahide Laws that directly contradicts being a Christian, but you might object if you look at some of the particulars. Take the example from the Daf Yomi Digest quote in reference to eating a part (in this case, a lung) from a live animal. Jesus didn’t specifically teach on this so you might think the point is moot, but then, most of us would find eating a limb off of a cow or chicken while it was still alive repulsive and cruel. I suppose God does too, which is why we find a prohibition against this behavior in both the Noahide Laws and the Torah. The difference between a Jewish and a Christian perspective on these obligations is that Christians tend not to think of the details of their responsibilities to God and others, while observant Jews do so all the time as a matter of lifestyle. In other words, you could say that Jews focus on their obligations to God through the Torah while Christians focus on their freedom in God through the grace of Jesus.

The RabbiSounds easier and better to be a Christian since there isn’t nearly as much theological and educational “heavy lifting”, but this also robs us of greater opportunities to serve God and to honor our Master with deliberate intent. The Noahide Laws aren’t exactly “required reading” for Christians, but maybe they should be. For Christians who sometimes wonder what God wants out of their (our) lives, the Noahide Laws might provide greater dimension and meaning. It’s not just a list of “dos and don’ts”, but rather, a way to order the actions of our lives to conform more fully with the life God created for us. Jesus opened the door, but once we step inside a life of faith and holiness, we are the ones responsible for discovering what that means and how to live it out.

Is it crazy for a Christian (or any Gentile, since the Noahide Laws apply to every non-Jew regardless of religion or belief) to have as many obligations to God as a Jew or, to be even crazier, to have obligations that don’t apply to a Jew? Maybe, but maybe not as much as you’d imagine.

I know some people will accuse me of sowing the seeds of division between Christians and Jews by emphasizing such differences, but that is not a reflection of Chasidic Jewish thought:

The souls are all one. Only the bodies divide us. -The Alter Rebbe

According to Rabbi Tzvi Freeman in his book, Bringing Heaven Down to Earth:

In his latter years, the Rebbe would stand for hours every Sunday, as thousands of people, both Jew and non-Jew would stand in line to receive his blessing.

The Rebbe didn’t care just about Jews but about every human being. Still quoting from Rabbi Freeman’s book:

They asked the Alter Rebbe: “Which is greater: Love of G-d, or love of your fellow man?” He answered, “Love of your fellow man, for then you are loving that which your Beloved loves.”

How like what Jesus said when he was asked, “Rabbi, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Oh, all of this becomes even more complex when you consider that Christians are viewed as “Sons of Abraham” (see Galatians 3:7-9) rather than “Sons of Noah” since the Messianic Covenant at least extends, if not actually overwrites the Noahide Covenant. I think I’ll save that meditation for another day.

“Noah’s Covenant of the Rainbow is a living heritage for all Gentiles. When we fulfill our potential by living within this covenant, the Creation is spiritually elevated to realize its intended goal. This makes the world into a beautiful gem – a place where G-d can dwell”. -from AskNoah.org

“The Moshiach will bring all the Jews back to the Torah and teach all mankind how to be partners with the Creator through observing His Seven Noahide Commandments. Then the true love of G-d to each of us will be in every heart. But [as the Rebbe taught,] it’s up to us to make it happen”. -Rabbi Tuvia Bolton

To find out more about how Jews see Gentiles and our relationship with God, have a look at What the Talmud Says About Gentiles, Revisited. Also visit the AskNoah.org site.

Addendum: Tomorrow’s morning mediation will be Part 2 of this theme: Children of God, and will explore God-fearers and Noahides as compared to Christians. Please come back tomorrow for the next “morning meditation”.

4 thoughts on “The Sons of Noah”

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