The Evolution of G-dliness

The Evolution of G-dliness

Ha-Yom Harat Olam

By Eliyahu Kitov

Today is the birthday of the world; on this day He calls all the created beings of the worlds to stand in judgment. [Are we regarded] as children or as servants? If as children, have mercy upon us as a father has mercy upon [his] children; if as servants, our eyes are turned to You until You will be gracious to us and bring forth our judgment as the light, O Awesome and Holy One.

This prayer is recited after the blessing at the end of each of the three special sections of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf prayer.

We mention the world’s Creation to remind ourselves that Rosh Hashanah is a day of renewal. The prayer is repeated three times as an allusion to the three renewals that the world has experienced: the six days of Creation, the period after the Flood, and the day of the giving of the Torah.

At the time of Creation, the world was under the dominion of Divine sovereignty — malchuyot. This changed after the Flood, when Divine providence became dominant — a trait that is symbolized by G-d’s accounting of mankind’s actions — zichronot. After G-d gave the Torah, the trait of Divine revelation — shofarot –was also introduced.

For the first 1,656 years after Creation, G-d treated man with the attribute of sovereignty alone. The L-rd, King of the Universe, crowned man over the lower creations; he imbued him with honor, granted him power and might, made his life long, and let him do as he wished without restraining him through precepts and obligations.

He did not give him the Torah, nor the Seven Laws of the gentiles [except by allusion], and He promised neither reward nor punishment, for those who are members of the King’s household should not require any codes.

They are expected simply to live up to their greatness, retain the honor of the Kingdom, and be worthy of their high standing, by upright deeds and thoughts, as prescribed by the wisdom of their hearts.

But man was unable to stand up to the test of sovereignty. Instead of imbuing the world with grace through the mighty powers that he had been granted, he filled the whole world with greed, ugliness, and wickedness. Instead of becoming a partner of He Who created the world for him with grace and love, he became instead an associate of Satan, and used his greatness only to corrupt.

For many years G-d treated man with tolerance and patience. But when man showed that there was no chance that he would change his evil ways, the Flood came and inundated the world. It was apparent that a world based on the foundation of sovereignty alone could no longer exist. Man’s instincts would always overpower him if he lived in a world without fear or worry.

Thus, G-d tempered the trait of Divine Sovereignty with the trait of Divine Providence for the next 792 years. Perhaps sovereignty together with providence would secure the world’s existence.

Man would not lose his superiority with the created world but he would have to accept a yoke of specific commandments and precepts — the Noahide laws — that would make him aware of his responsibilities, that he was acting under supervision and that he was accountable for his actions.

G-d also shortened the number of years that man would live and diminished his powers, so that even if he wished, he could not bring the world to a state of absolute corruption.

But man did not pass this second test either. Ten generations passed between Noah and Abraham — generations that defied G-d’s law even though they knew what the result of their rebellion would be. Sovereignty and greatness had not sufficed to defend man against his evil instincts, and Divine providence did not suffice either.

The knowledge that he would be called upon to account for his deeds was not enough to keep man from transgression.

The world stood on the brink of a second disaster and would have been again subject to destruction, but a nation arose, of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, creating a people that would take responsibility for all of Creation and take upon itself the task of restoring honor to those who were created in G-d’s image. When they accepted G-d’s Torah they saved the world from being returned to void and emptiness; at Mount Sinai the world was renewed, and this time until eternity.

With their acceptance of the Torah, G-d introduced a third element to join with sovereignty and providence as manifesting His Presence in the world. This element — Divine Revelation — provided man with the ability to perceive G-d’s revelation; to hear His voice speak through the Prophets; to listen to the call of conscience that would stir him to repent; to tremble in awe of the Creator when the shofar blasts would remind man to consider who he is and what he must do.

Thus, the world after Sinai stands on three pillars: the sovereignty of G-d Who is the absolute source of all that is; the providence of G-d Who rewards and punishes man for what he does; and the revelation of G-d, the yoke of Torah, given to man with the sounds of the shofar that reverberate within him and keep him faithful to his mission.

The echoes of the shofar are always heard. At times they are strong and at times they get weaker, and then strong again. When the great Day of the L-rd comes, they shall burst forth with their full might and be heard by all mankind, as it is said (Isaiah 27:13): And it shall be on that day, a great shofar shall be sounded…

By Eliyahu Kitov |

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, OBM, was one of Israel’s most acclaimed religious authors, whose books on the Jewish way of life and the Chassidic movement have become renowned. Text translated from the Hebrew by Nachman Bulman and Dovid Landseman.

Excerpted from: The Book of Our Heritage. Published and copyright by Feldheim Publications

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Maimonides Laws of Kings

Maimonides Laws of Kings

By Rabbi Eliyahu Touger

  1. When the army’s troops enter the territory of gentiles,[1]conquering them and taking them captive, they are permitted to eat meat from animals that died without being ritually slaughtered or which weretrefe,[2] and the flesh of pigs and similar animals, if they become hungry and can only find these forbidden foods.[3]
  1. Similarly, they may drink wine used in the worship of idols.[4]This license is derived by the Oral Tradition[5]which interprets Deuteronomy 6:10-11: “God… will give you… houses filled with all the good things” as “pigs’ necks and the like.”[6]
  1. Similarly, a soldier may engage in sexual relations with a woman[7]while she is still a gentile[8]if his natural inclination overcomes him.[9] However, he may not engage in

sexual relations with her and then, go on his way.[10] Rather, he must bring her into his home as Deuteronomy 21:11 states “If you see a beautiful woman among the prisoners…You shall bring her into the midst of your home…”[11] It is forbidden for him to engage in sexual relations with her a second time until he marries her.[12]

  1. Relations with ayefat toarare only permitted while she is in captivity as the verse states ” If you see… among the prisoners.”[13]

This license is permitted whether the woman is a virgin or not, even if she is married,[14] for the gentiles’ marriages are not recognized.[15]

A number of laws are derived from the exegesis of the verse from Deuteronomy quoted above: “And you desire” – even though she is not beautiful.[16]

“Her” – and not another. He may not engage in sexual relations with two women.

“You may take her as a wife” – He may not take two women as captives with the intention of engaging in relations with one and saving the other for his father or brother.[17]

What is the source which teaches that he may not pressure her in the midst of the war? Deuteronomy 21:12 states: “You shall bring her into the midst of your home…” Thus, he must bring her into an (vacant)[18] place and then, engage in relations with her.[19]

  1. A priest is also allowed relations with ayefat toarinitially. For the Torah only permitted relations as a concession to man’s natural inclination.[20] However, he is not permitted to marry her afterwards, for she is a convert.[21]
  1. What is the procedure which a Jew must follow regarding ayefat toarafter he had relations with her once while she is still a gentile? If she desires to enter under the wings of the Shechinah,[22] he may have her immersed in a mikveh[23]  for the purpose of conversion immediately.[24]

If she does not accept the Jewish faith, she should dwell in his house for thirty days, as ibid. 21:13 states: “She shall mourn her father and mother for thirty days.” [25]Similarly, she should mourn the abandonment of her faith.[26] Her captor should not prevent her from crying.[27]

She must let her nails grow and shave her head so that she will not appear attractive to him.[28] She must be together with him at home.[29]Thus, when he enters, he sees her; when he leaves; he sees her, so that he becomes disgusted with her.[30]

He must be patient with her so that she will accept the Jewish faith. If she accepts Judaism and he desires her,[31] she may convert and immerse herself in the mikveh for that purpose, like other converts.[32]

  1. A captor must wait three months before marrying his captive: the month of mourning and two months following it.[33]

When he marries her, he must give her Kiddushin and a Ketubah.[34]If he does not desire her, he must set her free.[35] If he sells her, he violates a negative commandment,[36] as Deuteronomy 21:14 states: “You may not sell her for money.”[37] Should a captor sell his captive, the sale is invalidated and he must return the money.[38] Similarly, if after having relations with her, he forces her to become a servant, he violates a negative commandment[39] from the time he makes use of her as  states: lo titamar boh. That phrase means “he should not make use of her.”[40]

  1. Her captor must be patient with her for twelve months if she refuses to convert.[41]

If she still refuses after this interval has passed, she must agree to accept the seven universal laws commanded to Noah’s descendants[42]and then, she is set free. Her status is the same as all other resident aliens.[43]

Her captor may not marry her, for it is forbidden to marry a woman who has not converted.[44]

  1. If she conceives after the initial relations with her captor, the child has the status of a convert.[45]In no regard is he considered as the captor’s son,[46]for his mother is a gentile. Rather, the court immerses him in the mikveh and takes responsibility for him.[47] Tamar was conceived from King David’s initial relations with a yefat toar,[48] but Avshalom was conceived after marriage.[49] Thus, Tamar was only Avshalom’s maternal sister[50] and thus, would have been permitted to Amnon.[51] This can be inferred from the statement II Samuel 13:13: “Speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.”
  1. A yefat toar who does not desire to abandon idol worship after twelve months[52]should be executed.[53] Similarly, a treaty cannot be made with a city which desires to accept a peaceful settlement until they deny idol worship, destroy their places of worship, and accept the seven universal laws commanded Noah’s descendants.[54] For every gentile who does not accept these commandments must be executed[55] if he is under our undisputed authority.[56]
  1. Moses only gave the Torah and mitzvot as an inheritance toIsrael,[57]as [Deuteronomy 33:4] states: “[The Torah…] is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob,”[58] and to all those who desire to convert from among the other nations, as [Numbers 15:15] states “the convert shall be the same as you.”[59] However, someone who does not desire to accept Torah and mitzvot, should not be forced to.[60]

By the same regard, Moses was commanded by the Almighty to compel all the inhabitants of the world to accept the commandments given to Noah’s descendants.[61]

If one does not accept these commands, he should be executed.[62] A person who [formally] accepts these [commands] is called a resident alien. [This applies] in any place.[63] This acceptance must be made in the presence of three Torah scholars.[64]

Anyone who agrees to circumcise himself[65] and [allows] twelve months to pass without circumcising himself is considered as one of the nations.[66]

  1. Anyone who accepts upon himself the fulfillment of these seven mitzvot and is precise in their observance is considered one of “the pious among the gentiles” and will merit a share in the world to come.[67]

This applies only when he accepts them and fulfills them because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah[68] and informed us through Moses, our teacher, that Noah’s descendants had been commanded to fulfill them previously.[69]

However, if he fulfills them out of intellectual conviction,[70] he is not a resident alien, nor of “the pious among the gentiles,”[71] nor of their wise men.[72]


[1]. Some texts substitute idolaters for the latter term.

These leniencies are only permitted when the army enters enemy territory. Though certain Rabbinic obligations are relaxed within Eretz Yisrael (See Chapter 6, Halachah 13), all Scriptural prohibitions must be observed.

[2]. Implied by that term is an animal which possesses a blemish, wound, or ailment that will cause it to die within twelve months (Chullin 3:1).

[3]. The soldiers are only allowed forbidden foods if they have no alternative. However, they need not be on the point of starvation. This leniency was granted for were they required to forage for kosher food, they would place themselves in danger of enemy attack (Radbaz).

[4]Yayin Nesech in Hebrew. The prohibition against drinking Yayin Nesech is included as one of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot. In addition, the Sages forbade drinking all wine touched by a gentile. See Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot, Chapter 11.

The Ramban (Deuteronomy 6:10) objects to this ruling, maintaining that license was only granted in regard to the Rabbinic prohibition. However, Yayin Nesech itself is forbidden even during wartime. Other commentaries support his argument noting that idol worship and anything associated with it is included among the three sins for which a person should sacrifice his life rather than transgress.

However, other authorities defend the Rambam’s decision, noting that licentious sexual behavior is also one of these three sins for which for which a person should sacrifice his life and, as stated in the following halachah, soldiers are allowed relations with gentile women in wartime (Or Sameach).

[5]. See Chullin 17a.

[6]. The Ramban (ibid.) questions the Rambam’s statements, noting that this verse refers to the occupation of Eretz Yisrael during the time of Joshua. During the entire fourteen years when Eretz Yisrael was settled, there was no obligation to keep any of the dietary laws even outside of a battle situation. If so, how can this license be extended to the circumstances at hand?

However, the Rambam’s logic can be explained as follows: Since we see that the Torah relaxed the dietary laws entirely during the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, we can assume that temporary license would be granted in other conquests (Radbaz)

[7]. Deuteronomy 21:10-11 states:

When you go out to war against your enemies, God will give them over to your hand, and you may take captives. If you see a beautiful woman among the prisoners and desire her, you may take her as a wife.


The Torah permits this relationship only as a concession to man’s natural desires. Were the Torah to unequivocally forbid intimacy with captive women, the prohibition would probably be ignored. Hence, certain strictures are instituted so that soldiers could release their natural desires without leading to total licentiousness and a breakdown of Jewish morality and family life (@82Kiddushin@81 21b

[8]. There are other authorities who forbid all intimacy during wartime. Relations are not permitted until the woman is brought home and undergoes the mourning procedures mentioned below. This is still a “concession” to man’s natural tendencies for the soldier realizes that ultimately, he will be able to consummate his desires (Ramban, Deuteronomy, @14ibid.@13; Rashi commenting on Kiddushin 21a; Jerusalem Talmud, Makkot 2:6).

[9]Sefer HaMitzvot (positive commandment 221) and Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 532) include the laws associated with relations with a captive woman, yefat toar in Hebrew, as one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah

However, though taking a yefat toar was permitted, the Sages looked askance at this practice. They cite the example of King David who took Ma’akah, the daughter of Talmai, King of Geshur as a captive wife. Concerning their marriage, Midrash Tanchuma comments:

See what came out of their union! Avshalom, who desired to kill his father…, was born. A controversy broke out in Israeland myriads were killed, including the wisest men of the land….


[10]. Judaism views sexuality and responsibility as fundamentally interrelated. Were a soldier permitted to engage in sexual relations with a woman and then, abandon her without any further ties, he would begin to view sexuality as cheap and commonplace. Hence, the Torah instituted the practices described in the following halachot (Guide to the Perplexed, Vol. III, Chapter 41).

[11]. The Minchat Chinuch asks why the Rambam makes a blanket statement that the soldier is required to bring a yefat toar into his home. As mentioned in Halachah 5, the Sages did not approve of marriage to a yefat toar and were pleased when her captor did not desire her and set her free. Hence, ideally, it would seem preferable for the soldier to lose his desire for the woman immediately, free her at that time, and never bring her home.

Possibly, the Rambam’s statements can be understood on the basis of the Meiri’s commentary, Kiddushin 21a. The Meiri writes that relations with a yefat toar are only permitted when the soldier intends to marry her. If he does not have that intention, all relations, even a single experience, are forbidden.  (Note, however, Halachah 4 which states that a priest is permitted to engage in relations with a yefat toar even though he is not permitted to marry her.)

[12]. See Halachah 6.

[13]. Once a captive woman has been enslaved as a servant, intimacy with her is forbidden (Kiddushin 21a).


[14]. The word eishet used in the above verse can be rendered both as “woman” or “wife of.” On that basis, Kiddushin (ibid.) derives this law.

[15]Sanhderin 52b teaches that a Jew is not liable for transgression of the prohibition against adultery if he has relations with a gentile’s wife. However, though a Jew is absolved for punishment for such an act, a gentile is liable. One of the seven mitzvot which the gentiles are obligated to fulfill is the prohibition against adultery. See Halachot 1 and 5 of the following chapter.

[16]. Though the verse mentions “a beautiful women,” by using the word “desire,” it implies that the attractiveness of the woman is not the determinant factor. As long as the man desires her, these laws apply (Kiddushin, ibid.

[17]. He may not take even one woman for the sake of another person and not for himself (TosafotKiddushin 22a).

[18]. This word is lacking in the printed texts of the Rambam and was added on the basis of manuscripts brought from Yemen.

[19]. The Kessef Mishneh writes that the soldier must take his captive to a city to have relations with her. Other commentaries offer different interpretations. However, all share the same basic theme. Sexual relations must be carried out in a private place without the knowledge of the other soldiers.

[20]. A priest also has natural desires. Were a captive woman forbidden him, he might be overcome by his instincts and violate the prohibition (Kiddushin 21b).

[21]. As mentioned in Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah (18:3), a priest may not marry a convert.

[22]. The latter phrase is a euphemism for conversion based on Boaz’s blessing to Ruth (1:12): “May a full reward be granted you by God, Lord of Israel, under whose wings you have taken shelter.”


@99Like other converts, before conversion, she must accept all the obligations of Torah and mitzvot.

[23]. For a woman, the conversion process involves, immersion in a mikveh and acceptance of the mitzvot (@82Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah@81 14:5-6).

[24]. The mourning practices described below are only necessary if the woman hesitates to adopt Torah and mitzvot. If she willingly desires to convert, none of these rites are required (@82Yevamot@81 47b).

[25]. On a number of occasions, e.g., Numbers 20:29, Deuteronomy 34:8, the Torah mentions one month as a complete period of mourning. A similar concept is expressed in Jewish law, see Hilchot Evel 6:1-2.

This mourning period was instituted to affect both the man and the woman: The man was intended to continually confront this woman while she was mourning. Seeing her in this state, he would lose his original desire (Sifri, Rashi).


From the woman’s perspective, this period was an act of mercy, granting her an opportunity to release the grief and sorrow she felt about her forced abduction from her native country and her ruptured family ties. It also represented a purification process, during which the woman was cleansed of the idolatrous practices of her native land (Guide to the Perplexed, Vol. III, Chapter 41).

[26]Yevamot 48b relates that Rabbi Akiva interprets the terms “father” and “mother” as euphemisms for idol worship. Similarly, Jeremiah 2:27 chides the people for “saying to a stock of wood: You are my father;’ and to a stone: You brought me forth.

[27]. Rather, he should treat her with mercy and kindness.

[28]. She was required to shave her head to diminish her beauty. This practice also served as a sign of purification and acceptance of a new status (Chizzkuni). Compare to Leviticus 14:8 which describes the initiation of the Levites, and to Numbers 8:7, which describes the purification of a Nazirite.

[29]. The soldier is required to bring his captive to his own home. He is not permitted to find her another dwelling in which to undergo these procedures.

[30]. And set her free, rather than marry her.

[31]. Yemenite manuscripts of the Mishneh Torah substitute “and she desires him” for the latter phrase. The change answers a significant question: Can the woman’s captor marry her against her will or must she desire him?

The Ramban and other commentaries accept the principle that the woman’s consent is not required for the marriage. Certain opinions maintain that though the Rambam differs regarding forced conversion (see below), he accepts this opinion regarding marriage. However, based on those manuscripts, it appears that after conversion, the yefat toar is considered as any other Jewess and cannot be married against her will.

[32]. The Rambam requires the captive woman to willingly accept Judaism. In contrast, the Ramban maintains that she may be converted and married against her will.

[33]. This three month waiting period is not instituted because of the particular circumstances associated with a yefat toar, but rather, is a condition imposed on every woman who converts to Judaism.

It would take three months for a woman to realize whether she was pregnant. Thus, the Sages instituted this waiting period in order to determine the pedigree of lineage of any children born to female converts. Hilchot Gerushin 11:21 relates that even if a gentile couple convert together, they are forced to separate for three months to differentiate between children conceived before their entry into Judaism and those conceived afterwards.

Similarly, in this instance, the captive woman must wait three months to determine when a child born to her was conceived. As mentioned in Halachah 8, even if she conceived from the original relations permitted her and her captor, that child is not considered his and hence, also has the status of a convert.

[34]. See Chapter 4, Halachah 4, for a definition of these terms. After her conversion, the toar is granted all the rights possessed by any other Jewish woman.

[35]. In this instance as well, she is granted all the rights of any other female convert.

[36]. The Sefer HaMitzvot (negative commandment 263) and the Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 533) include this prohibition as one of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot. In the Guide to the Perplexed (ibid.), the Rambam writes that this prohibition applies from the time the captor engages in relations with his captive (see below).

[37]. The Sifri explains that in addition to the explicit prohibitions against sale of the captive woman, she may also not be bartered, exchanged, or given to another Jew as a servant.

[38]Tamurah 4b relates that any business transaction that violates a Torah prohibition is automatically nullified.


[39]. The Sefer HaMitzvot (negative commandment 264) and the Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 534) also include this prohibition as one of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot.

In this instance as well, the prohibition begins from the time of relations, as implied by the verse (ibid.): “You may not sell her for money or keep her as a servant after taking advantage of her.”

[40]. The Sifri notes that the root amar is Persian for servant and is rarely used in Hebrew.


[41]. A similar interval is granted to a Canaanite servant to decide whether he is willing to become circumcised and accept the mitzvot in which he is obligated (Hilchot Milah 1:6).

During this entire period, the captor may neither engage in sexual relations with her or use her as a servant.

[42]. See Halachot 10 and 11 of this chapter and Chapters 10 and 11 for an explanation of those laws.

[43]. The latter term is a translation of the Hebrew, ger toshav. As explained in Halachah 10, it refers to a gentile who accepts upon himself the observance of the seven mitzvot. The term is appropriate for such a gentile is entitled to settle in Eretz Yisrael.  For when the Jews have undisputed rule over the land, they are forbidden to allow a gentile who has not accepted the seven mitzvot to dwell there for one moment. See Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 10:6, Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 14:7.

[44]. Deuteronomy 7:3 mentions the prohibition against marrying a gentile. It also applies to a resident alien.

[45]. The child only receives the status of a convert after he undergoes the conversion process. Before then, he is a gentile as any child born from relations between a Jew and a gentile woman.

[46]Yevamot 23a comments: “A son born to you from a gentile woman is called her son and not yours.” Thus, this child has no relation to his natural father in regard to inheritance or Jewish lineage.

[47]Ketubot 12a relates that a Jewish court may convert a minor. When he comes of age, he has the right renounce the Jewish faith and return to gentile practices.

The r Sameach notes that it is only necessary for the child to be immersed in the mikveh if the mother delays her conversion until after his birth. If she converts while pregnant, her immersion is sufficient for her child as well. Needless to say, if the child is male, he must be circumcised as a convert as well.

[48]. While David ruled as King of Judah in Hebron, he conquered Talmai, king of Geshur and took his daughter, Ma’aka, as a yefat toar (See commentaries, II Samuel 3:3).

conceived from those relations and bore a daughter, Tamar. Tamar was extremely beautiful and Amnon, David’s oldest son fell in love with her. He literally fell sick with love. His friends noticed him wasting away and helped him contrive a scheme to rape her.

Amnon feigned to be seriously ill and when David came to visit him, he requested that his father have Tamar prepare food for him. Unaware of Amnon’s intent, David consented and sent his daughter to him. When she came, Amnon ordered all his servants to leave and took hold of the girl. She protested, begging him to marry her: “Speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” Amnon refused, wanting to only to fulfill his desires.

After consummating his passion, Amnon became obsessed with hate for Tamar. His despise for her exceeded his previous attraction. He sent her away rudely and paid no further attention to her. Avshalom, Tamar’s brother, was enraged at the episode. He bided his time and when he had an opportunity, slew Amnon in revenge (II Samuel, Chapter 13).


[49]. Hence, he could have been considered David’s heir.

[50]. The r Sameach notes that Ma’aka must have converted before Tamar’s birth. Thus, she was considered the child’s halachic as well as natural mother. Otherwise, halachically, Tamar would not have been considered her daughter and hence, would have had no relation to Avshalom.

[51]. For there was no relation between them.

[52]. The Kessef Mishneh questions why the captive woman is allowed to worship idols for such a long time. In no other instance is such tolerance shown. The commentaries suggest that this leniency was granted because she was forcefully possessed.

[53]. Regarding the captive woman’s release, Deuteronomy 21:14 states: ,vishilachta which literally meaning: “You shall send her to herself.” On this phrase, the Midrash HaGadol comments: Send her to herself,’ but not to her gods.”

[54]. See Chapter 6, Halachah 1.

[55]. See Chapter 9, Halachah 14.

[56]. In HilchotAvodah Zarah 10:6, the Rambam writes that no idol worshippers should be allowed to live among us “when the hand of Israel is powerful over them.” The extent of the authority the Jews must yield is a matter of question among the commentaries.

It appears that throughout the second Temple period, though Judeah existed as an independent country, the Sages did not exercise this authority. Similarly, in Eretz Yisrael today, there are few, if any, Torah leaders who feel justified to assume such powers.

[57]. Chapter 10, Halachah 9, states that a gentile who studies Torah is worthy of death at the hand of God.

[58]. Just as an heir becomes the legal owner of all possessions left to him, the Torah, our national heritage, belongs to each Jew, regardless of background or upbringing.


[59]. With the exception of certain restrictions based on yichus, pedigree of lineage, converts are granted the same privileges and responsibilities as native-born Jews. They have a full share in the Torah.

[60]. In the Talmudic era, the later Hasmonean kings conquered the Idumeans and forcibly converted them to Judaism. What were the results of this act? Herod, an Idumean, became King of Judah and ruled the land as a cruel tyrant.

[61]. This obligation is dependent upon every individual in every era. The Tosafot Yom Yov (Avot 3:14) relates:

As the Rambam writes, we were commanded by Moses [to compel the gentiles to accept the seven commands]. If this applies to compulsion at the point of the sword, with threats of execution,… it surely applies regarding compulsion through persuasion, to lead their hearts to the will of their Creator.”

The Jews must serve as “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6) teaching them the seven mitzvot and instructing them in proper behavior (See the commentary of the Radak on the above verse). Similarly, the Chatam Sofer (Choshen Mishpat, Responsum 85) writes that it is a mitzvah to guide the gentiles in the service of God.

This particularly applies in the present age, when there is far greater communication between Jews and gentiles than ever before. The Jews should take advantage of this phenomenon. Rather than be influenced by the gentiles, they should utilize this freedom of communication to convince the gentiles to accept their seven mitzvot.

With this halachah, the Rambam begins a different section of Hilchot Melachim. These two halachot, and, similarly, the following two chapters, deal with the seven mitzvot the gentiles are obligated to perform. Afterwards, the final two chapters deal with the coming of Mashiach.

An important principle is implied by this sequence. Jewish thought relates that God rewards our behavior “measure for measure.” One of the fundamental achievements of Mashiach will be the refinement of the gentile nations. As the prophet Tzephaniah 3:9 declares: “I will transform the peoples to a purer language that they all will call upon the name of God and serve Him with one purpose” (see Halachah 11:4). As a preparatory step to merit these rewards, we must involve ourselves in the refinement of the gentiles by motivating their acceptance of the seven mitzvot.

[62]. In contrast to the previous principles, this law only applies when the Jews have undisputed authority over Eretz Yisrael. See Chapter 9, Halachah  14.

[63]. The laws regarding resident aliens only applied while the entire Jewish people lived in Eretz Yisrael (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 10:6). Nevertheless, in that era, a gentile could accept the obligations of a resident alien in any land.

[64]. Thus, comprising a court of law. The resident alien’s acceptance of the seven mitzvot requires the presence of a court as does a gentile’s conversion to Judaism.

[65]. I.e. to convert.

[66]. In Hilchot Avodat Kochavim, Chapter 10, the Rambam outlines the rules governing our relations with our fellow Jews and those governing our relations with gentiles. After a gentile has waited twelve months, his original commitment to convert is no longer taken seriously and his status reverts from that of a potential proselyte to an ordinary gentile.

The above is based on the standard published text of the Mishneh Torah which reads k’min haumot. The Yemenite manuscripts of the Mishneh Torah read: kmin min haumot, meaning “as a non-believer from the gentiles.” Such an individual is subjected to harsher treatment than most gentiles.

[67]. This principle can be derived from the Mishnah’s statement (Sanhderin 90a) that Bilaam will not receive a share in the world to come. It can obviously be inferred that the righteous of the gentiles will be granted a portion in that eternal good.

The Zohar Chadash (Ruth 78:4) relates that though the pious gentiles will merit a portion in the world to come, their portion will be separate from that of the Jewish people.

[68]. In the Introduction to his Commentary on the Mishnah (conclusion of section 8), the Rambam writes:

The masses of people were created to be “company” for the wise that they not be alone… Everything in this world is only intended for the sake of a man who is complete in wisdom and deed… as implied by our Sages’ statement: “All that God possesses in this world are four square cubits of Halachah.”

Similarly, our Sages comment that bereishit, the first word of the Torah, can be broken up into two words: beit reishit, “two firsts”; implying that the world was created for the sake of two things that were called “first”: Israel and the Torah.

Accordingly, on one level, the purpose of the fulfillment of the seven mitzvot is to establish a stable world and a moral and hence, thriving society. However, this purpose is not an end in itself, but rather a means to allow the Jews to fulfill the Torah. Therefore, the gentiles’ acceptance of the seven mitzvot must also contain an awareness of the fundamental importance of Torah.

[69]. Though these mitzvot were commanded well before the giving of the Torah, when the Moses received the Torah, these commandments were renewed. We see a similar example in regard to other mitzvot. In his commentary on the Mishnah (Chullin 7:6), the Rambam writes:

All the [mitzvot] we fulfill should be carried out because of God’s command transmitted by Moses… We do not circumcise ourselves because Abraham circumcised himself, but because God commanded us, through Moses, to circumcise ourselves.

[70]. Without acknowledging them as Divine commands.

[71]. Thus, there are three levels in the gentiles’ acceptance of their seven mitzvot: a resident alien who makes a formal commitment in the presence of a Torah court; “the pious among the gentiles,” individuals who accept the seven mitzvot with the proper intent, but do not formalize their acceptance; and a gentile who fulfills the seven mitzvot out of intellectual conviction.

[72]. The Yemenite manuscripts of the Mishneh Torah substitute “but rather, of their wise men” for this phrase.

The difference between these two texts revolves around the extent in which a gentile is required to perceive his role in creation. According to the Yemenite texts, a wise man can perceive how the fulfillment of the seven mitzvot can lead to a stable society. Hence, he will commit himself to their fulfillment. However, it is piety, not wisdom, which will motivate an individual to carry them out for the sake of God and Torah.

According to the standard published text, the gentiles themselves must realize that their existence is only “for the sake of Israel and for the sake of Torah.” Anyone who does not understand that concept has not reached complete wisdom.

  1. Six[1] precepts were commanded to Adam:
    1. [the prohibition against] worship of false gods;[2]
    2. [the prohibition against] cursing God;[3]
    3. [the prohibition against] murder;[4]
    4. [the prohibition against] incest and adultery;[5]
    5. [the prohibition against] theft;[6][the command to establish] laws and courts of justice.[7]


    Even though we have received all of these commands from Moses and, [furthermore, they are concepts] which intellect itself tends [to accept], it appears from the Torah’s words that [Adam] was commanded concerning them.

    [The prohibition against eating] flesh from a living animal was added for Noah, as [Genesis 9:4] states: “Nevertheless, you may not eat flesh with its life, which is its blood.”[8] Thus there are seven mitzvot.[9]

    These matters remained the same throughout the world until Abraham. When Abraham arose, in addition to these, he was commanded regarding circumcision.[10] He also [ordained] the morning prayers.[11]

    Isaac separated tithes[12] and ordained an additional prayer service before sunset.[13] Jacob added [the prohibition against eating] the sciatic nerve.[14] He also ordained the evening prayers.[15] In Egypt, Amram was commanded regarding other mitzvot.[16] Ultimately, Moses came and the Torah was completed by him.[17]

  2. A gentile who worships false gods is liable provided he worships them in an accepted manner.[18]A gentile is executed for every type of foreign worship which a Jewish court would consider worthy of capital punishment.[19] However, a gentile is not executed for a type of foreign worship which a Jewish court would not deem worthy of capital punishment. Nevertheless, even though [a gentile] will not be executed [for these forms of worship], he is forbidden [to engage] in all of them.[20]We should not allow them to erect a monument,[21] or to plant an Asherah,[22] or to make images and the like even though they are [only] for the sake of beauty.[23]
  3. A gentile who curses God’s Name,[24] whether he uses God’s unique name[25] or one of His other names,[26] in any language, is liable. This law does not apply with regard to Jews.[27]
  4. A gentile who slays any soul,[28] even a fetus in its mother’s womb,[29] should be executed [in retribution] for its [death].[30]Similarly, if he slew a person who would have otherwise died in the near future,[31] placed a person before a lion,[32] or starved a person to death, he should be executed for through one manner or other, he killed.[33]Similarly, one should be executed if he killed a pursuer when he could have saved [the latter’s potential victim][34] by maiming one of [the pursuer’s] limbs.[35] These laws do not apply with regard to Jews.
  5. There are six illicit sexual relations forbidden to a gentile:[36]
    1. his mother;[37]
    2. his father’s wife;[38]
    3. a married woman;[39]
    4. his maternal sister;[40]
    5. a male;[41]
    6. an animal.

    [These prohibitions are derived from] the verse [Genesis 2:24]: “Therefore, a man shall leave [his father and his mother and cling to his wife and they shall become one flesh.”][42]

    “His father” – alludes to his father’s wife;[43]

    “his mother” – is to be understood simply;[44]

    “cling to his wife” – and not his colleague’s wife; [45]

    “his wife” – and not a male;

    “They shall become one flesh”[46] – this excludes a domesticated animal, beast, or fowl for [man] can never become “one flesh” with them.[47]

    [The prohibition against relations with a maternal sister is derived from] the verse [Genesis 20:13]: “She is my sister, my father’s daughter, but not my mother’s. [Thus,] she became my wife.”[48]

  6. A gentile is liable [for relations] with [his mother even though] she was seduced or raped by his father [and never married to him]. She is, nevertheless, his mother.[49]He is liable [for relations] with his father’s wife even after his father’s death.[50]He is liable [for relations] with a male whether a minor or an adult[51] and with an animal whether young or old.[52] [In the latter instance,] the gentile alone is executed and not the animal.[53] We are only commanded to kill an animal with which a Jew [engaged in relations].[54]
  7. A gentile is not executed for [adultery] with his colleague’s wife unless they engage in relations in the normal manner[55] after she had engaged in relations with her husband at least once. However, if she was merely consecrated or had undergone a wedding ceremony, but had never engaged in relations [with her husband], one is not liable for engaging in relations with her,[56] as [Genesis 20:3] states: “For she has been possessed by [her] husband.”[57]When does the above apply? When a gentile engages in relations with a gentile woman.[58] However, a gentile who engages in relations with a [married] Jewess is liable whether their relations were carried out in a normal or abnormal manner.[59][Similarly,] a gentile who engages in relations with a Jewish maiden[60] who has been consecrated is stoned to death because of her as is the law regarding Jews.[61] If he engages in relations with her after she has undergone the wedding ceremony, but has not engaged in relations [with her husband], he is strangled to death as is the Jewish law.[62] However, if he engages in relations with a Jewish woman after she engaged in relations [with her husband] once, he is sentenced to be executed by decapitation[63] as if he had engaged in relations with a gentile woman.[64]
  8. A gentile who singles out one of his maid-servants for one of his slaves[65] and, afterwards, engages in relations with her is executed because of her for [violation of the prohibition against] adultery.[66] However, he is not liable [for relations] with her until the matter has become public knowledge and everyone refers to her as “the wife of X, the slave.”[67]When do [relations with] her become permitted again? When he separates her from his slave[68] and uncovers her hair in the market-place.[69]When is a gentile woman considered divorced? When [her husband] removes her from his home and sends her on her own or when she leaves his domain and goes her own way. They have no written divorce proceedings.[70]The matter is not dependant on the man’s [volition] alone.[71] Whenever he or she decide to separate, they may [and then, are no longer considered as married.][72]
  9. A gentile is liable for [violating the prohibition against] theft whether he stole from another gentile or from a Jew.[73][This applies to] one who forcefully robs [an individual] or steals money,[74] a kidnapper,[75] an [employer who] withholds his worker’s wages and the like,[76] even a worker who eats [from his employer’s produce] when he is not working.[77] In all [such cases], he is liable and is considered as a robber. With regard to Jews, the law is different.[78]Similarly, [a gentile] is liable [for stealing an object] worth less than a p’rutah.[79] Thus, if one gentile stole [an object] worth less than a p’rutah and another [gentile] stole it from him, they are both executed because of it.[80]
  10. Similarly, [a gentile] is liable [for violating the prohibition against] eating a limb[81] or flesh from a living creature.[82] [This applies] regardless of the amount involved, for [the specification of] minimum amounts only applies to Jews.[83][A gentile] is permitted blood from a living creature.[84]
  11. [The prohibition applies] to a limb[85] or flesh[86] that is separated from either a domesticated animal or a beast.[87] However, it appears to me[88] that a gentile is not executed for eating a limb [taken] from a living bird.[89]
  12. Though one slaughters an animal, even if one severs the two signs [that distinguish it as having been slaughtered in a kosher manner],[90] as long as the animal moves convulsively,[91] the limbs and meat which are separated from it are forbidden to a gentile because of the prohibition against a limb from a living creature.[92]
  13. All prohibitions that apply to a Jew regarding a limb from a living creature also apply to gentiles. Furthermore, there are instances where a gentile would be held liable and a Jew will not for a gentile is liable for a limb or flesh from a living creature whether from a domesticated animal or a beast, whether from a kosher or non-kosher species.[93]Similarly, a gentile is forbidden [to partake of] a limb from a living creature for a limb or flesh which is separated from an animal that is moving convulsively even though a Jew has already severed the two signs.[94]
  14. How must [the gentiles] fulfill the commandment to establish laws and courts? They are obligated to set up judges and magistrates in every major city[95] to render judgement concerning these six mitzvot[96] and to admonish the people [regarding their observance].[97]A gentile who transgresses these seven commands shall be executed[98] by decapitation.[99] For this reason, all the inhabitants of Shechem were obligated to die. Shechem kidnapped.[100] They observed and were aware of [his deeds], but did not judge him.[101]A gentile is executed [on the basis of the testimony of] one witness[102] and [the verdict of] a single judge.[103] No warning [is required].[104] Relatives may serve as witnesses.[105] However, a woman may not serve as a witness or a judge for them.[106]




[1]Sanhderin 56a relates that Adam was commanded regarding all seven commands. Nevertheless, the Rambam choose to quote from Bereishit Rabbah 16:6 which mentions the seventh command, the prohibition against eating flesh taken from a living animal, as being given to Noah.  It appears that the Rambam chose the latter source because man was not permitted to consume flesh at all until after the flood. Together with the license to eat meat, God explicitly forbade Noah from eating flesh from a live animal.

[2]. The Midrash derives all these six prohibitions from the exegesis of Genesis 2:16: “And God the Lord commanded to man, saying: @53You may eat of all the trees of the garden….@54 As evident from Hoshea 5:11, tzav, “command,” serves as an allusion to the worship of false gods. This prohibition is discussed in Halachah 2.

[3]. The mention of God’s name develops an association between this verse and the prohibition against cursing God mentioned in Leviticus 24:16. This prohibition is discussed in Halachah 3.

[4]. The Hebrew terms translated as “to man” refer to the command against murder, as mentioned in Genesis 9:6. This prohibition is discussed in Halachah 4.

[5]. The word, “saying,” establishes an analogy between this verse and Jeremiah 3:1 which mentions this prohibition. It is discussed in Halachot 5-8.

[6]. This is derived from the license granted by the verse to eat from the trees of the garden, implying that otherwise, Adam would have been forbidden to do so because the property did not belong to him. This prohibition is discussed in Halachah 9.

[7]. This command is inferred from the word Elohim. For although that term also means “Lord,” Exodus 22:27 uses that term in reference to a judge. This command is discussed in Halachah 14.

[8]. This prohibition is discussed in Halachot 10-13.

[9]. Other commentaries explain that gentiles are obligated to perform other mitzvot, for example, honoring one’s parents (See Rashi, Genesis 11:32) and charity (See Eichah 4:6). The Ran (Sanhderin 56b) relates that the number seven only applies to prohibitions. However, there are other positive commands that gentiles are obligated to fulfill.

[10]. Genesis 17:10 related God’s command to Abraham: “This is My covenant between Me and you and your offspring… Circumcise every male.”

As the Rambam writes in Chapter 10, Halachah 7, from that time onwards, the Jews were obligated to observe the mitzvah of circumcision. However, Leviticus 12:3 repeats the command to circumcise. In his Commentary on the Mishnah (Chullin 7:6), the Rambam explains the need for this repetition:

All the [mitzvot] we fulfill should be carried out because of God’s command transmitted by Moses… We do not circumcise ourselves because Abraham circumcised himself, but because God commanded us, through Moses, to circumcise ourselves.

At Mount Sinai, the Jews were singled out by God to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Thus, the mitzvot given then differ, in purpose as well as in number, from the mitzvot given the gentiles. The gentiles’ seven mitzvot are intended to establish a stable and moral society. The purpose of the 613 mitzvot is to establish a complete bond between God and every aspect of man’s personality.

Similarly, the mystical nature of the commands differ. Kiddushin 31a relates that one who carries out a mitzvah in fulfillment of God’s command is greater than one who does so out of his own volition. Why? Because by fulfilling a mitzvah commanded by God, man steps beyond his humanity and performs deeds that are Godly in nature. This quality was granted to the mitzvot at Sinai and not beforehand. Consequently, all the mitzvot previously commanded to the forefathers had to be repeated.

[11]. Genesis 19:27 relates how “Abraham rose early in the morning, [hurrying] to the place where he stood before God.” Berachot 26b infers that this applies to his morning prayers.

Kiddushin 82a states that Abraham fulfilled the entire Torah before it was given. This statement raises a question: Why does the Rambam only mention circumcision and the morning service as mitzvot which Abraham performed?

The commentaries explain that the Rambam only mentions those commands explicitly mentioned or clearly alluded to in the Torah. Furthermore, it is possible that the manner in which the Abraham and his descendants fulfilled the other commands differ from the manner in which we fulfill them today. For example, the Zohar writes that Ya’akov’s placing the rods before Laban’s sheep drew down the same spiritual energies as our donning of Tefillin.

[12]. Genesis 26:12 mentions how “Isaac reaped one hundred measures.” Bereishit Rabbah 64:6 explains that he measured his crop in order to give tithes.

The Ra’avad questions why the Rambam does not count tithes as one of the mitzvot instituted by Abraham for Genesis 14:20 explicitly mentions Abraham’s separation of tithes. The commentaries explain that Isaac and not Abraham, originated the mitzvah of tithing produce as mandated by the Torah.  Abraham tithed the booty he conquered in war. In contrast, according to Scriptural Law, the mitzvah to tithe applies only to certain agriculture products.

[13]. Genesis 24:63 relates how “Isaac went out in the fields to pray toward evening.”

[14]. Genesis 32:26 relates that when Jacob was wrestling with Esau’s archangel, the latter was able to dislocate Jacob’s hip joint. Verse 33 continues: “Therefore, the children of Israel do not eat the displaced nerve on the hip joint.” The nerve in question is the major nerve of the lower extremity, running down the back of the leg.

[15]. Genesis 28:11 relates that “Jacob encountered the place and spent the night there, because the sun had set.” Berachot (ibid.) explains that implied by the Hebrew is the recitation of the evening prayers.

[16]. The Kessef Mishneh questions the source for the Rambam’s statements, asking which mitzvot were commanded to Amram. Some commentaries point to the statements of the Mechiltah (Exodus 19:10) that before the giving of the Torah, Moses reviewed the mitzvot which the Jews had been given in Egypt. Since Amram served as the leader of the people, these mitzvot were probably given to him.

Others explain that the Mechilta could be referring to the mitzvot of matzah, marror, and the other elements of the Passover sacrifice given to Moses and not mitzvot given to Amram. They suggest that the Rambam is referring to the mitzvot of divorce and marriage. When Pharaoh commanded the Egyptians to drown the Jewish babies, Amram divorced his wife. Later, at the suggestion of his daughter, Miriam, he remarried her.

[17]. As explained above, there is a difference between the mitzvot given to the gentiles and those commanded the Jews.

[18]. Every false god has an accepted manner in which its adherents serve it. The idol worshippers established many [different] services for each particular idol and image. The service of one does not resemble the service of another (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 3:2). A person does not incur the death penalty unless he worships a false god in its appropriate manner.

[19]. In addition to the sin of serving an idol in its appropriate manner, the death penalty is also given for bowing to one, sacrificing to it, offering incense to it, or pouring libations to it, even if the idol is generally not served in that manner (ibid. 3:3).

[20]. For example, kissing the idol, embracing it, washing it, sweeping before it, and similar acts of affection and reverence (ibid. 3:6).

[21]. A structure which attracts people and motivates them to gather around it. Construction of such a structure is forbidden even as an act of reverence to God (ibid. 6:6).

[22]. A tree which is worshipped (ibid. 8:3). The Zohar (Vol. I 49b) relates that worshippers of the moon would employ such trees in their services.

[23]. This is not a general prohibition against all artwork. In Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 3:10, the Rambam explains that it only applies to sculptures of human faces. Other images and paintings, imprints, and tapestries of humans are not forbidden.

[24]. The Rambam uses the word berach which literally meaning “blesses” as a euphemism.

[25]HilchotAvodah Zarah 2:7 explains that this refers to the name Adonai and, of course, the name Y-H-V-H which is only to be mentioned in the Temple.

[26]. The term kinui implies any name used to describe God and not necessarily, one of the seven names, e.g., El or Shaddai which are holy and may not be erased.

[27]Hilchot Avodat Kochavim (ibid.) explains that a Jew is only liable if he mentions either the name Adonai or the name Y-H-V-H in  the curse.

The obligation of gentiles in instances where Jews are exempt is not accepted by all Talmudic authorities (Note Sanhderin 56a). The Kessef Mishneh questions why the Rambam follows the more severe opinion.

[28]. Intentionally, see Halachah 10:1.

[29]. This refers to a person who intentionally delivered a blow to the mother which caused the fetus to die. A Jew would not be held guilty of murder for such an act (See Exodus 21:22, Hilchot Chovel UMazik 4:1). However, a gentile is considered liable.

It is obvious from this statement that abortion is equated with murder and is only permitted in certain instances where the mother’s life is threatened.

[30]. Genesis 9:6 states: “He who spills human blood shall have his own blood spilled.”

[31]. This refers to a person who is trefe,  possessing a blemish or illness which would cause his death within twelve months. A Jew who kills such a person is not given the death penalty (Hilchot Rotzeach 2:8).

[32]. Other texts substitute “in a lion’s mouth” for the latter phrase.

[33]. With regard to a Jew who commits such an act, Hilchot Rotzeach 3:10 states:

A person who… starves a colleague to death or… sets a dog or snake upon him: in all cases of this nature, the person is not executed. Nevertheless, he is considered a murderer and the One who avenges blood will seek his blood.

[34]. A person is allowed to kill a person who is trying to kill or rape another individual (Hilchot Rotzeach 1:6-12). However, this leniency is only granted when there is no other alternative.

[35]. For he is not allowed to kill him. In contrast, if a Jewish pursuer kills a Jewish attacker under similar circumstances, “he is considered guilty of murder and obligated to die. However, he is not executed by the court” (ibid. 1:13).

[36]. There are many more relationships forbidden to a Jew. See Leviticus, Chapter 17, Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah, Chapters 1 and 2.

[37]. This applies even if she is not his father’s wife. See the following halachah.

[38]. This applies even if she is not his mother, and even after his father’s death.

[39]. As mentioned in the commentary to Chapter 8, Halachah 3, a Jew is not liable for adultery if he engages in relations with a gentile’s wife. Nevertheless, the marriages of gentiles are significant for other gentiles and they are executed for committing adultery.

[40]. But not his paternal sister as obvious from the verse quoted below.

[41]. I.e., homosexuality.

[42]. This verse concludes the Torah’s description of the creation of Eve and Adam’s union with her. Thus, it serves as a guide for the sexual behavior of all his descendants.

[43]. For otherwise, there would be no need for such a prohibition for relations with males are explicitly forbidden.

[44]. It is interesting to note that there is no prohibition against relations with a daughter.

[45]. Halachah 7 explain that this refers to a woman who is married (nissuin) and not merely consecrated (erusin).

[46]. Give birth to children (Rashi, on Genesis, ibid.).

[47]. I.e., children can never be born from such a union.

[48]. Abraham made this statement to Avimelech to excuse his behavior in calling Sarah his sister rather than his wife. Abraham explained that she was like his sister (she was his father’s granddaughter). However, he was allowed to marry her because they shared a common paternal ancestor, but not a common maternal ancestor.

[49]. This law is derived from the inclusion of two prohibitions; one against relations with one’s father’s wife and one against relations with one’s mother. If the prohibition against relations with one’s mother only applied to a woman married to one’s father, only one prohibition would be necessary (Sanhderin 58a).

[50]. If not, there would be no need for this prohibition for she would be forbidden as any other married woman (ibid.).

[51]. A Jew is only liable for relations with a male nine years and over. Below that age, the Torah does not consider the child as sexually developed (Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 1:14). The Kessef Mishneh favors the view that the same laws apply to a gentile as to a Jew. The Radbaz maintains that a gentile is liable no matter what the age of the child.

[52]. The age of an animal is of no significance whatsoever. A person is sentenced to death for relations with an animal even on the day of its birth (ibid. 1:16).

[53]. The question of executing the animal was debated and left undecided by Sanhderin 55a. Since no decision was reached, the death penalty is not administered.

[54]. The animal is also executed lest it be seen in the street and the passersby comment: “See that animal! So and so was executed for having relations with it.”

[55]. I.e., vaginal, rather than anal intercourse.

[56]. “Before the Torah was given, a man would meet a woman in the market-place, if both he and she desired to marry, he would bring her to his home and possess her privately, thus, making her his wife.”

“Once the Torah was given, the Israelites were commanded [as follows]: Should a man desire to marry a woman, he must first acquire her in the presence of witnesses. Afterwards, she will become his wife” (Hilchot Ishut 1:1).

The latter paragraph describes the two stages in Jewish marriage: kiddushin and nissuin. Only a Jew is obligated to marry in this fashion. For a gentile, the law remains as it was before the giving of the Torah and the marriage bonds are established through sexual relations alone.

[57]. – When Avimelech took Sarah, Abraham’s wife, God employed this phrase to warn him that relations with her were forbidden. From the use of the phrase “possessed by her husband” as opposed to “another man’s wife” or the like, our Sages derived that the marriage bond was established through sexual relations.

[58]. For capital punishment in the same manner as a Jew. With regard to relations with a Jewess, a gentile sexual offender is never granted greater leniency than a Jew.

[59]. Leviticus 20:22 uses a plural term, mishkavei ishah to describe sexual relations. This expression was chosen to teach us that one is liable for two forms of intercourse, vaginal and anal (Sanhderin 54b).

[60]. The latter term refers to a virgin girl between the ages of twelve and twelve and a half.

[61]. See Deuteronomy 22:23-24. In this specific instance, a more severe penalty is given than in other cases of adultery.

The Jerusalem Talmud (Kiddushin 1:1) mentions that whenever a gentile is given the same punishment as Jews, his trial is also governed by the same laws. Generally, a gentile’s trial is decided by a single judge on the basis of the testimony of a single witness. In this instance, there is obligation for twenty-three judges, two witnesses, a warning and all other elements required in capital cases involving Jews.

The Ran (Sanhderin 57b) does not accept this opinion. He brings proofs that the Babylonian Talmud, on which basis halachah is decided, does not differentiate between this case and other trials involving gentiles.

[62]. Once a couple have undergone the wedding ceremony, the penalty for adultery changes from being stoned to death to strangulation, a less severe means of execution.

[63]. Although a Jew would be sentenced to strangulation for the same sin.

[64]. In the former instances, no punishment would have been exacted for relations with a gentile woman. Hence, the offender is punished according to Jewish law. However, when a parallel offence exists among the seven mitzvot, a gentile is punished accordingly. Decapitation is considered a more severe means of execution than strangulation.

[65]. The slave must also have engaged in relations with the maidservant for the issue of adultery to be raised (Radbaz).

[66]Sanhderin 57a mentions that a master should be executed for such an act. However, the reason for his execution is a matter of debate among the commentaries.

Rashi maintains that there is no concept of marriage with regard to slaves. The master is violating the prohibition against theft, taking the woman he had given to his slave, but not adultery. The Rambam does not accept this view for the slave never really acquired the woman. Nor does he have the potential to do so, for “everything acquired by a servant becomes his master’s property” (Radbaz).

[67]. The fact that the slave had relations with her is not sufficient to establish a bond between them for slaves were known for their lewdness. Their “marriage” is not recognized until the matter is publicly accepted.

[68]. The masculine conjugation of the verb is used implying that it is the master who performs this act.

[69]. Married women are obligated to cover their hair (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 115). Even gentiles would observe this practice.

[70]. A Jew who desires to divorce his wife must give her a bill of divorce (get). This document must be composed by a scribe with expertise and training regarding all the particular laws involved. In contrast, gentiles do not require such a document. Their separation constitutes divorce.

Modern commentaries question whether these laws still apply to gentiles in the present age when most countries have instituted formal divorce proceedings. Since these proceedings are recognized by their court system and the laws established by a country must be observed by its inhabitants, a woman may be considered married until formally divorced.

[71]. This differs from Jewish law. According to Scriptural Law, a husband must initiate divorce and does not need his wife’s consent. In the Middle Ages, Rabbenu Gershon decreed that a woman may not be divorced against her will. However, the husband must willingly decide to grant the divorce.

[72]. The Rambam’s statements are based on the Jerusalem Talmud (ibid.) which states that the gentiles “do not have divorce.” The Ran (Sanhderin 58b) quotes an opinion which interprets that statement to mean that divorce is absolutely forbidden to a gentile couple.

[73]. The converse is also true. A Jew is prohibited against stealing from a gentile (Hilchot Genevah 1:2). However, he is not given the death penalty for such an act.

[74]. Genevah  in Hebrew. In contrast to gezeilah, “robbery,” genevah involves taking someone’s money secretly without the owner’s or the public’s knowledge (Hilchot Genevah 1:3).

[75]. The command “Do not steal” in the Ten Commandments refers to kidnapping. Sanhderin 57a explains how this prohibition applies to gentiles.

[76]. For example, withholding rent due a landlord or the fee charged for the hire of a utensil or other property.

[77]. Deuteronomy 23:25 grants a worker the privilege of eating from the produce he is harvesting. However, this right is only given while he is actually working. Afterwards, taking from the produce is forbidden.

[78]. Though a Jew is also prohibited against all the above, there are different prohibitions involved. He is only labeled a robber if he forcibly taking money in the open.

[79]. A p’rutah was the smallest coin of the time. A Jew is also forbidden to steal this minimal amount. However, should he do so, the matter is not taken to court for surely, the owner is not concerned about the loss of such an insignificant amount (Hilchot Gezeilah 1:6).

[80]. With regard to Jews, though it is forbidden to steal from a thief, the fine the second thief is obligated to pay differs from that required of the first. See Hilchot Genevah 1:17.

[81]. The term limb implies a bone with sinews and nerves as well as meat.

[82]. The Sha’agat Aryeh explains that there is a problem implicit in the Rambam’s statements: A gentile is liable for eating even the slightest amount of meat. Since it is impossible for him to eat a limb that has no meat on it whatsoever, it appears superfluous to mention two prohibitions: one against eating a limb and the other against eating meat.

[83]. A Jew is also bound by these prohibitions. However, he is not liable for punishment until he consumes a minimum measure, the size of an olive (approx. one ounce), of these forbidden foods. Eruvin 4a explains that the concept of minimum amounts is part of the oral tradition which was given to Israel alone. Hence, the gentiles are liable for eating even the slightest amount of meat.

[84]. Genesis 9:4, the source for the prohibition against eating flesh from a living animal, states: “You may not eat flesh with its life, which is its blood.” Nevertheless, Sanhderin 59a relates that this verse does not prohibit a gentile from drinking blood taken from a living animal. In contrast, a Jew is prohibited against drinking all blood, whether taken from an animal before its slaughter or afterwards.

[85]. The term limb implies a bone with sinews and nerves as well as meat.

[86]. In Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot (5:2), the Rambam writes:

One is not liable for [the prohibition of] a limb from a living creature unless the limb is separated… with its flesh, sinews, and bones.

However, if only flesh is separated from a living creature, [a person who eats it] is liable for [the prohibition against eating] trefe [meat], but is not liable for [the prohibition against] a limb from a living creature.

The Kessef Mishneh notes that a gentile is permitted trefe meat and questions why he is prohibited against eating flesh from a living animal.

The Lechem Mishneh replies that the prohibition for Jews and for gentiles are derived from different verses. The verse that prohibits a gentile from eating a limb from a living creature states; “You may not eat flesh with its life,” explicitly mentioning flesh.

[87]. Though the Torah occasionally differentiates between these types of animals, in this instance, the same laws apply.

[88]. Throughout the Mishneh Torah, the use of this expression implies that the Rambam does not have an explicit Talmudic or Midrashic source to substantiate his statements. However, an analysis of the different references to the subject leads to this conclusion.

[89]. The Ra’avad does not accept this statement and maintains that a gentile is liable for eating flesh from a living bird. He is only exempt from eating flesh from a living creeping animal, sheretz in Hebrew.

The Radbaz defends the Rambam’s statements, noting that though Chullin 101b obligates Jews for eating flesh taken from a living bird, gentiles may be exempt from that prohibition. The verse which describes the gentiles’ prohibition mentions, basar “meat.” Nedarim 54b relates an argument among the Sages where meat from a bird is considered “meat” or not. Thus, though a gentile is forbidden from eating such meat, he is not executed as punishment.

[90]. Kosher slaughter involves slitting the gullet and the wind-pipe. Once this is done, the animal will surely die within moments.

[91]. After slaughter, an animal will frequently move its limbs convulsively for a short time.

[92]. The animal is considered alive until it stops moving. The Radbaz states that although a prohibtion exists, since the animal has been ritually slaughtered, a gentile is not executed for violating this prohibition.

[93]. In contrast, a Jew is only liable for eating a limb from a kosher species (Hilchot Ma’acholot Assurot 5:1). The prohibition against a Jew’s eating such meat is derived from the verse (Deuteronomy 12:23): “Do not eat the flesh with its life.” Chullin 102a explains that the prohibition only applies to flesh that we are permitted to eat. Such an exclusion does not apply regarding gentiles.

[94]. A Jew is not held liable under such circumstances. Chullin 121b permits a gentile to eat flesh from an animal slaughtered in this fashion and the Rashbah and other authorities accept this view. However, the Rambam follows Chullin 33a which forbid a gentile from eating this meat.

[95]Hilchot Sanhderin 1:1 obligates the Jews to set up courts “in every major city and town.” However, that obligation applies only in Eretz Yisrael. In the Diaspora, they are only obligated to establish courts in every major city (ibid. 1:2). Similarly, gentiles need not establish courts in towns.

[96]. The Ramban (Genesis 34:13) disagrees and explains that the main function of these courts was not to deal with the ritual elements of these mitzvot, but rather to deal with civil cases, e.g. petty theft, wage disputes, and fraud.

[97]. To cite a parallel: Tanna D’bei Eliyahu (Chapter 11) also stresses that a court’s responsibilities extend beyond the realm of judgement: “The Sanhderin is obligated to tie iron garters around their loins, lift their robes above their ankles… and travel throughout the villages of Israel… teaching the nation.”

[98]. In contrast to a Jew, a gentile offender is executed for the violation of even the slightest command. As mentioned in the commentary to Halachah 1 of this chapter, the gentiles were created in order to allow for the maintenance of a stable and orderly world. All the seven commands have that intent. Hence, by violating one of those seven commands, they contradict their very purpose for existence.

[99]. See the commentary to Chapter 3, Hachahah 8.

[100]. Genesis 33:18 relates that during Jacob’s return journey from Padan Aram to his father’s home, he camped outside the city of Shechem. Shechem, prince of the city, kidnapped Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, and raped her.

[101]. As retribution, Shimon and Levi, two of Jacob’s sons slew every male in the entire city.

The Ramban (ibid.) does not accept the Rambam’s interpretation of those events. He notes that Jacob severely reprimanded his sons for their behavior and did not forgive them even on his deathbed. Had Shimon and Levi administered just and due punishment, Jacob surely would not have criticized them in this fashion.

Other commentaries defend the Rambam’s opinion, explaining that Jacob did not object to the sentence administered by his sons, but rather to the guile which they employed in order to enable them to execute it (see Genesis 34: 13-25).

[102]. Two witnesses are required for even the slightest case in Jewish law (Hilchot Edut 5:1).

[103]. In Jewish law, capital cases are decided by 23 judges (Hilchot Sanhderin 5:2).

[104]. In contrast, a Jew is not punished for violation of a sin until he is warned that the act he is about to commit is a sin and that, in retribution, the appropriate punishment is given (Hilchot Sanhderin 12:1-2).

[105]Hilchot Edut, Chapter 13 describes the relatives whose testimony is not accepted in court in cases involving Jews.

[106]. She is also disqualified in Jewish law (Hilchot Edut 9:2).

  1. A gentile who inadvertently violates one of his commandments is exempt from all [punishment][1] with the exception of a person who kills inadvertently.[2] [In such an instance,] the redeemer of the blood[3] is not executed for slaying [the killer],[4] nor may the latter [seek asylum] in a city of refuge.[5] However, the court will not execute him.When does the above apply? When he inadvertently violates a command without [sinful] intention; for example, a person who engages in relations with his colleague’s wife under the impression that she is his own wife or unmarried.[6]If, however, one knew that she was his colleague’s wife, but did not know that she was forbidden to him or it occurred to him that this act was permitted[7] or one killed without knowing that it is forbidden to kill,[8] he is considered close to [having sinned] intentionally and is executed. This is not considered as an inadvertent violation. For he should have learned [the obligations incumbent upon him] and did not.[9]
  2. A gentile who is forced by another person to violate one of his commandments is permitted to transgress.[10] Even if he is forced to worship false gods, he may worship them.[11] For [gentiles] are not commanded to sanctify God’s name.[12]A gentile minor, deaf-mute, or fool[13] is never given punishment for they are not [bound by any] commandments.[14]
  3. A gentile who converted, was circumcised, and immersed [in the mikveh],[15] and, afterwards, decided to forsake God and revert to his previous [status as] a resident alien is not granted permission to do so. Rather, he must remain as an Israelite in all matters or be executed.[16]If he was a minor and immersed by the court,[17] he may repudiate [his conversion] when he attains majority and assume the status of a resident alien alone.[18] However, if he does not object as soon as he attains majority, he is no longer given the opportunity to object and his [status] is that of a righteous convert.[19]Therefore, if a Jew has relations with a girl below the age of majority[20] who was immersed [in the mikveh] by a court,[21] the money due her as payment of her ketubah[22] or as a fine for raping her[23] or seducing her[24] is placed in the custody of the court until she attains majority and does not repudiate her conversion. [This step is taken] lest she take the money, attain majority, and then, repudiate her conversion. Thus, she would derive benefit as a gentile from monies to which she is only entitled according to Jewish law. [25]
  4. A gentile who converts after cursing God’s name, worshipping false gods, engaging in relations with a colleague’s wife, or killing a fellow gentile[26] is exempt [from punishment].[27][In contrast,] if he converted after killing a Jew[28] or having relations with a Jew’s wife, he is liable.[29] He is decapitated for [killing] the Jew[30] and strangled to death for engaging in relations with a Jew’s wife.[31] [He is given the latter punishment] because the laws governing him have changed.[32]
  5. It has already been explained that gentiles are always executed by decapitation[33] except in cases when one engages in relations with the wife of a Jew or a consecrated maiden. [In the latter instance,] he is stoned to death.[34]If he engaged in relations with a Jew’s wife after they married, but before they ever engaged in relations, he is executed by strangulation.[35]
  6. According to the Oral Tradition,[36] gentiles are forbidden to cross-breed animals and graft different species of trees together.[37]However, they are not executed for [violating this prohibition.][38]A gentile who gave a Jew a blow is liable to die[39] for causing even the most minimal damage.[40] Nevertheless, he is not executed.[41]
  7. Only Abraham and his descendants were commanded regarding circumcision as [Genesis 17:9-10] states: “[Keep My covenant,] you and your offspring… [circumcise every male].”[42]The descendants of Ishmael are excluded as implied by [Genesis 21:12]: “It is through Isaac, that your offspring will be called.”[43] Esau’s [descendants] are also excluded,[44] for Isaac told Jacob [Genesis 28:4]: “May [God] grant Abraham’s blessing to you and your descendants,” implying that only he is the true offspring of Abraham who maintains his faith and his upright behavior. Thus, they [alone] are obligated in circumcision. [45]
  8. Our Sages related[46] that the descendants of Keturah who are the offspring of Abraham that came after Isaac and Ishmael[47] are also obligated in circumcision.[48] Since, at present, the descendants of Ishmael have become intermingled with the descendants of Keturah,[49] they are all obligated to be circumcised[50] on the eighth day.[51] However, they are not executed for [failure to perform this mitzvah].[52]
  9. A gentile who studies the Torah[53] is obligated to die.[54] They should only be involved in the study of their seven mitzvot.[55]Similarly, a gentile who rests,[56] even on a weekday, observing that day as a Sabbath,[57] is obligated to die. Needless to say, [he is obligated for that punishment] if he creates a festival for himself.[58]The general principle governing these matters is: They are not to be allowed to originate a new religion or create mitzvot for themselves based on their own decisions.[59] They may either become righteous converts and accept all the mitzvot or retain their statutes without adding or detracting from them.If [a gentile] studies the Torah, makes a Sabbath, or creates a [religious] practice, a [Jewish court] should beat him,[60] punish him,[61]and inform him that he is obligated to die.[62] However, he is not to be executed.
  10. We should not prevent a gentile who desires to perform one of the Torah’s mitzvot[63] in order to receive reward from doing so,[64][provided] he performs it as required.[65] If he brings [an animal to be sacrificed] as a burnt offering, we should receive it.[66]If a gentile [who observes the seven mitzvot] gives charity, we should accept it from him. It appears to me that it should be given to the Jewish poor for the gentile [may] derive his sustenance from the Jews and they are commanded to support him [if necessary].[67] In contrast, if an idolater gives charity, we should accept it from him[68] and give it to the gentile poor.[69]
  11. The Jewish court is obligated to appoint judges for these resident aliens[70] to judge them according to these statutes so that the world will not become decadent.[71]If the court sees fit to appoint the judges from [the resident aliens] themselves, they may. If it sees fit to appoint them from among the Jews, they may.
  12. Should two idolaters[72] come before you to [have their dispute] judged according to Jewish law.[73] If they both desire to be judged according to Torah law, they should be judged [accordingly]. If one desires [to be judged according to Torah law] and the other does not,[74] they are only forced to be judged according to their own laws.[75]If there is [a dispute between] a Jew and an idolater: If the Jew will fare better according to their laws, they are judged according to their laws. [When the judgement is rendered, the judges] explain: “Your law obligates this judgement.” If the Jew will fare better according to our laws, they are judged according to Torah law. [When the judgement is rendered, the judges] explain: “Our law obligates this judgement.”[76] It appears to me that this approach is not followed in regard to a resident alien. Rather, he is always judged according to their laws.[77]Similarly, it appears to me that in regard to respect and honor and also, in regard to charity, a resident alien is to be treated as a Jew for behold, we are commanded to sustain them as [Deuteronomy 14:21] states: “[You may not eat any animal that has not been properly slaughtered…] give it to the resident alien in your gates that he may eat it.”[78] Though our Sages counseled against repeating a greeting to them, that statement applies to idolaters and not resident aliens.[79][However,] our Sages commanded us to visit the gentiles when ill, to bury their dead[80] in addition to the Jewish dead,[81] and support their poor in addition to the Jewish poor for the sake of peace.[82] Behold, [Psalms 145:9] states: “God is good to all and His mercies extend over all His works” and [Proverbs 3:17] states: “[The Torah’s] ways are pleasant ways and all its paths are peace.”[83]


[1]. In contrast, a Jew is obligated to bring a sin offering for the inadvertent violation of a negative command.

Makkot 9a,b derives the exemption of a gentile from Avimelech’s dialogue with God after he took Sarah (Genesis 20:3-7). God told Avimelech that he was liable to die. Avimelech protested that he did not know she was married and hence, had acted inadvertently. God replied that generally, an inadvertent offence is pardoned. However, in this instance, Avimelech would be held responsible. If his servants had not pressured Abraham concerning Sarah, he would never have said she was his sister.

[2]. In such an instance, a Jew is exiled to a city of refuge (See Hilchot Rotzeach, Chapter 5).

[3]. A relative of the deceased who desires to avenge his death.

[4]. However, he is not obligated to do so (see Hilchot Rotzeach 5:10).

[5]. The Lechem Mishneh notes that this applies to a gentile who has not formally accepted the responsibilities of a resident alien. In regard to a resident alien himself, Hilchot Rotzeach 5:4 explains that he is executed for inadvertently slaying a Jew. However, if he inadvertently kills another resident alien, he may seek asylum in a city of refuge as Numbers 35:15 states: “These six cities will be a place of refuge for the Israelites, converts, and residents among them” (ibid. 5:3).

[6]. In such an instance, the gentile has no intent to violate God’s will. The commentaries explain that he is only freed of liability if he was misled concerning the identity of the woman with whom he engaged in relations. Otherwise, he is responsible to check to make sure no prohibition is involved.

[7]. Certainly, one should realize that relations with another person’s wife are not permitted.

[8]Makkot 9a relates that, in a similar circumstance, a Jew is not allowed to seek asylum in a city of refuge. Though he is not executed by the court, he must always live in dread of the redeemer of the blood (Hilchot Rotzeach 6:5).

[9]. As mentioned at the conclusion of Chapter 8, all the seven mitzvot are concepts that can and should be intellectually comprehended. Every individual should appreciate these basic statutes or, at the very least, realize the need for rules within a society and seek guidance from others.

[10]. In contrast, a Jew is obligated to sacrifice his life rather than transgress three sins: idol worship, murder, and illicit sexual relations. Furthermore, when the gentiles attempt to stamp out Jewish practice, we are obligated to sacrifice our lives for the performance of other mitzvot (See Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 5:1-4).

Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 5:6 relates that similar principles apply with regard to remedies. If a person is ill and can be healed by the violation of one of the Torah’s commands, e.g. eating non-kosher food, he may violate that command in order to save his life or health. In this instance as well, a differentiation is made regarding the three sins mentioned above. Even if a Jew is deathly ill, he may not violate these commands.

The commentaries question whether a gentile may heal himself through the violation of the seven mitzvot. The wording used by the Rambam “be forced by another person” might imply that only under such circumstances may a gentile violate the seven commands. License is granted because he is not acting voluntarily. In contrast, the willful transgression of a command, even for the sake of a remedy, is not permitted.

However, this differentiation is not accepted by all opinions. Many explain that even in this instance, a gentile may violate a command to save his life.

[11]. II Kings, Chapter 5 relates how Elisha, the prophet, cured Naaman, commander of the Syrian forces, of leprosy. After his miraculous cure, Naaman exclaimed “Now, I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

Naaman willingly accepted the seven commandments. However, he made one provision: “May God pardon his servant when my master goes down to the house of Rimon and prostrates himself there. For my master leans on my hand and I also prostrate myself.” Elisha made no comment, seemingly indicating that his behavior was acceptable (Sanhderin 75a).

[12]. The commandment to sanctify God’s name states (Leviticus 22:32): “I shall be sanctified in the midst of Israel;” implying that it only applies to Jews (Jerusalem Talmud, Sh’vi’it 4:3).

[13]. For they are not capable of taking responsibility for their conduct.

[14]. According to Torah law, Jewish children are not obligated to perform any mitzvot. Nevertheless, our Sages required their parents to train them in the observance of Torah and mitzvot. The commentaries question if gentiles are also obligated to train their offspring regarding their mitzvot.

[15]. Conversion requires these three steps (Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 12:4).

[16]. Judaism is not a faith which is merely intellectually accepted. Rather, it constitutes an essential part of one’s being and defines one’s very essence. Therefore, a Jew can never leave his faith. Regardless of his behavior, he will always remain a Jew.

The same principles apply to a convert. With his acceptance of Judaism and performance of the conversion rites, he becomes a full Jew. In this regard, no distinction can be made between him and a native-born Israelite. Thus, a return to his previous status is impossible.

[17]Ketubot 11a relates that a court has the right to take this step on the child’s behalf for it is to his advantage to become part of the Jewish faith.

It must be emphasized that the court need not seek potential converts. However, if a gentile minor seeks to convert or a child’s parents who have themselves converted wish their children to share their new faith, then, the court may take this step. Similarly, if the court feels that it is in the child’s best interest to convert, they may convert him (Kessef Mishneh).

[18]. A convert must willingly accept Judaism. Since a child is not responsible for his actions, his acceptance as a minor is not significant and he is given this choice when he attains majority.

[19]. The Ran (Ketubot, ibid.) questions when this objection must be made. No attention is paid to the objection if it is made when the child is a minor or after he attains majority. To require the statement to be made at the precise moment when the child reaches majority is difficult.

Thus, he concludes that the child must repudiate his conversion before attaining majority. Afterwards, if he does not resume Jewish practice before attaining majority, it is considered as if he never converted.

[20]. As will be explained, this applies whether they engaged in relations within or outside the context of marriage.

[21]. As part of the conversion process.

[22]. In the event the man marries her. The marriage contract includes a provision for a sum to be given the woman in the event of death or divorce.

[23]. Deuteronomy 22:29 requires a person who rapes a virgin girl to pay 50 silver shekels as a fine.

[24]. Exodus 22:15 obligates a similar fine to be paid for seducing a virgin girl. Ketubot, ibid., specifies that these fines are only paid if the girl converts before the age of three.

[25]. Nevertheless, as soon as the obligation is incurred, the money is given to the court. Thus, in the case of divorce, the convert’s husband will not think that he will be freed of the obligation of a ketubah and the rapist or seducer will have to take responsibility for his acts immediately.

[26]. The same law applies to a gentile who converts after eating flesh from a living animal, stealing, or ignoring his responsibility to judge his colleagues. However, since a Jew is not given the death penalty for these sins, the Rambam did not feel it necessary to mention them.

[27]. Rashi (Sanhderin 71b) explains that he is exempt from punishment because, as a Jew, the process by which he is to be judged has changed (he must be warned, two witnesses must observe him, etc.) and his sentence is changed. He receives a more severe death penalty (for cursing God or idol worship) or no penalty at all (for killing or engaging in relations with a gentile).

Most commentaries agree that this law applies even if a gentile converted after being sentenced to death. However, some authorities maintain that in such an instance, the death sentence remains in force. They base their opinion on Hilchot Mamrim 7:9 which explains that a rebellious son is only executed before he attains the age of thirteen and three months. However, if he is sentenced to death before that time and flees, he is executed even after he reaches that age.

[28]. As a gentile, he would receive the same punishment.

[29]. Though the process by which he is to be judged has changed, the sentence remains the same or is lighter. Hence, he is still held responsible for his deeds (ibid.).

[30]. As a gentile, he would receive the same punishment.

[31]. As a gentile, this deed would be punished by decapitation, a more severe form of execution.

[32]. See Lechem Mishneh.

A gentile who converted after stealing from a Jew must restore the stolen property. However, according to most authorities, a gentile who converted after eating flesh from a living animal is not punished by lashes as a Jew would be.

[33]. See Chapter 9, Halachah 14, Chapter 3, Halachah 8.

[34]. In the Yemenite manuscripts of the Mishneh Torah, the word “or” is omitted. Thus, the phrase reads “a consecrated maiden married to a Jew.” This version is preferable because relations with a married Jewess are punished by decapitation as explained in Chapter 9, Halachah 7.

[35]. This law is also mentioned in Chapter 9, Halachah 7. Indeed, the entire halachah is redundant. However, it is included to summarize the laws regarding a gentile’s execution. Until now, all the sins mentioned carried the penalty of execution by the court. In contrast, though some of the violations mentioned in the following halachot are punishable by death by the hand of God, an earthly court administers no retribution.

[36]Sanhderin 56b.

[37]. These prohibitions are included in the category of kilayim. Jews are also forbidden to grow different species of crops in the same field and wear garments that combine linen and wool. See Leviticus 19:19.

[38]Sanhderin 57a considers it an accepted tradition that gentiles are only executed for the violation of seven sins.

[39]. By the hand of God.

[40]Sanhderin 58b explains that Moses killed an Egyptian taskmaster (Exodus 2:11) for violating this prohibition.

[41]. The Maharshah (Sanhderin, ibid.) states that, as above, the Sages accepted the tradition that only seven mitzvot are punishable by death. Based on that decision, he explains that Moses’ act was an exception. With prophetic intuition, Moses saw that no good would ever come from this Egyptian and therefore, slew him.

[42]Sanhderin 59a,b relates that any mitzvah which was given before Sinai and repeated at Sinai is incumbent on both Jews and gentiles. However, circumcision is not governed by this principle for, as obvious from the verse quoted, it was specifically given only to Abraham and his descendants.

This halachah is included because the Rambam wanted to contrast the obligation of the descendants of Keturah mentioned in the following halachah with the obligation of the gentiles to keep their seven mitzvot. This halachah is a necessary preface to that law.

[43]. The verse implies that only Isaac is considered Abraham’s spiritual progeny and it is through him, that he will attain posterity. Hence, his descendants and not those of Ishmael are obligated in circumcision.

[44]Yalkut Shimoni, Toldot, relates that Esau circumcised his descendants as long as Isaac was alive.

[45]Sanhderin 59b derives the exclusion of Esau from Genesis 21:12. The expression “through Isaac,” biYitzchak, can also be rendered as “in Isaac,” implying “not all of Isaac”. It is curious why the Rambam quotes another source when an explicit Talmudic reference exists.

[46]Sanhderin 59b.

[47]. Genesis 25:1 mentions that after Sarah’s death, Abraham married another woman, Keturah. She bore him six sons.

[48]. Since they were born after God commanded Abraham to circumcise all his descendants, they are obligated to be circumcised.

[49]. Both settled in the Arabian desert.

[50]. Because of the doubt involved in their lineage.

[51]. As the Jews are. Ishmael was born before Abraham’s circumcision and was circumcised at the age of thirteen. Many Arabs follow the custom of circumcising their children at that age.

In Jewish law, circumcision is a two staged process involving milah – cutting the foreskin, and priyah – ripping open the thin membrane covering the crown of the penus. Tosafot(Yevamot 71b) states that Abraham (and thus, the descendants of Keturah) were not required to perform priyah. However, the Rambam does not make this distinction.

[52]. The commentaries ask a general question concerning this halachah: As explained in the notes to Chapter 5, Halachah 4, Sannecherib, king of Assyria conquered many countries and engaged in mass population transfers, thus, obliterating the national identity of most of Israel’s neighbors. If so, why was the status of Keturah’s descendants left unaffected?

[53]. Other than their seven mitzvot.

[54]. At the hand of God. Sanhderin 59a comments: Deuteronomy 33:4 states: “The Torah which Moses commanded us is the heritage of the childen of Israel.” “It is our heritage and not theirs.” The passage continues, noting the connection between the word   morashah, “heritage” and meurasah, “consecrated” and explains that a gentile’s study of Torah is equivalent to adultery.

[55]. As mentioned in Halachah 8:10, the Jews have an obligation to instruct the gentiles in the performance of their seven mitzvot.

A gentile who is well versed in the particular laws involved in the observance of his seven mitzvot is worthy of more respect than a unlearned High Priest (Sanhderin, ibid.).

The seven mitzvot are by no means a narrow field of study. The Meiri (Sanhderin, ibid.) states that most elements of the Torah are included within them. For example, to observe the prohibition against the worship of false Gods correctly, one must become aware of God’s unity with creation. Accordingly, a number of contemporary Sages have suggested the translation of certain basic Chassidic and Kabbalistic texts into English with the intent that they be studied by gentiles.

[56]. Genesis 8:22 records God’s promise to Noah “As long as the earth lasts… day and night shall not cease.” Yishbotu translated as “cease,” can also be interpreted as “rest.” Thus, Sanhderin 58b interprets the verse as a command prohibiting Noah’s descendants from resting “day and night.”

[57]. Rashi (Sanhderin, ibid.) explains that not only is a gentile is forbidden to fix a day as a day of rest, he is prohibited against taking a day off from work even to relax. In contrast, the Meiri maintains that the prohibition involves establishing a day of rest. However, a gentile is not prohibited against taking a vacation. The Rambam appears to follow the latter opinion.

[58]. The observance of a festival generally implies a religious content in addition to being a day of rest. Thus, it is surely forbidden.

[59]. At the conclusion of Chapter 11, the Rambam notes that Christianity and Islam have certain redeeming factors for they abolished paganism and “paved the way for the coming of the Moshiach.” Nevertheless, in themselves, these faiths are forbidden and may not be observed even by a gentile.

[60]. As mentioned in Halachah 8:10, the Jews are obligated to compel the gentiles to observe their mitzvot. When we had undisputed rule over Eretz Yisrael, we were able to enforce these mitzvot by administering corporal, and, when required, capital punishment. Even when we no longer have this potential, we are obligated to do whatever possible to make sure the gentiles observe the statutes the Torah established for them.

[61]. I.e., take economic sanctions against him.

[62]. By the hand of God.

[63]. I.e., one of the 613 mitzvot commanded to the Jews aside from Torah study and the Sabbath.

[64]. A person who is not commanded to fulfill a mitzvah receives less reward from God for its observance than one who is commanded. Nevertheless, even in the latter instance, God acknowledges the person’s deeds and grants him blessing.

A gentile may only fulfill mitzvot for the sake of reward. He is forbidden to accept them as obligations incumbent upon him. Thus, his intent must be the very opposite of a Jew’s who serves God for His sake and not for his own.

The commentaries question the source for the Rambam’s statements. Some point to the statements of Kohelet Rabbah, Chapter 1: In the Messianic age, God will proclaim: “Whoever has never eaten pork, come and receive a reward.” Many gentiles will respond and come to receive their reward.

[65]. He must perform the mitzvah in all of its particulars as required by Jewish law. The Radbaz explains that mitzvot which require holiness and purity, for example, tefillin or mezuzah, should be withheld from gentiles.

[66]. The only sacrifice a gentile is allowed to bring is a burnt offering (korban olah) A peace offering or meal offering is not accepted from them. Even the libations which accompany the burnt offering may not be brought by the gentile and are purchased with communal funds (Hilchot Ma’aseh HaKorbonot 3:2,5).

[67]. Leviticus 25:35 states “When your brother becomes impoverished… come to his aid. Help him survive, whether he is an alien or a native [Israelite]” (See Halachah 12). Since such a gentile may benefit from Jewish generosity, charity given by him may be used for the Jewish poor.

[68]Hilchot Matanot Aniyim 8:9 states that if a gentile king or official gives charity to the Jews we should accept it for the sake of peace. However, if no threat of harming our relations with them is involved, it is not proper to receive charity from them (Lechem Mishneh).

[69]. Without publicizing the manner so that the gentile donor will not find out.

Two reasons are given why charity should not be accepted from gentiles:

a) The merit of their generosity will prolong their rule over the Jews (Bava Batra 10b).

b) The fact that Jews feel it necessay to receive charity from gentiles causes Chillul HaShem, the desecration of God’s name, (Rashi, Sanhderin 26b).

[70]. The Radbaz emphasizes that this obligation only applies if the gentiles do not establish their own court system first.

[71]. The commentaries do not cite the source for this law. It is possible that it is derived from the obligation to compel the gentiles to accept the seven mitzvot mentioned in Halachah 8:10.

[72]. In contrast to resident aliens.

[73]. Though the gentiles are not obligated to follow Torah law, they may willingly accept it.

[74]. Preferring to be judged according to the civil laws established by gentile society.

[75]. There are a number of differences between Jewish business law and secular law. For example, Torah law requires Two witnesses and does not accept circumstantial evidence. Similarly, the formal acts of transfer through which propety is acquired differ.

[76]Bava Kama 113a, the source for this statement, continues:

“If there is no way to vindicate the Jew, try to trick the gentile,” these are the words of Rabbi Yishmael.

Rabbi Akiva states: “We should not try to trick him lest it cause the desecration of God’s name.”

Rabbi Akiva’s opinion is accepted as halachah.

[77]. As mentioned above, the Rambam uses the expression “it appears to me” when he has no explicit proof for his statements. Since we are commanded to sustain a resident alien, it is logical to assume that he is judged according to a single standard even though the outcome will not necessarily benefit a fellow Jew.

[78]. The verse concludes “or sell it to a foreigner.” Pesachim 21b comments that it is preferable to give the animal to a resident alien (a gentile who observes the seven mitzvot) than sell it to “a foreigner” (one who does not).

There is a slight problem with the Rambam’s statements. The Talmud makes the above statements on the basis of Leviticus 25:35 which states: “When your brother becomes impoverished… come to his aid. Help him survive, whether he is an alien or a native [Israelite].”

On the surface, it would be preferable to quote that verse for it directly commands us to help a resident alien. However, there is an advantage to the verse quoted by the Rambam. It clearly distinguishes between a resident alien and an idolater.

[79]. For the sake of peace, we are even allowed to greet idolaters. However, it is improper to show them the honor of repeating the greeting (Gittin 61a).

[80]. And comfort their mourners, Hilchot Evel 14:12.

[81]. Rashi (Gittin 61a) emphasizes that the gentiles should not be buried in the same cemetery. See Sanhderin 47a.

[82]. The Radbaz (Hilchot Matanot Aniyim 1:9) stresses that gentiles are only given charity when they come together with the Jewish poor. If gentiles ask for alms alone, they may be refused. Other commentaries maintain that enmity may be aroused even under such circumstances and hence, suggest giving them charity at all times.

[83]. The above apply only in the Diaspora or when the Jews do not have undisputed power over Eretz Yisrael. However, when the Jews have such power, we are not permitted to allow an idolater to dwell among us even temporarily (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 10:6).


The Lubavitcher Rebbe said we are the last generation of exile and the first of redemption


Chapters 11 & 12 of Kings (Hilchos Melachim from the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam

Published by: Sichos In English


Since the time of the Rambam (1135-1204), it has been impossible to discuss the subject of Mashiach and the Era of the Redemption without direct reference to the last two chapters of his monumental halachic code, the Mishneh Torah. For example, it is these two chapters that form the basis of the whole of the next publication of Sichos In English – I Await His Coming Every Day: Studies by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson (shlita) on the Rambam’s Conception of Mashiach and the Ultimate Redemption.

These chapters conclude the final section (Hilchos Melachim – “The Laws Concerning Kings”) of the final book (Sefer Shoftim – “The Book of Judges”) of the Mishneh Torah, and are sometimes referred to separately as Hilchos Melech HaMashiach – “The Laws Concerning King Mashiach.”

The translation of this classic text which Sichos In English presents herewith is not only new, but – unlike almost all of the extant printed editions, even in the Hebrew original – expurgated. All the passages suppressed by various medieval Christian ensors have been translated in full. They appear here in the footnotes that are keyed to the exact positions from which they were deleted.

It is hoped that this publication will give more and more readers
access to one of the major primary sources on the subject of the
coming of Mashiach.

– Sichos In English
24 Sivan, 5751 [June 6, 1991]


  1. In future time, the King Mashiach [1] will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty. He will
    rebuild the [Beis Ha]Mikdash (Holy Temple) and gather in the dispersed remnant of Israel. Then, in his days, all the statutes will be reinstituted as in former times. We will offer sacrifices and observe the Sabbatical and Jubilee years according to all their particulars set forth in the Torah.

Whoever does not believe in him, or does not await his coming, denies not only [the statements of] the other prophets, but also [those of] the Torah and of Moshe, our teacher, for the Torah attests to his coming, stating: [Devarim 30:3-5]

And the Lord your G-d will bring back your captivity and have compassion upon you. He will return and gather you [from among all the nations]…. Even if your dispersed ones are in the furthest
reaches of the heavens, [from there will G-d gather you in]…. G-d will bring you [to the land]….

These explicit words of the Torah include all that was said [on the subject] by all the prophets.

There is also a reference [to Mashiach] in the passage concerning Bilaam, who prophesies about the two anointed [kings]: the first anointed [king] [2], David, who saved Israel from her oppressors, and the final anointed [king] who will arise from among his descendants and save Israel [at the End of Days] [3]. The following [quoted] phrases are from that passage: [Bamidbar 24:17-18]

“I see it, but not now” – This refers to David; “I perceive it, but not in the near future” – This refers to King Mashiach.

“A star shall go forth from Yaakov” – This refers to David; “and a
staff shall arise in Israel” – This refers to King Mashiach.

“He shall crush all of Moab’s princes” – This refers to David, (as
it is written [II Shmuel 8:2], “He smote Moab and measured them with a line”); “he shall break down all of Seth’s descendants” – This  refers to King Mashiach, (about whom it is written [Zechariah 9:10],  “He will rule from sea to sea”).

“Edom will be demolished” – This refers to David, (as it is written
[Cf. II Shmuel 8:6 and 8:14], “Edom became the servants of David”);  “his enemy, Seir, will be destroyed” – This refers to Mashiach, (as  it is written [Ovadiah 1:21], “Saviors will ascend Mount Zion [to  judge the mountain of Esau….]”).

  • Similarly, in regard to the cities of refuge, it is stated [Devarim
    19:8-9], “When G-d will expand your borders… you shall add three  more cities.” This command has never been fulfilled. [Surely,] G-d did not give this command in vain, [and thus the intent was that it be  fulfilled after the coming of Mashiach].


There is no need to cite prooftexts on the concept [of the Mashiach] from the words of the prophets, for all [their] books are filled with it.

  • One should not entertain the notion that the King Mashiach must work miracles and wonders, bring about new phenomena within the world, resurrect the dead, or perform other similar deeds. This is  [definitely] not true.[A proof can be brought from the fact that] that Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest Sages of the Mishnah, was one of the supporters of King Ben Koziva, and would describe him as the King Mashiach. He and all  the Sages of his generation considered him to be the King Mashiach until he was killed because of [his] sins. Once he was killed, they realized that he was not [the Mashiach]. The Sages did not ask him for any signs or wonders.Rather, this is the main thrust of the matter: This Torah, with its  statutes and laws, is everlasting. We may neither add to them nor  detract from them. [4]
  • If a king will arise from the House of David who delves deeply into the study of the Torah and, like David his ancestor, observes its mitzvos as prescribed by the Written Law and the Oral Law; if he will  compel all of Israel to walk in [the way of the Torah] and repair the breaches [in its observance]; and if he will fight the wars of G-d; –  we may, with assurance, consider him Mashiach.If he succeeds in the above, builds the [Beis Ha]Mikdash on its site, and gathers in the dispersed remnant of Israel, he is definitely the  Mashiach. [5]He will then perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to  serve G-d together, as it is written [Zephaniah, 3:9], “I will make the peoples pure of speech so that they will all call upon the Name of G-d and serve Him with one purpose.”


  1. One should not entertain the notion that in the Era of Mashiach any  element of the natural order will be nullified, or that there will be any innovation in the work of creation. Rather, the world will continue according to its pattern.Although Yeshayahu [Yeshayahu 11:6] states, “The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat,” these [words] are an allegory and a riddle. They mean that Israel will dwell securely together with the wicked gentiles who are likened to wolves and leopards, as in the verse [Yirmeyahu 5:6], “A wolf of the deserts despoils them, a leopard watches over their cities.” [In this era, all nations] will return to the true faith and no longer plunder or  destroy. Instead, at peace with Israel, they will eat that which is permitted, as it is written [Yeshayahu 11:7], “The lion shall eat straw like the ox.”Similarly, other prophecies of this nature concerning Mashiach are
    analogies. In the Era of the King Mashiach, everyone will realize what was implied by these metaphors and allusions.
  2. Our Sages taught: [Berachos 34b] “There will be no difference
    between the current age and the Era of Mashiach except [our
    emancipation from] subjugation to the [gentile] kingdoms.”The simple meaning of the words of the prophets appears to imply that the war of Gog and Magog [Yechezkal ch. 38] will take place at the beginning of the Messianic age. Before the war of Gog and Magog, a  prophet will arise to rectify Israel’s conduct and prepare their hearts [for the Redemption], as it is written: [Malachi 3:23] “Behold, I am sending you Eliyah(u) [6] [before the advent of the great and awesome Day of G-d].”

He will not come [in order] to declare the pure, impure, nor to declare the impure, pure; nor [will he come in order] to disqualify the lineage of those presumed to be of flawless descent, nor to validate lineage which is presumed to be blemished. Rather, [he will come in order] to establish peace in the world; as [the above prophecy] continues [Malachi 3:24], “He will bring back the hearts of the fathers to the children.”

Some of the Sages say that Eliyahu will appear [immediately] before the coming of Mashiach.

All these and similar matters cannot be [clearly] known by man until they occur, for they are undefined in the words of the prophets. Even the Sages have no established tradition regarding these matters, beyond what is implied by the verses; hence there is a divergence of opinion among them.

In any case, neither the sequence of these events nor their precise details are among the fundamental principles of the faith. One should not occupy himself at length with the aggadot and midrashim that deal with these and similar matters, nor should he deem them of prime importance, for they bring one to neither the awe nor the love [of G-d].

Similarly, one should not try to calculate the appointed time [for the coming of Mashiach]. Our Sages declared: [Sanhedrin 97b] “May the spirits of those who attempt to calculate the final time [of Mashiach’s coming] expire!” Rather, one should await [his coming] and believe in the general conception of the matter, as we have explained.

  • During the Era of the King Mashiach, once his kingdom has been established and all of Israel has gathered around him, the entire [nation’s] line of descent will be established on the basis of his words, through the prophetic spirit which will rest upon him. As it is written [Loc. cit., v. 3], “He shall sit as a refiner and purifier.”He will purify the lineage of the Levites first, stating that “This one is a priest of defined lineage” and “This one is a Levite of
    defined lineage.” Those whose lineage he does not recognize will be relegated to the status of Israelites. This is implied by the
    following verse: [Ezra 2:63] “The governor said to them, ‘[They shall not eat of the most holy things] until a priest arises [who will wear] the Urim and Tumim.'” From this verse one can infer that the genealogy of those presumed to be of unquestioned [priestly and levitical] lineage will be traced by means of the prophetic spirit, and those  found to be of such lineage will be made known.


He will define the lineage of the Israelites according to their tribe
alone; i.e., he will make known each person’s tribal origin, stating
that “This one is from this tribe” and “This one is from another
tribe.” However, concerning a person who is presumed to be of
unblemished lineage, he will not state that “He is illegitimate,” or
“He is of slave lineage,” for the law rules that once a family has
become intermingled [within the entire Jewish people], they may remain intermingled.

  • The Sages and prophets did not yearn for the Messianic Era in order that [the Jewish people] rule over the entire world, nor in order that they have dominion over the gentiles, nor that they be exalted by them, nor in order that they eat, drink and celebrate. Rather, their aspiration was that [the Jewish people] be free Ito involve themselves] in Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress or disturb them, and thus be found worthy of life in the World to Come, as we explained in Hilchos Teshuvah.
  • In that Era there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance and all the
    delights will be as freely available as dust. The occupation of the
    entire world will be solely to know G-d. The Jews will therefore be
    great sages and know the hidden matters, and will attain an
    understanding of their Creator to the [full] extent of human
    potential; as it is written [Yeshayahu 11:9], “For the world will be
    filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”



1 In the original Hebrew, HaMelech HaMoshiach (lit., “the anointed king”); i.e., the Messianic King.]

2 In the original Hebrew, the word here translated “anointed [king]” is simply HaMashiach (lit. “the anointed one”); i.e., the Messiah. It is used interchangeably with the earlier phrase.]

3 At this point, before being censored by medieval Christian
authorities, the Rambam’s original text continued: “…and save
Israel from the hand’s of Esav’s descendants. This and two other such deletions have been copied verbatim in these footnotes from the celebrated Yemenite manuscript in the hands of Chacham Yosef Kapach of Jerusalem. (See footnotes 4 and 5, below.)]

4 At this point, the uncensored original text continued as follows:
“Whoever adds to [the mitzvot] or detracts from them, or
misinterprets the the Torah, implying that the mitzvos are not
intended to be understood literally, is surely a wicked imposter
and a heretic.”

5 The whole of the following passage was deleted from most of the editions published since the Venice edition of 1574.

“If he did not succeed to this degree or he was killed, he surely
is not [the redeemer] promised by the Torah. [Rather,] he should
be considered as all the other proper and legitimate kings of the
Davidic dynasty who died. G-d only caused him to arise in order to test the multitude. As it is written [Daniel 11:35], “Some of he wise men will stumble, to purge, to refine, and to clarify, until the appointed time, for it is yet to come.”

“Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach and was executed  by the court was also spoken of in Daniel’s prophecies [Daniel 11:14], “The renegades among your people shall exalt themselves in an attempt to fulfill the vision, but they shall stumble.”

“Can there be a greater stumbling block than [Christianity]? All
the prophets spoke of Moshiach as the redeemer of Israel and their savior, who would gather their dispersed ones and strengthen their [observance of] the mitzvos. In contrast [the founder of Christianity] caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the L-rd.”

“Nevertheless, the intent of the Creator of the world is not
within the power of man to comprehend, for [to paraphrase
Yeshayahu 55:8] His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts. [Ultimately,] all the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth and that Ishmaelite [i.e. Mohammed] who arose after him will only serve to pave the way for the coming of Mashiach and for the improvement of the entire world, [motivating the nations] to serve G-d together, as it is written [Zephaniah 3:9], “I will make the peoples pure of speech so that they will all call upon the Name of  G-d and serve Him with one purpose.”

“How will this come about? The entire world has already become filled with talk of [the supposed] Messiah, as well as of the
Torah and the mitzvos. These matters have been spread among many spiritually insensitive nations, who discuss these matters as well as the mitzvos of the Torah. Some of them [i.e. the Christians]say: “These commandments were true, but are not in force in the present age; they are not applicable for all time.” Others [i.e.the Moslems] say: “Implied in the commandments are hidden concepts that cannot be understood simply; the Messiah has already come and revealed them.”

“When the true Messiah king will arise and prove successful, his
[position becoming] exalted and uplifted, they will all return and
realize that their ancestors endowed them with a false heritage;
their prophets and ancestors cause them to err.”

  The name of the prophet is occasionally spelled, as in this verse,without the final letter vav.

Kabbalah and Telepathy

Kabbalah and Telepathy

.fusion-button.button-1{width:auto;}View All Kabbalah and Telepathy
Telepathy is usually defined as the ability to communicate by thought transfer, without participation of the senses.

In Kabbalah and Hassidism the power of thought is considered to be the highest of the three powers of the psyche: thought, speech and action. It is therefore most important to guard the mind from impure thoughts or evil thoughts about others. In the book of Tanya we are taught that evil thoughts about someone are ultimately even more harmful than speaking slander about him or actually taking harmful physical action against him.

The phrase used by our sages in the Talmud that describes the phenomenon of telepathy is machshava moelet (“a thought that causes an effect”) . Telepathy has a negative connotation when moelet is seen to be from the root meilah (“sacrilege”). On the other hand, the positive connotation of this expression is that thought has an actual effect upon reality.

In Hassidic lore, telepathy is considered to be a gift of the righteous. By clarifying his thoughts, the tzaddik achieves the power to act from afar through his thoughts, transcending the limits of space and time to communicate with another Jewish soul, extricating him from his troubles in a time of need.

As we shall see, the word in the Bible that depicts the ability to communicate through thought is chashmal. Although in modern Hebrew chashmal is an everyday word used to describe the natural phenomenon of electricity, it appears only once in the Bible, in the depiction of the Divine Chariot that Ezekiel envisioned in his prophecy; the most profound chapter of the Bible. Ezekiel describes the “eye of chashmal,” a shade of light or color.

According to one of the rules of Hebrew grammar, every word has either a two or a three letter root. If a word has a root of four or more letters, then it must be a compound word that can be broken down into two or more roots. Our sages thus explain that the four-letter word chashmal is made of the two words, chash, “silence” and mal, “speech.” Maimonides explains that there is a type of angel that are called chashmalim and this is because “they are sometimes silent [chashim] and sometimes they speak [memalelim].” In addition we find in the Book of Proverbs that of the twenty-eight “quality of times” that change in the world there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.” However, in Kabbalah we are taught that this duality of speech and thought exists only in the three lower worlds (Beriah, Yetzirah, Asiyah), that are under the influences of time and are unable to simultaneously tolerate two opposites. Contrarily, in the world of Atzilut there are no paradoxes. In this highest world where time does not exist, chashmal does not refer to those angels, rather it refers to the true chashmal that Ezekiel saw in his prophecy, a light that shone from Supernal Man sitting upon His throne wearing the clothing of chashmal (the numerical value of the word chashmal is equal to the numerical value of malbush, “clothing”). Since in the world of Atzilut everything is unified in wondrous harmony and all paradoxes coexist at one and the same moment, silence and speech also exist there as one. It is in the world of Atzilut that one can find the phenomenon of communication through silence.

Here in the world as we know it, time is divided into separate units to allow for the duality of the paradox to express itself at varying moments. In the lower worlds as we experience them, the character and the fashion of speech is different from silence and they cannot be experienced simultaneously.

There are a number of possible ways to explain silence as an act. The first is that silence is an act of thought. The Hebrew word for thinking is chashov, which even begins with the word chash, “silence” and can also be seen as an acronym for lachush be… that means to sense something through silence. The sense of thought is an inner phenomenon in which one considers something in silence.

A second type of silence is the silence that comes from the realization that there is an infinite gap between our thoughts and the thoughts of God as it says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” This idea is expressed in the midrash that teaches us that when Moses received the Torah, he waited while God “tied the crowns” to the letters of the Torah. Moses asked God about these crowns and God showed him how Rabbi Akiva was destined to explain these crowns in the future. When Moses saw the extent of Rabbi Akiva’s Torah study he asked God in amazement why Rabbi Akiva should not be the one to deliver the Torah. God’s reply was, “Be silent! This is the thought that came up before me!” Moses then asked to see the reward that Rabbi Akiva would receive for his Torah study and God showed him how the Romans would torture Rabbi Akiva to death. Moses asked in amazement, “This is the Torah and that is its reward?!” and once again, God replied, “Be silent! This is the thought that came up before me!”

It is impossible for a human being to rise up to or to sense God’s thoughts, he must therefore be silent. Every true believer in God meets great mysteries throughout his life that he cannot begin to understand, such as the holocaust. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that one should not even attempt to understand the holocaust, rather we must remain silent, as did Aaron the High Priest when his two completely righteous sons, Nadav and Avihu were taken from him (they died while offering incense in the Tabernacle), as it says, “And Aaron was speechless.” Under such circumstances there is nothing else to do but to remain silent and to accept the facts through total belief that “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” and that God is the absolute essence of goodness, even if our own perception of reality seems to contradict this.

The third explanation of silence is the Chassidic interpretation of the reply from God to Moses, “Be silent! This is the thought that came up before me!” which, in the Hebrew “Shtok! Cach ala (came up) bemachshava lefanai,” can be rendered, “Shtok! Cach ale (get up) bemachshava lefanai,” meaning that through silence one may be able to rise to a higher level of perception and thus to reach an infinitely higher level of thought, coming closer as it were to God’s own thoughts.

Another expression of our sages related to silence is “siyag lechochmah, shtika,” “A boundary for wisdom is silence.” In Kabbalah, the word siyag is interpreted as the light that encompasses wisdom. When one rises higher into the encompassing light of silence that enshrouds wisdom, one draws down a higher encompassing light into the inner soul, thus achieving levels of understanding that previously existed only in the realm of simple faith. We all believe that God is good, even when we cannot see His goodness manifested in reality as we perceive it. However, through the power of faith found in the heart of every Jew as he silently accepts reality, he is able to draw down higher levels of faith and understanding.


The silence of faith that draws down ever greater levels of wisdom into inner consciousness

siyag lechochmah, shtika

Silence in order to rise to higher levels of perception

Cach ale bemachshava lefanai,” “thus you shall rise in thought before Me”

Silence in submission to God’s infinite wisdom

Vayidom Aharon,” “And Aaron was speechless”

Refraining from speech in order to think or consider an idea

Chash, silence – chashov, “think”

Our own speech is created by letters and words that are pronounced by the mouth, however, when referring to God and to the Divine part of the soul of every Jew, there is no concept of speech as we know it. God’s “speech” is actually a command, as in “He said and it was, He commanded and they were created.” From a human perspective, Divine “speech” would be what we call “thought” at an infinite level.

In the world of Atzilut, where there is no difference between chash and mal, silence itself speaks and transmits. It is certainly possible at this level to transmit and reply where words are unable to do so. There are some things that cannot be explained by speech yet silence has the power to convey. This is the power of telepathy.

We mentioned previously that chashmal is a shade of brilliant light. This light includes 378 shades (as in the numerical equivalent of the word chashmal); all of the shades of color that the eye is capable of distinguishing. A combination or intermingling of many different shades of color in the correct blending of all the hues is called tiferet. This is the visual phenomenon of chashmal; the inner phenomenon of chashmal is thought transmission. This is either through the natural method of “they are sometimes silent and sometimes they speak,” or at a higher level at which transmission is achieved through silence, and it is the inner level of thought that “speaks.”

It is an accepted practice that the righteous make use of foreign words while speaking Hebrew only when the word in the foreign language can be interpreted in the Holy Tongue. We will therefore explain a possible interpretation of the word “telepathy” in Hebrew.

“Telepathy” is derived from the Greek terms tele (“distant”) and pathe (“occurrence” or “feeling”).

The word tele refers to any action performed from afar (as in telescope, television, telegram etc.) In the broadest sense, this describes a non-local phenomenon. In the scientific literature only a phenomenon that cannot be defined by the speed of light is called a non-local phenomenon, for example when there is a spontaneous, simultaneous reaction of one atom at one end of the universe to another atom situated innumerable light-years away from it. Electricity is thus a local phenomenon whereas true chashmal is a non-local, spontaneous phenomenon that is not affected by the speed of light, something that happens at one point and it is transmitted and immediately sensed elsewhere.

In Hebrew, the word tele can be seen to be derived from the word tal, “dew.” The Kabbalistic term related to this is tala di’bdolcha, “crystal dew.” The root-source of dew is in the crystal that is the Divine inner light that illuminates the mocha stima’a or chochmah stima’a of the upper crown of the supra-conscious level of the soul. Apparently it is the “crystal dew” that acts in the transmission of thought, and this is the place one desires to rise through the silence of “cach ale bemachshava;” to the mocha stima’a to reach the tala di’bdolcha.

In Hebrew, the word telepatia (“telepathy”) is comprised of the letters that make up the word tefila, “prayer,” with the addition of the letter tet. In Hassidism the word tefila is seen to be derived from the root tafel which means to adhere, as when the broken pieces of a receptacle are glued together. In this view, prayer is explained as a joining or communication with God. However, the root tafel in the mishna has two renderings, beginning either with the letter taf or with the letter tet. When rendered with the letter tet, the root means “bland” or “empty,” in which case prayer is perceived as an act of self-nullification. The word telepatia includes all of the letters of tefila, “prayer,” with the additional tet, as mentioned, and can thus be seen to indicate a Divine form of communication through self-nullification that is closely connected to prayer.

Eliezer Accurately Transmits his Thoughts

We will now examine an example of the effect of thought transmission, illustrated by the story of Abraham’s servant Eliezer and his mission to find a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac.

The central theme of the Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, revolves around the match between Isaac and Rebecca. Abraham sent his faithful servant Eliezer on this mission, through which, our sages teach us, Eliezer merited to escape the curse of his forebearer, Canaan and enter the blessing that rules over Abraham and his descendants. Upon arriving in Charan, where Abraham’s family lived, Eliezer stopped by the well and prayed to the God of his master Abraham that he should successfully complete his mission, requesting that if one of the girls would offer him water to drink and also offer to water his camels, this would prove that she was the true wife for Isaac. Immediately after completing his prayer, Rebecca appeared and offered him water to drink and also offered to water his camels. Eliezer was astounded to realize that his prayer had been answered and went with Rebecca to her home to repeat the story to her father, Bethuel, and her brother, Laban. The climax of the story is in the phrase used by Laban and Bethuel to express their own wonder at the fantastic “coincidence” of Eliezer’s prayer and Rebecca’s arrival on the scene. Their spontaneous reply is “Me’Hashem yatza hadavar,” “This matter has emanated from God.” Amazingly, this expression has the numerical value of chashmal.

Eliezer’s fervor in relating the order of events to two men who are both renowned for their evil actions, triggered this devout reply, that honored the truth that Eliezer transmitted. This is the power of chashmal to accurately transmit thoughts and feelings to those who listen.

In Psalms we find another expression that has the numerical value of chashmal: “Hu tziva ve’nivra’u,” “He commanded and they were created.” This phrase expresses the power of thought to command and to act on reality in a natural way, without interference through speech or action.

The complete numerical value of both of these phrases is the same, and the middle word of each phrase is equal to 101 in both cases. Mathematically, when the sum of two sets of three numbers is equal and the middle number of each set is also identical, the base of both sets must also be equal. In this case, the base number in both cases is 75.







= 378 = chashmal =














75 is the numerical value of the word bitachon, “trust,” which indicates that the power of thought to transmit into reality is connected to the inner sense of trust in the soul. Similarly to the root of tefila, “prayer,” which means to join together, the root of bitachon can be seen to be derived from tach, which also means, “to plaster.”

The Power of Prayer

We thus see that the tzaddik has the power of to transmit thoughts through the power of prayer. However, every power that God created in the realm of holiness, He also created with a parallel phenomenon in the side of impurity. There are thus people with “super-natural” powers such as telepathy, who derive their abilities from their own self-centeredness and pride.

The tzaddik purifies his thought to make it a tool for his service of God. Just as a purified mouth is a tool for emitting holy speech and purified hands are tools for holy actions, so too in order for thought to become a tool that acts upon reality, one must rectify it and refine it. Much purity of thought is achieved through the power of silence in which a person completely nullifies himself to God in sanctity. Remaining silent in the face of God’s apparently incomprehensible actions, as did Aaron the High Priest when his sons died, purifies thought.

The Arizal points out that the numerical value of chashmal is equal to that of the word malbush, “clothing,” as we mentioned previously. Metaphorically speaking, chashmal is the “clothing” of God in the world of Atzilut. The psyche of man has three garments, these are thought, speech and action, thought being the highest and the most important of the three.

The Rectification of Cain

In order to truly and wholeheartedly pray to God, one must purify one’s thoughts, therefore Hassidism teaches us that before every prayer one must meditate like the early Hassidim who would meditate for a whole hour to purify and clear their thoughts before prayer. Only once one’s thoughts have been cleansed can one turn to God. Then, “as water reflects one’s face to his face,” so to God will heed his prayers, as it says of Abel, “And God heeded Abel and his offering.” In Hebrew Abel is called Hevel, which means “breath”. We can thus understand that if one’s breath has been purified through true meditation towards God, which entails a great purity of thought, our prayers will be heeded by God.

We shall now examine how the concept of telepathy is connected to the rectification of the sin of Cain, Abel’s brother, of whose offering it says, “And to the offering of Cain, God did not heed.” The rectification of the power of thought to act upon reality is connected to the roots of Biblical souls and their reincarnations in later generations.

God did not heed to Cain’s offering because of the sin of unrefined thoughts weighed him down. Many generations later, it was Elisha the Prophet who succeeded in rectifying Cain’s sin. This is indicated in the name of the prophet, which means, “God will heed.” Elisha, the outstanding pupil of the prophet Elijah, had the greatest telepathic power of all biblical characters. Elisha achieved a great rectification called tikkun Kayin, “the rectification of Cain.” As the firstborn son of Adam, Cain should have received by right a double portion of Adam’s legacy. As the firstborn of the first man, Cain was worthy of receiving all the “crowns;” the crown of royalty, the crown of priesthood, the crown of Torah and the crown of “the good name” that is greater than all of them. However, as a result of murdering his brother, Cain lost this right.

Before Elijah rose heavenward in a stormy wind, he asked Elisha with what he wished him to bless him. Elisha replied that he wished that twice the spirit of Elijah be upon him. This indicates that he wished to receive the double portion that Cain should have received because of his right as a firstborn. Elijah told him that if Elisha would see Elijah being taken from him, this would be a sign that his request had been fulfilled. Indeed, Elishah merited that his wish be granted. This can be seen by the abundance of miracles that Elishah performed, more than any other prophet or biblical character.

The climax of the miracles that Elijah performed was the resurrection of a dead child. On the other hand, Elisha resurrected the dead twice, once even after he himself had died. This difference between the two prophets is not merely a quantitative difference, but also a qualitative one. Our sages teach us that the dead child whom Elijah revived was the righteous prophet Jonah and the first of the two dead people whom Elishah revived was also a righteous prophet, Habakuk. However, the second person whom Elisha revived was actually a wicked person and a false prophet. The innovation of Elisha’s resurrecting the dead was therefore his ability to resurrect even the wicked. It is Elisha in particular, through his success in rectifying the sin of Cain, who has the power to revive, to arouse the wicked to repent, who are called “dead” even as they live. A righteous person can be in a “slumber,” as Jonah who slept in the depths of the ship, and Elijah is capable of arousing him from his slumber. However, truly resurrecting the dead, the wicked, is something unique to Elisha. From this unique power to resurrect the dead, we can surmise the great purity of Elisha’s thoughts.

After Elisha, we are taught that this soul appeared in Hizkiyahu, the king of Judah, whom God thought to make the Messiah, however Hizkiyahu missed his chance because he did not sing God’s praises after witnessing the great miracle of Sancheriv’s defeat.

Following Hizkiyahu this soul was reincarnated in the soul of Matityahu ben Yochanan, the High Priest in the time of the Hasmoneans; in Akavia ben Mahalalel; Raban Shimon ben Zakai and in Rabbi Akiva. We can thus see that this soul was eventually rectified to the extent that it merited all of the crowns that Cain forfeited by committing his sin. Hizkiyahu merited the crown of royalty; Matityahu received the crown of priesthood and of royalty; the rabbis who followed received the crown of Torah. We are further taught that this soul will once more be reincarnated in the soul of the Messiah, son of David, who is also from the root of Cain. He will then merit the “crown of good name.”

According to the Kabbalah, the way to merit the type of ruach hakodesh, “Divine inspiration,” that we call “telepathy,” is by connecting to the soul of Elisha and by becoming acquainted with the whole of the secret of the reincarnations of Cain.

In the Talmud we find a classic description of the powers of telepathy in the story of Job.

Job had three friends who came to console him for his terrible suffering. As it turned out, they did not succeed in consoling him at all, instead they rebuked him, which appealed neither to Job nor to God. A fourth young acquaintance sat and listened in respectful silence until the elder three finished what they had to say. His name was Elihu ben Berachel of the family of Ram and our sages explain that he was from the family of Abraham, so he was certainly a Jew. The numerical value of his name equals mashiach, “messiah,” and we are taught that he himself is the soul of the Messiah and that he speaks in good taste and with wisdom. According to Ramban in his commentary on the Book of Job, Elihu reveals to Job the secret of reincarnation and he thus succeeds in appeasing Job, at which point the verse immediately says, “and God heeded Job.” The word vayisha, “and he heeded,” used in this verse, also implies a connection with the rectification of Cain, to whose offering God did not heed.

Our sages teach us an amazing thing about Job’s three friends, explaining that this was perhaps the only explicit example of telepathic communication in the Bible. They teach us that the three friends felt Job’s affliction from a distance of 300 parsaot (approximately 1,200 k.m.). They are considered true friends, so much so that at the end of the passage discussing this matter, Rava declares, “This is what people [mean when they] say, ‘Either friends like those of Job, or death’.” Elsewhere in the Talmud we find the phrase, “Either a partner or death,” meaning that death is preferable to living life alone. However, here the phrase is much stronger, insinuating that death is preferable to a life without friends with whom one has a telepathic connection!

Our sages teach that the second Temple ws destroyed because of causeless hatred between the Jewish people, and that the rectification of that sin will be achieved by unbounded love for all Israel. The Arizal takes it one step further; he taught that what delays the coming of the Messiah is true comradeship, not merely unbounded love. So the redemption requires true heartfelt and soulful friendship; friends who are connected even by their thoughts.

Our sages describe the telepathic connection between Job and his friends with two different parables. One opinion is that each of the four friends had three crowns in his home and the face of one of his three friends was engraved upon each crown. If he saw that the face of any crown changed for the worse then he felt that his friend was going through some crisis.

A second opinion is that each of the four had three trees in his garden and if he saw that the leaves fell from the tree in an unnatural way, then he felt that his friend was suffering.

The words used in the Talmud for “crown” and “tree” are klila and ilana, respectively and both have the same numerical value of 91 (also the numerical value of amen;mal’ach, “angel;” and the combined numerical value of the two Names of God, Havayah and Elokim.)

According to the opinion that thought transmission is identified with a crown, it is clear that the crown symbolizes the superconscious, meaning that the thought rises to the highest of the sefirot, the keter, “crown,” at the point of the tala dibdolcha, “the crystal dew.”

According to the opinion that identifies tought transmission with a tree that either wilts or grows, this symbolizes that which occurs at the root. Even though the phenomenon is observed in the leaves and branches, it actually depends upon the power of growth in the roots that grow underground. The tree represents the abundance that the keter, the superconscious, yields. In Kabbalah the ten sefirot embodying the conscious powers of the soul, are called ilana de’chayei, “the Tree of Life,” However the roots, and even more so, the power to grow underground, are considered to be the highest keter through which one can perceive that which occurs in the conscious powers: the trunk, the leaves, the branches and the fruit.

We see, therefore, that according to both opinions the power of telepathy is in the keter, the superconscious “crown” of the soul.

Another way of dividing the different powers of the soul is found in the book of the Tanya. There it states that one must constantly meditate upon the five powers of the soul, three of which we have already enumerated: thought, speech and action. The two powers of the soul above these three are called midot, “emotions” and sechel, “intellect.” Midot are what could be called “pathos” or feelings, while sechel refers to pure, abstract intellect that is completely isolated from feelings. The Alter Rebbe, author of the Tanya, explains that whereas thought, speech and action are garments, the midot and sechel are the essential powers of the soul. The sechel is the inner, abstract light, which can be harnessed and utilized by the thought when it rises to clothe the pure sechel. This is achieved by the purification and clarification of thought.

Something that is full of flaws and dirt becomes heavy and is drawn downwards. On the other hand, when one purifies something, it becomes lighter in weight and is capable of rising higher. This is also true of the garments of one’s soul, which become soiled and heavy when succumbing to the baser, more animalistic instincts, self-conceit in particular, as the verse states, “the animal spirit descends downwards on the earth.” This tendency towards animalistic behavior is what weighs a person down to earth and in particular, draws his thoughts earthwards. If a person is contaminated spiritually and he does not attain purity in his thoughts and his other garments, then he is unable to act with his thoughts as God wishes us to do.

God desires that we be similar to Him, as it is written, “And I said, you are gods,” by creating through our own thought-commandments, as it says of God, “He commanded and they were created.” This is chashmal. However, if one is heavy with sin, then one does not have the capability of rising in one’s thoughts as in the expression mentioned earlier, “thus you shall rise in thought before Me.”

If the three garmets of the soul are not purified, the essence of the emotions and the intellect cannot be truly sensed nor consciously experienced. In order for the emotions and the intellect to be sensed, one must raise the garments in order that the garments clothe the emotions and the intellect, this being the secret of the chariot that Ezekiel saw; the chashmal clothing Supernal Man. The ascent of the worlds reveals the essential emotions, first to the person himself, and later even to others. Without the garments, the higher worlds and the higher levels of the human soul cannot be perceived.

When the purified thought rises to clothe the pure intellect, it takes the essential inner light of the sechel and turns it outwards in order to act upon reality. This however is the second stage of thought-purification. In order to achieve this stage the thought must first rise to clothe the midot, the emotions, and this is achieved through heartfelt prayer.

The five powers of the soul mentioned parallel the four worlds, the lower three powers paralleling the lower three worlds and the higher two paralleling two different aspects of the world of Atzilut.


The world of Atzilut (three higher sefirot)


The world of Atzilut (seven lower sefirot)


The world of Beriyah


The world of Yetzira


The world of Asiyah

Another key concept concerning these five levels of the soul that the Alter Rebbe outlined in the Tanya is that in order to achieve self-nullification, one’s garment of action must be nullified to the garment of speech, which in turn must be nullified to the garment of thought. In turn, the thought must be nullified to the midot, which are in turn nullified to the sechel. This means that one must sense that the amount of light or vitality at each level is totally null and void in relation to the light from the higher plane. The essential soul is even higher than all of these five levels and in order to achieve true self-nullification, one must reach an understanding that all of the levels are ultimately nullified to the essential soul.

This meditation is completely opposite to an ordinary understanding of the world. From a physical point of view, to someone who views the world from a perspective of da’at tachton, “lower knowledge,” action is concrete while speech and thought are abstract and therefore not considered so important. This idea is even stated explicitly in the Talmud in the saying, “action is the main principle.” This is obviosly true; however, once one begins to meditate upon this idea, one realizes that the amount and the quality of light that are revealed in action are completely null and void in comparison to the vitality of speech. Similarly, one realizes that a positive thought contains far more light and illuminates the soul far more than speech. This statement is an amazing innovation, especially when one considers the emotions and the intellect, which are totally imperceptible to someone who has not purified his mind and has not achieved this understanding. This false perception of reality, seeing that which is “above” to be “nothing” while that which is “below” is “something,” is a superficial perception of reality. The meditation described in Tanya brings us to the realization that each level is nullified in relation to the level above it, and clarifies to us that that what is “above” is truly “something,” while the external world is “nothing.” This realization is called da’at elyon, “upper knowledge” and without it one is unable to purify one’s thoughts. Someone who perceives the world through da’at tachton is under the influence of, and weighed down by the animal soul. In many places we find that Chassidism refers to da’at tachton as “the seed of beast,” while da’at elyon is called, “seed of man.” as in the words of the prophet Jeremiah “And I have sowed the House of Israel with the seed of man and the seed of beast.” Most souls are souls of da’at tachton, we thus feel that “something-ness” is below while all that is “above” is imperceptible and seems to be “nothing.” If one has only da’at tachton and feels that speech is nullified to action and that thought is nullified to speech and so on, then one is unable to purify his “garments” and is unable to raise them higher. One is thus unable to reach the “crown” and the “crystal dew” found there, which is the power of inner communication that we call telepathy.

As mentioned previously, chashmalim are a type of angel. As taught in Kabbalah, these are the cherubim that stand at the entrance to the pardes, guarding the path to the tree of Life in the garden of Eden, holding the “sword with the revolving blade.” Whenever a righteous person wishes to enter the garden, these angels begin speaking to him very fast. If he is able to reply to their words correctly, then the tzaddik is allowed to enter. However, if he becomes confused by their speech and does not follow their words, he must remain outside.

There are many ranks of angels, each rank higher than the previous one. The angels of the lower spheres pass our prayers up to the angels in the higher spheres until the highest angels of all make crowns, as it were, for God from our prayers. The level of speech of the lower angels is at the level of our thoughts and the level of speech of each rank of angels is at the level of thought of the angels below them. When we express ourselves in true prayer in which our thoughts are at one with the words we emit, the lower angel garbs himself with our thought and takes it for its own speech. The angel’s thought is always connected to its speech, thus the angel above him is able to clothe his own speech in the thought of the angel below, thus taking our prayers from the lower angel. This process continues through all the ranks of angels until our prayers reach God Himself.

Although we have stated that telepathy is actually a Divine power of the righteous, we sometimes find that “normal” people profess to have similar spiritual powers. It should be clear that ninety-nine percent of these so-called “healers”, spiritual diviners and the like, are nothing more than charlatans. This is true whether they deceive the public consciously or whether they themselves truly believe that they possess such powers. The whole of the book of Tanya is intended to save people from self-deception. However, there is still a very small percentage of people who are truly capable of such divination even without having purified themselves in holiness. The powers these people possess do not come from garbing the higher powers of the soul with the garment of thought, rather they have holes in their garments, a type of nakedness through which the light from the upper powers of the soul is manifested. Before the primordial sin, Adam and Eve were both naked and were not embarrassed of their nakedness, however the rectification of their sin was that they must wear garments. Our sages teach us that the word levush, “clothing,” is a permutation of lo bosh, “unembarrassed,” meaning negation of the negative embarrassment that resulted from the sin.

Garments are of utmost importance, so much so that the word tikkun, “rectification,” is a synonym for levush. Through their prayers, the tzaddikim raise and purify their garments, especially the garment of thought. The pure and refined garments then rise to clothe the inner powers of the soul, which gives the tzaddik the power to perform spiritual actions that normal people are unable to carry out. However, there are people whose natural garments are not refined, rather they have “holes” in their garments. They are born with a defect, just as a person may be born lacking a certain limb, God forbid. This person may develop sharper senses in another limb to overcome his disability. There are those who are born with the ability to solve dreams, for instance, because of holes in the garments allowing  the inner light to be revealed, giving them power to act. However these are the unrectified lights of chaos and do not result from the person’s having purified his garments, therefore there is always a certain extent of self-conceit in such people.

The overall aim of purifying the garments of the soul is to attain the purification of the garment of thought. All of our prayers, if they are truly heartfelt, have the power to raise the garments of the soul and the corresponding worlds to clothe the higher revelations of the soul in purity.

The raising the worlds of the soul is achieved when thought first rises to clothe the pure emotions. When the thought rises to clothe the emotions, then speech ascends to the previous location of the thought and one is able to speak through one’s thoughts telepathically.

Raising the garments in sanctity is achieved through a three-stage process. The holy Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chasidic movement taught that every spiritual process has three stages: hachna’ah, havdalah and hamtakah, meaning “submission,” “separation” and “sweetening”. In our case, these three stages correspond to chashmal. To fit this three-stage process, chashmal  converts to chash-mal-mal. In that way, it draws the unity of the chashmal from the point at which it illuminates in the world of Atzilut, where silence transmits communication, to the lower worlds where it appears as “Sometimes silent, sometimes speaking.” This is achieved by the addition of the middle stage that connects chash to mal. This middle stage is also called mal, derived from the same root as the word milah, “circumcision.”

The first stage of hachna’ah (chash) takes place before the thought rises to clothe the emotions, and it consists in the purification of the thoughts in order to prepare them for the ascent. This is the stage of waiting and preparing oneself for prayer in order to cleanse the thought. One way of achieving this cleansing is by relating stories about the righteous, as we learn from the verse that refers to the prophet Elisha, “Please tell me of the great deeds that Elisha did.” Relating stories about tzaddikim brings one to gadlut mochin, “mature thought” and brings about the ability to distinguish between an act of a tzaddik and the same act performed by a sorcerer. One example of such seemlingly similar acts mentioned in Chassidic literature is the ability of the righteous Pinchas to hover in the air and the similar ability of the wicked Bil’am to do so. Only one who has purified his thought through hachna’ah is able to distinguish between the two.

Another way to achieve the silencing of all inner “noise,” the first stage of chash, is by listening to profound Chassidic music, which purifies the thought and brings one to a state of inner peace. Inner peace is the knowledge that everything that God does is for the best, a state of cheerful optimism and blind faith. A person in such a state of inner peace is aware that everything that happens is “a cause” of an effect within the Divine plan, and that each cause is a manifestation of God Himself.

After the first stage, one is able to receive thoughts transmitted by others, as in the story of Job, in which his friends merely received the feelings that Job transmitted. This stage precedes the ascent of the thought to clothe the emotions. When this state has been attained, thought has been purified to the extent that it has become a receptacle for receiving transmissions that come to him.

The following story illustrates this ability:

……Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz wrote a letter to the Maggid of Mezeritch in which he thanked the Maggid for thinking of him. This happened the year after the passing of the Baal Shem Tov, and after the Maggid had accepted the leadership of the Chassidic movement, and he stated the exact time that this had occurred, a time at which there was a great distance between the two. Rabbi Pinchas wrote that the thoughts of the Maggid for him stengthen his service of God.

We see in this story how one tzaddik senses when another thinks of him. This is true dibbuk chaverim, “comradeship,” that was felt amongst all of the pupils of the Ba’al Shem Tov, of whom we explicitly learned that they were able to sense when one thought of another from afar.

The second stage, havdalah, mal, “separation”, consists of bitul hayesh, “nullification of being,” or bitul ha’ani, “self-nullification.” Having reached a state of inner peace and total trust in God, the person must return everything to God, as it says, “Give Him that which is His, because you and that which you have are His,” and as sang by King David, “For everything is from You and from Your hand we have given You.” At this stage the person feels that he has nothing, he is not even an emissary. He feels that everything he does is only God acting through him, and that he himself does nothing; he is merely “an insignificant assistant.” This is the service of “separation” in the soul that has the power to enable the ascent of thought in order to clothe the emotions. At the completion of this stage one can sense and reveal the love that includes the fear of the Jew for God, which has been hidden in the soul. Speech then rises to the place of thought and one can now speak through one’s thoughts.

Once this stage of bitul hayesh has been achieved, the person is capable of communicating through thought. Another story will further illustrate this point:

In Russia, the ruling powers wished to invoke certain laws concerning Jewish education that were against Chassidism and against Judaism in general. The third Rebbe of Chabad, the Tzemach Tzedek, was called to court in order to represent Chassidism and Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin was called to represent the Lithuanian stream of Judaism. At some stage of the proceedings it became necessary for the Tzemach Tzedek to plant in  Rabbi Yitzchak’s mind  the answer that he should reply to the judges. Rabbi Yitzchak received the thought and immediately replied accordingly. The reply was successful and the laws were not applied.

Later, Rabbi Yitzchak came to the Tzemach Tzedek and thanked him gratefully for the answer he had transmitted to him.

We can learn from this story that these great tzaddikim were capable of transmitting thoughts, and receiving them.

After the ascent of thought to the place of the emotions, with the completion of the stage of havdalah, “separation,” comes the third stage, hamtakah, “sweetening,” the second mal of chashmal, through which the ascent of the thought to the pure intellect is achieved. The power of this second ascent is to act upon reality, not merely planting thoughts or speaking through the mind, but actually eliciting changes in reality by the power of thought. This is achieved when the garment of action rises to the first location of the thought, the speech is then at the level of the emotions and thought is at the level of the pure intellect, thus allowing the person to accomplish innovations in nature, performing miracles that either appear to be natural or even change the laws of nature completely.

(It should be noted that it is only the inner dimension of the garment that rises, whereas the outer dimension remains in its place.)

In order for thought to clothe the pure intellect, changing the vector force of its light from illuminating within to illuminating outside, one must achieve an even higher form of self-nullification, called bitul bimetziut, “nullification of reality.” This is an absolute sense of da’at elyon, that the higher worlds are truly “something” while ordinary reality is “nothing.” This is one step beyond the Chasidic understanding that the world was created yesh me’ayin, and involves the realization that all of reality is absolutely negligible from God’s point of view, He being the only true reality. Taking such a great light and turning it outwards is completely paradoxical, since at this state the outside has been completely nullified. However this is the wonder of it all, that the Torah and mitzvoth were given for the sake of this innovation: to project outwardly the light of da’at elyon, which of its own accord can only illuminate within itself and has no capability of illuminating outwardly, since the outside is totally null and void in relation to it and has no way of rising to God. Bringing this light into ordinary reality is called a mitzvah, which can be seen to be derived from the same root as tzavta, “joining.”

The following chassidic parable illuminates this idea, how mankind can ever hope to connect to God:

There was once a great wise man and a very simple person, between whom there could be no communication whatsoever, since the wise man was occupied with his intellectual pursuits while the simple man had no such intellectual understanding. Neither of the two felt any connection with the other until one day the wise man required the physical assistance of the simple man. Only then was a connection established between the two.

This is in accordance with the principle that “serving [Torah scholars] is greater than studying it [the Torah].” By serving a Torah scholar one is capable of reaching a place that others are not capable of reaching even if they were to study for another forty years. This is another trait that can be learnt from the prophet Elisha, who served Elijah, thus meriting greater powers than even his master did.

There is only one expression in the entire Torah in which the word tzav appears as a noun: “tzav letzav, kav lakav, ze’er sham, ze’er sham.” One explanation of the phares tzav letzav, (a tzav for a tzav, a commandment for a commandment) is that opposing each commandment of the Torah. there is an evil instruction  (“commandment”) that the psyche receive from the other side. A second explanation is that for each of God’s commandments, one must set up a boundary of more commandments (restrictions) in order to guard it, as it says “make a boundary for the Torah,” and similarly, “a boundary for wisdom is silence.” A third explanation is that the commandments must be given in small, measured quantities, as one would feed a young child, drop by drop. These three explanations parallel the stages of chash-mal-mal, and the elevation of the garment of thought through the three stages delineated above.

First, by bringing under submission the negative inclination that arises to contradict the positive commandment of the Torah (chash), the garment of thought itself is purified—the first stage in its elevation.

Then, in order for thought to rise to the place of the emotions, a restriction of one’s natural emotional tendencies is required so that they do not overwhelm one’s actions. For the same reason, the sages aspired to “create a restrictive barrier” to protect the performance of the commandments. This second stage involves a process of havdalah or “separation” which is the essence of the first stage of mal.

Finally, when thought rises to pure intellect and achieves da’at elyon, it is ready to be outwardly directed through the performance of mitzvot. As such, in order not to “break” reality, the illuminative quality of da’at elyon must be inserted drop-by-drop. This also correlates with the Halachic dictum that “mitzvot should not be bundled together.” Rather, every mitzvah should be performed separately and with its own particular intent. Caring for and rectifying reality with da’at elyon through mitzvot corresponds to the second stage of mal.

(In addition, each of these three stages can be interpreted as corresponding to one of the three phrases in the verse quoted above. “Tzav letzav” corresponds to the submission of the negative inclination; “kav lakav” corresponds to demarcating with a line (the meaning of the word kav, in Hebrew) each mitzvah; and, “ze’eir sham, ze’eir sham,” which literally means “a little there, a little there,” corresponds to the requirement that mitzvot be performed individually, “drop-by-drop.”).

In order to reach the level at which the thought clothes the pure intellect, one must unite with “He commanded and they were created,” the numerical value of the Hebrew phrase being equal to that of chashmal, as stated. At this stage one receives the power to give a command and thereby create in a state of natural consciousness. This occurs through the secret of the expression, tzav letzav, as stated. This is the way to raise thought to act on reality, at which point the speech rises to clothe the emotions. This stage realizes the secret of liba lepuma galya, “the heart reveals itself to the mouth,” which is a messianic goal, as taught in Kabbalah that the reason the Messiah has not yet come is because we are in a state in which the heart is not revealed in the mouth. This is a state of complete rectification, called in Kabbalah “the secret of the rectified image.”

Stage of service

Method of service

Completed stage

Result of service

Hamtakah – Mal

The secret of the three explanations of the expression tzav letzav

Bitul bimetziut

Ability to act on reality through thoughts

Havdalah – Mal

Returning all of one’s being to God

Bitul hayesh

Ability to transmit thoughts

Hachna’ah – Chash

Relating stories of tzaddikim; listening to profound Chassidic melodies

Purification of thought

Inner peace; total trust in God; ability to receive thoughts transmitted

Why Is Conversion So Hard?

Why Is Conversion to Judaism So Hard?

By Tzvi Freeman

Note: This article replaces a previous article that said much the same, but in a way that was often misunderstood. I hope this version will be much clearer to all.


Why do the rabbis make conversion to Judaism so hard? There are many Jews who don’t keep anything Jewish, yet the rabbis demand full observance to become a Jew. Is that fair?

You have a very good point. Religion, after all, is all about belief. If you believe, you’re in; if not, you’re out. So why can’t anyone who believes in the Jewish religion be considered Jewish? And why are those who don’t believe and don’t keep any of the Jewish practices still considered Jews?

That’s what happens when you view the Jewish people through another people’s lexicon—it all looks very puzzling. What, though, if we look at ourselves through our own language, through the original Hebrew?

Religion versus Covenant
We’ll start with this word religion. Is Judaism a religion? Is that the right word?

Religions generally start when one teacher spreads his teachings to many disciples. The people who accept these teachings are considered coreligionists. Their common beliefs hold them together as a community.

Moses didn’t preach a religion to individuals. He was more of a populist—a civil-rights leader who stood for empowerment of the people. He took his own people, who already had a common heritage, along with many who had decided to join that people, and brought them to Mount Sinai. There he brokered a covenant between a nation and G‑d. G‑d said, “I choose this nation to be my messengers of Torah light to the world.” The nation, in turn, chose G‑d, saying, “Whatever G‑d says, we will do and we will obey.”

The Jewish people, then, are best described as the “People of the Covenant”—meaning that they are a people because of a covenant. In Hebrew, a covenant is a brit—in this case, not a brit between two individuals, or even between an individual and G‑d (as Abraham had made), but a brit between an entire nation and G‑d.

So let’s replace religion with brit and see what happens.

In a religion, you belong because you believe. In Judaism, you believe because you belong.
The brit, as I wrote, is what defines us as a nation—not geographic vicinity, language, government or culture. Even if we live in different countries, speak different languages, establish different leaders and eat different foods, that covenant still bonds us. Most significantly: even if we stop keeping our obligations under that covenant or decide not to believe in it, the covenant endures. A covenant, you see, is a two-way deal. It takes two to make it and two to break it. Just because the people have let go, doesn’t mean G‑d has. That’s why it’s called an “eternal covenant”—because even if the people may be fickle, G‑d doesn’t change His mind.

So there’s the difference: In a religion, you belong because you believe. In a brit (in this case, Judaism), you believe because you belong.

Believing is part of the brit. So are all the other mitzvot—obligations—of the covenant. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in that covenant or those obligations, or believe that G‑d obligated you, or believe in G‑d at all. You can’t fight with history. You are part of this people by virtue of having been born into it, and that’s who this people are and what this people do. A deal is a deal.

Conversion versus Giyur
Let’s look at another word—conversion—and things will become even clearer.

Let’s say you weren’t born into the Jewish people. Let’s say you decide you want to enter into the same covenant as every other Jew. If this were a religion, no problem—you would just accept upon yourself whatever beliefs and rites are expected of you, and you’re in. That’s what people generally mean when they talk about conversion.

But this is a brit. To enter into G‑d’s covenant with the Jewish people, believing and doing is not enough. You need to become part of that people. How do you do that?

In this way, becoming Jewish is very much like becoming an American, a Moldavian or a Zimbabwean citizen. You can’t come to a country and declare yourself a member. It’s a two-way street: aside from you choosing your country, the government of that country has to decide to accept you.

Similarly, if you choose Judaism, you also need Judaism to choose you. Like we said, a covenant is a two-way deal.

So you need to become a ger (pronounced “gehr”). A ger is more than a convert. A ger literally means someone who has come to live among a people to which he or she was not born. A naturalized alien. That’s how the ger is described in Torah, and how the process of becoming a ger is described in the Talmud: “A ger who comes to sojourn among us.”

By joining this people, the ger instantly becomes part of the same covenant to which the people are part. And although the most essential part of joining this people is to accept the same obligations of the covenant in which they are obligated, it is not by force of his or her acceptance that the ger is obligated. Proof is, if the ger later has a change of mind, it helps zilch. The ger is obligated no matter what, because he or she has now also become “a child of the covenant.”

That’s one difference between this citizenship and citizenship of a modern country: You could always renounce your citizenship of a country. A Jew, however, is a member of an eternal covenant. Once in, there’s no way out.

The details of joining
In short, a ger is an adopted member of the Jewish family. In the words of the paradigm of all gerim, Ruth the Moabite, “Your people are my people; your G‑d is my G‑d.”

The rituals of that adoption are the same as what the Jewish people went through at Sinai: circumcision for males, immersion in a mikvah (ritual bath), and acceptance of all Torah obligations. The crucial element, however, is that all of these are to be supervised by a tribunal of learned, observant Jews—representing none other than G‑d Himself. Their job is not only to witness that the ger was properly circumcised and fully immersed in the mikvah, but also to ensure that the ger is duly cognizant of the obligations of the covenant into which he or she is entering.

That’s another distinction between obtaining citizenship of a modern nation and joining the Jewish People: citizenship is mostly associated with the attainment of rights and privileges, while Jewish citizenship (gerut) is principally concerned with the responsibilities that come along with those privileges.

If the ger-wannabe learns of these obligations and feels they are more than he or she bargained for, so be it. You don’t have to be Jewish to be a good person and to be loved by G‑d. Believe in one G‑d and keep His laws—the seven laws of Noah. Judaism—as opposed to Jewishness—is not just for Jews.

But if the ger does accept, then he or she is reborn as an eternal Jew, the same as any one of us who was born into the covenant. The soul of the ger, our sages taught, stood at Mount Sinai. In at least one way, the ger is yet greater, for the ger is the lost child who has found his way home.

The Rebbe and President Reagan

The Rebbe and President Ronald Reagan

he Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory and President Ronald Reagan enjoyed a deep relationship for many years.

Mr. Reagan displayed a profound respect toward the Rebbe and his teachings. The President was an early and enthusiastic adherent of the Rebbe’s call to make all people aware of the Seven Universal Laws, based on the belief in a Supreme Being. The Rebbe’s call for a moment of silence in the public schools, and his persistent belief that America must export to the world faith-based moral values, were among the themes that found a welcoming ear in President Reagan.

Behind the scenes the President also acted upon the Rebbe’s specific requests to help Israel and Soviet Jews in ways that are still coming to light.

Below we bring you little windows into the relationship; we hope that the additional documents, videotapes and anecdotes come to light soon.

Our thanks to Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, national director of American Friends of Lubavitch and the Rebbe’s ambassador to the White House, for supplying us with these priceless documents so that we may share them with the public.

A delegation of Chabad Rabbis make a presentation to the President

National Day of Reflection: April 4, 1982
National Day of Reflection

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

Amid the distractions and concerns of our daily existence, it is appropriate that Americans pause to reflect upon the ancient ethical principles and moral values which are the foundation of our character as a nation.

We seek, and steadfastly pursue, the benefits of education. But education must be more than factual enlightenment-it must enrich the character as well as the mind.

One shining example for people of all faiths of what education ought to be is that provided by the Lubavitch movement, headed by Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, a worldwide spiritual leader who will celebrate his 80th birthday on April 4, 1982. The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s work stands as a reminder that knowledge is an unworthy goal unless it is accompanied by moral and spiritual wisdom and understanding. He has provided a vivid example of the eternal validity of the Seven Noahide Laws, a moral code for all of us regardless of religious faith. May he go from strength to strength.

In recognition of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 80th birthday, the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled have issued House Joint Resolution 447 to set aside April 4, 1982, as a “National Day of Reflection.”

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RONALD REAGAN, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim April 4, 1982, as National Day of Reflection.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this 3rd day of April, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-two, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and sixth.

Ronald Reagan

April 2, 1982


April 2, 1982

Dear Rebbe:

Nancy and I are pleased to share in the joy and celebration which surrounds your 80th birthday on this 11 Nissan. On behalf of all Americans, we offer our most heartfelt congratulations.

You have so much of which to be proud. Since your first moments in the United States in 1941, you have shared your personal gift of universal understanding to the benefit of all. Time and again, your love and spiritual guidance have brought hope and inspiration to those confronted with despair. In bringing solace and comfort to the human spirit, you have helped to strengthen the foundation of faith which is mankind’s most vital asset. Your life’s work has been a response to that special calling few are privileged to hear.

I am especially pleased to join members of Congress in proclaiming a National Day of Reflection on your birthday. As I stated in the Proclamation, your work “stands as a reminder to us all that knowledge is an unworthy goal unless it is accompanied by moral and spiritual wisdom and understanding.” As with all great leaders, you have given much more than you will ever receive.

God bless you today and always.


Ronald Reagan

April 18, 1982
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
770 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11213

By the Grace of G-d
25th of Nissan, 5742
Brooklyn, N. Y.

President Ronald Reagan
The White House
Washington, D. C.

Greeting and Blessing:

Because of the Intervening Passover season, the Festival of Our Liberation, this is my first opportunity of acknowledging your gracious letter of April 2, 1982. I wish to assure you, Mr. President, and the First Lady, that I deeply appreciate your warm felicitations and good wishes on the occasion of my birthday.

I particularly appreciate your thoughtful and profoundly meaningful message that serves as the preamble to your Proclamation of a National Day of Reflection, in conjunction with the said occasion.

Following, as it does, your Proclamation of a National Day of Prayer, your Proclamation of a National Day of Reflection is not only eminently consistent with it, but indeed a corollary thereof. By focusing attention on “the ancient ethical principles and moral values which are the foundation of our character as a nation,” and on the time-honored truth that “education must be more than factual enlightenment – it must enrich the character as well as the mind,” while reaffirming the eternal validity of the G-d-given Seven Noahide Laws (with all their ramifications) for people of all faiths – you have expressed most forcefully the real spirit of the American nation.

More than ever before the civilized world of today will look up to the United States of America for guidance as behooves the world’s foremost Super Power – not merely in the ordinary sense of this term but even more importantly, as a moral and spiritual Super Power, whose real strength must ultimately derive from an unalterable commitment to the universal moral code of the Ten Commandments. Indeed, it is this commitment to the same Divine truths and values that, more than anything else, unites all Americans in the true sense of E Pluribus Unum.

With prayerful wishes for Hatzlachah (success) in carrying out your enormous responsibilities for the benefit of all Americans and all mankind, and with esteem and blessing,


M. Schneerson

President Ronald Reagan signs the proclamation for “Education Day U.S.A.” honoring the Rebbe’s birthday

November 23, 1982


November 23, 1982

Dear Rabbi Shemtov:

It was a special pleasure for me to greet you and your distinguished colleagues in the American Friends of Lubavitcher and to have our photograph taken together. I want to thank you for the inscribed copy of Letters by the Lubavitcher Rebbe and assure you of my deep appreciation for the friendship and goodwill that prompted your giving me this handsomely bound collection of the wise counsel of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson. It certainly will be a meaningful addition to my library.

With my best wishes to you and everyone who joined in this kind gesture,


Ronald Reagan

Following the signing of the proclamation of “Education Day U.S.A.,” President Ronald Reagan presents the pen he used to sign the proclamation to Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, National Director of American Friends of Lubavitch and the Rebbe’s ambassador to the White House.

National Scroll of Honor: Education Day – USA, March 25, 1983
National Scroll of Honor

Presented by the president and the Congress of rite United States of America in tribute to the vision and spiritual world leadership provided by the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

on the occasion of his reaching the Eightieth Year

Whereas, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, has reached the eightieth year of his life which is devoted to the service of world Jewry and humanity in general; and

Whereas, his venerated vision, wisdom and leadership have contributed greatly to the promotion of education and the betterment of mankind ; and

Whereas, the President and both houses of Congress of the United States of America have accordingly recognized his accomplishments by proclaiming “Education day- U.S.A.” and “National Day of Reflection” on his birthday; and

Whereas, the Lubavitcher movement, through its scores of educational centers in this country and abroad, dedicates itself to preserve, protect and foster universal values that all free men hold dear; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, on the occasion of his birthday, March 25, 1983 corresponding to the 11th of Nissan 5743, we the undersigned do present the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson the Natioual Scroll of Honor recognizing his brilliant achievements and wishing him health, long life and many more years of leadership to crown his celebrated career:

Ronald Reagan
The President of the United States

Above and below: President Ronald Reagan meets with Chabad representatives and signs the National Scroll of Honor on the occasion of the Rebbe’s birthday

February 22, 1985


February 12, 1985

Dear Rabbi Shemtov:

It was a pleasure to greet you and your colleagues in the American Friends of Lubavitcher when you came to the White House on the eve of Hanukkah 1984. You were most kind to present me with the beautiful silver menorah and I truly appreciate the friendship that prompted your symbolic remembrance. May the light of the menorah always be a source of strength and inspiration to the Jewish people and to all mankind.

With my heartfelt best wishes to you and everyone who joined in this special gesture of friendship,


Ronald Reagan

Federal Register: April 4, 1985
Proclamation 5317 of April 4, 1985

Education Day, U.S.A., 1985

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

In order to achieve its highest goals, education must be more than just a training in facts and figures, or even in basic skills, as important as they are. It must also include instruction in the deepest ethical values of our civilization.

Very few Americans have done more to promote these ethical values as the basis of civilization than Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the worldwide Lubavitch movement. The word “Lubavitch” comes from the name of a Russian city and means city of love. That is very appropriate because, of all the ethical values which inform our civilization, none is more important than love-love of wisdom, love of our fellowman, and love of our Creator.

These are the values which Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson exemplifies. And they are the values, with their roots in the Seven Noahide Laws, which have guided the Lubavitch movement throughout its history. They are the essence of education at its best, and we should be certain that we pass on this precious heritage to all young Americans.

In recognition of Rabbi Schneerson’s contributions and in honor of his 83rd birthday, which falls this year on April 2, the Congress, by House joint Resolution 186, has designated April 2, 1985, as “Education Day, U.S.A.” and authorized and requested the President to issue an appropriate proclamation in observance of this event.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RONALD REAGAN, President of the United States, of America, do hereby proclaim Tuesday, April 2,1985, as Education Day, U.S.A., and I call upon the people of the United States, and in particular our teachers and other educational leaders, to observe that day with ‘appropriate ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this 4th day of April, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and ninth. .

Ronald Reagan

Education Day, U.S.A., 1986

April 19, 1986

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

From earliest colonial days, Americans have always known that education is the golden key that opens the door to achievement and progress. This Administration has placed renewed emphasis on excellence in education, and already the results are encouraging. By setting high standards we challenge the young to stretch their mental muscles and strive to achieve the best that is in them. Such an education succeeds because it makes learning an adventure.

Education is like a diamond with many facets: it includes the basic mastery of numbers and letters that give us access to the treasury of human knowledge, accumulated and refined through the ages; it includes technical and vocational training as well as instruction in science, higher mathematics, and humane letters. But no true education can leave out the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life and human striving. Only education that addresses this dimension can lead to that blend of compassion, humility, and understanding that is summed up in one word: wisdom.

“Happy the man,” Scripture tells us, “who finds wisdom. … Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who come to possess her.”

The Congress has sought to call attention to these durable values by adopting resolutions that pay tribute to the example of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a man who has dedicated his life to the search for wisdom and to guiding others along its pathways. He exemplifies the rich tradition of the Seven Noahide Laws, which have been the lodestar of the Lubavitch movement from its inception.

In recognition of Rabbi Schneerson’s noble achievements and in celebration of his 84th birthday, the Congress, by House Joint Resolution 582, has designated April 20 as “Education Day, U.S.A.” and authorized and requested the President to issue an appropriate proclamation in observance of this event.

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Sunday, April 20, 1986, as Education Day, U.S.A., and I call upon the people of the United States, and in particular our teachers and other educational leaders, to observe that day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this nineteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and tenth.

Ronald Reagan

The President is presented with a silver Menorah in honor of the holiday of Chanukah

February 3, 1986


February 3, 1986 Dear Rabbi Shemtov:

It was a pleasure greeting you and your fellow rabbis when you came to the White House, prior to the lighting of the National Menorah. I truly valued accepting the menorah from you on the occasion of the observance of Hanukkah, and the support of the Orthodox Jewish community means more than I can say. Your symbolic gift is a treasured remembrance of friendship from the American Friends of Lubavitch.

Nancy joins me in sending you and the members of your organization our warm best wishes.


Ronald Reagan

Lag B’Omer, 5747, May 17, 1987
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
770 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11213

By the Grace of G-d
Lag B’ Omer, 5747
May 17, 1987
Brooklyn, N.Y.

His Excellency
President Ronald Reagan
The White House
Washington, D.C.

Greeting and Blessing:

Once again, dear Mr. President, it is a genuine pleasure to acknowledge your kind felicitations on the occasion of my recent birthday.

I was impressed with your meaningful Proclamation of “Education Day, USA” in connection with the Joint Resolution of the United States Congress, and I sincerely appreciate your heading the roster of signatories to the “International Scroll of Honor” affiliated with it. Its mention 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 G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai,” is a clarion call vital to all mankind.

Furthermore, it is particularly gratifying that you use this occasion to bring to the attention of the Nation and of the International community the need of upgrading education in terms of moral values, without which no true education can be considered complete.

Consistent with your often declared position, that “no true education can leave out the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life and human striving,” you, Mr. President, once again remind parents and teachers, in the opening paragraph of your Proclamation, that their sacred trust to children must include “wisdom, love, decency, moral courage and compassion, as part of everyone’s education.” Indeed, where these values are lacking, education is – to use a classical phrase – “like a body without a soul.”

With the summer recess approaching, one cannot help wondering how many juveniles could be encouraged to use their free time productively, rather than getting into mischief – if they were mindful of – to quote your words – a Supreme Being and a Law higher than man’s.

I take this opportunity of again acknowledging very gratefully your kind sentiments and good wishes.

With utmost esteem and blessing,


M Schneerson

August 25, 1987


Santa Barbara

August 25, 1987

Dear Rabbi Schneerson:

I’m sorry to be so late responding to your letter of May 17, but I’m just now having some quiet time to catch up.

I was very pleased to receive your message and to have the benefit of your reflections on the important role moral and spiritual values must play in the realm of education. The renewed attention being paid to these questions, not only in debates among public policy makers, but in academic and intellectual circles as well, is encouraging. I believe this trend is virtually certain to continue as the American people look for ways to apply the lessons of tradition to the problems facing our educational system and so many other areas of our national life.

I appreciate your contributions to these welcome developments and all that the Lubavitch movement has done to foster the inculcation of high moral and ethical standards.

With every good wish,


Ronald Reagan

September 6, 1987
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
770 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11213

By the Grace of G-d
12th of Elul, 5747
Sept. 6, 1987
Brooklyn, N.Y.

His Excellency
President Ronald Reagan
The White House
Washington, D.C.

Greeting and Blessing:

Thank you very much, Mr. President, for your very kind letter of August 25, 1987. Your thoughtful and warm sentiments are certainly most encouraging and stimulating.

I want you to know, dear Mr. President, that from the reports reaching me from our emissaries in most States of the Union and in many major centers and outposts in various parts of the world, it is particularly gratifying to note that your consistent, often courageous, leadership in areas of the traditional American and universal values is finding an increasingly receptive response. This is even more evident in the realm of education, as you rightly note in your letter.

Similarly, we have reason to believe that your forceful supportive stance to help upgrade the moral standards of human relationships on the basis of the so-called Seven Noahide Laws (with all their ramifications) as imperatives of a Supreme Being who monitors all human conduct, has made a great impact on the consciousness of the contemporary troubled generation of mankind.

I consider it particularly relevant to mention the above at this time, as we approach Rosh Hashanah (lit. the “head” of the year) in our Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah, as you surely know, is the anniversary of the creation of man, and thus also of the “Coronation” of the Creator as “King of the Universe.” This Day is, therefore, a most auspicious occasion in Jewish tradition, the day when the Supreme King of Kings bestows His blessings on humankind, nations as well as individuals, graciously and generously.

In light of the above, your lasting contribution, through word and deed, to the advancement of all inhabitants in this blessed land and of humanity at large, will surely stand you in good stead for a goodly measure of Divine blessings.

Including, especially, the blessing of vigorous good health to continue from strength to strength in all your good endeavors.

With esteem and prayerful blessings

M. Schneerson

May I add, Mr. President, that the current year in the Jewish Calendar (5747) is a “Sabbatical Year” ( Leviticus 25:1-7). One of the underlying purposes of this unique institution, which calls for rest from certain agricultural activities, is that it provides additional time which should be spent on more intensive study, and on activities dedicated to morally uplifting pursuits. This lesson has special significance in this day and age, when, largely as a result of what you rightly call incomplete education, moral and ethical standards have not kept pace with technological advancement.

In conclusion, I wish to assure you, dear Mr. President, that I deeply appreciate your personal warm sentiments and good wishes, which I heartily reciprocate in the words of our Sages, “Whoever blesses others is blessed by G-d Himself,” the Source of All Blessings, in a generous measure.

With prayerful wishes for your and the First Lady’s good health and prosperity, and

With esteem and blessing,

M. Schneerson

February 18, 1988
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
770 Eastern Parkway
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11213

By the Grace of G-d
30 Shevat, 5748
February 18, 1988
Brooklyn, N.Y.

President Ronald Reagan
The White House
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President

I deeply appreciate your kind and warm words of sympathy.

“Words emanating from the heart, enter the heart,” the Sages say. I want you and Mrs. Reagan to know that they brought me comfort and solace,

We are, indeed, consoled by the abiding thought that the dear departed has left behind her a legacy of a lifetime spent here on earth in good deeds which live on, and continue to grow; and, of course, growth is a sign of true vitality. And her eternal soul – reflected in the ongoing activities of the institutions – will continue to be a source of inspiration and encouragement, especially to all whose lives were touched by hers.

In the Torah, an expression of sympathy in a time of grief, invoking solace from the One Above who is the true source of Consolation, is termed a “Blessing of Condolence,” and is reciprocated with the words, “May you be blessed from Heaven.”

I do so reciprocate your blessing. Needless to say, a blessing from Heaven, the Source of All Blessings, is replete and boundless with all good. I only add my prayerful wish that it be “in the kind of good that is revealed and obvious” – not only in Heaven, but also here on earth.

With profound esteem and with blessing

M Schneerson

The President is presented with a silver Menorah in honor of the holiday of Chanukah

December 21, 1988


December 21, 1988

Dear Rabbi Shemtov

As my Administration draws to a close, I want you and those of your fellow rabbis who accompanied you to the White House on December 1 to know that I was delighted to greet you and to accept the thoughtful gifts which you kindly brought for me.

It has been a pleasure each year to welcome you and your colleagues in the American Friends of Lubavitch on the occasion of Chanukah and to receive a beautiful menorah as an expression of your friendship. This symbol of your faith is a, treasured keepsake of the valued support which I have enjoyed from the Lubavitchers over the years. Be assured that I am truly grateful for your loyalty and goodwill.

Nancy joins me in sending all of you our warm best wishes for a happy and rewarding future.


Ronald Reagan

King Solomon’s Brilliant Verdict…

King Solomon’s Brilliant Verdict for the Ages

Rabbi Ben Tzion Krasnianski

27 Tevet 5764

Israel’s greatest king, Solomon, was only twelve years old when G-d promised him that he would be granted wisdom, and that he would be the wisest man that ever lived. In the very first recorded decision in the history of legal jurisprudence, in the Book of Books (Kings 3:16), we read about Solomon’s brilliance and how it endeared him at such a tender age to the entire nation of Israel, who willingly accepted him as their monarch.

Two women came before King Solomon.

One woman (the true mother) said, “My lord, this woman and I dwell in the same house and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. On the third day after I gave birth she also gave birth… This woman’s child died during the night because she lay on him. She arose during the night and took my son from my side while I slept, laid him on her bosom and laid her dead child on my bosom. When I rose in the morning to nurse my son, behold, he was dead! But when I observed him in the morning, I realized that he was not my son to whom I had given birth.”

The other woman replied, “It is not so! My son is the live one and your son is the dead one.”

King Solomon briefly reiterated their arguments and ordered, “Bring me a sword.” The King then said, “Cut the living child in two, and give half to one and half to the other.”

The woman who claimed that her son was stolen from her said, “Please, my lord, give her the living child and do not kill it.”

But the other woman said, “Neither mine nor yours shall he be. Cut!”

The king spoke up and said, “Give the first woman the living child and do not kill it; for she is his mother.”

Reportedly, in the summer of 2000, at Camp David, Yasser Arafat recited to former President Clinton this classical Biblical story, arguing that the very fact that Israel was willing to divide, to compromise and to negotiate on every point, including Jerusalem, while the Arabs were absolutely unyielding and uncompromising, proved that the Israelis were not the true ‘mothers’.

Granted, it is possible that King Solomon in his divinely inspired wisdom was thinking of the widely celebrated and the internationally acclaimed dispute over the Holy Land, where the two mothers, the Jews and the Arabs, are arguing over the same piece of land. It is fascinating to note that this case is the one and only example the Bible gives us of King Solomon’s legendary brilliance.

Not surprisingly, however, Arafat completely missed the point of the story. The issue is not who agrees to cut the baby, but who cares about the baby. It’s all about life; the true mother wants the baby to live, while the false mother would gladly see the baby die.

Following in King Solomon’s footsteps, the international community has been unanimous in its decision to bring on the sword, to cut the baby in half and to divide the Holy Land. Consequently, just as in the original episode, everyone’s true color has emerged for all to see.

The true mother, the Jewish people who love the land, who have a soul connection to the land, who for millennia prayed and continue to pray three times a day, “Please G-d return me to the land,” have relinquished their just claim. For the sake of peace, Jews are ready to make painful concessions. Give the baby away rather than hurt the child, they cry out. The most mindless, radical Jewish left-wing fanatics, who follow in the footsteps of Neville Chamberlain, believing in “peace at any price,” are ready to sacrifice their very own home, so that the land of Israel will flourish and its inhabitants will live in peace and tranquility.

The false mother, however, who never wanted the baby in the first place, and only wanted to deprive the real mother of her legitimate child, cruelly declared: “If I won’t get the baby than kill the baby.” The Arabs say that if they don’t get Jerusalem and the Jews refuse to unconditionally surrender to them, they will destroy the land, maim and murder its inhabitants and strangle Israel’s economy. Has anyone forgotten the searing images during the Gulf War, how the Arab settlers in Arab-occupied Ramallah danced on the roof tops encouraging their hero, Sadaam Hussein, to rain missiles on Israel and to destroy the entire land?

The verdict is in by the most brilliant legal mind that ever lived. The Jewish people are the real mothers; Israel is their baby and the land is exclusively Jewish. Even when they were forcibly exiled from their land by their oppressors, the Jewish soul never went into exile and the Jewish people never ceased yearning for Israel. “Next Year in Jerusalem!” they cried out, as they physically turned their faces towards Jerusalem each and every time they prayed.

The Arabs, however, have no connection to the land. They are usurpers who have, by and large, migrated to Israel over the past 100 years because of economic opportunities made possible by the Jews. Jerusalem is not mentioned even once in the Koran, while it is mentioned close to a thousand times in the Bible. When Islam was born 1,600 years ago in Mecca and Medina, the Jewish people had already been in the land of Israel for close to two thousand years, and went through two Temples, two Commonwealths.

The classical Biblical commentaries are puzzled. Why was King Solomon so confident that the false mother would reveal her treachery by agreeing to literally cut the baby in half? After all, wouldn’t human compassion have compelled her to spare the baby, to have mercy on the child and forego her claim so the baby could live?

The commentators explain that mothers throughout the world naturally love their children more dearly than life itself, and would not let harm befall their children. A person has enough presence of mind to not harm himself even in his sleep. Surely, a mother couldn’t harm her newborn baby, even in her sleep. It’s a fact that billions of mothers sleep with their infants without crushing them. Crushing her own baby to death, proved that, as the exception to the rule, she was sorely lacking in motherly instincts and was inclined towards cruelty.

There’s another puzzling mystery. When the real mother agreed to give up her baby why didn’t the lying mother accept the offer, why did she insist that the baby be cut in half? After all, didn’t she kidnap the baby in the first place because she wanted to have a baby?

King Solomon, in his brilliance, realized that she stole the baby not out of love for the child, but out of jealousy for the real mother. Surely, if she had no love for her own child and was able to smother her own baby to death, she wouldn’t care about a stranger’s child. It was a purely vindictive act to deprive the real mother of her child. Consequently, killing the baby by cutting the baby in half, thereby depriving the true mother of her baby, would suit her just fine.

Arab mothers who send their own children to die, and who celebrate their horrific murderous deaths and suicide missions as martyrdom, give the Arabs away as the true thieves, murderers and occupiers.

While the true mother, Israel, agreed to give the land away for the chance of peace, the Arabs prefer to have the baby killed. In response to Jewish overtures for peace, the Arabs unleashed the most vicious and murderous suicide attacks, unprecedented in human history, against innocent men, women, children and babies, attempting in vain to destroy beautiful Israel.

King Solomon, speaking across generations, is addressing our situation today in this landmark, internationally acclaimed verdict. King Solomon is clearly stating that there are definite and clear distinctions: While one mother is telling the truth, is kindhearted, compassionate, an ideal mother, the other mother is a cruel, stone-hearted kidnapper, a liar and a would-be murderer to boot.

In the end, truth and justice will prevail, even in the world of smoke and mirrors, multiculturalism, pluralism and political correctness that we currently inhabit. The true mother has been exposed for all to see. Every lover of truth knows now beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Holy Land of Israel in its entirety belongs exclusively to its true mother, the Jewish people, forever and ever; never to be divided, never to be separated from the house of Israel

This article is © Copyrighted but the author grants full permission to reproduce, republish or copy freely on the condition that it remains unchanged. “Rabbi Krasnianski” <[email protected]>

Finding a True Rabbi

Finding a True Rabbi

by Rabbi Simon Jacobson

It happened a few years ago. I was invited to sit on a panel discussion at Touro Law School in Huntington, New York. It was a panel discussion on some of the principles of Jewish faith including a discussion on Moshiach and redemption (geulah). My co-panelists were two other Rabbis, one Orthodox and another Conservative. From the story you will see why I don’t call myself an ‘orthodox’ Rabbi. Our mediator presented ten questions on the given topics to all three of us and we all responded to them in a cordial way.

Then at the end of the evening, after we finished answering the mediator’s questions, the audience was invited to ask their questions. We were in an auditorium filled with maybe three, four hundred people. A woman got up in the back of the room and asked the following question. She said, “I speak on behalf, I believe of 90% of the Jewish people who are assimilated and unaffiliated to any type of denomination. Some of us question the existence of G-d, many of us don’t go to any synagogue. I want to know this: you all talk so eloquently about a final redemption and a world that will be driven by G-d and spirituality in the quest for divine knowledge rather than material pursuits. I want to know what will happen to myself and 90% of Jews today who are totally non-observant and not committed to any mitzvahs or any of the Torah laws, what will happen to us if Moshiach were to come tonight?”

“Pretty good question,” I say to myself.

The order of response was first the orthodox Rabbi. He said four words: “G-d will have mercy.” Subsequently, a resounding boo arose from the entire crowd. Clearly they were not satisfied with his answer and found it condescending. This was not exactly a reverent audience, you can imagine, so they didn’t mind booing a Rabbi. That’s what he said and that’s how they responded to his answer.

Then came the Conservative Rabbi’s turn. He actually turned to me and said, “yes, I have the same question Rabbi Jacobson. What will happen to the unaffiliated?” The crowd laughed. That would have been bad enough, but then he added the following. His voice dripping with cynicism, he said he once heard in the name of one of the Torah leaders and scholars of the last generation, I won’t go in to graphic detail, that the Holocaust was G-d’s punishment of the Jews, particularly those in central Europe, Germany and France (the birth of the reform movement there etc.), for breaking Jewish law. And the Rabbi went on to list how every atrocity perpetrated by the Nazis was a result of another broken commandment broken. The reason their hair was shorn was because they didn’t cover their hair, the reason their arms were hurt was because they didn’t put on Tefillin. Children were killed because they weren’t born in purity, etc. etc. And so if the Messiah were to come tonight, the conservative Rabbi turned to me and asked, “Is that what you believe will happen to 90% of the Jewish people, the people that don’t keep the Mitzvot, will they experience anther holocaust?”

His words were chilling — he had succeeded in getting the entire crowd roiled up. Turbulence and tension filled the air.

There are questions and there are questions. This woman’s question was one of those moments of truth. Because ultimately her simple question touches the heart of all of Judaism; it exposes what we really believe, it touches us all. I must tell you that this was one of the most powerful experiences in my life. Imagine the scene of 400 stunned people sitting there waiting for my response. I sat there on the podium under those glaring lights, getting hotter under the collar. A thundering silence filled the room. Clearly, this question when straight to people’s hearts. The question was provocative but to the point. And how? As it came my turn to speak, every second turned into an hour. Frankly, I had no idea what I was going to say. One thing was for sure. I was not going to get away with some evasive cliche or humorous answer. This was a real moment of truth. Sometimes your entire life training is to prepare you to answer this type of question. I knew that my response – especially in context of the other Rabbis – what shall we call it…could make it or break it for hundreds of people.

So, what does one do in a time like this? You pray that G-d put the right words in your mouth. I thought to myself: How would Moses, the Baal Shem Tov, the Rebbe – all the true Jew lovers – what would they say to this question? What would G-d Himself say to this woman?

I prayed to G-d to put the right words my mouth. I took a deep breath and here is what I said:

“One of the Rebbe’s once said that if you are asked a question and you don’t have an answer you should tell a story and if that doesn’t work you should sing a song. I will try to tell a story and I hope this story answers your question and I won’t need to sing.

“In the 19th century there was a Rebbe that lived in a town in Russia, a great Rebbe, mystic and scholar, and very well respected. One Simchat Torah in 1887 the Rebbe spoke about the great virtues of simple folk. He spoke very highly about their special stature, and how they are in some ways even greater than the scholar and pious person. These were not just words. Among the Rebbe’s close acquaintances was a secular, non-observant Jew. He was neither a scholar nor very pious, but the Rebbe spent serious time with him.

“Following the talk, one of the elder Chassidim came to the Rebbe and asked with respect. “The Rebbe encourages us to ask questions, so I have a question. While I understand that a simple person has certain virtues, yet the way the Rebbe described it seems somewhat ‘stretching it.’ I respect the Rebbe’s choices but how is it that the Rebbe can justify spending so much disproportionate time with this fellow who is neither a scholar nor a pious man, when so many of his students and followers would give their lives to spend just a few minutes with the Rebbe, for wisdom, for inspiration.

“Knowing that this Chassid was a diamond merchant, the Rebbe asked him to bring several diamonds of different values so that the he (the Rebbe) could choose the most precious one of the lot. It was a strange request but the Rebbe asked so a Chassid complies although he didn’t know what the Rebbe was getting at. He brought several precious stones of different values. The Rebbe chose the largest and brightest stone and exclaimed: “this is the most precious of the lot – am I right?!” he asked the Chassid. The Chassid didn’t want to contradict the Rebbe so he remained quiet. But after the Rebbe insisted, the Chassid said, “well, that is not really the most precious one.”

“But it looks so beautiful and large” asked the Rebbe. The Chassid replied, “with all due respect Rebbe, you need to have a trained eye. The naked eye cannot tell the value of a stone, the cut, the color, the clarity.” The Rebbe smiled and said to him, “with all due respect, if that is the case with stones, how much more so with neshamot, souls. It is not what meets the eye, you need to have a trained eye, the naked eye can’t tell anything about neshamot” That was his answer to his question about the value of people.

After telling this story, I continued: “There is no human being in the world that can measure souls because souls are not man made, they are divine. Therefore only G-d knows the true nature of our souls, we humans don’t. I don’t know whose neshama is greater, whether it is yours (I pointed to the woman) or it’s mine or its someone else’s, or this orthodox Rabbi’s or this conservative Rabbi’s or anyone else in this room. Not only don’t I know, but it doesn’t even matter. It is not our business to know, or to judge or to measure the value of souls. If we had to know the nature of the soul, we would have been told. It is not our job and function to know. The fact is that we all have neshamot and we do not know whose is greater. Sometimes the one with the greatest challenges is the one with the greatest soul.

“We know very little about a soul and its journey. Remember, none of us chose to be born into the families that we were born into. Why for instance, is one child born into a healthy, nurturing home, and another child is born into a dysfunctional, abusive home? Why is one child born into a home which provided the child with a strong spiritual education, one that offered a proud and educated Jewish influence, and another child is born into a home that provided no education, or a very negative and illiterate one? These are part of G-d’s mysterious ways and only G-d knows the answer to these questions. One thing is for sure: Each soul is pure and holy, and no one has the right or the knowledge to know the level of a soul. We cannot judge anyone, because we don’t know all the forces that have shaped their lives.

“None of us chose to be born into the families that we were born into. I didn’t choose my parents and the education and level of observance they provided me. You didn’t choose your family, and the 90% of the unaffiliated Jews that you described also didn’t choose. It is all driven by Divine intervention, G-d chooses. In other words, the type of education, the kind of family and environment that we would be exposed to is totally not up to us. So therefore we cannot judge people and measure them based on that.

“The only thing we could measure – even if we had that right – is: what did you do with the abilities and opportunities that were presented to you?

I continued:

“One step further. It says in holy books that Moses was shown all the generations to come. Moses is the first and greatest leader of the Jewish people, their shepherd, ‘roeh Yisroel.’ Before he passed away, G-d wanted to show him the future generations so that he would have nachas (pleasure) to see how they would thrive under all circumstances. Of all the things he saw what impressed Moses most was the effort and commitment of the last generation. The Torah tells us that Moses is the humblest man that walked the face of this earth. Why was he so humble? He was humble before our generation. When he saw this generation – one so assimilated, so secular, a generation that grew out of generations who suffered so much – and yet there are Jews trying to connect to G-d, that humbled Moses. This one tries to keep a Shabbos, this one tries to light a Shabbos candle, Yizkor on Yom Kippur, whatever. That humbled him.

“You know why? Because his generation was ‘enlightened.’ They all witnessed and experienced miracles. The exodus from Egypt, the parting of the sea, revelation at Sinai, forty years of miracles in the wilderness and yet they were far from perfect. But this generation did not see miracles. It is a generation that has every reason to deny G-d. A generation that followed the holocaust and before that, the pogroms in Eastern Europe, the Cossacks, and before that the Inquisition and the Crusaders. On and On, you name it and still there are people walking the streets of New York or Bangkok, Melbourne or Stockholm, Tel Aviv or Capetown, wherever it may be, and are aspiring and trying – that humbled Moses more than anything else.”

Then I concluded:

“I don’t know much more than you do, and I don’t understand it all on a cosmic level, but in reply to your question, I can say this: I was taught by my Rebbes that if Moshiach is to come tonight, people with the greatest challenges will march first – being the ones that made Moses humble. If Moshiach comes tonight, by tomorrow morning you and every person on this earth will recognize that Mitzvos and Torah is the healthiest and best way for a person and a Jew to self actualize and to live up to their divine calling and their highest potential.”

There was silent hush in the room after I finished speaking. I felt a very strong emotional reaction coming from the crowd, a powerful surge of electricity that was felt across the entire room. People were crying and the woman who asked the question came over to me in tears. It was amazing, beyond description. I was deeply moved and never forgot that evening.

I sincerely say this with all humility – because I know that my answer was not my own. I truly feel privileged to have a Rebbe who taught me how to answer to this question. Without that I honestly believe that I would have had the same blank response as the other two rabbis did.

I must admit that I felt proud at that moment, and every time I think about that evening. Not arrogant pride, but blessed pride. A pride that is mixed with deep sadness, because right here before my eyes I saw both the tragedy and blessing of our times. These two so-called Rabbis could not answer this earth shattering and life-defining question. If they cannot answer such a fundamental question, what are they doing to their constituents?! Without the basic understanding of the soul, are they truly able to foster love and respect for people that are not like themselves – people from other communities, people who may dress and behave differently, people who may go to other synagogues, unaffiliated Jews and so on?

The reason they could not answer the question is because they never learned about the neshama – the soul. They may know much about the Torah’s laws and dictates, but not much about the human spirit. The reason I was able to address the issue was not because of my innovation or creative skills, but because I was taught these principles. The indispensable value and sanctity of every individual soul – despite its challenges and opportunities – is the most fundamental principle in Judaism. This is what Torah is all about; everything else is commentary.

G-d created the neshama. Each human being has a soul that is created in a divine image and all of us are trying our best through the information we have and through study and commitment to live up to it. Without knowledge or awareness of every soul’s value, there is no way that we could find ways to love each other unconditionally. The mitzvah of “love thy fellow as yourself’ is only possible because we have souls that unite, and we are not just bodies that divide.

And this is precisely what is lacking today in our education system, including the education of many of our Rabbis. This is one of the reasons that I struggle with the title “Rabbi” and “Orthodox.” Because these names are labels that either don’t mean anything, or even worse. I don’t want to be stereotyped because of the behavior or ignorance of some many so-called “Rabbis.”

We all are essentially souls of G-d walking around in material bodies. Titles are not that important, especially titles that become bureaucratic and tend to obscure the truth.

Those two Rabbis were very nice guys. The fact that they couldn’t answer the question was not due to their own fault. They were never taught this information. Even if they were aware of the concepts, for them it was only a concept, not a viable reality. And without knowing the reality of this fundamental principle, how could they ever communicate the message of Torah to unaffiliated 90% (or whatever number it is) of the Jewish people. The answer is they don’t communicate it! They may communicate it to the other ten percent, their constituents, but this inherently creates an immediate separation between ‘us and them,’ so to speak, between this group and that group, because there is no spiritual common denominator communication between different types of Jews. Everyone is going their own way, completely oblivious that we are all interdependent souls, and each of us is incomplete without the other souls.

I repeat again: The only way to bridge and unite diverse people is through recognizing the sanctity and indispensability of each individual soul, regardless of background.

Last week I wrote about a foolproof method to determine the status of your Rabbi by asking him for his sources. In the same vein, if you want to have a good understanding of any Rabbi – and for that matter any scholar – ask him this woman’s question: What will happen to the people who transgressed when Moshiach comes?

Let me conclude with the following words: There may be no perfect rabbis today. There may be no perfect synagogues and communities. However, G-d tells us that he does not ask us to accomplish our mission without giving us the abilities to do so. We have everything it takes to fulfill our calling. Therefore, we clearly have the power to search, discover and recognize the appropriate Torah authorities and mentors that will assist us in our life journey.

Remember, we are all in the same boat. We all face challenges of people not living up to the standards of their belief system; we all have experienced hypocrisy and the inevitable disappointments. But we also have been given strength to face these challenges, and we do not come alone. We are like ‘midgets’ that stand on the shoulders of ‘giants’ – all the generations that come before us. With this enormous accumulative power we have within ourselves the ability to face corruption and not become victims.

What each of us has to do is find the best people around us, ask the right questions, have the courage to ask them, and always remember that each of us, even Rabbis, is an indispensable musical note in a grand cosmic composition.

Prospectives on Noahide Laws

Prospectives on Noahide Laws

from Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, Perspectives on the Noahide laws – Universal Ethics (C) S.D. Cowen 2003.

There are seven laws, which are biblically binding on all humanity. They are prohibitions on idolatry, blasphemy (or the reviling of G-d), forbidden sexual relationships, theft, murder, lawlessness (the failure to establish courts and processes of justice) and the consumption of the limb of a living animal, associated with cruelty to animals. They are known as the seven Noahide laws. The reason for this name, is ostensibly because, although[1] six of the laws were commanded to the first person, Adam, the seven laws were completed with Noah, to whom the seventh commandment was given. Only after the flood, was it permitted to humanity to slaughter meat for consumption, and with this came the law prohibiting one to eat the limb of a living animal.[2]

These laws are an intrinsic “possession” of humanity. For the human being is, to use the biblical phrase, “created in the image of G-d”, that is to say, fitted to “imitate G-d”, and this imitation can take place only through the performance of the Divinely given Noahide commandments. The “image of G-d” in humanity is a potentiality: it could and did come to the fore in exemplary human beings; it was submerged, and even so-to-speak “removed” from those who made a travesty of the Noahide laws.

There were ten generations from Adam to Noah[3]. This long epoch of humanity was a history of degeneration and removal of the Divine image from humanity. Noah was unable to redeem the cumulative history of forgoing generations: his luminous ark was the refuge of the ideal of a redeemed humanity and nature[4]. Another ten generations passed from Noah to Abraham. Whilst both intervals of ten generations are part of what the Sages called the two thousand years of void (Tohu) or spiritual darkness[5], Abraham’s relationship to the epoch which preceded him was different.  He was able to redeem the historical epoch (the ten generations) which preceded him.

This was because the service of Abraham marked the beginning of a new era in humanity, called the “two thousand years of Torah [Divine teaching]”. Torah is associated with “light”, symbolizing clear and manifest G-dly truth. Just as the Torah (through its commandments) formed the instrument of the refinement of the world, so Abraham worked on the human environment around him. In the process, he himself practiced and spread the observance of the Noahide laws (starting with the recognition of G-d), as well as keeping a further commandment, circumcision, which was given to him and forms the bridge to the further group of commandments incumbent on the Jewish people, to be given later at Sinai[6].  Abraham was a Noahide, but he was also the father of the Jewish people with their own distinct spiritual character and task. In his offspring, the dual subject of humanity, Jew and gentile, with their complementary tasks, are broadly prefigured.

Thus, Abraham’s son Isaac, who was circumcised, according to the Jewish law, at eight days, projects the Jewish people. From him was born Jacob, who descended into Egypt with his family and there the Hebrew nation grew. Abraham, however, had another son, Yishmael (Ismael) and so did Isaac – Esav (Esau), Abraham’s grandson. According to tradition, Yishmael and Esav, are the fathers[7] of two vast world religions and cultures, Islam and Christianity. In the present world the adherents of Christianity and Islam constitute 55% of the world’s inhabitants[8]; and there are traces and elements of the (Abrahamic) Noahide root teachings in these world religions[9].

After the passing of the matriarch Sarah, the mother of Isaac, Abraham had further sons from Ketura (or Hagar[10]), the mother of Yishmael. These sons, the Bible, relates, were sent off to the East by Abraham. Rabbi Menashe ben Israel in his work Nishmas Chayim[11], states that these sons went to India and disseminated the teachings of Abraham concerning the eternity and reincarnation of the soul. He associates the term “Brahman”, (presumably referring to the priestly Hindu caste) with what were originally “Abrahamin”, the sons of Abraham. Buddhism is in turn a derivative of Hinduism. Hence, traces of “Abrahamic” Noahide theology, are to be found in both these Eastern religions, even though they came to be embedded in religions which were otherwise non-monotheistic[12]. The adherents of Hindusim and Buddhism constitute another 21% of the world’s population, so that in total 76% of the world’s population is associated with religions influenced by the children of Abraham. It is interesting to note that another 14%, officially classed as “non-believing” are largely to be accounted for as the result of Chinese, former Soviet Russian and Eastern bloc political training in atheism – in historical terms, a relatively recent overlay over a much deeper collective memory.

The pure tradition of the Noahide laws and theology as well as the further commandments which were acquired by the Jewish people before Sinai, was kept by Isaac and Jacob and the sons of Jacob. The Jewish people comes fully into its own at Sinai, with the giving of the Torah. At Sinai both the written Torah (the Pentateuch) and the Oral Torah (the elaboration of that which is only cryptically contained in the Written Torah) were given. The Rabbinic tradition which carries and elaborates the oral law is a unique hermeneutic path, which by virtue of the self-nullification of each generation of students to the forgoing generation of teachers, ensures a continuous and unified alignment with the original revelation of the Oral law to Moses at Sinai.

The Noahide laws, originally revealed to Adam and Noah, were reiterated at Sinai in the Torah, which made known that they had previously been given. Their statement at Sinai and the revelation of their details in the Oral law is now the source of their teaching, which is elaborated in the Talmud, and summarized pre-eminently in the Code of Maimonides. One of the tasks of the Jewish people is to guide the nations to the fulfillment of the Noahide laws. Perhaps, apart from more direct means, one of the ways in which it can achieve this is by being (in the words of the prophet) a spiritual “light to the nations”. Through this, the Noahide residues to be found both in the “image of G-d” latent in the spiritual makeup of humanity, as well as in its collective (un)conscious memory of Noahidism, can be crystallized and brought into transformative emergence in the world religions themselves.

This process of crystallization, sometimes achieved by self-redefinition, is profoundly assisted by a conscious orientation to the sources of the Noahide laws. Abraham, long before the complete formation of the Jewish people at Sinai, was known as a “Hebrew” and this Hebraic tradition is of course consolidated in the scriptures of the Jewish people from, and after, Sinai. In modern times, elements of Noahidism have become increasingly disseminated, especially in western cultures[13]. Yet those nations with traditions which consciously relate to the Hebraic monotheism projected by Abraham and the Jewish scriptures, such as the United States of America, and elements of British culture[14] (with their cultural “offshoots” such as Australia), have come furthest in the crystallization of the Noahide values. Perhaps the most explicit expression of this development is to be found in a joint resolution of both Houses of the United States Congress, in 1991, which begins with the following words:

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;

Whereas without these ethical values and principles the edifice of civilization stands in serious peril of returning to chaos…[15]

Torah teaches that the Jewish and the gentile peoples are partners in the fulfilment of the Divine purpose in creation. This purpose, described as the fashioning of a “dwelling place for G-d in the lower realms”[16], involves the manifestation of transcendent, unlimited G-dliness, within a finite and limited world. To this end, the service of the gentile nations consists in the conduct of the seven Noahide laws in order to produce a world, which immanently manifests Divine values: peace, goodness and order. The task of the Jewish people through the performance of their 613 commandments is to draw a transcendent G-dliness into a world, stabilized and harmonized by the Noahide laws.

Just as Jews need gentiles to make the world manifest an immanent G-dliness, an order, in which it is possible and (beyond this) most effective for Jews to perform their transcendent commandments, so gentiles need Jews as a light and beacon in their fulfillment of the Noahide laws. G-d needs both for His purpose, to reveal Himself through the housing of transcendent G-dliness within the world. The greatness of a human being is the extent to which one performs one’s own allotted task in this redemptive purpose[17].

[1] According to Maimonides, Hilchos M’lochim, 9:1.

[2] The Maharal of Prague is of the view that the seven commandments were in fact all given to Adam, including the prohibition on eating the limb of a living animal, even though – since meat could not then be slaughtered for consumption – it was not yet relevant in that particular form. Its broader significance and application was that a person must show restraint, and the ability to delay the gratification of desire (which is epitomized in the requirement that a person wait until an animal has been killed before eating part of it). Adam, himself, however, according to the Maharal of Prague, transgressed this very commandment in another form. By not waiting the few hours required before the fruit of the tree of knowledge would become permissible, he also showed an inability to delay the gratification of desire. In this way the sin of the tree of knowledge was in transgression – in concept – of the prohibition on eating the limb of a living animal. See the Appendix to this volume, “The Maharal of Prague on the Noahide laws”.

[3] Pirkei Avos,  5:2., See here and in the following, Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, Biurim l’Pirkei Avos, 1-5 (N.Y.: Kehos), pp. 253ff.

[4] Cf Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, Likkutei Sichos (N.Y.: Kehos), Vol. 1, p. 10 et passim.

[5] The flood was followed by further moral decline – the generation of the dispersion (through the tower of Babel, which was fundamentally blasphemous in intent), the corruption of Sodom and Gemorah, the morally degenerate society of Egypt.

[6] Thus in the phrase “One [Echod] was Abraham” it is explained (by the previous Rebbe) that the middle letter of Echod – the ches – which has the numerical value of eight, stands for the seven Noahide laws plus the mitzvah of circumcision (Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, Toras Menachem, Vol. 1 [5711], Part 1, pp. 317-318).

[7] Not in the sense of concrete historical individuals who founded these religions, but rather as their cultural and spiritual roots.

[8] Refer to the website

[9] Hilchos M’lochim, end of Ch. 11.

[10] According to Rashi on Genesis, 25:1.

[11] 4:21.

[12] See Zohar parshas Vayera, 99a, “Amar Rabi Aba…”, which speaks of elements in a work of the teachings of the sons of Abraham who went to India, which contained elements that were “close to the words of Torah”, but were then “drawn to various sides.”

[13] See the third section of the chapter on “Sovereignty, persons and the Noahide laws”, especially in regard to the view of the Me’iri, the Remo and the Nodeh B’Yehudah.

[14] See Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, (edited with an introduction by J. Dover Wilson, London: Cambridge University Press, 1960) in reference to the puritan tradition in English culture, termed English Hebraism.

[15] Public Law 102-14, 102d Congress, 1st Session, H.J. Res. 104.

[16] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 6, pp. 13-25, with reference to the Midrash Tanchumaparshas Noso, 16.

[17] To the extent to which the Talmud Sanhedrin, 59a refers to a gentile occupied in the study and practice of his or her commandments, as being as great as the High Priest of the Jewish people.

This monograph collects a number of pieces written over several years on the Noahide laws, the fundamental ethical covenant established with humanity. “A statement of the Noahide laws” was first published in the Journal of Judaism and Civilization, Vol 3, 5761 (2001); “Foundations of the Noahide laws” first appeared in the Journal of Judaism and Civilization, Vol. 2, 5759 (1999); “Rationality and the Noahide laws” and the translation of the “Maharal of Prague on the Noahide laws (G’vuros HaShem, Chapter 66) are reprinted from the Journal of Judaism and Civilization, Vol. 4,  5762-3 (2002). “The Noahide laws and human personality” and “Sovereignty, persons and the Noahide laws” are printed in this monograph for the first time.

Acknowledgements of those who have kindly helped with comments and suggestions, have been made in the individual essays. I owe a general debt of gratitude to my wife, Miriam, for proof-reading and general criticism of the individual essays. Any remaining errors are my responsibility.

These essays do not claim to present or imply authoritative halachic rulings. For these, one must turn to a Rabbinic authority.

Chapter 1


Social perspectives


Chapter 2


Theological perspectives



Chapter 3


Philosophical perspectives


Chapter 4


Psychological perspectives


Chapter 5


Legal-political perspectives




(G’vuros HaShem, Chapter 66)



Social perspectives

1. Moral authority

Monotheism and Divine law

[1] The prohibition on idolatry

The great sociologist, Max Weber, sought and believed to have discovered the orienting values of socio-economic, political and legal organization in the various world-religions. At the same time, in his study of the world religions and the varieties of social organization, he was left with the picture of a “polytheism” – a relativism and conflict – of beliefs, and consequently of practical, concrete values. In a personal letter, he wrote:

The realm of values is dominated by insoluble conflict, hence by the necessity for continuous compromises. Nobody can definitively decide how the compromises should be made, unless it be a ‘revealed’ religion[1]

Perhaps Weber was here writing sceptically. The issue, however, is a central one. Morality is concrete: we are faced daily and even moment by moment with the question, “what should I do, here and now?” What, indeed, is the source and the authority of practical right conduct? The answer to this question, from the point of view of the Noahide laws, is that there is one G-d, Who in the biblical revelation at Sinai made known the laws for His creation.

The prohibition of idolatry is the fundamental precept of the Noahide laws. This is because it relates to the acceptance of G-d, together with which the transcendent authority of Divine revelation, including the Noahide laws, goes[2]. There may be some paradox in the notion of a Divine commandment prohibiting idolatry, for the very acceptance of the commandment implies that one already believes in   G-d, who has commanded it? Indeed to this comes the response that, however concealed this may be from the individual, the human soul – made in the “image of G-d” – already “natively” or intuitively acknowledges G-d[3]. It is ready to acknowledge G-d, even before it is commanded to (in the form of a prohibition of idolatry). The belief in G-d and the sense that these laws are Divinely revealed and ordained laws, are ratified ultimately, not by reason, but by their resonance with soul, the G-dly in humanity.  The commandment against idolatry serves to make a conscious principle of what the human soul natively acknowledges.

What is idolatry? The great medieval codifier, Maimonides, in his account of the origins of idolatry[4], explains that in the days of Enosh, the grandson of Adam, human beings began to accord honour to major forces – the sun, the moon and so forth – in the universe.  They did this because they saw that G-d, Whom they acknowledged as the G-d of these potencies – the “G-d of gods” – had channelled major influences to the creation through these powers. They mistakenly believed that it was G-d’s will that these entities be accorded honour beside G-d, a relationship of “partnership”[5]. This, however, led to a further step, whereby G-d was forgotten, even as the “G-d of gods” and the “intermediary” entities became the sole objects of worship. Idolatry, for the Noahide laws, is accordingly the ascription of absolute significance to any created entity or part of creation: whether to a stone image, a person or even “success” or “money”. Indeed, an “atheism”, which raises “matter” to the sole and absolute principle, would present one of the most strident forms of idolatry: it takes something created – matter – and makes it absolute, even if its terminology and approach is ostensibly “anti-religious”.

For a gentile to make some part of creation a “partner” with G-d, with G-d acknowledged as the ultimate source of creation, is, according to some opinions, not considered idolatry. It is considered idolatry for a Jew. For a Jew, the notion that any force in creation is anything but an instrument in the hand of G-d is idolatrous, and indeed this view is the “purest” form of monotheism, commendable also for a Noahide[6].

The question will therefore arise for an individual belief system or religion, whether or not it has taken some aspect of creation and made it absolute. Frequently, one finds a high degree of flux in human beliefs. It may, therefore, be less pertinent to ask what a particular religion or belief system maintains, than what those who declare themselves adherents of those religions actually believe. If they ascribe importance to something other than the one G-d, what is the nature of that ascription? If, however, prayers are offered to a specific entity within creation, as the absolute source of salvation, then that would be considered idolatrous. If these powers were understood as pointers to the one monotheistically conceived G-d, then that might not be considered idolatry, though it is still not the purest form of monotheism. But where devotion “stops” at these gods or figures, it is idolatry.

Respect for moral authority

[2] The prohibition on blasphemy

The simplest, bluntest sense of blasphemy is that of cursing G-d. It is not “disbelief” in, but rather rebellion against, G-d, for the blasphemer “knows” his Master and nevertheless intends to affront Him. One finds that the State often rests in some sense on a religious recognition, in that oaths[7] of public office, loyalty and legal process may invoke G-d. An article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica on “blasphemy” states that

Blasphemy is always something which is regarded as fundamentally injurious, harmful to society with the underlying idea being that an attack on religion is necessarily an attack on the State. In the words of Chief Justice Hale, a Judge in 1675, “the allegation that religion is a cheat tends to the dissolution of all government”[8].

Even if it is true that government has in many places become secular and separate from religion, and that the affirmation is an alternative to the oath, there is a wider, cognate sense of “blasphemy”. This consists in statements which outrage public values, public offices and institutions. The use of the word “blasphemous” here is not purely metaphorical. For in that the idea of social order per se is a Divinely sanctioned value, in fact representing the ultimate “intention” of the Noahide laws, to provide a settled, civilized society, the outraging of social values as a goal in itself has a quality of blasphemy. One, who violates social practices and institutions, not for principled reformatory reasons (that is, to alter them) but because these are social practices and institutions[9], is rebelling against a Divine value.

Similarly, the dictionary definition for blasphemy includes the more popular sense of “bad language” and “profanity”. This also relates to the essential definition of blasphemy in that it constitutes a debasement of language – itself a fundamental institution of society. The term “profanity” is telling. Formally, it signifies “defilement” of the holy or the sacrosanct. One could argue that such language is sometimes simply colourful or even affectionate, but there are clear borders at which the intention of blasphemy is to subvert social norms in language.

The rebellion in blasphemy is also the soul of vandalism and pornography. The vandal and the pornographer paradoxically “believe” or at least “rely upon” the values which they are destroying. For were these values not to obtain there would be no benefit or motivation for them in their desecration of them. Similar to this is slander and the verbal attack upon persons and institutions, which has a solely destructive intention. The spirit of blasphemy is irreverence, not a whimsical  and fundamentally apologetic irreverence, but a humanly “empty” – a cold and cynical – irreverence. It is rebellion for the sake of rebellion. Its object moves from the sacred to the sacrosanct.

The prohibition against idolatry makes conscious the acknowledgment of G-d as the moral authority of Divinely revealed laws. The prohibition on blasphemy makes conscious the principle of respect for that authority.

2. Society

The state and the containment of violence

[3] The prohibition on murder

The order of civilized society is threatened most by violence in its extreme form: killing[10]. The state, as Weber wrote, is distinguished by the fact that it possesses the sole legitimate resort to violence. It uses violence and death as its ultimate resource of order[11]. The state or society “emerges” from, and is the antithesis of, violence and killing. It has contained – that is to say, controlled – it and the permission to kill is transferred solely to it.

In a situation of non-government, which describes the formal condition of international “society”, there is no legitimate monopoly of the resort to violence. Order of a sort may be established by treaty or customary law, but this is only an order voluntarily subscribed to, or one established under duress, inherently unstable and without any overarching legitimate authority. Violence, potential (more or less explicitly threatened) or actual, is the foreground of international relationships. Likewise, in extreme circumstances, the State may have to go outside its own orderly existence, including the prohibition of murder, to reestablish order. It is then that the state reconstitutes itself from the condition of uncontained violence into the state of society[12].

Even where killing is arguably not harmful to basic social order, as in the cases of suicide, abortion and euthanasia, it is also forbidden by Noahide law. A human being is the union of a body and a soul. Concerning these, the liturgy[13] states, “the soul is Yours [G-d’s] and the body is Yours”. The human being was created in order to serve G-d and belongs to G-d. One is not permitted to dispose of his or her or anyone else’s life, where this is not mandated by Divine law.

The sentient, bodily existence of a human being can experience suffering, and this is to be heeded, but its alleviation is not an absolute[14]. One’s life is not one’s own, that it may be destroyed at will through suicide. Yet the Divine law (by this we refer to the Noahide laws) might mandate a form of suicide, such as allowing oneself to be killed rather than kill another, when forced to this choice. The preservation of the soul in the body is of immense value, but its preservation in the body under all circumstances is also not an absolute. A terminally ill person himself, let alone anyone else, cannot authorize the active termination of his life, because it is not his life. Yet the Divine law might mandate forms of passive euthanasia, by not requiring one to pursue the prolongation of a life in pain without prospect of cure. An unborn fetus is not one’s, that it may be destroyed at will through abortion. But the Divine law could mandate destruction of an unborn fetus, where the unborn child physically threatens its mother’s life. So also it permits to kill in mortal self-defense of oneself or another.

There are Divinely ordained norms of human conduct, and their proper application in consideration of particular situations, discloses the Divine Will through which human being is practically to serve G-d. A person can serve G-d though living and through dying. But in all these cases, Divine law operates; it is the source of principles and the application of those principles and human reason must be guarded against a “reasoning” which imports other principles and assumptions.

The family: true and false unions

[4] The prohibition of forbidden sexual relations

From a theological point of view, not only is the basic social unit, but also the most complete and fullest identity of an individual its participation in, heterosexual marriage. The Bible states, “Man and woman He created them”[15], and mystical commentaries interpret this to mean that husband and wife constitute an entire soul and an entire body. An individual human being is thus intrinsically half a soul, half a person. Even prior to being married, he or she in some sense potentially relates to the “other half”, wherever it may be[16].  The sexual union with an ethical and institutional commitment defines a person as well as the fundamental social unit.

There are three categories of sexual offences prohibited by the Noahide laws. These are those (1) prohibited by reason of closeness, such as incest, (2) prohibited by marriage, namely adultery and (3) prohibited because they run against the created nature and essence of the person, namely homosexuality and bestiality.

Incest constitutes perhaps the most “natural” universal prohibition[17]. Adultery represents a destruction of the fundamental social composite. Homosexuality and bestiality are strange and contrary to the nature of human identity: the whole essential human being was not created as two men or women or as a human and an animal.

The argument that false sexual unions could be justified where they are freely and “faithfully” contracted, employs a mistaken notion of freedom. The philosophers of the Enlightenment set forth freedom and personal liberty as ideals because they believed that it brought forth a human essence: individual human autonomy realized and expressed through the act of choice. Freedom is good because through it a person becomes what he or she “is”. From a religious point of view, the freedom to contract a sexual union with the same-sex human being or with an animal is not freedom, but rather enslavement and alienation of human essence. And in that a human being belongs to G-d with the task to serve G-d, there is no more permission to pervert that essence than there is to remove it by killing it.

The argument, that a human being is created a homosexual and “genetically” has no choice but to be one, is similarly false, before entering into any “scientific” debate on the matter. Quite simply, G-d, Who creates and sustains human beings, has instructed the human being against homosexual practice. That G-d should have created and sustained humans as something which makes it impossible for them to do what He has instructed them to do, is false. A person is not compelled to be a homosexual, just as he is not compelled to be a thief. Whilst a person may have strong impulses in that direction, that is an animal nature, which G-d has instructed humans, through the guidance of their spiritual faculty – with suitable effort and assistance – to contain and transform.

Economy: the integrity and reciprocity of human dealings

[5] The prohibition on theft

Life itself is threatened by the violence of murder, property by theft. Theft, like murder, is a crime patently injurious of social order. The Rabbis stated that the prohibition on theft is so natural and obvious that had it not been biblically given we would have learnt it from ants: namely, from their social character and non-infringement of what belongs to others[18]. Indeed property – owned goods, tools and skills – the object of theft, is the material of human economic activity, which in turn founds social organization. When Proudhon said that “property is theft”, he was saying that the capitalist order of property (not property per se) is theft, and his paradoxical formulation points to the reality that theft endangers property, and is the fundamental crime against basic human economic order[19].

Theft is a wresting of property from persons, contrary to the notion of the reciprocal contract and exchange, characteristic of civilized economy. Deceptive advertising, unfair competition, fraudulent benefit from work conditions, all impair the basic reciprocity, the openness and integrity of human dealings. It disaggregates society as a stable order created for the mutual economic satisfaction of needs.

There is a strong spiritual dimension to the issue of theft. For theft, which proceeds by stealth, does so that it not be seen. If not other people, G-d, however, sees the deed, and for this reason theft bespeaks a great deficit in the fear of
G-d, for the individual is not perturbed by the “seeing eye” of G-d. Daylight robbery, on the other hand, might indicate a “higher” consciousness of G-d in this respect, but on the other hand, it borders on murder, since it forcefully wrests from its owners[20].

Often a logic of personal justice operates to rationalize theft: that the system owes me, or that it has unjustly withheld the item from me or that its requiring of me such and such is inherently unjust. Here comes the principle, that so long as laws are legitimate, in the sense to be discussed in connection with the seventh Noahide law, stealing is an offense against the Divinely sanctioned value of social order.

3. Transcultural norms

Relationships to nature

[6] The prohibition on cruelty to animals: in consuming the limb of a living animal

The variety of cultures, determined principally by the major world religions, indicate a variety of attitudes towards the “world”. In the analysis of Max Weber, Judaism, Christianity and Islam display a theocentric character, oriented towards “world-overcoming” and “world-mastery”. On the other hand, the Eastern religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism were more cosmocentric (i.e. world-centred), oriented more to “world-flight”, and in the case of Confucianism, to “world-adjustment”. These differences of posture to the world find a reflection in the attitude to killing and eating animals. Vegetarianism is found widely in the Eastern religions (except Confucianism), and not in the first group.

Whilst the prohibition on consuming the limb of a living animal has clearly to do with disallowing cruelty to animals, it is not a mandate for or against vegetarianism. Nature, whilst a creation of G-d and often reflecting G-dliness, was never, as a whole, sacred[21]. Nor is humanity its “steward” in the sense of preserving it in particular state. The verse in Genesis[22], which speaks of the subduing of the creation by human beings is not a license for power and dominion for its own sake. Humankind was placed in the Garden of Eden to “work it and to protect it”[23], in short, to elevate it. The task of humanity is much rather to redeem nature. The savagery of animals one to another is a defect in animals as indicated by the prophecy of Isaiah, with its redemptive vision of the lion lying down with the lamb, envisages, through human conduct, a transformation in the nature of animals[24].

Perhaps the major transaction between humans and the animal world is eating. A person should eat, not simply to gratify desire, but also mindful that this food is given by G-d and should be consumed for a higher purpose. That higher purpose might simply be to gain strength to perform good and useful deeds. This intention, as explained in mystical commentaries[25] on the Bible, also rectifies the animal by attaching the Divine spark within it, to G-d. This in turn explains the significance of the prohibition on the consumption of the limb of a living animal.

Adam had, through his Divine service, so elevated the animal realm that there was no need for their consumption by human beings, to reattach them to the Divine. This is why Adam was a vegetarian and why humans were not permitted to slaughter meat for consumption. It was only with the subsequent corruption of the animal world (on account of human misconduct), that humanity from the time of Noah was permitted to eat meat. For then meat could undergo an elevation through its consumption by humans with a higher purpose. This does not make the consumption of meat mandatory, but invests the permission to eat meat with considerable responsibility.

At this point there entered the major qualification that the limb of a living animal not be consumed for reasons apart from the issue of cruelty. In utilizing and incorporating something for a higher purpose, it must first be a material capable of, and fit for, elevation. Otherwise, the object itself can overcome and bring down the person who has come to elevate it. Certain things are intrinsically incapable of elevation. Amongst these is the animal’s life, its raw animal vitality: whilst it is in the flesh, the animal cannot be elevated through eating. The animal must first be slaughtered, and then its flesh is capable of elevation. Thus the concept of the elevation of nature is also at the heart of the prohibition on consuming the limb of a living animal.

The transcultural norm of the Noahide laws here teaches that the animal world is to be elevated materially and spiritually through its incorporation in the Divine service of human beings. If human beings live to sanctify the creation, then the animals, which they have used, benefited from and consumed, become part of that service. Thus, Noahide law permits the consumption of animal flesh after slaughter. It would also permit the use of animal experimentation for the benefit of human beings. In all these cases, however, it teaches to minimize the suffering of animals.

Legitimate legal systems

[7] The prohibition upon failing to establish processes of justice

In his sociology of authority and “domination”, Weber delineated three general kinds of legitimate legal-political order. These were societies (1) where tradition furnished the basis of the legitimacy of a set of substantive laws with its governmental-administrative order; (2) where their basis was the charismatic qualities of the leadership; and (3) where the basis is the rational procedures through which political leaders were appointed and laws made (the rational-legal order). This typology admits a wide variety of historical societies. It does not, however, tell us anything about the substantive or normative validity of these systems’ values. Its focus is on the sociological bases of the authority, rather the objective normative validity of the substance, of law and social process.

The Noahide commandment of processes of justice relates, according to the commentator Rashi, is akin to the notion that the “law of the land is law” (dina d’malchusa dina) namely, secular law in the fiscal-administrative realm (not contradictory to Jewish law) which the Torah recognizes as binding upon a Jew[26]. As Maimonides rules, the commandment is to establish courts which will enforce the other Noahide laws, by means of processes (and with fiscal-administrative regulations) which are discretionary and culturally variable.

Whilst law in this category could have a variety of expressions, one may learn from its comparison with the notion of the “law of the land is law”, as binding upon a Jew, in respect of the criteria which make secular laws acceptable. Maimonides sets these out in “the laws of robbery and lost property” in relation to the question of whether one may purchase land confiscated by a non-Jewish king from his subjects. Namely, is this land in the category of “stolen” land, in which case the general stricture against receiving stolen goods applies, or not?

The first criterion for the normative legitimacy of a legal rule or value is that the conduct of a secular system has to be consistent and non-arbitrary in its application. Thus Maimonides writes

…the law of all kings permits them to confiscate all the property of those ministers with whom they are displeased, and the king has therefore canceled the owner’s original right to it, so that the courtyard or field in question is regarded as ownerless, and if one buys it from the king, he becomes its lawful owner. But if a king takes the courtyard or field of one of the citizens, contrary to the laws he has promulgated, he is deemed a robber, and the original owner may recover it from anyone who buys it from the king[27].

An extension of this criterion is the openness of the legal system, as distinct from one which involves “non-public” acts of terror and persecution. This would rule out tyrannical states such as Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia and societies in which corruption is rife. The public profile of law is in such cases inconsistent with its (often secret or private) execution. Its illegitimacy consists in the promulgation of judgments “…not in accordance with a law known to everyone but by doing violence to [… a particular] person”[28].

The conduct of law and government is moreover binding inasmuch as the subjects subscribe to the authority of the sovereign (or to the law-making body). Legitimacy thus reflects an element of consensus in relation to the existing system of authority. Maimonides formulates an empirical criterion to express the consensual foundation of the legitimacy of a legal-political system:

All the above rules apply only to a king whose coins circulate in the localities concerned, for then the inhabitants of the country have accepted him and definitely regard him as their master and themselves as his servants. But if his coins do not circulate in the localities in question, he is regarded as a robber who uses force, and as a troop of armed bandits, whose laws are not binding. Moreover, such a king and all his servants are deemed robbers in every respect.[29]

Where there is no, or only marginal, black-market activity, we have a measure of the legitimacy of the order. For then the patterns of economic activity and exchange correspond to legal and political realities. There exists stable, orderly, civilized society.

[1] From a letter to Robert Wilbrandt, April 2, 1913, cited by W.J. Mommsen, Max Weber und die deutsche Politick, 1890-1920, and which is taken as the motto of W. Schluchter’s book, The Rise of Western Rationalism (transl. G. Roth), Berkeley and LA: University of California Press, 1981:

[2] Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 26, p. 137 cited in the anthology of writings of Rabbi Schneerson on the Noahide Laws, Kol bo’ei olam. The editor of the latter work contrasts this with a seemingly contrary statement in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 7, p. 33, fn.18.

[3] See S.D. Cowen, “Foundations of the Noahide Laws” in Journal of Judaism and Civilization, Vol. 2 (5760/1999).

[4] Mishneh Torah, “Laws of Idolatry and its practitioners”, chapter 1.

[5] This term is not employed by Maimonides, but is found in the RemoShuchon Oruch, Orach Chayim 156.

[6] There are also views that this is mandatory for a Noahide. SeeSha’alos u’t’shuvos V’shov HaKohen 38 and Sha’arei Efraim 24.

[7] With the option of an affirmation.

[8] 1964 printing, Vol. 3, p. 763.

[9] Certain doctrines which actually subscribe to a theory or philosophy of anarchy would be similarly be considered principled, as distinct from this fundamentally idle or indifferent destruction of values.

[10] See Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, “Laws of the murder and physical protection” 4:9

[11] Cf the definition of the State by Max Weber as “that human society, which, within a particular area… (successfully) claims for itself the monopoly of physical violence” Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, 5th edn, Studienausgabe, Tuebingen: J.C. B. Mohr(Paul Siebeck), 1972, p. 821.

[12] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, p. 161.

[13] Selichos, and in the prayers of the High Holidays, Rosh HaShonah and Yom Kippur.

[14] As distinct from the argument of Peter Singer in Animal Liberation, for whom this constitutes the sole significance of a human or animal being.

[15] Genesis 1:27.

[16] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 31, pp. 95-6.

[17] See Levi Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship (transl J.H.Bell et. al.) Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), ch. 1. Though see also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, pp. 273-74.

[18] Talmud, Tractate Eiruvin 100b.

[19] See George Lichtheim, A short history of socialism, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970 who speaks of Proudhon’s doctrine of the mutualism of property, whilst maintaining that workers should own their own tools.

[20] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 32, pp. 112-119.

[21] Such a concept , indeed, may be idolatrous. See M. Gerstenfeld, “Neo-paganism in the public square and its relevance to Judaism”, Jewish Political Studies Review,11: 3-4, Fall 1999 and his monograph Judaism, Environmentalism and the Environment – Mapping and Analysis, Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies & Rubin Mass Ltd, 1998.

[22] Genesis 1:26.

[23] Genesis 2:15.

[24] See Isaiah, ch. 11.

[25] Baer Mayim Chayim on Genesis 9:4.

[26] Rashi, Talmud Tractate Gittin 9b. Whilst there are some views that the laws of the Noahides within the category of “legal processes” are to resemble Jewish laws and institutions (commentary of Ramban on Genesis 34:13), there are authoritative opinions, as mentioned within, that this is not so.

[27] Mishneh Torah,“The laws of robbery and lost property”, 5:13. Emphasis added.

[28] Ibid., 5:14.

[29] Ibid., 5:18.


Theological perspectives

1. In the image of G-d

The soul and the resonance of the Divine[1]

Jewish thought addresses not only the Jewish people but also general humanity. Whilst there are differences in the spiritual personality of Jew and non-Jew and the Torah provides different directives for each, there is an important area which is common to non-Jew and Jew alike. This commonality relates to the phrases used in the Torah “Let us make man in Our image and as Our likeness”[2] and, later on, that mankind was created “in the image of G-d”[3]. These phrases apply to all humanity[4].

The sense in which human beings exist in the “image of    G-d” refers to a faculty found in mankind, termed by Jewish thought the “intellectual soul”, by which it means the intellectual being or characteristic of humans. The expression in the Hebrew of the Bible is b’tzelem Elokim, “in the likeness of Elokim. Commentaries explain that the word Elokim to refer to the angels[5]. The intellectual soul of man, to which this term refers, thus has a likeness to the angels. Angels (m’lochim, literally “emissaries”) are spiritual beings without a body. They have no conflicts between their intellectual attachment to the Divine and feelings arising from a bodily existence, since they do not possess a body. Similarly, the intellectual soul of human beings has in common with angels that it is intrinsically or potentially removed from physicality, from bodily drives and emotions. Human intellect is capable of independent attachment to G-dliness.

The difficulty for the human intellect, unlike an angel, is that it resides in a body together with what is termed the “animal soul”, the bodily, emotional personality of a human being[6]. This has consequences for intellect itself. Thus, it has been stated[7] that the nature of the reasoning of intellect is that it builds on, and applies, first principles, and does so also by means of certain rules or styles of reasoning. But whilst reason can faithfully and rigorously apply and develop first principles, it is not the source of those first principles, nor is it the source of its particular style of reasoning. Reason as a pure instrument is thus forced in all honesty to acknowledge that which is other than reason, that with which reason works.

The first principles with which reason work have been termed “dispositions” (ha’nochos)[see note on the meaning of ethics from ethics textbook]. They arise in personal and cultural will (called by the Lubavitcher Rebbe r’tzono ha’tov). Certainly much of the social, human and behavioural sciences will acknowledge the pre-set biases or dispositions in knowledge and judgment and recent philosophy follows suit. Particular systems of reasoning or works of human creativity are, however, validated by the essentially arbitrary bases – preferences and dispositions which have been rationally expressed as assumptions – that condition them.

That which, on the other hand, makes intellect receptive not to the dispositions of personal will, but instead directs intellect to the Divine, is a fundamental humility, self-negation, called in Jewish thought bitul. The recognition of G-dliness and the content of Divine revelation as “authoritative”, as the “life” of creation involves seeing the creatureliness of mankind including human intellect (not to mention feeling). This is a spiritual perception of intellect: a possibility of intellect.

If the outcomes of reason follow from the arbitrarily selected assumptions and rules of reasons, how could in terms of reason, the orientation of intellect to the Divine rather than any other starting point, be defended? The answer to this is in the spiritual quality itself which resides within – which is the true “soul” of –  human intellect[8]. The truth of the Divine is measured by the resonance, or the chord, which it finds in the human soul, whereby the G-dly in mankind recognizes and resonates with G-dliness at large. Intellect can verify this perception once experienced, but it is certainly not compelled to come to this perception. Indeed, this native, spiritual sense of the intellect has more often than not been concealed.

The commandments and the modelling of the Divine

A second significance of the term “in the image of G-d”, the commentaries state[9], is that, by its essence, mankind “rules”: just as G-d rules over the lower realms, so also man can and should rule over the lower realms, over the physical realm of nature. In the microcosm this would mean, and is so explained elsewhere that the intellectual soul has the ability to rule over the lower “nature” of man: to direct and refine emotion. Feeling is implanted in animal nature and in the animal with man. The raven, our Sages told us, has a quality of cruelty; whilst another is kindly disposed by its nature. Unlike the animal, however, no human being need be impelled by emotion since intellect is able to prevail over it.

Jewish thought presents human nature as composed of a number of attributes – chesed (love), g’vurah (severity or discipline), tiferes (harmony) and so forth – which are also the names of Divine attributes[10]. The difference is that in the animal nature of human beings these emotions can also take on an unholy expression. Love can be other-directed or it can be venal and self-indulgent. So too the quality of severity could express itself in self-discipline and sanctification or it could take on the face of violence and aggression[11]. The significance of the commandments of the Torah, the knowledge supplied in Torah is to convert the attributes of human nature into their Divine expression. The Divine commandments, Maimonides writes, were given to “rectify behaviours and to make deeds upright” (l’saken hadei’os u’l’yuasher hama’asim[12])– through the 613 commandments of the Jew, and similarly, we might argue through the seven Noahide laws of the gentile.

Along these lines various authors[13] have written that the individual Noahide laws rectify – and have sought to identify – specific temperamental qualities (middos). The prohibition of murder comes to refine the characteristic of g’vurah (severity) from its degenerate expression (ultimately) in murder into the holier expression of self-discipline. The prohibition of forbidden sexual relations rescues chesed (loving kindness) from self-directed gratification to other directed kindness. But, whatever the correspondences between the Noahide laws and particular qualities of character may be, the basic notion remains that they have to do with a modelling of character which “resembles” the Divine. This notion of the modelling of the Divine does not mean that qualities of “kindness” and “severity” or “judgment” inhere in, or define, G-d. Rather, in the way G-d practises kindness, so should we; in the way G-d practises judgment, so should we.

The extension of a human personality modelled on the Divine is a harmonious and orderly society. The practical goal of the Noahide laws is thus manifested in the notion of civilized society: both in terms of the relationships of human being with G-d, and with other human beings. This ideal has been called by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, “yeshuvo shel olam”, the “settled inhabitation of the world”[14]. This is not simply an “ideal”, a “plus”. Its absence is seen as something profoundly negative. An uncivilized world is a barbaric world. For since the world was created for a purpose, namely, the manifestation of G-dliness in it through the agency of mankind, both Jewish and non-Jewish, when there is a vitiation of this purpose through essentially barbarous human conduct, it is as though the purpose of human existence has been forfeited[15].

This is why the violation of the Noahide laws are associated with the “liability” of death. It does not mean that the Jewish people, who were instructed by Moses, at the command of G-d, to bring the nations to observance of these laws, have the legal possibility of carrying out this penalty[16]. The practical significance of the sense of the “liability to death”, associated with violation of the Noahide laws is the forfeiture of the purpose of the existence of human beings, who were created in the first place to carry out the settled and civilized inhabitation of the world, and have vitiated that purpose[17].


Non-Jews and Jews

What can keep the intellectual soul trained on G-d and the Divine commandments, rather than its being submitted to personal will[18]? Whilst the intellectual soul is potentially sovereign over emotion, its “proximity” to emotion is its weakness. To be attuned to the G-dly and to remain attuned, the intellectual soul has in the Jew the wholly separate pilot of the “G-dly soul”.

Even though this spiritual faculty in the Jewish people has a pre-history, its “installation” relates significantly to the exodus from Egypt and the receiving of the Torah, through which there occurred what is termed the “choosing of the Jewish people”. This meant an historical-spiritual bonding of the Jewish people with G-d, becoming, so to speak, part of their “spiritual genetics”. It is expressed in the notion that a Jew inwardly steadfastly recognizes and cannot be separated from G-dliness. It is true that this spiritual consciousness can be covered over: there are Jews who are unobservant. But this spiritual attachment is latent and resurgent. It readily emerges at critical times[19].

There is a famous law in the Code of Maimonides[20] defining a righteous gentile as one who performs the Noahide laws not simply because they make sense, but because they have been commanded by G-d to Moses in the Torah. This is a statement of attachment to the Jewish people and to their attachment to G-d through Torah[21]. Thus innermost awareness of G-d, through the G-dly soul, not only keeps the intellectual soul of a Jew, at least in some sense latently, trained on the Divine. In a wider sense, it constitutes also that which the prophet referred to as a “light to the nations[22]”.

Not only is this light focussed by the Jewish people upon the nations, and indeed Maimonides rules that the Jewish people are obliged to see to the moral conduct (the observance of the Noahide laws) of the nations. There is, however, a sense also in which the soul faculty (however consciously or unconsciously) of the nations knows the Jewish people to be their beacon. This dimension in humanity derives a vitality from the Jewish people and desires to be attached to them and to assist them; and through this more deeply to tap into the Divine[23].

Not only are the Jewish people a beacon or a light, in the words of the prophet, to the nations in the sense that it is there for those who wishto chart their course by it. Maimonides rules that the Jewish people have an obligation to bring the nations to fulfilment of their commandments[24]. This, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe has pointed out, is not based upon any particular means of influence nor is it limited by its immediate prospects of success[25]. Only of Moshiach is it stated (at the very end of Maimonides Code[26]), that he will effectively be able to bring the entire world to the service of G-d inclusive of fulfilment of the Noahide laws. The service of Jews in influencing the gentile world up to that time, is of an essentially preparatory nature[27]. At the time of Moshiach, a great Jewish leader of prophetic dimensions, there will be the revelation of a Divine “light”, of G-dliness, which will drive away moral darkness from the nations. We cannot know how this rectification of the world will be. Certainly the prevailing spirit in Chassidic thought, in relation to the propagation and establishment of the Noahide laws, is in a manner of “paths of peace” consonant with the Biblical verse, invoked by Maimonides[28], that “G-d is good to all and His mercies are with all his creatures”[29].

  1. Rival philosophies of Noahidism


Two approaches

Whilst the obligation upon the Jewish people to influence the nations to keep the Noahide laws, as mentioned above, applies at all times, it has until recently not been vigorously practised. A reason for this, sanctioned by Torah itself, is the fact of danger. This was due to the vulnerability of the Jewish people in the context of a general society antagonistic to them. Yet at this critical juncture in history, when it appears that Jews can proceed without fear to teach and influence the non-Jewish world quite explicitly with regard to the Noahide laws, and as Noahide movements emerge, there opens up an issue of fundamental philosophical difference of approach to Noahidism.

Two fundamental approaches emerge. One of these is the classical orthodox Jewish tradition, which can be documented in Maimonides, the Maharal of Prague and the writings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. This is at the foundation of first section of this essay. The other stems from relatively recent writings associated with the names Benamozegh and Palliere

In 1955 there was published for the first time an English translation of a work written in French by a Moroccan-born Jew, Elijah Benamozegh, who for 50 years held a Rabbinical post in Livorno in Italy.  His life spanned the years 1823-1900 and was marked by prolific writing and a thoroughgoing acquaintance with the secular learning of his time. His name and quotations from his work appear in a number of recent orthodox works in English on the Noahide Laws, but these come through and are quoted in the book, The Unknown Sanctuary, of a French gentile, Aime Palliere, whom Banamozegh inspired to a life of Noahidism. A reprint of Palliere’s book, with a new introduction by David Novak, appeared in 1985[30]. Palliere is presented by some as the gentile “high priest” of Noahidism. His work shows a fundamental consonance with that of Benamozegh, whose thought he faithfully propagated.

It would appear that until the recent appearance of a new English translation, Israel and Humanity[31]Benamozegh’s work itself has been little known (notwithstanding the Hebrew edition and translation which appeared in 1967). In emerging contemporary writings on Noahidism positions are being taken up which correspond with each of these positions. Some, residing within the orthodox tradition, quote the writings of Benamozegh and Palliere sympathetically, but it would appear that they have not made a systematic analysis of these works, which in fact are at variance with their positions. The purpose of the following is bring out the essential difference between these two philosophies of Noahidism.

The distinct tasks of Jew and non-Jew

The crux of the issue is the notion – which has always agitated Jewish apologists – of the difference and chosenness of the Jewish people, in relation to the other nations of the world.  For traditional Jewish thought, the chosenness of the Jewish people relates to the idea, noted above, that they acquired a level of spiritual perception and connectedness, during the exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Sinai, associated transcendent  G-dliness.  This relates to G-dliness which infinitely surpasses the creation and in fact engenders it ex nihilo into being. It is to be contrasted with the perception and level of immanent G-dliness, a “contracted G-dliness” which resides and manifests itself within the creation.  In the words of the Maharal of Prague, the Jewish people acquired an attachment  to transcendent G-dliness, making their existence nivdal (“separate”) from the ordinary realm of nature, and characterized by a miraculous Providence[32].

The intellectual soul of the gentile, on the other hand, is concentrated in the capacity to relate to the way in which Divine contracts and enclothes itself within creation, to immanent G-dliness. This spiritual difference between Jew and non-Jew is reflected, according to the Maharal, in the differences between the commandments applying to the Jewish people on the one hand, and to the gentile nations, on the other.  The Jewish people have the multiplicity of six hundred and thirteen commandments reflecting their intense connectedness to a level of G-dliness transcending the creation.  The gentile nations on the other hand, whose relationship to the Creator is more via the creation itself, have the less complex bond of seven general commandments[33], even though these are widely ramified.

The “chosenness” of the Jewish people is therefore not connected with “domination”[34] or “exclusiveness”. It signifies the bonding with a level of transcendent G-dliness[35] expressed through the performance of six hundred and thirteen commandments. Jew and non-Jew have a partnership to fulfil in which each has a crucially complementary service to perform. The Sages of the Talmud themselves spoke of the greatness of a non-Jew occupied in the study of the Torah in relation to the Noahide laws in terms comparable to that of the service of the High Priest of the Jewish people[36]. The complementary roles of Jew and non-Jew are both integral to the notion of redemption.

Two of Maimondies thirteen principles[37] of the faith – the Messiah and Resurrection – relate to a notion of redemption in traditional Jewish thought.  As this is formulated in Chassidic thought, it means the transcendent – boundless, supernatural – Divinity will be drawn into, and manifested within, the “ordinary” frameworks of life: that the miraculous will be inserted in the “Mundane”, and that this will itself constitute the greatest revelation of the Creator and reward for humankind.  In this scheme, as explained in Chassidic thought, the function of the seven Noahide laws is to fashion an orderly and civilized world – in which immanent G-dliness is manifested – as the fundament upon which the drawing of the higher transcendent revelation into this world by the service of the Jewish people, can take place[38].

Benamozegh’s thought seems to repress the distinction between the transcendent and immanent spiritual orientations of Jew and non-Jew[39].  It is true that he distinguishes between what he calls the more mystical and suprarational character of the “Mosaic” law and the more “rational” and worldly religions, but in the end he sees these as two sides of the one revelation and the one teaching.  The Jewish preoccupation is with the pure monotheistic idea, the unity of the Divine; the nations have focussed on aspects of the Divine, which they have transfigured into divinities in their own right.  Judaism becomes therefore the sum of the individual deities, which are the “partial” truths of nations[40].  This he seeks to support with what he regards as an “emanationist” doctrine of the Kabbalah, whereby the transcendent Creator actually resides in the creation, which then become so many facets of His unity[41].

Benamozegh is arguably much closer here to the neo-Platonist philosopher Plotinus and to non-Jewish mystical philosophers such as Bruno and Ficino[42] than to Jewish Kabbalah.  For one of the basic notions of Kabbalah is that the “world’ the creation as it is, is a “damaged” world in which Divinity has been driven into concealment rather than being revealed within it.  Benamozegh’s approving quotations from Spinoza[43]only strengthen the impression that the Creator of the Jewish people is not truly transcendent, but only an immanent extrapolation from the creation itself. Benamozegh presents Judaism as relating essentially to the same plane as Noahidism. He sees the particular laws (“Mosaism”) of the Jewish people as intended simply to suit them for the role of trustee in the implementation of a universal religion of mankind (“Noahidism”). That is, instead of introducing transcendent G-dliness into creation, their task is simply to assist the Noahide manifestation of G-dliness immanent within creation, propagated through the seven Noahide laws[44].

Benamozegh’s removal of the transcendent/immanent distinction between the spiritual service of Jew and non-Jew or of Judaism and Noahidism produces a different vision of the redemptive goal of creation, set out in Torah.  In Benamozegh’s view, humankind – Jew and non-Jew as a collective agency – is seen simply to work gradually on its own perfection, but without any fundamental, qualitative transformation of creation of the kind suggested in traditional Jewish sources.  If, as Benamozegh wishes to argue, Israel and humanity are basically two perspectives of the one thing, then the gods of the nations are a very disturbing aggregate reflection of the one Creator of the Jewish people.  Indeed Benamozegh seems to express equivocations about this at the end of his book, where he laments the persecutions of the Jewish people by the adherents of the world religions, seeing only “now” an emerging tolerance and acknowledgment of Jewish monotheism on the part of the nations.

Palliere, rather than presenting the nations as setting the stage for the introduction of transcendent G-dliness into the creation by the Jewish people, similarly inverts this relationship. He makes the Jewish people ministers of a universal Noahidism. He quotes Benamozegh, that “not only has the Noachide law never ceased to be in force, but even Israel, with its special code, Mosaism, was created for it, to safeguard it, to teach it, to spread it”[45]. The entire significance of the Mosaic law, is not to effect the transformation of creation and humanity, and to provide a conduit for the introduction of transcendent G-dliness into the creation, but simply a regime to make the Jewish people fit to act as a priesthood for Noahidism.

The practical consequences

The basic difference in the philosophical understanding of the relationship between the Jewish people and the gentile nations has practical consequences for another issue in Noahidism, the authority of the Oral Law, Torah sheb’al peh. Maimonidies in the Introduction to his great Code lays down the principle that the giving of the Torah was not only as a written text but also with a body of interpretation. It is impossible, according to this principle, for the meaning of the scriptural verses (in this case, the verses in Genesis from which the Noahide laws are learnt) to be comprehended without the tradition of commentary passed from generation to generation embodied in the Rabbinic tradition.  Its transmission is characterized by an attitude of profound bitul  – humility, deference and receptivity – towards the body of detailed commentary of previous generations, going all the way back to the interpretation – the Oral Law – given to  Moses at Sinai. The ability to derive new rulings and applications of the law is something for which the Jewish people, and within it the Rabbinic tradition, are uniquely fitted.

Similarly, the source of the authority of the Noahide laws is not an “independent “ tradition which goes back to Adam and Noah, but the giving, at Sinai, of the Torah, which makes known that the gentile nations had previously been instructed in these laws and gives these laws a new authority. In the words of Maimonides, the righteous gentile is one who has taken upon him or herself to perform the Noahide laws specifically

…because the Holy One blessed be He commanded concerning them in Torah and made known through our teacher Moses that the sons of Noah have previously been commanded in them[46].

The giving of the Torah at Sinai to Moses, both in its written and oral forms, is thus the source of authority and interpretation of the Noahide law. Contrary to this is the view that the Noahide law is essentially independent of Sinai. Palliere puts this plainly. Noahidism is “the religion of the patriarchs for the Gentiles”[47], “the religion preserved by Israel to be transmitted to the Gentiles”[48]. This is a view which separates the Noahide laws from the transcendent beacon and guide of the Jewish people and makes them into an autonomous tradition which antedates Sinai. The Oral law, the Rabbinic tradition, which stems from Sinai, for this philosophy of Noahidism becomes irrelevant.

From the traditional point of view, the Oral Law, maintained within the Rabbinic tradition, is of course the living fount of adjudication and application of the Noahide laws is vitally important for the Noahide Laws. Without it one cannot know the meaning and details of the Noahide laws cryptically set fourth in Scripture.   Moreover, just as the Oral Law sets for the teaching of Torah in matters of halachah, so too does it provide us with the philosophical outlook of Torah and with the instruments of biblical exegesis and historical interpretation, which no independent “bible study” can supplant.

Benamozegh seeks to adduce arguments from his own interpretations of biblical verses, interpretations which are sometimes at variance with (or indifference to) those of great figures of the oral Tradition.  When, similarly he makes historical judgements which are similarly at variance with the Oral Law, this is fraught with more obvious consequences. Thus, he makes a parenthetical statement in his Conclusion, that Jesus “was a good Jew who did not dream of founding a rival church”[49]. Making a “pristine, restored” Christianity into the carrier of Noahidism rather than the Noahide laws, together with their detail, set out in the Oral law, is profoundly problematic.

Palliere similarly validated Christianity in its supposedly “pristine” form, which he sees as excluding the doctrine of incarnation, as the legitimate extension of Judaism to the nations. In his words, “one cannot find any lack of continuity between the Hebrew Bible and the Gospel”[50]. Jesus becomes for him the prototype of a Noahide: “I said to myself that I was no longer a Christian in the proper sense of the word, but a Jew, probably as Jesus had been a Jew”[51]. This view of Jesus is not the view of Maimonides[52] or of Torah sources in general.

One cannot expect the young Noahide movements to have knowledge of the dynamics and methods of the oral, Rabbinic traditions, together with it ways of resolving the various strands of opinion amongst the Sages of the Jewish People down to the present day.  But it is important for them to know that when they seek instruction about the righteous gentile existence, it can only be through the filter of the living Rabbinic tradition.

[1] I am grateful to Rabbi Dovid Zirkind for comments on this essay.

[2] Genesis 1:26

[3] Ibid. 1:27

[4] See Rabbi M. M. Schneerson, Likkutei Sichos (NY: Kehos), Vol. 15, pp. 58-62 and the discussion in S.D. Cowen, “The concept of a person: reflections on Judaism and psychotherapy” in Journal of Judaism and Civilization, Vol. 1, pp. 26-28.

[5] See Rashbam and Chizkuni on Genesis 1:27

[6] See the discussion in Cowen, “The concept of a person…”, op. cit., together with the references cited there.

[7] For the following see Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 2,  p.561.

[8] See Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, Sefer Maamorim 5713, p.361. This reference was kindly drawn to my attention by Rabbi Dr. A.L. Solomon.

[9] See Chizkuni on Genesis 1:26.

[10] Or ‘s’firos’. These are attributes not in the sense that they inhere in G-d, but that describe his actions or ways, as described below.

[11] See “The concept of a person…”, op. cit., pp. 28-30.

[12] Hilchos T’mura 4:13.

[13] See Rabbi Y. Bindman, The Seven Colours of the Rainbow (San Jose, California: Resource Publications, 1995) ostensibly based on writings of Rabbi Yitzchok Ginzburg. See the afterward to the translation of the “Maharal on the Noahide laws”.

[14] “Yeshuv ha’olam”. See for example Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, pp.159-60, Vol. 20, p.140.

[15] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, p. 160.

[16] See Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Avodas Cochovim 10:6, Ra’avad and Kesef Mishneh on Hilchos Milah 1:6.

[17] I am grateful to Rabbi Chaim Gutnick zichrona livrocho for elaboration of this point.

[18] Cf the concept of r’tzono hatov above. This is a term also used by Lionel Trilling to refer to the unleashed emotional complex in man, in a virtually Freudian sense. See the second part of the discussion on “Lionel Trilling and Jewish Tradition” in this volume.

[19] This is a notion expressed repeatedly in Chassidic thought,  elaborated already in the Tanya of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. The notion is also there in the writings of the Maharal of Prague. See S. D. Cowen, Jewish Thought in Context 2nd edn (Melbourne: Monash University, 1998), pp. 53-54.

[20] Hilchos M’lochim 8:11.

[21] Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 15,  pp. 61-62.

[22] Isaiah 49:6.

[23] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 20,  p.142-3.

[24] Hilchos M’lochim 8:10. The Lubavitcher Rebbe based his campaign to influence the nations towards fulfilment of the Noahide laws, based principally upon the ruling of Maimonides. See, on the positions of other Rishonim in this regard, the discussion byRabbi Michael J. Broyde, “The Obligation of Jews to Seek Observance of Noahide Laws by Gentiles: a Theoretical Review”, in Tikkun Olam – Social Responsibility in Jewish Thought and Law (ed. David Shatz, Chaim I. Waxman and Nathan J. Diament), Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, 1997).

[25] Except where there is an issue of danger in promoting these mitzvos publicly, which explains why there is relatively little record of Jewish activity in this regard until recently (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 26, pp. 141-42. This reference kindly shown to me by Rabbi M. Lipskier). See Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, Shaarei Halachah u’Minhag, Vol. 3 (Yoreh Dei’ah)simen 20 at length on the enduring obligation to influence the nations, even if this cannot be done in a manner of “forcing”.

[26] Hilchos M’lochim 11:4.

[27] Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 23,  p. 175.

[28] See the end of ch. 10 of Hilchos M’lochim.

[29] Psalms 145:9. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 23, p. 175, f n. 45.

[30] The Unknown Sanctuary – A Pilgrimage from Rome to Israel, transl. Louise Waterman Wise, new edition with preface by David Novak, New York: Bloch Publishing Company,  1985.

[31] Translated with an introduction by Maxwell Luria (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1995).

[32] Chassidic thought goes further to speak of a bonding of the Jewish soul with a level of quintessential or absolute G-dliness, higher than transcendental G-dliness. See S.D. Cowen, Jewish Thought in Context, p.109-110.

[33] See Tiferes Yisroel, ch. 9.

[34] Hilchos M’lochim 12:4.

[35] And to absolute G-dliness (Atzmus); see fn.32.

[36] Sanhedrin 59a.

[37] Set out in his Pirush Hamishnayos, introduction to the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin.

[38] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 20,  p.140, Vol. 5, p. 159ff, Vol. 15, 150.

[39] This distinction receives some lipservice on p. 71, which he also seeks to reinforce by reference to the Kabbalah. However, it becomes clear, that the transcendence is not a genuine transcendence, as will be noted below.

[40] Israel and Humanity, p. 47, where he writes “Nothing can be more natural than to use the name ‘Father’ for Being itself, as substance, and ‘isms’ for His attributes”. Or, as on p.268, where he writes “of the various divinities of paganism, in which Judaism taught their adherents to discover the scattered fragments of divineTruth”. Similarly on pp. 300-1,  he states his view that the gods of the nations are hypostasized aspects of the One, true G-d. In this,  his thought represents more  neo-Platonism and Gnosticism than authentic Kabbalah. See Moshe Idelsohn’s concluding essay in the volume, where he speaks approvingly of Benamozegh’s matching of these latter doctrines with the Kabbalah, p. 379.  Note also Benamozegh on page 99, where he writes that “an uninterrupted ladder joins all levels of existence, from the most sublime to the most emphemeral”, but this is used in a neo-Platonist, Plotinian way rather than in accordance with the concept of tzimtzum and the phenomenon of evil, as found in works of classical Judaism such as the Sha’ar hayichud v’ho’emunah of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

[41] Israel and Humanity, p. 96 et passim.

[42] Israel and Humanity, pp. 221, 316.

[43] Ibid, pp. 204, 256.

[44] Ibid., p. 316 et passim, where the significance of the Jewish people is as a priesthood to the nations. This point is brought out more explicitly in Palliere (see below).

[45] The Unknown Sanctuary, p. 144.

[46] Hilchos M’lochim 9:11,  emphasis added.

[47] The Unknown Sanctuary, p.136

[48] Ibid.,  p. 135, emphasis added.

[49] Israel and Humanity, pp. 329-30.

[50] The Unknown Sanctuary,  p.119.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Hilchos M’lochim 11:4.


Philosophical perspectives


  1. The realm of belief


Weber and Russell: the negation of a transcendent realm

Both Max Weber and Bertrand Russell dismissed the objectivity of supra-rational, religious values. To say this of Weber might at first seem strange. A great deal, possibly even the major focus of his work, was the historical sociology of religion, particularly as this served his analysis of the rise of western modes of rationalization and capitalism. His sociology interpreted historical forms of social, economic and cultural organization in terms of their orientation to complexes of – primarily religious – values. Yet, concerning the objective reference of religious worldviews (Weltanschauungen), he wrote that we

have to know that we cannot read the meaning of the world in the results of its [scientific] investigation, no matter how perfect, but must instead be in a position to create that meaning ourselves; that ‘Weltanschauungen’ can never be the product of advancing empirical knowledge; and that therefore the highest ideals, which move us most powerfully, are worked out for all time only in the struggle with other ideals, which are just as sacred as ours are to us.[1]

That is, notwithstanding a formal respect for beliefs, in which the next must be judged as “sacred” as ours, and an irruptive nostalgia for a commitment to ultimate values, Weber saw these as being merely personal and without objective truth, ultimately a polytheism” of “warring gods”.

In regard to Weber’s position on religion, Max Scheler[2] wrote,

Weber…equates the ‘subjective’ with the ‘personal’ instead of with maximal and hypernormal [übernormal] objectivity, and is uninterested in the merely general values and purposes of life

The rejection by Weber of the reality of the object of religious belief, as distinct from the objectivity of rationality and science, is made explicit by Bertrand Russell, in an essay entitled “Mysticism and Logic”[3]. Russell sets up four oppositions between mystical-religious and logical or rational modalities of thought. These are that  (1) mystical thought rests on intuition or insight whilst rational thought is discursive; (2) mystical thought sees unity where logical thought sees plurality; (3) mystical thought ignores time whilst logical thought recognizes its reality; (4) mystical thought sees evil as illusory, whilst logical thought clearly and empirically discerns good and evil.

The very opposition between the requirements of rational thought and the mystical, religious view is for Russell sufficient to strip the latter of objectivity. Should one, however, wish to distinguish mystical[4] from “more” rational religious views, Russell deals with this also in the essay, “Why I am not a Christian”[5]. There he seeks to dispose of arguments for the existence of G-d, which are based on rational lines of thought: in terms of time, space and causality. He rejects the “first cause” theory of the existence of G-d, which pursues a regress until a first Principle is discovered, by stating that there is no compelling reason to presume that the world has a first cause. Against the “natural law argument” he argues that if there is good reason for the creation being the way it is, then one is making this order or standard anterior to the Creator, so why does one need a Creator? He rejects the argument from design, by asking simply, who says the design is good? He then rejects what he finally puts forward, as the moral argument, namely that “that there would be no right or wrong unless G-d existed”[6], by saying again that if right and wrong is by G-d’s command, then again one is making right and wrong anterior to G-d, since one is not maintaining that G-d is above and ultimately “indifferent” to good and bad.

These arguments for the existence of G-d (rejected by Russell), place G-d inside the framework – time, space and causality – of immanent reality, instead of being their transcendent Creator, existing, as the “mystic” and indeed the Noahide[7] ultimately sees, beyond these categories. Here, the religious Noahide can respond with the reported remark of a contemporary Jewish sage: the “G-d, in which you do not believe, I also do not believe”. The G-d, to whom belief pertains, transcends the immanent, created realm of time, space and causality.

Noahide theology: the objectivity of a transcendent realm

From a Noahide theological point of view, the Weberian perspective – that there is no objective transcendent reality – is obviously false to the organ of belief[8], the soul. Noahide theology maintains that the soul “knows” G-d in that the human soul is a (lesser) likeness of G-d. Like is a receptor for like. The soul “sees” or “picks up” the Divine in that it has an intrinsic affinity for it. The ability to see spiritually, and the potential for all human beings spiritually to see the same thing, relates to the universal constitution of the human soul in the image of G-d. The presence of a common root spirituality in all humanity cannot be proven or refuted “rationally”. Rather, it could only be confirmed through a process of growing native spiritual resonance, when presented to, or evoked in, individuals of different cultures. The common recognition of the Divine through the common spiritual constitution with which human beings are endowed, is, according to biblical tradition and its commentaries, to become fully manifest in the redemption of humanity.

Russell’s objection, that the mystical or religious principle vitiates rational discourse and scientific activity is also disposed of by Noahide theology. This can be understood by way of the introduction, that there in fact simultaneously exist two dimensions of reality, the result of the operation of two different Divine powers in creation. One is a “transcendent” Divine power which relates to the factual existence of all things in creation, namely their being engendered constantly into existence ex nihilo. This is the source of their ultimate unity[9]. At the same time there operates in conjunction with this infinite, transcendent Divine power, another Divine power – of “contraction” – which, analogously to a coloured filter over a white light, functions to screen out that “infinite” creative light and to delineate, so to speak, the finite and specific forms of things. These two powers – an infinite engendering one and a delimiting one – are issued and coordinated by G-d in the act of creation.

Now, the fact that the entities of creation are left with a finite form and coexist in great multiplicity and differentiation is in no contradiction to the infinite engendering power, the continuous fount of their existence. This is because the unitary transcendent engendering force, from “G-d’s [- the transcendent -] perspective”, is wholly unaffected by the contraction, which presents division and multiplicity from the perspective of the creation, such that the finite creatures should be shielded from all but the modicum of vitality required for their internal enlivening. The world fashioned by the power of contraction, articulates what we immanently know as “nature”, with its framework of time, space, causalities and other structures. These are dealt with through the categories of another created, natural entity – human intellect. Behind the surface of nature, which is all the secularly thinking mind can perceive, however, functions the unified engendering life force, with qualities which transcend human understanding, but which the soul accesses (“sees”) through belief.

This removes the “contradiction” posited by Russell (1) between the “mystical” intuition of the soul, which accesses the deeper reality, and the “discursive” grasp by reason of the surface, contracted, reality of nature and creation. Russell mistakenly makes them compete on the one immanent plane of reality. The appreciation of the coexistence and co-operation of these two dimensions of reality also dissolves the other (remaining three) oppositions which Russell posits between mysticism and logic, since these simply relate to the different dimensions of existence.

Thus, (2) the transcendent reality – or Divine power – continuously founding things is unified, whilst the power of contraction does produce multiplicity on the surface of immanent reality. Unity and multiplicity are not contradictory but co-function on different planes of reality. (3) The most primary element[10] of structure effected through the power of contraction is time, associated with change and sequence. On the other hand, the transcendent aspect of creation, as indicated in the etymology of the tetragrammaton (the ineffable name of G-d, signifying “was”, “is” and “will be” all as one) is wholly beyond time. So also, (4) good and evil are both matters of indifference vis-à-vis a transcendent Creator. Yet, in terms of the contracted, immanent creation which He sustains and allows the human actors to influence, good and evil become distinct realities and alternatives. Reason and its realm, immanent created reality, exist within the envelope of a transcendental order.

Belief accesses not only the Divine source of creation, but also the values, known also as Divine attributes, transcendently imparted through revelation. These attributes, paralleled in the human soul, also find translation into the Divine commandments in general and the Noahide laws in particular.

  1. The realm of reason


Weber and Kant: rationality and the harmonization of human goals 

Whilst, consistent with his view of the ultimate subjectivity of human ends, Weber could not posit an ethic of ends, he at the same time introduced an ethical notion of rationality. In his essay “The Profession and Vocation of Politics”[11] he adumbrated an “ethic of responsibility” (Verantwortungsethik), which states this doctrine of ethical rationality. This Weber contrasts with an “ethic of conviction” (Gesinnungsethik) where substantive ends absolutely and with little sense of consequences, dictate action. Indeed, Weber recognized the value of passionate attachment to ideals in the politician, and that this passion will inevitably be rooted in personal belief. The function of the “ethic of responsibility”, however, is to moderate these value standpoints with some measure of rationality (as is to be explained).

Weber himself made approving reference to Kant’s ethical doctrine[12], and it is this which invites comparison of the Weberian with the Kantian ethic. Now, Weber’s “ethic of responsibility” is unlike Kant’s in certain important respects. It is not, in the words of Wolfgang Schluchter, a “cognitivist” reflexive ethical principle like that of Kant, which is applied to produce an ethic. This would be established in Kant on the principle of the “categorical imperative” (“Act only on that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”). Values for Weber, as noted, much rather represent prior commitments. Rather, Weber’s is a “criticist” reflexive principle[13], that is to say, one which seeks to make as rational as possible a position which has arisen through belief or personal conviction. Nevertheless the elements of rational thought in Kant’s teaching  – freedom, consistency and reciprocity of perspective[14] – do bear consideration for the way in which they are applied in Weber’s ethical thought.

The role of the Kantian ethical principle of freedom in Weber’s thought is understood with the introduction that, according to Kant, the human being, has an emotional nature and a rational self; these belong respectively to the sensible – i.e. emotional, sensual – world and the intelligible – i.e. rational – world. Only in the latter world is the human being “free” (i.e. undriven)[15]. The concept of ethical duty follows from the fact that this is a law, which I give myself and to which I submit because I have given it. This concept of rationality implies an ability, and the exercise of the ability, to rise above passion and impulse, not to submit uncritically to its dictation, but to accept or reject it freely. Passion, as we have noted, is part of the requirements of a politician, in Weber’s eyes. But this must be equally moderated by responsibility in pursuing an ethical stance: to exercise, in Weber’s words, “judgment, the ability to maintain one’s inner composure and calm while being receptive to realities, in other words distance from things and people”[16].

Secondly, there is the Kantian requirement to think consistently and without contradiction. In Weber this means thinking through the chain of value assumptions in a political-ethical stance as well as the consequences of all of these values once incorporated into action. Indeed this is one of the first characteristics of rational organizations and of rationality in general. It pursues the consequences of positions and it seeks their formal coherence. Through it, one comes to know

(1) the unavoidable means and (2) the unavoidable consequences [as well as] (3) the thereby incurred conflict of various possible value responses with one another in terms of their practical consequences.[17]

In relation to the third aspect of Kantian rational thinking, it would appear that Weber departs from the Kantian notion of universalizability, expressed in Kant’s notion of the categorical imperative. For this notion was set up formally to establish principles of action, whereas, for Weber, value positions cannot be ultimately grounded. Rather, Weber appreciates an ethic which comprehends non-agreement and seeks clearly to delineate and discuss the area of difference. In the context of necessarily “collisional” viewpoints, it is not a matter of “understanding” of “forgiving” the other[18], but rather to know “that, why and in which areas one cannot come to an understanding”[19]. In one place, Weber puts it thus:

To what extent a goal justifies unavoidable means and so also the other [consideration]: to what extent undesirable consequences will have to be assumed, as well as finally, how conflicts between several desired or necessary goals which come concretely into conflict with each other, can be managed., This in plain terms is the issue of choice or compromise[20].

What remains of Kantian universalizability in Weber’s work, in Schluchter’s phrase, has to do with an ethic of value discussion:

The universalizing principle as a principle of critical examination requires an ethic of dialogue. The basic principle of such an ethic of dialogue can be formulated, in analogy to Kant’s philosophy of religion, in the following manner: You ought to move from the ethical state of nature, where your conviction is continuously threatened by self-deception, to the state of concrete value discussions, because the latter are capable of producing self-clarification and a sense of responsibility, both of which have to be pursued by anyone seeking to satisfy the imperative to be rational.[21]

The task of the ethical person, is to reduce the one-sidedness of one’s standpoint, to modify it in the sense of displaying a universal regard for other persons and their positions, notwithstanding one’s commitment to a personal goal. It is this which mediates values with rationality.


The Noahide laws: rationality and worldly integration of the Divine

The features of rationality found in ethics, discussed above  – freedom of intellect (from drivenness), the probing for consistency and the harmonization of perspectives – all find their counterpart in the Noahide laws. The difference here is that we are not dealing here with “autonomous” individual wills and purposes, but rather the individual parts which humans have in the Divine purpose, as themselves having been created in the Divine image.

The Kantian notion of freedom is connected with the sovereignty of intellect. This is meritorious inasmuch as it signifies the sovereignty of reason over drivenness. But from a Noahide point of view this is insufficient. Intellect must take its first principles from somewhere[22]: if not from unreflected passion, or ultimately unquestioned assumptions and predispositions, then from some other “unquestionable”, “non-rational” and yet true source. The Noahide laws here open up the vista of the “service of G-d”. In freeing itself from the driven-ness of emotion, intellect should now and next become receptive to the knowledge of the soul, the imitation of the Divine. Moreover, only when intellect has first subordinated itself to belief, and to the information of belief, does it fully free itself from the sway (“the bribery”[23]) of emotional and dispositional biases.

It is, moreover, through self-subjugation (bitul) to a common spiritual source that possibility of the unification, articulation and harmonization of individuals becomes possible. When the purpose and concern of individuals, is of “one kind”[24], one has the grounds on which unity is feasible. This is neither a historically-relative substantive (Weberian) or an abstract-formal (Kantian) ethics. It is an intellectual alignment with the imitation of G-d. The soul so oriented is called “intellectual” (sichli) – the “intellectual soul” (nefesh hasichlis).

The attuned intellectual soul further becomes an instrument for the prescriptive regulation of human existence as an extension of the Noahide laws. Indeed, the Sages said, “had the Torah not been given, we would have learnt modesty from the cat and [the prohibition of] theft from the ant”[25], which maintains order within its colony. Intellect would have selected and utilized these models. So also all forms of behaviour which the healthy intellect deems requisite, such as the keeping of one’s word[26], or additional strictures assumed to protect moral[27] standards become mandatory as Noahide law.

The Noahide laws are, secondly, associated with the allaying of conflict. This is the aspect of rationality, which, in Weberian terms, thinks through the consequences for oneself and others of one’s individual position. The opposition to conflict is expressed in the notion of settledness, of purposive, constructive and so co-operative activity, in the goal of “the settling of the world” (yeshuvo shel olam)[28], or in the verse that world “was created not for chaos but to be settled”[29]. This is further intimated in that the Noahide laws are negative laws, which mitigate conditions of disorder (not to blaspheme, not to steal, not to murder and so forth). Noahide law opposes barbarism. It seeks to create order by opposing chaotic phenomena. It wants human beings not to be engaged in destructive and socially disintegrative activities. Consistency in the moral realm, as Weber abstracted this Kantian category, as concern for the conflictual consequences of one’s moral position, has its counterpart in the Noahide laws in the sense in which one’s service of G-d has to “sit with” and “in” worldly order (his’yashvus).  The regard for others is motivated by the notion that one’s service of G-d should be accommodated in the world[30].

Finally, there is the sense in which, not simply negatively – as opposing disorder – but positively, the Noahide laws are intended to implant peace in the world. This peace has a quality, apart from freedom from chaos: especially when this is a peace, which realizes the identities of individuals in terms also of their relationships with the Divine. It is explained by the Maharal of Prague[31] that at the beginning of the creation, the Divine Presence rested – that is, there was a revelation of G-dliness – in the world. The condition for this was the observance of the Noahide laws. Through the transgression of these laws, the Divine Presence “departed” by degrees from the world. It was not until the revelation at Sinai that the Divine Presence returned to the world. It took the totality of the revelation of the six hundred and thirteen commandments given to the Jewish people to re-establish this manifestation of the Divine in the world. The Noahide laws, which were reiterated in this revelation, and now take their force and authority from Sinai[32], were an essential element of this reconnection[33]. The retrieval of this state and the ascent beyond it is the work of Jews through their commandments and of non-Jews with the Noahide laws. The quality of that (heightened) peace – suffused with the Divine – is expressed in the words of Maimonides:

In that era, there will be neither famine nor war, envy or competition, for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be [as common] as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d[34].


  1. The rightness of reason


Weber and Aristotle: rationality and natural success

Weber’s ethic of responsibility sought to modify prior value commitments through calculation of their consequences. In so doing, its purpose was also to make actions realistic and assured of some degree of success (“success-value” [Erfolgswert]).[35] It is attuned to what Weber calls “the autonomous logic of the world”[36] as distinct from the “irrationality of consequences”[37] embarked upon through a pure ethic of conviction.

The significance of success, as a criterion for ethics, is developed in Aristotle’s thought.  Central to his ethics is the famous doctrine of the “mean” as a rule and criterion for ethical conduct,[38] associated in the Nichomathean Ethics, with the notion of “success.”[39] Success has frequently a material, natural sense, similar to the promotion of physical health.
P. Huby[40] draws attention to an analogy in Aristotle between the wise ethicist and the physician. Aristotle’s approach is

… to draw a distinction between the good man and the bad man, which he takes to be similar to the distinction between a healthy man and a sick one. The healthy man has a taste for food that is truly wholesome, while the sick man may fancy other things. In the same way, the good man wishes for what is truly good, but the bad man has a variety of wishes, and in particular is led astray by pleasure[41].

Marvin Fox also describes Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean as a highly naturalistic one. The mean is good in that it accords with the “principle that nature always seeks the middle way”[42]. It copies, in Weber’s words, the purported “autonomous logic of the world”.

Nicholas Rescher spells out this model of “natural” rationality in the realm of ethics, most bluntly. He introduces a rationality of ends based on “real and legitimate interests”:

If our ends (our goals and values) are themselves inappropriate – if they run counter to our real and legitimate interests – then no matter how sagaciously we cultivate them, we are not being fully rational. (A voyage to a foolish destination – no matter how efficiently conducted – is a foolish enterprise.)[43]

Rescher similarly puts it that “values that impede the realization of a person’s best interests are clearly inappropriate”[44]. But what are these best interests of a human being? Do they include a reliance upon prayer or a forgoing of material wellbeing in order to fulfil precepts which are not comprehended by natural-scientific reasoning? Aristotle’s keyword in relation to correct ethical conduct is the “flourishing” of a human being. But what does “to flourish”, mean? Rescher explains it, along the lines of his earlier quoted notion of “real and legitimate interests”, as objective “needs”:

The rationality of ends inheres in the simple fact that we humans have various needs – that we require not only nourishment and protection for the maintenance of health, but also information (‘cognitive orientation’), affection, freedom of action, and much else besides. Without such varied goods we cannot flourish as human beings – we cannot achieve the condition of human well-being that Aristotle called ‘flourishing’…The person who does not give these manifold desiderata their due – who may even set out to frustrate their realization – is clearly not being rational.[45]

In short the ethic is a biological one, the ethicist is a doctor, who recommends those values and preferences which best assure the human being’s negotiation of nature as a natural being. Nature is the sole “autonomous” reality and success and wellbeing flows from obeying its laws.


The Noahide laws and the spiritual orientation of reason

If secular rationality is anchored within an immanent, natural concept of human success or flourishing, the Noahide laws and Noahide theology start from the opposite point of view. Nature is not “autonomous”: it is enlivened from a spiritual source. In its spiritual descent, it is capable of corruption, along with human intellect itself, a created entity within creation. What is of normative significance is not the successful negotiation (with all the hidden value-criteria in “success”) of nature and society, but rather the spiritual template of Divinely given values. It is these which not only possess normative authority, but also bring the true long term “success”, even in natural terms[46]. Rationality, which wants efficacious normality, needs to remain attuned to the spiritual source which defines (and specifies the values through which the human is meant to effect) the desired normality of nature and society.

This point is brought out in the comparison of Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean, with an ostensibly similar teaching in Maimonides. The latter is found both in Maimonides “Introduction” – known as the Eight Chapters (Shmoneh P’rokim)[47] –  to the Mishnaic work, Ethics of the Fathers, as well as in the section, “Hilchos Dei’os” [48], of his great halachic code, the Mishneh Torah. Here Maimonides appears to be saying something quite similar to Aristotle, namely that one should seek virtues which take up a middle position between extremes.

In some places Maimonides applies this rule quite straightforwardly. Thus liberality or generosity is the mean between the extremes of miserliness and squandering. Yet, as Marvin Fox observes,  “Maimonides …regularly invokes the rule of the mean, but just as regularly deviates from it”[49]. Thus between arrogance and humility, one should not seek a mean, but wholly embrace humility. Now in truth, Aristotle also says that there are some behaviours which are wholly and unqualifiedly bad, such as immoral relationships which allow of no moderation. The real difference, however, between the thinkers, is, as Fox writes, that Maimonides is not invoking a natural principle, but rather the imitation of the Divine: “physicians of the soul must be trained by Divine norms. They are not training man on the analogy of training a dog or a horse. Rather they are directing a human soul in its totality, towards the Divine ideal”[50]. Still, the question remains, why does Maimonides use the term “the mean” when he is in fact referring to a Divine norm? The term “mean” seems to imply a wholly natural concept, a midpoint between extremes.

This is understood first by reference to the idea that the “mean” in Maimonides is associated with the idea of reciprocity and harmony. The mean balances the extremes, not simply in the sense of averaging them, but because the extremes are potentially able to agree to the mean. It represents the notion of peace or compromise between the extremes. In the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a quality of character is called median “because it gives place to another”[51]. Maimonides states in the Eight Chapters that in the verse “Love truth and peace”[52], “‘Peace’ refers to the ethical virtues, for they will lead to peace in the world”[53]. “Peace” is the rational order of conduct in creation which Torah brings about. It is here called the “mean”. In short the “mean” refers to the central notion of rationality: that of peace, with its sense of balance and harmony.

Maimonides, moreover, states[54] that the halachic requirement to pursue conduct, which expresses the “mean”, is associated with the verse “and you shall go in His paths”[55]. The Lubavitcher Rebbe here asks a question. G-d’s “paths” are His commandments. Why then does Maimonides enumerate, beyond the totality of specific commandments, a general commandment to observe the commandments, contained in the verse “and you shall go in His paths?”

The answer[56] to this question proceeds from the knowledge that the commandments are individually intended to instil specific qualities in the human who performs them, as found in the statement of the Sages, “just as the Holy One blessed be He is called gracious, so should you be gracious; just as the Holy One blessed be He is called merciful, so should you be merciful…”[57] The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that in order fully to actualize the qualities, which individual commandments are intended to implant in the agent (although some result is achieved even without this intention) there must be a “going” in them: “You shall go in His paths”. This refers to a spiritual ascent – accompanying the practical performance of the precept – accomplished through the attitude of emunah or belief, by which one seeks to “imitate G-d”. It is the spiritual service and aspiration to imitate G-d, which achieves the right tuning of action that expresses and installs peace in the world. Spirituality attunes rationality.

This concept is elaborated in the sixth chapter of the Eight Chapters where Maimonides cites the words of the Sages that a Jew should not say with regard to the precepts which are not rationally grasped (such as the dietary laws and laws concerning ritual impurity) that he would find “impossible” – i.e. repugnant – the transgression of these laws. Rather, he should say “It is possible for me, but what shall I do? My Father in Heaven decreed against it”[58]. The reason for this is ostensibly that rationality should not seek to encroach upon a plainly supra-rational realm. However, Maimonides goes on to say that one may not say this regarding those commandments which are rationally grasped (such as not killing or stealing): they should be repugnant to reason. For, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains, one whose reason does not find them repugnant, has experienced a basic corruption in the qualities of personality[59].  Rationality without spiritual tuning – without the qualities acquired in the imitation of G-d – is itself corrupt.

[1] Quoted in L.A Scaff, Fleeing the iron cage: culture, politics, and modernity in the thought of Max Weber, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989, p. 82.

[2] Max Scheler’s “Sociology and the Study and Formulation of Weltanschauung” in Lassman, P. and Velody, I. and Martins H., eds, Max Weber’s ‘Science as a Vocation’, London: Unwin Hypman, 1989, p. 89.

[3] The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell Vol. 8, (J. G. Slater ed.), London: Routledge 1986.

[4] In printed “Discussion which followed the address” as an appendix to the paper “The Existence and Nature of G-d”, published in 1939 and reprinted in The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 10, London: Routledge, 1966, Russell states: ‘On the one hand it [mysticism] is an emotion. On the other hand as a result of that emotion people come to certain beliefs” (p. 265). There Russell associates Islam, Buddhism and Taoism with mystical sentiment.

[5] Published in 1927 and reprinted in The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 10.

[6] Ibid., p. 186.

[7] On the concept of belief in relation to Noahide teaching, see Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, Likkutei Sichos, NY: Kehos, Vol 35, p. 28.

[8] The Hebrew term for belief is emunah, which has a sense of “fixity” or “firmness” or “trainedness” of the hand. It signifies the way in which the soul holds to its conviction of the existence of G-d by virtue of having “seen” G-dliness.

[9] In accordance with teaching of the Ba’al Shem Tov, that the creation has no measure of subsistence whatsoever, and without constant enlivening, it would revert to absolute nothingness, as before the six days of creation. See Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Sha’ar HaYichud V’ho’Emunah (“The Gate of Unity and Belief”), which is the second book in his work Tanya. Much of the immediately forthcoming discussion is based on that book.

[10] Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 26, pp. 63ff.

[11] See the translation by R. Speirs in Max Weber, Political Writings (ed. P. Lassman and R. Speirs), Cambridge: CUP, 1994.

[12] Wolfgang Schluchter in his Paradoxes of Modernity – Culture and Conduct in the Theory of Max Weber ( Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996) quotes a fragment in Weber’s writing, which states that “the Kantian imperatives [are]…valid analyses of certain of the simplest facts [Tatbestände] of the procedure [employed] in an ethical judgment” (p.90). At the same time Schlucter remarks in a footnote (fn. 153) that the fragment at the same time indicates Weber’s qualification of Kant’s “ethical formalism”. In Schluchter’s words: “The attempt is made in the fragment to demonstrate that ethical formalism cannot provide a rule for making decisions, neither for conflicts within the ethical sphere, nor for conflicts between this and other value spheres.”

[13] Ibid., pp. 93-96.

[14] Schluchter brings to our attention a sentence in Kant’s Critique of Judgment, which embodies these elements: “‘(1) thinking for oneself, (2) thinking from the positions of each and all others, (3) always thinking in harmony with oneself’’ (or thinking consistently)”. (Quoting Kant, The Critique of Judgment, J.C. Meredith, trans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: B 158-60,  A 156-58.)

[15] See the introduction by Theodor Valentiner to Kant’s Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, Stuttgart: Reclam,1972, pp. 12-13.

[16] “The Profession and Vocation of Politics”, op. cit., p. 353

[17] “Der Sinn der Wertfreiheit” in Max Weber, Methodologische Schriften, ed J. Winckelmann, Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 1968, p. 247. This and the following translations from “Der Sinn der Wertfreiheit” are those of the present writer.

[18] Ibid., p. 243.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., pp. 247-48.

[21] Op. cit., p. 94.

[22] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 2, pp. 561-62.

[23] Ibid., Vol. 4, p. 1118, fn 26.

[24] Ibid., Vol. 29, p. 126.

[25] Talmud tractate Eiruvin 100b.

[26] Or at least not acting deceptively. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, pp. 147-48.

[27] See Rashi’s commentary on Genesis 34:7, and Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, p. 147.

[28] Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, p. 159.

[29] Isaiah 45:18.

[30] Compare here Likkutei Sichos, Vol 22, p. 140.

[31] G’vuros HaShem, ch. 66. This piece is translated in the present volume.

[32] I.e. from their reiteration at Sinai, as distinct from their original instruction to Adam and Noah before Sinai.

[33] So that they also express the concept of peace, which specifically Torah brings into the world. See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 39, pp. 35-6.

[34] Maimonides, Hilchos M’lochim u’milchomoseihem 12:5. (transl. Rabbi E. Touger), NY: Moznaim, 1987.

[35] See Schluchter, op. cit., p. 48, who quotes and translates from Weber’s essay “Der Sinn der Wertfreiheit”: “I, for my part, will not try to dissuade the nation from the view that action is to be judged not merely by its success value [Erfogswert] but by its convictional value [Gesinnungswert] as well.” That is to say, whilst admitting, the non-rational element of conviction, he describes the complementary rational criterion as “success value”.

[36] Quoted and translated by Schluchter, op. cit. p. 283 fn. 43 from Weber, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie, Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1920-21, Vol. 1, pp. 552-53.

[37] Ibid.

[38] See Book 2 of the Nichomathean Ethics.

[39] The Nichomachean Ethics of Aristotle (transl. Sir David Ross), London: Oxford University Press (series: The World’s Classics), 1954 (1963), 2:6, p. 38: “Now virtue is concerned with passions and actions, in which excess is a form of failure, and so is defect, while the intermediate is praised and is a form of ‘success’; and being praised and being successful are both characteristics of virtue.”

[40] Greek Ethics, London: Macmillan, 1967.

[41] Ibid., p. 54.

[42] Interpreting Maimonides – Studies in Methodology, Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990, p. 102. Emphasis added.

[43] Nicholas Rescher, Rationality, Oxford: OUP, 1988, p. 96.

[44] Ibid., p. 98.

[45] Ibid., p. 104.

[46] See the discussion of Ecclesiastes (Koheles) in S.D. Cowen, “Above the sun, under the sun: a religious existentialism”, Journal of Judaism and Civilization, Vol. 2, pp. 108-112.

[47] Chapter 4.

[48] Chapter 1.

[49] Op. cit. p. 121.

[50] Ibid. p. 121.

[51] Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 29, p 126.

[52] Zachariah 8:19.

[53] Translation by  Rabbi E. Touger, “Shmoneh Perakim” [Eight Chapters] in Maimonides, Pirkei Avot, Jerusalem: Moznaim, 1994,  p. 29.

[54] Hilchos Dei’os, 1.

[55] Deuteronomy 28:9.

[56] Likkutei Sichos, Vol 4 , pp. 1130ff.

[57] Sifri, Eikev 11:22.

[58] SifraParshas K’doshim as quoted by Maimonides in the Eight Chapters (Rabbi Touger’s translation), op. cit., p. 40.

[59] Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 16, p. 248.


Psychological perspectives

1.Universal values


The objectivity of universal values[1]

The spiritual is winning its place back into psychotherapy. This should be conceded not simply for practical or empirical reasons: that most patients, if not therapists, avowedly and unashamedly believe in G-d, are helped in their recovery by this belief and for that reason, the therapist should make acknowledgment of the patient’s belief[2]. Rather, the therapist has to ask a deeper question – whether this spiritual realm is indeed an objective one. For if it is, then the therapist also needs to connect with the spiritual in him- or herself, to establish the “therapeutic alliance”[3] also in this most potent realm, even though this is not their main area of training and expertise.

The discussion here is of the notion of objective universal values, and a common spirituality, which unite human beings, including the patient and therapist. This is counterposed to a relativism of (and hence also an objective scepticism[4] concerning) religious outlooks. For therapeutically applied, even if it were practically, empathically and conceptually possible for the therapist to take (and “enter”) a “spiritual history” of the patient and to use it for the mental restitution of the patient, there are methodological qualms. One is whether all “spiritualities” are authentic, and another whether indeed certain religious outlooks might themselves be symptomatic of personality disorder, rather than serving the restitution of mental health. Gordon Allport in the Individual and His Religion[5] already addressed this last point, and Elisabeth Lukas, the major living student of Viktor Frankl, writes that authentic human spirituality has to do not with simple “subjective meaning”[6], which could also include that of the terrorist. Rather, she notes, “the conscience [a term which Frankl blended with that of the soul and the spiritual sense in the human being]…is an appreciation of values, which is a precursor of all that is moral, that every human being instinctively carries within himself”[7]. Here is the reference to an objective, universal spirituality, which the therapist needs to know about in him- or herself, as well as in the patient.

In the Bible, the concept of the common spirituality of humanity is contained in the verse which states that the human being was “created in the image of G-d”[8]. That is to say, the soul possesses and parallels on a human scale Divine qualities, regardless of whether this is conscious in the person. Concerning the spiritual template of personality, Viktor Frankl wrote in the concluding sentence of his basic essay, “Ten theses concerning a ‘person'”: “The true discovery of the human, the inventio hominis, occurs in the imitatio Dei [the imitation of  G-d]”[9].

The substantive character of universal values

What is the character of the universal virtues derived from “the imitation of G-d”? First of all, in a moral discourse, one must be particularly cautious when considering virtues which pertain to the supposed valour of the doer without stating anything specific about the deed done. Qualities such as “honour”, “courage”, “competitiveness” and even “compassion” are ambiguous. Courage and loyalty are found among thieves. Competitiveness could express itself in an economic libertarianism, in which the weak go under. Compassion could be extended to persons and causes which really need correction of some kind: the indulgence of a child (or adult) crying for something which is not good for it, is not necessarily beneficial to the child (or adult).

This point is brought out by a story of the a saintly Rabbi – Meshulam Zusya of Anipoli – who, as the account goes –

learned a number of methods of serving his Creator from a thief: (a) He works quietly without others knowing. (b) He is ready to place himself in danger. (c) The smallest detail is of great importance to him. (d) He labours with great toil. (e) Alacrity. (f) He is confident and optimistic. (g) If he did not succeed the first time, he tries and tries again[10].

Here we see modesty or discretion, courage, attentiveness and application, diligence, alacrity, a positive outlook, and perseverance – all in the service of theft. These virtues become virtues only when they possess a substantive, concrete orientation, which makes them lawful in a moral sense. Rabbi Meshulam Zusya honed and directed these valences of character in the concrete service of  G-d, in performance of the laws of the Bible, elaborated through tradition[11].

What is the substantive content of this objective universal spirituality? Judaism, the original and “mother” religion of monotheism, has transmitted – as distinct from the  more comprehensive and detailed code binding Jews – a code for all humanity. It is a body of seven laws – to be set out later in this essay – which biblically bind the descendants of Noah, the survivor of the flood and ancestor of general humanity.

The practical conduct of the Noahide laws actualize in the person, the spiritual template of the soul, intended by the Bible, in the words that the human being was “created in the image of G-d”. Frankl did not say what the content of the “imitation of G-d” was, and I have not found in his writings any mention of the Noahide laws. But, as discussed elsewhere[12], the values expressed in his writings indicate a general consistency with the Noahide laws.

Universal values as heteronomously (externally) willed

If the “imitation of G-d”[13] becomes focussed and concrete in the person through the Noahide laws, it in turn becomes a moral (and a therapeutic) force when these laws are experienced as embodying Divine will, as commandments. By submitting to laws which are heteronomously willed – by G-d – the human being does not curtail his or her autonomy, but in fact realizes it. “Autonomy” in a secular Enlightenment sense, typically expressed itself in the “freedom” from religious control. The price of that view was that the “emancipated ‘I'” excluded the spiritual, the Divine within the person. When the “I” is seen essentially to be the soul, then the true exercise of freedom is to bind oneself, notwithstanding many contrary inclinations, to a religious ideal, in order to actualize the “image of G-d” within the entire person.

It is this sense of virtue as Divine command, which also gives a person the true resource of will for personal transformation. For the deepest powers of will are rooted in conscience (or soul). This is distinct from the willfulness of emotion and brutish ambition, which the person knows (certainly at the level of conscience) ultimately not to be the ground of his or her being. Therapeutically, it is important for the individual to know what the ultimately healthy “I” is, upon the resources of which he or she calls. This “I” is not located in the shifting sands of emotion (the “bodily” existence of the person) or even of intellect with its susceptibility to the mere “rationalization” of predispositions[14]. The ultimate “I” is not my predicament, my distress, though the condition of body and mind are my condition. Rather the true locus of the fundamental person is in the citadel of the soul, above the bribery of emotion and the adjunctive rationalization[15] of intellect. From there the G-dly power within emerges to help[16] in dealing with the predicament of mind and heart in the course of therapy.

The “image of G-d” – actualized through the Noahide laws – is the root historical spiritual consciousness and, in many cases, unconsciousness of the various major world religions and cultures. The major world religions (including the Eastern religions[17]) and cultures descend from Abraham, who practised the Noahide laws. As something conscious, it is understood as the Biblically mandated foundation of civilization. This consciousness again surfaces and is articulated in a resolution of the United States Congress in 1991 in the following terms:

…Congress recognizes the historical tradition of ethical values and principles which are the basis of civilized society…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…[18]

2.The structure of human personality


Internal dimensions of personality

The bodily dimension. The human being, as explained by the Maharal of Prague, is a composite of body, intellect and a higher unitary existence of mind and body. The principal feature of the bodily existence of a person is desire, This was the true insight of classical psychoanalysis in relation to eros, though it did not adequately distinguish between raw libido and its higher transformation into (or fusion with) love. Hence, desire can be precocupied with self-gratification or it can be incorporated into a fusion and union with another, to which one brings oneself, and through which one actualizes oneself[19].

The desire of the material or bodily aspect of the person also has other objects. It desires to eat, it desires possessions. Thus the quality of the body is its wanting, though that wanting could take an altruistic form for another or even in relation to itself[20] – a disinterested concern for its maintenance (as distinct from indulgence). Gordon Allport, who was primarily concerned with the emotive personality of the human spoke its character of striving, its desire for actualization. The affective nature of the human being wants to enlarge itself in some sense, it wants and drives to incorporate, or meet with its objects.

The intellectual dimension. The distinguishing quality of the intellectual or cognitive dimension of the human being is, in the words of Viktor Frankl, its ability to transcend the predicament of the body, the affective, bodily self. As such it is capable of abstraction. The intellectual self judges, it conceptualizes. It has the ability to hold back from affect and to judge it.

Here too, however, it is capable of both altruistic and perverse applications. The impulse to transcendence is to establish a generality or totality of meaning. The question is, whether the act of transcendence genuinely transcends one’s partial, emotive self, or whether it absolutizes partiality[21], in short whether it rationalizes self-interest into a absolute principle. That is to say, whether affective interests, the object of one’s bodily or emotional or dispositional wanting, effectively “bribe” and drive the ostensibly “dispassionate” scheme of reason[22].

One can see this from the number of morally acceptable and unacceptable meanings formulated by intellect, which express prejudice or a re biased by predispositions. Where, however, intellect functions dispassionately in such a way as to craft and utilize emotion in the service of a higherideal, it has achieved proper function. The assurance that intellect is “in charge of emotion” and not vice versa, is when intellect is receptive to that which is higher, above both it and emotion, that is, the conscience or the soul.


The unitary dimension. The unitary dimension[23] of the person is that level at which intellect (or the intellectual soul) and the bodily function as a composite identity. This is the “whole” person, and at the same time is expressed and embodied as a distinct faculty or level of personality. This level demonstrates two salient characteristics, brought out in a passage of the Talmud. In it, the question is related:

How could the body and the soul [both exempt] themselves from judgment? The body says, the [intellectual] soul is the sinner, for since it departed from me, I am left like an inanimate stone in the grave. The soul says, The body has sinned, for since I parted from it, I have flown through the air like a bird[24].

In response the following  parable[25]  is presented. Two delinquent  watchmen of an orchard. One was able-bodied but blind, the other lame but seeing. Neither could get to the fruit on the trees, one because of lameness, the other because of blindness. So the lame, seeing one, got on the shoulders of the tall, blind one and together they were able to take the fruit. The analogy with body and soul is clear.

The question indicates that without the union of the body and soul (in terms of the discussion of the Maharal of Prague, the reference is to the intellectual soul, consciousness or mind) there is no living person. The answer indicates that as a living whole, both body and consciousness participate in responsibility.

Life and the responsibility of a living person go together. In theological terms, a person is created to serve G-d – to fulfil a Divine purpose in the creation. The negation of life vitiates this ultimate responsibility and the sanctification and elevation of life is its ultimate fulfillment of purpose.The unitary person is characterized by his or her stance to life itself.


The external domains of human personality[26]

The domain of the “natural” self. The borderland between animality and humanity, that which makes the person a human being is his or her ability to achieve some control of impulse or instinct. Broadly speaking there are three levels in this relationship. The first is the inability of the person to regulate impulse even at the most basic level, to delay the gratification of an impulse which in a matter (even of a brief ) time, will be available. At person at this level, is generally unable to follow other, specific imperatives.

The second is the ability to delay gratification, but the inability in certain cases to resist a desire, for which gratification will not normally come in the course of time. For such a person other imperatives are meaningful though it is possible that the person will not be successful in keeping all of them.

The third and highest level is the complete control of desire, such that other transgressions are in fact unthinkable. Hence, the relationship to the natural self, is the prior regulatory issue with which a person must seek to deal, before coming to moral issues all together.


The personal domain. The personal domain is the domain in which the individual relates to him or herself and creates a private identity. In a secular parlance this might be called a realm of personal morality. This realm bears upon the personal integrity of the individual, not “public” areas which are regulated because of possible infringement by another person. Typically the areas of belief[27] and expression[28] termed “private”.

It is also interesting to note, however, that sexual morality, except where it constitutes an assault on another, such as rape or where it could be said to carried out without proper consent, such as with a minor, is also classed as something private. Wherever sexual relationships are entered upon by “mature, consenting partners”, there is no supposedly no “victim” even in aberrant relationships. Hence, this is not a publicrelationship, an area in which people are susceptible to – and warrant protection from – harm and infringement.

The religious conception of this realm is its denotation as the realm “between the human and G-d” rather than the “private” realm. For, from a religious point o f view, there is no such notion as something which is “private”: even if such a realm is not seen by others, it is seen by G-d. This is not simply a question of surveillance and judgement before others. It has to with the issue of who and what the person is, before coming to deal with others. The human being is responsible not solely in terms of what he or she contracts with others, but also in terms of what they are in the space of his or her own being, and this is “before G-d”.

The interpersonal domain. The interpersonal (social) domain of  personality subsumes and integrates the other domains. Society aggregates and articulates individuals into an organized whole. The interpersonal realm appears to have an “ultimate” – or at least, a greater – significance over what happens in the personal realm. The reason for this is that in Noahide theology, the Creation exists for the sake of the human being: not for simple domination, but rather for cultivation and peaceful settlement (and ultimately, redemptive transformation) by the human being. This cultivation and refinement is necessarily a collective and interactive one. Hence society in a sense is and stands for the “world” more than the individual personal (“private”) lives of human beings.

At the same time, the personal – supposedly “private’ realm fundamentally affects the interpersonal, “public”, interpersonal one. For the relationships between persons, which all agree allow of regulation, are not a matter of simple “rationality”: they are themselves subject to corruption. People will agree that murder, theft and violation of processes of justice are bad. But, does the prohibition of murder include mercy killing, abortion on demand? Does the prohibition of theft allow deceptive advertising? Are all forms of adversarial litigation just? The honing of conscience, the moral sense, which properly informs interpersonal conduct, begins in the personal realm.

Conversely, a social order which exemplifies cooperation and mutual regard, but which in the personal realm is corrupt is also ultimately vitiated in that it exists to serve individuals with corrupt goals. Such was the case in the Biblical example of the Tower of Babel, where the builders were entirely united with one another, but in the common purpose of struggling with G-d.

3.Universal values and the structure of personality

Relation to natural self basic impulse control: cruelty to animals Bodily Intellectual Unitary
Personal forbidden sexual relations prohibition of idolatry prohibition of blasphemy
Interpersonal prohibition of theft Prohibition of injustice prohibition of murder

The relation to the natural self: prohibition of cruelty to animals[29]

The prohibition of cruelty to animals in the Noahide laws is expressed in the prohibition on the consumption of the limb of a living animal. The Maharal of Prague explains that this conduct relates to an inability of a human being to delay the gratification of impulse. For, even though the animal can be readied for consumption through slaughter, the person, who consumes whilst it is still alive, cannot wait. Associated with this degree of self-absorption in desire is the cruelty countenanced by one, who consequently has no empathy with the objects of his or her desire.

The total partiality to impulse within swings into to complete indifference to the other. In this infancy of human development, which may yet be afraid to act consciously against society or against G-d in “adult sins”, one may yet wreak havoc with that which is essentially helpless, and which cannot retaliate: the animal (and needless to say, the physical and vegetative environment).

The personal-bodily realm: sexual morality

It is clear that sexual morality has to do with bodily desire in the personal realm. What interests us here is why it should be seen as private and personal. A negative reason, given above, is that it does not necessarily involve infringement or harm to another, since even where it is forbidden, it may be based on consent. The reason for including it in this category is that sexuality has a great deal to do with self-identity. The sexually bonded married couple understands, and there theological grounds for its understanding, itself as a unit. The person exists prior to the union, but there is a fundamental “filling out” of the person through this relationship. Hence the Biblical expression: “man and woman He [G-d] created them”[30]: that is to say the person has ultimate identity by virtue of participation in this union and man and woman are each halves of the one body and soul. Adultery, incest, bestiality – all prohibited by the Noahide laws – represent a confounding of one’s identity as one bonded to one’s proper wife, one’s essential body-and-soul partner. So also the other sexual unions prohibited by the Noahide laws, confound the identity of the person who participates in them.

The personal-intellectual realm: the prohibition of idolatry

Idolatry is a cognitive attitude which views a part of creation as “absolute”, as the all. It fetishizes a particular entity, which might range from a primitive totem to “money” and “material success” in westernized societies. It is a misuse of the intellective generalizing faculty to rationalize an object of personal affect. Recent instances of terrorism, which proceed with a religious language, could be regarded as an idolatry: the establishment of a particular group ethos through violence has been made absolute (subordinate to, or coexistent with, no other consideration) by its adherents. The positive, antithetical value is that of authentic transcendence, an altruism which is genuinely other-directed, which rigorously looks beyond the self, its group identity and its interests (the partialities of emotion and personal predilection); in other words, which achieves a genuine transcendence, by turning to G-d.

The personal-unitary realm: the prohibition of blasphemy

Blasphemy, the reviling of the Divine, is performed through speech. Speech is a quintessential human faculty, which calls upon both the bodily and intellectual aspects of the person. It is a physical expression of thought. The animal makes sounds, through which it facilitates or preserves a material existence. In the human being, the physical act of speech also serves an intellectual or conceptual purpose. Speech expresses the unitary person. Blasphemy, the ultimate misuse of speech engages as its vehicle, the unitary, the “whole” person.

The whole person, as adumbrated above, is the living person. Similarly the object of blasphemy relates to the whole person. Blasphemy, having already acknowledged G-d (which makes the act of blasphemy “meaningful”[31]), is directed towards the Principle of life, G-d. Hence in blasphemy, literally the cursing of G-d, is the attack by the unitary (the living) person on the Principle or Foundation of the person’s own life[32].

The interpersonal-bodily realm: the prohibition of theft

The major expression of unrestrained desire in the interpersonal realm is directed to the property of others. Theft is the act, which incorporates and appropriates another’s property his or her substance, in a way which, while not as intense or as final as murder, is yet comparable to murder. It infringes the other’s being[33].

The opposite to this is regard for the other’s property and the measures of extra consideration which are to be found in restoring lost property or in taking measures to protect other’s property from harm. Nevertheless, the Noahide law is concerned here, as elsewhere, to negate undesirable conduct rather than to demand, as basic, a measure of “elevated” conduct. The latter, however, is clearly desirable and might conceivably be grasped as a higher level of performance of the negative commandment. Charity, though not amongst the seven Noahide laws is also incumbent upon Noahides.

The interpersonal-intellectual realm: the prohibition of injustice

The sense of justice is a quality of reason applied to the interpersonal realm. The detachment – the balance of intellect – and its power of transcendence of emotive interest, is, at a minimum, linked to a consistent system of justice, though not necessarily one with symmetrical and reciprocal relationships. Its primary concern is to be non-arbitrary. It works on an intersubjectivity and predictability. Justice seeks the settlement of human conflict, its arbitration and resolution with reference to stable procedures and rules. Whilst it might accord privilege, it is marked by a thinking which excludes the irruption of personal interest.[34]

The perversion of justice is simply the arbitrary application of established principles and the capricious favouring of specific interests. Subjectivity has disturbed a previously known accepted mode of judgment between individuals. Though its outcomes are concrete, injustice is essentially a perversion of reason. The corrupt judge might not be a thief, but s/he has made theft a virtue.

The interpersonal-unitary realm: the prohibition of murder

Murder, in a sense, is the greatest travesty which a human being can commit. Its object is the whole person.  The slain person, unlike one who has been harmed materially (robbed) or in a more spiritual sense (through implication in an aberrant sexual relationship, has been entirely annihilated. In destroying a person (where there was no warrant, based on self defence etc), one is, in the words of the Sages, as though one has destroyed “an entire world”[35]. For this was the purpose of Creation, as mentioned above, that it be cultivated, settled and civilized by human beings. Adam was created alone, simply to heighten the importance and centrality to Creation of even a single individual[36]. When a person is destroyed, the very Creation, enlivened for the sake of the service of a person becomes purposeless.

The travesty is not only of the object but also of the perpetrator. The act of murder is a crime and a perversion of the entire person: it is not simply a perverse act of, and against, the body (as in sexual transgressions or theft) or of, and against, reason (as in idolatry and injustice). Body and mind, which themselves are united in the concept of life, have come together to eliminate life, an entire person. It is one of the crimes ofthe unitary person against the nature and purpose of the unitary person: blasphemy is directed against the Principle of life, and murder against life itself.

[1] The following essay is in part based on – and constitutes a psychological schematization  of – a fundamental essay of the Maharal of Prague, Chapter  66 of G’vuros HaShem, appended to this monograph

[2] See the results of the surveys carried out by R. D’Souza, “Do patients expect psychiatrists to be interested in spiritual issues?”, Australasian Psychiatry, Vol. 10, No. 1, March 2002.

[3] See S.D. Cowen, “Universal religion, Viktor Frankl and Gordon Allport”, Journal of Judaism and Civilization, Vol. 4,  2002, which offers an analysis of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s remarks on the failure of logotherapy to achieve the dissemination it deserved, inasmuch as the therapist is not always a “living example”. I wrote: “The therapist has to be an example of that which spiritually, a human being is, in terms of spiritually universal values. Through this, a trans- or intersubjective resonance with the patient is achieved in that the therapi8st has thereby tapped into the (latent) objective soul powers of the patient.”, p. 90.

[4] See comments on Weber’s relativism in his doctrine of world-views, and his judgment of them as merely subjective meanings, in the chapter, “Rationality and the Noahide Laws”.

[5] The Individual and his religion. A psychological interpretation, New York: Macmillan, 1950. See the discussion by Kate Loewenthal, “A contemporary interface between religion and psychotherapy”, Journal of Judaism and Civilization, Vol. 4, 2002.

[6] Elisabeth Lukas, Logotherapy Textbook (transl. T. Brugger, Toronto: Liberty Press, 2000, p. 21.

[7] Ibid., p. 23.

[8] Genesis, 1:27.

[9] Viktor Frankl, “Ten theses concerning a ‘person'” (transl. S. D. Cowen), Journal of Judaism and Civilization, Vol. 3, p. 10.

[10] Rabbi M. M. Schneerson (compiler and arranger), (transl Rabbi Y. M. Kagan), Hayom Yom – From Day to Day (for 3 Iyar), N.Y.:Kehos, 5748 (1988), p. 50.

[11] It is interesting to note that the Renaissance thinker, Machiavelli, signaled as the primary virtue of the statesman, the quality of virtù, which has been variously translated as “prowess”, “valour”, “audacity”, “skill”, “civic spirit”, “virtuosity”, “ability” (see S.D. Cowen, Jewish Thought in Context, Melbourne, Monash University, 2000, p. 61.) And yet all these are qualities of the Machiavellian statesman, whose conduct can shade into quite a few kinds of action unacceptable in terms of the Noahide laws. Virtues cannot be conceived simply as powers – valences – which adorn and suggest the noble empowerment of the doer. Rather, they have to be made and given substantive direction. Non-substantive values of character indicate only potentialities: courage, trustworthiness, loyalty, efficiency, competitiveness are all multi-valent.

[12] S. D. Cowen, “Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy and universal values”, paper presented to the 14th World Congress on Logotherapy, Dallas, 2003.

[13] See the criticism of the Thomist concept of the “image of G-d”, claimed, in accordance with Natural Law theory, actually to orient human personality. The point made here is that there is a fundamental struggle to actualize this “image” in the human being, not that it in fact guides the self. See S. D. Cowen, “Universal Religion, Viktor Frankl and Gordon Allport”, Journal of Judaism and Civilization, Vol. 4 (2002)

[14] See the “12 steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous, which patently appeal to G-d in the mustering of will: “1.We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable. 2.Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3.Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 4.Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 5.Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 6.Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 7.Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. 8.Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 9.Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 10.Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 11.Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. 12.Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs”. (

[15] See Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, Likkutei Sichos, (NY:Kehos), Vol. 4, pp. 1114-1121.

[16] We are not here speaking solely of healing based on spiritual resolve, but of spiritual resolve in conjunction with complementary therapies.

[17] According the Talmud, Sanhedrin, 91a cited by the commentator Rashi on Genesis, 25:6.

[18] H.J. Res. 104

[19] See, for example, “Liebe und Sex” in V.E. Frankl, Der Mensch vor der Frage nach dem Sinn, München: Piper, 1979.

[20] Thus, it is recounted that the Sage, “Hillel, the Elder…when going to eat, used to say [to his students] that he was going to perform an act of kindness to the ‘lowly and poor creature’, by which he meant his body, which he regarded as if it were foreign to him”, Tanya – Likkutei Amarim (Bilingual Edition – trans. Rabbi Nissan Mindel), Chapter 29.

[21] Allport spoke of the “proprium” in the person, the locus of “deeper motives and interests, lasting sentiments and prejudices”, cited in S. D. Cowen, “Universal Religion, Viktor Frankl and Gordon Allport”, op. cit., p. 92.

[22] Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 4, loc. cit.

[23] This is the term which the Maharal uses: the union of body and intellectual soul

[24] Sanhedrin, 91a.

[25] Sanhedrin, 91a,b.

[26] That is to say, the domains in which the personality as a whole, in all its dimensions, as set out in the foregoing, acts.

[27] See the chapter, “A statement of the Noahide laws”.

[28] Ostensibly blasphemy is a “private” issue, a personal expression. For the Noahide laws, however, the way a person speaks, is also something which needs to be lawful.

[29] This commandment relates, according to Rabbi M.M. Schneerson (the Lubavitcher Rebbe), to a concept of cruelty to animals. However, it is evident from a talk by the Lubavticher Rebbe, that its basic concept is that of insensivitiy to suffering (Kol bo’ei olam, 1:19). The two explanations of the Maharal of Prague (that the commandment relates to the basic level of impuse control, the ability to delay gratification) and of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (that it relates to cruelty to animals) can be reconciled as follows. The great the self-absorption, and the less one is able to distance oneself from one’s own desires, the greater is one’s indifference to the other. Cruelty is most often the product of indifference to suffering, of awareness and empathy for the other. A great figure, such as Moses, whose self-displacement was absolute, was characterized by the greatest compassion and empathy for others.

[30] Genesis, 1:27.

[31] If the object of blasphemy, were not believed by the blasphemer, to be invested with sanctity, then the passion in blasphemy would go.

[32] One could add that it attacks or corrodes one’s own quintessential identity, the soul, made in the image of G-d, as it reviles G-d.

[33] Maimonides states it thus: “One who robs his fellow as much as a p’ruta, is as though he takes his soul…” (Hilchos g’zeila v’aveida, ch. 1). See the chapter, “A statement of the Noahide laws”, on the prohibition of theft.

[34] The term “interest” is associated with bias, that which “rolls over” a procedure. The criterion of consistency overrides the irruption of emotion, the freedom of emotion to unbalance.

[35] “Accordingly, Adam was created alone in the world to teach that whoever destroys [and removes] one person from the world, is considered as having destroyed the entire world, and anyone who preserves one person in the world is considered as having preserved the entire world”. Maimonides, Hilchos Sanhedrin, 12:3.

[36] Ibid.


Legal-political perspectives

1.The sovereignty of G-d


World society and the Noahide laws[1]

The sources of modern international law are customary international law, based on practices which nations chose to observe; an International Court of Justice, to which nations elect to subscribe; a United Nations, the members of which stand in political relationships to one another, where also certain nations possess veto powers; and finally the contractual activity of nations in treaty-making. The common feature of all of these aspects of international law is that they are essentially voluntary; they represent elective commitments of sovereign nations, which are bound to no moral or legal authority above their individual sovereign existences, except to the extent that they chose to subscribe or be bound by one. That authority, at all events, is not absolute.

This is the character of modern international law, the law which was formulated and practised in modern times since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. It corresponds to the political reality of the rise of sovereign national entities. This law was historically preceded by a different political reality and different notions of law. In ancient and medieval times, before the emergence of sovereignty as a universal principle of states, there prevailed a notion of natural law. This was the concept of a concrete morality of universal application which governed states just as municipal or domestic law governs the individuals within a single state.

Typically, in its Roman law or medieval canon law expressions, this law was based on purportedly universal and immutable principles. The political reality corresponding to this natural law was that of the Roman empire – the pax Romana (the Roman peace) – and later, the political supremacy of the Catholic church in medieval Europe. A “natural”, universal morality was to arbitrate the laws of individual states. This was intended to be the law of all human beings and all states[2].

Roman and Catholic canon law historically lost their claims to be the universal law of humanity. There is a “new” candidate for a universal substantive law for all humanity. It is new only the sense, that contemporary conditions for the first time have allowed public discussion of it[3], though in fact it is the most ancient of codes of universal law. These are the seven laws which bound Noah the biblical survivor of the flood, and his descendants, humanity at large. Now, their authority comes from Sinai, where they were implied and reiterated in the Biblical, written text and expounded within the Oral law, both of which were given to Moses.

These are the laws which constitute the foundations, not only of domestic, but also international society. Thus war, where there are no legitimate grounds of self–defence, will also fall under the Noahide prohibition of murder[4], just as it applies within societies. The conditions of peace, set out by Maimonides in the laws of kings and their wars, include acceptance of the Noahide laws, by a nation, vanquished in war[5].  Peace is established, to modify a phrase of J. F. Kennedy, ultimately not by pacts or deterrents, so much as by a culture of peace and common grassroots values supporting this peace in the societies constituent to the peace. These common values and belief, intrinsic to all human beings, are contained in the Noahide laws.

That the law of international order, of world society, is the concrete morality of the Noahide laws, is of interest not only from a legal point of view, but also from that of the theory of international politics. It is far from Realpolitik and notions of balance in mutual deterrence in an intrinsically lawless, anarchic world of sovereign nations. To the contrary, according to Torah, the order of the international community represents a moral imperium, arbitrated by suitably constituted and qualified courts of law.  Hence, the first feature of a universal, Noahide law, which places nations “under G-d” is the continuity of national and international law. This does not remove authority from individual states (in their own administrative and fiscal arrangments)[6] nor does it seek to merge their cultural personalities, but it subjects them to the same law of humanity: the Noahide laws.

The fact that these laws are expounded in the tradition of the Oral – or Rabbinic – law, does not imply any concept of Jewish political suzerainty (supremacy). These laws, which are part of Torah, are the law of G-d. Before the formation of the Jewish people, there were Noahide courts which arbitrated this law, and made enactments binding upon the nations in general[7]. Since the biblical revelation at Sinai, however, these laws – as part of Torah in general – are interpreted, where new questions arise, by those properly qualified to do so.[8]


The Noahide laws and the integrality of “public” and “private” morality

The second feature of the Noahide laws in placing all persons “under G-d” is the inseparability of the laws relating to “private” morality, i.e. between the human and G-d, and those between person and person.  Most pointedly this means that personal morality, including sexual morality, becomes a concern of Government and legislation, whether in regard to what it does (commission) or fails to do (omission). This is a delicate realm, calling for sensitivity in positive action, but Government certainly may not, for example, legitimize and facilitate sexual behaviours forbidden by the Noahide laws. Irrespective of whether and to what extent Government can do something about it, before G-d there is no distinction between the private and the public, between morality and law.

The integrality of the private realm (between the person and G-d) and the public realm (between persons) is borne out from a number of perspectives. Thus, it has been explained elsewhere that the prohibition on idolatry – a commandment in the personal realm – is primary among the Noahide laws: it represents the acceptance of the “King” (G-d), upon which is predicated the acceptance of the “King’s decrees”, the remaining Noahide laws[9]. Whilst a prohibition on blasphemy would appear closely related in the personal realm to the prohibition on idolatry, it is harder at first glance to see how laws bearing on sexual relationships have to do with one’s relation to G-d. The answer to this would seem to be that it has to do in a very basic sense with the assertion of the spiritual over the physical in a human being. A “purity of…private life”[10]is also part of the general attunement to   G-d – required by the “private” Noahide commandments – from which fulfillment of commandments in the public (interpersonal) realm obtains its authority and force. Indeed, Divine lawfulness is first authentically accepted in the personal realm.

Secondly, Divine lawfulness needs to be extended from the personal realm to the realm between persons. Even in the openly “rational” laws, such as the prohibitions of theft and murder, grey areas abound. Outright killing no one would support, but what of assisted suicide, euthanasia etc? Stealing money is prohibited, but what about forms of psychological deception and manipulation (called in Jewish law the “stealing of understanding”) practised in the market place? A legal system is one of the precepts of the Noahide laws, obviously operating in the realm between persons. But what of the technical use of the system, in such a way as to favor wealthier clients? The Noahide laws illuminate all these darker areas in the public realm, but they are extended rigorously to the public realm only by one of strong integrity in personal belief and practice – who is willing to accept Divine commands, a Divine will, rather than following the vagaries of personal reason.

It should be noted that the gentile societies which have most resiliently remained decent societies in the public realm – which have not succumbed to despotism and terror – are those which acknowledged the biblical source, if not the explicit detail of the Noahide laws themselves. These were societies which practiced what in fact was a basically unalloyed monotheism and were influenced by a tradition which is called “Hebraic”, as elaborated by Matthew Arnold in his discussion of the puritan strain in English culture, which is certainly (and more so) manifest in American culture[11].

American society, which (though imperfectly and contradictorally) approximates Noahide ethos more than any other nation, congressionally endorsed the Noahide laws in 1991[12]. It is also the most religious gentile nation on earth, in terms of the professing of a belief in one G-d, upon the part of ordinary Americans.  On its currency is written the words “In G-d we trust”, and the explicit moralism of American politics extends, notwithstanding certain historical “isolationist” episodes, to its relationship to the world society. Marxists, and other materialisticallyminded critics, might view the motives of Americans much more skeptically, as being driven by material interests, but then again it was Karl Marx, and those critics, who sought to remove G-d and the soul from human discourse.

  1. Persons


The norm of humanity

When we speak of persons – whether as individual constituents of a society or as collective cultures or societies – we find a concept of humanity in Noahide theology, which relates to persons, individually and culturally, in terms of their relationship to the Sovereign of the universe, G-d. In Hebrew (biblically, the original language of humanity) the generic term for human being (which is the name of the first individual human being, Adam, or in the ashkenasi pronunciation of Hebrew, odom) is explained etymologically to be related, not simply to the word adama, the earth, from which Adam was fashioned, as the Bible relates. It is also associated with the concept of adama l’elyon,”I resemble That which is above”[13].

What this signifies, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains in relation to the Jewish people – and this can be extrapolated to the gentile[14] – is that the “entire concept and being of the of the Jewish body is that it should be a vessel to the soul: in order that the soul should be able to fulfil the will of G-d as this is enclothed in practical commandments….”[15]. That is to say the body is subordinated to the soul, not in an ascetic sense, but that the powers of the body are harnessed by it to Divine purposes.

In the Jewish people, the Maharal of Prague found the freeing and crystallization of the spiritual vis-à-vis the physical or material. This was a result of their special historical experience in the Exodus from Egypt and the biblical revelation at Sinai, through which they achieved their “essentially removed [nivdal] ” spirituality. This was distinct from the wholly submerged spirituality of the Egyptians, who represented the dominance of the physical, as expressed in their rife immorality; and also in the barbarous practices of the nations of Canaan, which represented the form – or essence – of materiality (or physicality) itself[16].

On the other hand, a person or national society in which the spiritual form has, or is returning to, clarity and preeminence (and may be called odom – resembling the Above), has to that degree realized its humanity. In the words of the Maharal of Prague, “… the G-dly image relates to the [gentile] person [odom] inasmuch as he [or she] is a person [odom] also, and this is obvious [m’vuar] [17].

Moreover the concept of balance and harmony of good values in action, which defines the person [odom] extends also to the concept of the gentile sovereign, the personification of the nation. For, where a sovereign refrains from theft and (other abuses of the Noahide laws), he or she has been worthy to receive an endowment of a Divine quality of judgment to be able to manage the stability and welfare of the state in balance and harmony. This is the spiritual significance of the law in Torah that the fiscal and administrative conduct of the State is binding on all, Jew and gentile alike (dina d’malchusa dina), for the Sovereign administering this fundamental harmony is acting in imitation of the Divine[18].


Human “autonomy”

From a Torah point of view, the essential function of a legal “person”, whether an individual or a state, is to carry out the will of G-d[19]. In contradistinction to this, there is a concept of human autonomy in its modern sense, going back to the Renaissance and the Reformation, which defines itself also in the context of the “separation of religion and state”, and in the freedom from the imperatives of religion. The social elaboration of this doctrine of autonomy in its liberal-democratic form is that the human being can and should be an “autonomous” independent, free entity insofar (this being the formulation of later liberal theory, as in J.S. Mill in On Liberty) as this not infringe the similar liberty and the rights of others. In Noahide doctrine, the will of the human soul is understood to be the desire to imitate the Divine. Its will coalesces with a Divine norm. In this case, the Renaissance and Enlightenment concept of human autonomy, is to be understood as the freedom of the person from this spiritual side of his or her being. It is the freedom of the material-volitional dimension of the human being. And indeed, this is precisely how the biblical account of the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge explains the entrance of free will, in as much as the human physical impulse gained a power which could occlude the soul and its imperatives.[20]

Whilst freedom of choice is a fundamental principle in Noahide theology, being free from compulsion and being able to chose, does not define the actualized essence of a human being. The essence of a human being according to Noahide concepts is not to be something other than, but rather to actualize the Divine Image, the spiritual faculty in humankind. What realizes that essence is the modeling of the Divine in man through performance of Divine commandments (mitzvos) which connect a human being with G-d. In the case of a gentile, these are the seven Noahide laws set out in Torah for all humanity. For a Jew, it is the 613 commandments set out in Torah. The greatness of a human being, however is not that he or she can chose arbitrarily, but that choice is exercised to affirm the spiritual. By “submitting” to the commandments a person does not “nullify” or abrogate his or her significance. To the contrary: a life of fulfillment of Divine imperatives – which actualizes the Divine image within humans – is their significance[21]. Conversely, when a person is free “from” religion, he or she is in fact alienated from his essence and paradoxically this amounts to a form of enslavement[22].

Similarly, in the Noahide concept, the individual material personality of the person and the particular cultural personality of the society is not repressed as a result of the assertion of the spiritual. Rather, these become personal expressions or vehicles for the service of G-d. The greatness of a person or a society, consists also in the integration of its personality into the service of G-d.

The concept of the imitation of G-d is the imitation of Divine attributes, as these are expressed in the commandments[23] as discussed elsewhere[24]. At this point, however, it should be noted that the “Divine attributes”, are not attributes which actually inhere in G-d, for nothing could actually be said to define G-d Himself. Rather, it is explained that these attributes are the instruments or modalities which G-d chose to create, through which to act in the world. These modalities or attributes are replicated in the human soul – enabling a basic relationship and communication – “imitation” – between the person and the Divine, microcosm and macrocosm. These attributes, as they are employed by G-d, have a quality of transcendence, infinitude[25]. G-d’s kindness is not in the measure of normal human kindness, nor is His quality of mercy or of judgment.

Nevertheless, there are different levels or ways in which the human imitation of the Divine proceeds. One is the attempt to imitate the Divine attributes in their transcendent aspect: this draws holiness (in Hebrew, k’dusha, transcendent removed   G-dliness) into the order of society and nature. Another is their imitation on the immanent plane, as they pertain to the harmonious internal maintenance of society and nature. Finally, there is a level of transgression and disregard for these qualities, resulting in harm to the social-natural order,  which, so to speak, removes the Divine image from – or wholly submerges it within – the persons, societies and cultures, which transgress the precepts associated with these qualities. Each of these relationships to the imitation of the Divine ways expresses itself in a different kind of agency and mission (or in the last case, counteragency) in realizing the Sovereignty of   G-d in the world.

  1. Human agencies of the Divine


The Jew

The Talmud states that everything in which a gentile has been prohibited by Torah, a Jew has also been prohibited[26]. In addition, a Jew must also do what ever a gentile is required to do. A Jew is commanded to cleave to G-d’s attributes, through fulfillment of the six hundred and thirteen commandments and to fulfil them in a manner of transcendence[27]. Hence, most of the mitzvos incumbent upon Jews relate to acts, which appear supererogatory – go beyond and above, what would normally be required – in relation to the normal maintenance of the world. These are mostly strikingly expressed in a multitude of commandments relating to concepts of purity and holiness, including those associated with the service of the Temple. On a practical social level, they involve acts of social kindness. An example of this is lending money without interest. Taking interest is in itself not a bad thing. It is the rental of money like the rental of any other item. By common societal standards, it could not be said to be evil and is permitted to Noahides. Nevertheless, a Jew is enjoined to lend without interest[28], as an extra measure of kindness, and similarly to take pains to return lost property.

In the first place these and a multitude of other supererogatory acts are required of a Jew only in relation to another Jew and in the context of the society of Jews, who are reciprocally obligated in them.  However, their extension to a Noahide is permissible[29] and also desirable especially where those societies have themselves accepted these norms (such as which have lost-property offices) so that these acts are reciprocally meaningful. Similarly, a Noahide may take upon him or herself the commandments incumbent upon Jews with the exceptions of the Jewish Sabbath and certain modes of the study of Torah[30].

A Jew moreover has an obligation to sustain[31] – to provide livelihood, where necessary, for – the ger toshav, a non-Jew, who at the time when this procedure can take place[32], accepts before a religious court to keep the Noahide laws. There are those who state that in many respects a gentile nowadays, who accepts (even informally) the Noahide laws, has the same rule as the ger toshav[33]. Just as the majority of the commandments given to the Jews go beyond the ordinary maintenance of the social order, so the function of their performance through Jews is to draw an additional sanctity, a transcendent holiness, into a social and world order which has already been stabilized by the nations following the Noahide laws[34].


The Noahide

Ordinary pity and kindness, as well as the measured severity required to curtail forms of anti-social behaviour are all (Divine) attributes which find concrete embodiment in Noahide law, to preserve peace (sholom) and social order (yeshuvo shel olam). The seven Noahide laws represent negative commandments incumbent upon Noahides[35]. There is also a positive obligation upon Noahides to give charity[36]. Indeed, the Lubavitcher Rebbe states that, beyond the seven Noahide laws there are two further categories of laws mandatory upon Noahides[37]: (a) qualities of conduct, mandated by normal human decency (known by the spiritually informed intellect[38]) such as the keeping of one’s word[39], ordinary modesty and so forth and (b) additional restrictions (and ordinances) which the nations have taken upon themselves.

The Noahide laws are generally held to be so evident and normal that one cannot plead ignorance or lack of warning to be exempt from liability for their non-observance[40]. The theoretical punishment of the Torah for transgression of the Noahide laws is death, although such a penalty could only be enforced at a time when the great Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Court, convened in its place on the Temple Mount[41], and it seems that even when that was the case, this penalty was almost never carried out. The significance of the theoretical death penalty in general, whether for Jew or non-Jew, is given in the words of Rashi, namely that “one has transgressed the will of one’s Creator”[42]. In the case of the Noahide laws, it is that the very purpose for which a human was created, namely to settle the world peacefully has been contradicted and, and so also the essential point of the human being’s existence has been vitiated[43].

In many places in the Talmud the terms for gentile (goy or nochri) without any further qualification (i.e. not the term which explicitly signifies “idolater”) denotes idolatrous and barbarous peoples, such as those in whose midst the Jews lived. Already, however, a major late medieval Rabbinic authority, the Me’iri, (who lived some 700 years ago) observed that most of the nations of his time in some broad sense observed the Noahide laws, following a life regulated by laws and conventions. Speaking in relation to certain penalties laid upon idolaters in relation to damages, he writes,  “that for all those who follow the Noahide laws, their rule in relation to us is like our rule in relation to them and there is no favour towards ourselves. Needless to say this applies to orderly, civilized societies [b’darchei dosos v’nimusim][44]. Closer to our time, the Remo[45], the author of the great Ashkenasi gloss on the Shulchan Aruch (the code of Jewish law) writes similarly, and this has clear halachic force. And the Nodeh B’Yehudah[46], a few hundred years after that, writes even more positively that the nations amongst which the Jewish people lived in his time “have basic religious belief in the creation of the world, in the prophecy of the prophets and the wonders related in the Torah and Prophets”, and so have no comparison with the status of certain earlier barbarous peoples. This does not mean that all contemporary cultures are observant of the Noahide law, or that those which in some sense broadly are, are without imperfection in many areas of their observance. Yet there are societies which in many ways are exemplary: and this opens up the vista of human perfectibility described by the Talmud, which speaks of a gentile, occupied with the study and practice of his or her commandments as being like the High Priest of the Jewish people[47].


The barbarian

The “idolater” – one who neither authentically recognizes G-d or His laws[48] – is whether individually or a collectively (as a culture), barbaric. Within an otherwise orderly domestic context, the idolater is typified in Torah sources as the social outlaw, the strongman or gangster (such as the tax farmer who takes what he wants above and beyond the amount which the King had required[49]), both on a domestic and international level. The Torah T’mima[50] speaks of this category as one of individuals or societies, whose conduct disregards the intent of the Noahide laws (“maintenance of the world and society, security, life and possessions, mercy and pity upon creatures”) and moreover actively do the opposite – who kill, are sexually immoral, thieve, actively pursue forms of cruelty and so forth[51].

Society (both on a world and domestic level) has to deal with them as people, who, in different degrees are at war against society. How is one to relate to them? On the one hand, we find that, on the positive side, basic pity can be shown to those who are not actively at war with society. Thus Maimonides writes that a Jew is also to give charity to poor idolatrous non-Jews, to bury those of their dead, left without burial, alongside poor Jews[52].

On the negative side, one may not steal from them[53], though one may impose penalties upon them for anti-social behaviour. Thus the Mishnah[54] (the early codification of the oral law) discusses a case where people allow their livestock to roam and cause damage. If a Jew’s livestock causes unforeseen and unpredicted damage to the idolater’s livestock, there is no penalty upon the Jew, whilst the idolater must pay full damages. Maimonides explains that in this case no obligation was placed on the Jew to pay damages to the idolater, in those circumstances where they do not do this for one another. The Jew is not depriving them of an entitlement, which they conventionally possess. He is not violating reciprocity at that basic level. However, the Torah has placed upon the idolater a penalty to pay damages, when he or she causes damages, because of “their carelessness in mitzvos and because they do not remove damaging entities”[55]. A removal of entitlement might be an infringement (and in terms of their own expectations, there is none here), but the exaction of a penalty is not[56]. Through the penalty, however, they are then motivated to a higher level of social responsibility. (When, however, they themselves, practice basic decency, then, in the words of the Mei’iri, quoted above, “their rule in relation to us is like our rule in relation to them and there is no favour towards ourselves”).

The concept of such a penalty is hence to rectify a behaviour. It is already foreshadowed in the conduct of Abraham, related in the Midrash[57] who would receive wayfarers into his home and feed them. He would then ask them to thank G-d for the food. If they declined, he would present them with a high bill – shocking, but justified (not an act of theft) in terms of the difficulty of bringing provisions to his desert oasis – for the food they had consumed. This kind of action – a harsher justice  for one who was ordinarily so kind – indicates that sometimes a measure of coercion is required to transform the coarseness of an individual or culture. The brazenness of the person would be “broken”, but the intent was to reorient the individual, not to visit him or her with retribution[58].

At the same time, and indeed before the application of this form of coercion, Abraham would, by speaking about G-d and perhaps through the example of his person and conduct, seek to awaken a recognition of G-d on the part of those around him. Indeed the most profound “coercion”, is that which individuals or cultures apply to themselves. This occurs especially when they experience a revelation of (especially a transcendent) G-dliness and respond by wanting to submit their minds and bodies as instruments of Divine purpose[59] and themselves experience the Redem

[1] I am grateful to Professor Arnold Loewy and to my wife, Miriam Cowen, for their critical comments on an earlier version of this essay.

[2] For a discussion and comparison of positive and natural law doctrines, see S.D. Cowen, “Eternal law and human legislation: secular and Jewish perspectives”, Journal of Judaism and Civilization, vol. 1, 5758/1998, pp. 68ff.

[3] See Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 26, pp. 141-42, who explains that persecution for centuries, if not millennia, made dangerous the public discussion of this universal morality, set forth for humanity, in Jewish tradition.

[4] Rabbi S. Zevin, L’Or HaHalachah, pp.16-18.

[5] See Maimonides, Hilchos M’lochim, 6:1-3 in connection with the war of a Jewish king with gentile nations. It is not simply a question of submission or surrender, but a substantive subscription to the laws which make normative international society.

[6] As expressed in the concept of dina d’malchusa dina – the law of the land is law, also in the eyes of Torah. See below, Section 2.

[7] Such as the court of Shem, the son of Noah. See Talmud Avoda Zora, 36b, cited by Or HaChayim on Genesis 38:24. See also Rashi on Genesis 34:7.

[8] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 2, p. 98.

[9] Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 26, pp. 138-39.

[10] With which Grotius extolled Louis XIII, in his dedication of De jure Belli ac Pacis, Vol. 1 of the translation by F.W. Kelsey et al, NY: Oceana Publications, Inc, (reprinted 1964), p. 4.

[11] See Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, edited with an introduction by J. Dover Wilson, London: Cambridge University Press, 1960.

[12] Public Law 102-14, 102d Congress, 1st Session, H.J. Res. 104. The resolution begins with the following text:

“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;

Whereas without these ethical values and principles the edifice of civilization stands in serious peril of returning to chaos…”

[13] See Rabbi Menachem Azariah Mipano, Asora Ma’amoros, Ma’amar “Eim Kiol Chai” 2, 53, cited in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 10, p. 103 fn. 23. The term relates to the person’s ability top resemble the Divine, but actualizing this depends on his or her own choice.

[14] See below, in the name of the Maharal of Prague.

[15] Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 10, p. 104.

[16] See G’vuros HaShem, chapter 4.

[17] In Sefer Netzach Yisroel of the Maharal (Netzach Yisroel, ch. 11, p. 74).

[18] Rabbi DovBer, “Bad Kodesh”, letter 27 in Igrois Koidesh – Admur Hazoken, Admur Ha’emtza’ee, Admur Hatzemach Tzedek, NY: Kehot, 1987

[19] Inasmuch as the Divine will is enshrined in the Divine (Noahide) laws governing humanity. In regard to seeing to it that others should keep these laws, we find an explicit instruction in Torah (Maimonides, Hilchos M’lochim 8:10) that Jews should do all they can to induce the non-Jewish world to keep the Noahide laws. When non-Jews themselves participate in disseminating knowledge and strengthening observance of the Noahide laws in the world, they are participating in the redemptive task of humanity as a whole, in conjunction with the Jewish people. The Congressional proclamation of 1991, mentioned above, can itself be seen as an act of this kind. See Kol bo’ei olam, pp. 189ff.

[20] See the commentary of Rashi on Genesis 2:25.

[21] America was first settled by a group which wanted freedom of (i.e. to be religious), rather than freedom from, religion. The concern that the state, in upholding religious (Noahide) values, could in fact be discriminating against other religious values, is at variance with the basic Noahide theological concept, that the Noahide laws in fact represent the common – essential and root-historical – spirituality of humanity.

[22] In the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in regard to Jews: “When a Jew does not fulfil Torah and mitzvos… then, even though he looks as though he is “free” – without a yoke – and it is easier than fulfilling torah and mitzvos, this is in fact a form of unnatural servitude [avodas perach]. This is because conducting his life not according to Torah is the opposite of what his true essence and nature and demands.

This is analogous to the statement of our Sages that unnatural servitude means “(the work of men for women and) and the work of women for men”. Even though the work is an easier one for men, it is an “unnatural servitude” because it does not correspond to their habituation and nature” (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 17, p. 75).

[23] It has to be remembered that these are not the foundations of the commandments, which originate in the Divine will, but are rather qualities expressed in, and inculcated through, the perfromance of the commandments.. See the chapter on “Rationality and the Noahide laws”.

[24] See the chapter “The Noahide laws and human personality”.

[25] See S. D. Cowen, Jewish Thought in Context, Melbourne: Institute for Judaism and Civilization, 2001 (4th ed’n), pp. 35-36.

[26] See Talmud Sanhedrin, 59a.

[27] See here Likkutei Sichos, Vol 34, pp. 153-59 and especially fn. 56. So also Likkutei Sichos, Vol 37, pp. 72-78.

[28] Although this prohibition can by certain arrangements, known as a heter iska, be circumvented, the imperative of kindness as applied in interest-free loans remains wherever possible.

[29] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 12, p. 115; Pischei Chshen, Dinei Aveidoh 1:18 (with notes, including elaboration of the position of Rashi, which counters the above).

[30] Maimonides, Hilchos M’lochim, 10:10.

[31] See Encyclopedia Talmudis, Vol. 6, column 292.

[32] I.e. when the laws of the Jubilee year are practised (Maimonides, Hilchos Issurei Bi’a, 14:8).

[33] See Rabbi M. M. Schneerson, Sha’arei Halachah uMinhag (Vol 3, p. 56), which cites the  Tzafnos Panei’ach that according to Maimonides (Hilchos M’lochim, 10:10), Jews are obligated to sustain also a Noahide, who accepts the seven Noahide laws, even without the formal acceptance of this in a Jewish court, made by the ger toshav. See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 26, p. 134, fn 23*, which intimates that such is the view also of the Tzemach Tzedek in Sha’alos u’T’shuvos, Yoreh Dei’ah, 83.

[34] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 39, pp. 35-6, in addition to Vol. 34, pp. 53-59, mentioned above.

[35] Sanhedrin 58b. Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, p. 157.

[36] Based on Rabbeinu Nissan, Chiddushei HaRan on Sanhedrin 56b. The Yad Rama on Sanhedrin, 57b is also cited in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, p. 157, fn. 54.

[37] See Hisvaduyos of Shavuos,  5747 in Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, Toras Menachem 5747, part 3, p. 429ff.

[38] See in general the chapter, “Rationality and the Noahide laws”.

[39] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, p. 147.

[40] Maimonides, Hilchos M’lochim, 10:1.

[41] Maimonides, Hilchos Sanhedrin 14:11, and so would seem to the ruling according to the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Sha’arei Halachah uMinhog, Vol. 3, pp. 56 ff, but see Rabbi J.D. Bleich, “Capital punishment in the Noachide Code” in his Contemporary Halakhic problems, Vol 2, NY: K’tav, 1983, pp. 342-43.

[42] See Talmud, Sanhedrin, 10a.

[43] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, p. 160, cited above in the chapter “Foundations of the Noahide Laws”.

[44] On Bava Kama, 38a.

[45] In Shulchon OruchOrach Chayim, 156..

[46] “His’natzlus ham’chaber”.

[47] Talmud Sanhedrin, 59a.

[48] Even though such individuals and cultures may associate their belief with “G-d”, one would have to say that that is their idolatry: that a particular interest, identity or entity is made absolute and is called “Divine”.

[49] See Bava Kama 113b; and Aruch HaShulchan, Choshen Mishpot 348:2: “ovdei cochovim anasim hakadmonim”.

[50] Torah T’mimaSh’mos 21: 277.

[51] See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, p. 160.

[52] See end of chapter 10 of Maimonides, Hilchos M’lochim.

[53] Maimonides, Hilchos G’neivah, 1:1.

[54] Bava Kama, 4: 3.

[55] Hilchos nizkei momon 8:5

[56] Just as a parking fine is not an act of theft.

[57] B’reishis Rabbo, 49:4.

[58] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 15, pp. 122-128.

[59] See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 23, p. 181



(G’vuros HaShem, Chapter 66)


Translated and annotated by Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen[1]


Says Yehudah the son of Betzalel[2]:

Everything has a purpose, and according to the nature of each thing is its purpose. Accordingly, if the work is an important and great one, it will fittingly also have an important goal. For it is inappropriate that there should be an inferior and lowly goal for an important work. How much more so with the works of G-d, all of Whose deeds are with wisdom and understanding, that all His deeds should be directed towards a goal, which is fitting to the deed.

We saw in the Exodus that G-d wrought very great, awesome deeds, and in His glory, Himself brought them out from Egypt. Accordingly, it is appropriate that there should be a purpose for this act – commensurate in importance with the act which G-d worked for the sake of that goal.

In Scripture we find that the purpose of the Exodus was that He should be the G-d of Israel, as is written at the beginning of the Exodus: “…I shall bring you out from beneath the burdens of Egypt…and I shall take you to Me as a people and I shall be your G-d…”[3]. [Then], at the end of the portion of Tetzaveh it is written “…Who brought them out of Egypt to dwell amongst them…”[4]. From [this] it is evident that the Exodus, from the outset, was in order that He should be their G-d. For this reason, the portions come in the order, initially that He brought them out of Egypt and afterwards gave them the Ten Commandments, the first of which is “I am the L-rd your G-d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt; you shall have no other gods…”[5] and after that the other [of the Ten] Commandments and then the portion V’ela hamishpotim [setting forth much detailed civil law]…

Afterwards, He wanted to dwell amongst them, as is written: “They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them”[6]. It is evident that the purpose of the Exodus was that He should be their G-d and that His Divine Presence should be in their midst.

We need to look into this goal: whether this should be considered appropriate to [such] a great act. For it must be asked – after all, “the heavens are His throne and the earth His footstool[7]“ and His Divine Presence is in the upper realms. Why then should He have chosen to dwell in the lower realms? In relation to His Divinity, ascent is more appropriate than descent. What need does [He] have in the lower realms, which are dust, maggots and worms?

If, however, it is the case that the entire purpose of existence depends upon His Divine Presence being in the lower realms, and that this is all important, the question disappears. [And this will be so] when one appreciates that G-d unites with the existing beings because they are caused by Him. For G-d, Who is the Cause of everything, desires what He has effected, and when there is a Cause, there is an effect[8]. It turns out that the bond of the First Cause with the existing beings is by virtue of the fact that He is their Cause and they have been effected by Him. We have already dwelt at length upon this special bond in conjunction with the verse, “And He called to him from within the bush”[9].

On the basis of this explanation, we must say that not the upper, but rather the lower, realms are [truly] united with G-d. For the fact that they are called “upper” realms, means that they [themselves] have an effect upon the lower realms and [themselves] are considered a cause. Rather, the lower realms, as the lower realms, are the essential effect. Accordingly, the true bond of the First Cause, which is the true cause, is with the lower realms, in that they are the true effect.

The Midrash, on the portion of B’reishis[10] states:

[The verse states:] “And they heard the sound of G-d the L-rd walking [mis’halech] through the garden towards the sun”. The word m’halech is not used [for “walking”], but rather mis’halech [which signifies jumping, or leaping in bounds]. The principal [dwelling place] of the Divine Presence was [originally] in the lower realms. When Adam sinned, the Divine Presence departed to the first Heaven[11]. Cain sinned and It departed to the second Heaven. The generation of Enosh sinned and the Divine Presence departed to the third Heaven. The generation of the Flood sinned and the Divine Presence departed to the fourth Heaven. The generation of the Dispersion [which built the tower of Babel] sinned and the Divine Presence departed to the fifth Heaven. The people of Sodom arose and sinned and the Divine Presence departed to the sixth Heaven. The Egyptians arose in the days of Abraham and sinned and the Divine Presence departed to the seventh Heaven. Afterwards, seven righteous individuals [tzaddikim] arose and brought the Divine Presence down to earth: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kehot, Amram [and] Moses, as it is written, “The righteous shall inherit the earth and forever dwell upon it[12]“. Now, what [based on this verse] do the wicked do? Do they fly in the air?! [Rather, the meaning of the verse is not that] the righteous [dwell upon the earth, but that they] cause the Divine Presence to dwell upon the earth.

Now the explanation of this, as we have said, is that when the world was first created and there was no impairment in the effect [ – the world -] G-d joined with it, as befits the unity of the Cause and effect. The joining was solely with the lower realms, inasmuch as they were the true effect. [This lasted only] until sin was [manifested] in the effected beings, at which point a separation developed in that attachment, until there was no connection between the Cause and the effect.

These seven sins, committed by the effected beings [which caused the progressive departure of the Divine Presence were violations of] the commandments which
[G-d] gave them from the beginning of the creation of His world. [These are the prohibitions on] consuming the limb of a living creature, blasphemy, idolatry, forbidden sexual relationships, courts [the prohibition upon arbitrary judgment and arbitrary processes of justice], theft and murder. In these seven commandments consist the connection between the Cause and the effect[ed beings: that is,] through His decrees and commandments, in that the effect accepted the decree and commandment of the Cause. This is to be further explained in the work Tiferes Yisroel. Thus, as soon as man was created, G-d gave him seven commandments.

[Now,] it would appear that G-d chose these seven commandments because He desired that the human being should be good to Heaven and good to his or her fellow creatures”[13]. A person’s righteousness is established in these two dimensions, as the verse states: “Praise the righteous person, for he is good, since he consumes the fruits of his deeds”[14]. [Its meaning for us here is unlocked by the question] asked in the first chapter of the Talmudic tractate Kiddushin[15]: [Does this verse imply that] there is a righteous person who is good as well as a righteous person who is not good? To this the answer comes: “[one who is] good to Heaven and good to one’s fellow creatures” is a righteous person who is good. One, who is good to Heaven, but not good to one’s fellow creatures is a righteous person, who is not good”.

Accordingly, G-d gave three commandments between the individual and his or her Creator, so that the person should not be bad to Heaven. These are [in relation to] forbidden sexual relationships[16], blasphemy[17] and idolatry. [Similarly,] He gave three commandments in the relationship with one’s fellow creatures: theft (that one should not steal from another), courts of justice, and [the prohibition of] murder, so that one should not be bad to one’s fellow creatures. The seventh commandment, [the prohibition on] consuming the limb of a living creature, is the starting point and foundation, from and upon which one will not come to the [other] transgressions. This commandment was given as an antidote to the bad impulse [in a person], such that he should not desire to eat and cut up an animal before its life has left it. On account of his impulses, and in order to suppress them, the human being was given this commandment. Our Sages said, “The law of the young tree [namely that we must wait three years before consuming its fruit] cuts off the feet of the butchers and those who have marital relations with their wives who are still in a state of ritual impurity [niddah][18]. ” [That is to say,] the Torah instructed a measure of three years [to wait before consuming the fruit of] a sapling – “three years they shall be areilim to you”[19] – but [there are such] butchers [who] are unable to wait for the life of the animal to leave it [before eating their flesh] and [those] who have marital relations with their wives, who are in a state of ritual impurity [niddos]and cannot wait until [their wives] immerse [in a mikvah – ritual bath – to purify themselves for marital relations]. Therefore, this commandment [prohibiting consumption of] the limb of a living animal [was given] so as [to train] oneself not to follow impulse. For if one does follow one’s inclination, in the end one’s inclination will tell one to do this and then to do that, until one transgresses all the prohibitions. Similarly, [we find] at the end of the Ten Commandments [given to the Jewish people], “You shall not covet”, for the sin of [simply following] desire is the beginning of all sins. Indeed the liturgical poet formulated it thus “in ‘you shall not covet’ [are] included all”, to tell you that all the commandments are included in “You shall not covet”, since if one does transgress in the sin of “you shall not covet”, one will come to transgress in general. For this reason [the prohibition on consuming] the limb of a living creature is enumerated seventh [as the comprehensive principle of all the Noahide commandments].

Now, to Adam, to whom meat was not permitted at all, G-d gave in place [of the prohibition of consuming the limb of a living creature] the commandment not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, about which Scripture states that it was “goodly to eat and desirable to the eyes”[20] – so that he would not follow his impulse [and take and eat it before it was permitted[21]]. It was this [unconstrained desire] which caused him to sin, as is written in the verse, that he was drawn after his inclination. He was therefore given [all] these commandments [i.e. the remaining six, since the realm of possible transgression had now been opened up, through his failure to keep this commandment].

Why was he give three commandments, in the dimension of the relationships between human beings and three commandments bearing on the relationship between G-d and the individual human being? [This is understood by way of the introduction that] the parts of the human being are body and soul[22]. The human being as a whole comprises these parts, in that through them [together], the person receives the form of the human. This third dimension is like a house, which has as its parts wood and stones, but afterwards is made a house, compounded of both. It is something other than its parts and this [idea] has been explained before very many times.

[Proceeding though each of these two dimensions, in each of their three aspects, we have schematically the significance of these six commandments.] In order that one should not sin towards Heaven with his soul, G-d gave the person [the prohibition of] idolatry as the verse in Ezekiel states “in order to seize the House of Israel for what is in their minds [b’libom][23] which refers to idolatry. Concerning this, the Talmud in the chapter “shilu’ach hakein”[24] states, “Perhaps he entertains idolatrous thoughts”. For in none of the transgressions is thought reckoned a deed, except for idolatry (as it is written, “in order to seize the House of Israel for what is in their minds”) so the sin [pertains] to the soul [alone].

[Further, in the dimension of the person’s relationship to G-d] forbidden sexual relationships relate to the [bodily component, the] flesh, on account of the impulse in the body which desires forbidden relationships. So it is explained in various places that the sin of forbidden relationships relates to the body, as the Torah states [expounded in the Talmudic Tractate] Sota[25], that the sacrificial flour offering of the woman suspected of infidelity should be of barley [not wheat]: her act was the act of a donkey and so her offering should be [barley,] the food of a donkey. [We see that] the sin of forbidden sexual relationships is a physical, bodily one and this has been explained in various places.

Blasphemy relates to the human being composed of both body and soul. For in blasphemy, one sins with speech by cursing G-d and the category of a person is that of a living being which speaks. Speech is the distinguishing form [tzura] of the human being [as such] composed of both body and soul. Hence, with blasphemy, through speech, it is the person as a whole who has sinned – just as is done with the soul in idolatry and with the body in forbidden relationships – through speech, which embraces the whole person. Moreover, you should know, and this is the main point, that the reason why the sin of blasphemy implicates the human being as a whole is because one who sins in this way denies the basic Principle [G-d, the basis of existence] by cursing  G-d, and if there is no basis, the person’s  [own] existence is nullified. He thereby sins with his whole person, and thereby his existence is utterly nullified. Just as with forbidden sexual relations, he sins with his body and with idolatry the sin attaches to his soul, so with blasphemy, the sin is fundamental and attaches to the person in totality.

This is the reason the Torah instructed that [upon pronouncing judgment on him, all the judges and witnesses] lay their hands upon the head of one who blasphemes and say to that person, “your blood is upon your head”: as though to say, you have brought it upon yourself; we have not caused it to you. For in all other sins, there might have been some argument in his favour, and if he is pronounced guilty in court, it is the court which is sentencing him to death but still there he might have some argument in his favour to allow us to say that [by his conduct] he did not [really] bring his death upon himself. However, in the sin of blasphemy, in which one denies the basic Principle, there is no argument in his favour[26] at all. This is why they lay their hands upon his head and say to him “your blood is on your head” – because you caused it to yourself, you have no possible argument in your favour. This idea is elaborated in the work Gur Aryeh.

In the dimension that one should not be bad to [one’s fellow] humans, there are three transgressions [stipulated by the Noahide laws:] courts [i.e. the prohibition against arbitrariness in justice], theft and murder. In arbitrary justice the sin is with one’s soul, namely the perversion of true justice and uprightness, [the concepts of which are] found in the soul of man. For truth and uprightness are apprised in the soul. Accordingly, this is a sin of the soul, since uprightness and justice are apprehended only in the intellectual soul.

Moreover, when a person does not rightly carry out justice, this comes from a deficiency of the soul, for anyone who sees injustice must be aroused in his soul to [do] justice. This is why every judge has to have a strong and resolute mind [leiv] for justice. It is evident that justice comes from an arousal of the soul, and when one contemplates this properly, one will understand that justice is an act of the soul. So too in the [Midrash][27] it is written: “Two things are at the left of the Holy One blessed be He – justice and the soul: justice, as it is written ‘And My hand takes hold of judgment”[28]; and in regard to the soul [it is written] “For in Your hand is the soul of all life”[29]; and wherever the word “hand” [appears in Scripture], it refers to the left [hand]. The Torah is [here] saying, I created the soul in the place of judgment; it has gone out and sinned. That is why it is written [in conjunction with civil law], “When a soul will sin…”[30]. For the soul seeks justice since it was created in the place of justice and if there is injustice, it is reckoned to the soul as a sin. This is clear and simply grasped.

Now this commandment parallels [the prohibition of] idolatry, which is a commandment that one should not be bad to Heaven. For idolatry is called Elokim acheirim [“other gods”] and the judge is also called Elokim in all places. [In this regard] the Sages stated: “one who appoints a judge, who is unfit, is as though he planted an asheirah [a tree used for idolatrous worship]”[31]. They represent the one notion in all respects and therefore, corresponding to the commandment, which G-d gave that one should not sin with other gods – this commandment being between the person and his Creator – He commanded in the dimension between fellow humans, that one should carry out true justice: not to sin in relation to a matter which is also called Elokim.

Theft parallels forbidden sexual relationships, as we find everywhere, that the Sages spoke of “theft and forbidden relationships, [things] which the soul of man desires”.[32] We see that these things match each other. The main aspect of theft is the pursuit of money, and the desire for wealth and riches are physical matters like forbidden sexual relationships, simply that [theft is an infringement] between fellow humans.

Now forbidden sexual relationships and theft are not included in [the general category of] desire [the object of the prohibition on consuming the limb of a living creature]. For in forbidden sexual relationships, whereby one desires and pursues women[33], or theft, where one pursues wealth, this is not desire alone [and in general unbridled] but desire for a specific thing – to be led by sexual desire or to scramble after wealth. Desire [in general] is the desire for whatever one lacks, which [means that such a person] is a creature of desire [in general]. This is something else altogether, as will be explained, which derives from [an intellectually and spiritually unmediated, and so in a sense immature, pre-fully human] physicality of the person, as will be explained. These matters are clear.

The sin of murder is between fellow human beings. This is a sin in which the entire person sins; the sin is not in a part, but rather in all of the person. [For] just as in the sin of blasphemy, where one denies the [Divine] Principle which is [the source of] everything [spiritual and physical], so this murderer spills the blood [of the person] totally. [That is to say, he destroys both the spiritual and the physical identity of the slain person], and hence this sin similarly implicates the entire person [both body and soul, both of which destroyed facets of humanity in the slain]. This is not like the sin in [the perversion of] justice or the sin involved in theft, where the sin is not such that the whole person sinning is corrupted – but rather only a part is corrupted. However, just as with blasphemy, where one denies the basic Principle entirely [and] it is as though there is no G-d, Heaven forbid, similarly this murderer in spilling the blood of the person completely, has sinned with his entire person[34].

The seventh [prohibition] relates to the [unmediated] physicality [(chomer) of the person], from which desire arises such that a person is unable to hold back [from eating the flesh of the creature] before slaughtering [it]. This is the desire which comes from the physicality that constantly lacks and so lusts and desires to fill its lack.

[The Midrash goes on to] say that Adam came and sinned with desire when he took the fruit which he coveted, and the Divine Presence departed to the first Heaven. Cain came and sinned with murder [and] the Divine Presence departed to the second Heaven. The generation of Enosh came and sinned with idolatry, as the Sages stated in the chapter of the Talmud, “Kol Kisvei”: “The verse states, ‘One who keeps the Sabbath from being profaned…’ and next to it is written ‘Happy is the person [enosh] who will do this’[35]. From this [apposition is learnt] that anyone who keeps the Sabbath according to its laws, even if he served idolatry like the generation of Enosh, will be forgiven. For it is written m’chalalo [‘from being profaned’] but do not read it as m’chalalo, but rather as mochul lo [‘he is forgiven’]”[36]. His generation was the first to serve idolatry, as it is written ‘then it was begun to call [the names of men and other beings] by the Name of G-d”[37], and the Divine Presence departed to the third Heaven.

[Then] came the generation of the flood and sinned with theft, as the verse states explicitly, “And the earth was filled with violence”[38] – other than this, no other sin is explicitly stated [in Scripture in relation to the Flood] – and the Divine Presence departed to the fourth Heaven. [After that] the generation of the Dispersion came and sinned with blasphemy when they said, “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower”[39] and make war with Him – this was blasphemy – and the Divine Presence departed to the fifth Heaven. [Then] there arose the people of Sodom and sinned [in the realm of] justice as is evident from the deeds, which are told of them, and of what the judges of Sodom did and how their judgments were, and the Divine Presence departed to the sixth Heaven. The Egyptians arose [next] in the days of Abraham and sinned [with forbidden] sexual relationships as is evident from the “practice of Egypt” referred to in the verse, “Like the practice of Egypt…”[40]. For this reason Pharoah did not say to Abraham, “Behold, my land is before you…”[41] as Abimelech said to Abraham, since he acknowledged that the Egyptians were immersed in lewdness, and the Divine Presence departed to the seventh Heaven.

Now came Abraham, like whom no other had ever been as guarded in matters of forbidden sexual relationships. Concerning him, our Rabbis of blessed memory, said[42], “Put earth in the mouth of [i.e. silence] Job, who said, ‘I have established a covenant with my eyes, so how could I have thought of a maiden’. [43] [That is, Job] did not gaze upon another, but upon his own he did gaze. However, Abraham, did not gaze even upon his own, as [the verse] states, ‘Behold, now I have known that you are a woman of beautiful appearance’[44]”. [That is to say,] up to that point of time, he had not recognized her [- his wife’s -] beauty, since he had not gazed at her. Accordingly, he brought the Divine Presence down to the sixth Heaven.

Isaac arose and was righteous in justice, in that he accepted upon himself with love the [Divine] attribute of judgment, when, [at the binding (akeidah)] he stretched forth his neck to be slaughtered. He was [thus] the opposite of the people of Sodom, who corrupted justice. And there is no difference between the judgment of Heaven [which was given to Isaac] and the judgment of earthly courts [which the people of Sodom perverted, for it is all justice. It is known that Isaac [embodied] the attribute of justice and therefore he drew down the Divine Presence to the fifth Heaven.

Jacob [then] came and sanctified [G-d’s] Name, as it is written in the verse, “And sanctify the Sanctified One of Jacob”[45]. [Moreover] the third blessing [of the silent prayer (Amidah)] was established corresponding to Jacob, for the first three blessings correspond to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even the angels sanctify in the name of Jacob, as it is written “blessed is the G-d of Israel [another name for Jacob]”[46], as explained [elsewhere, the concept] that the angels sanctify in the name of Jacob. Accordingly, he countered the people of the generation of the Dispersion who blasphemed the Name of G-d, and he [Jacob] brought down the Divine Presence to the fourth Heaven.

Levi [the son of Jacob] was the antithesis of theft, where [one] covets and takes what is not one’s. Levi was its opposite in that his entire tribe had no portion in the land [of Israel] or inheritance in the spoils [of war]. “G-d is his inheritance”[47]. Levi was removed from money matters and from the pursuit of money and even that which should fittingly have come to him, was not his. [Now] if the tribe of Levi was not so disposed, G-d would not have given them [this lot] – rather, only because [the tribe] was satisfied with what it had. Now, can we say [that this was the quality] simply of his tribe but not of [Levi] him[self]? This is impossible, for his tribe would not have acquired this quality, if not from their father, since the name Levi applies to the tribe as a whole. That is why he drew down the Divine Presence to the third Heaven.

Kehot [the son of Levi] is the contrary of idolatry. His family [within the tribe of Levi] served G-d with their bodies, carrying [parts of] the sanctuary and all their offspring were serving G-d with their bodies. [In this they were] different to the families of Gershon and Merari [also of the tribe of Levi] who had wagons [upon which to transport those parts of the sanctuary entrusted to them]. But the family of Kehot “shall carry on their shoulders”[48]. And something which one serves with one’s body is [truly] called service. So also amongst their offspring were the Kohanim [the priests], upon whom was incumbent [also] an actual service [of G-d, that is to say, one performed with their bodies]. For this reason, he brought the Divine Presence down to the second Heaven.

Then came Amram, who was a person of such great righteousness that he did not sin [at all] and death did not come to him on his own account. The Sages said in the Talmudic Tractate Bava Basra[49] that Amram died only on account of the counsel of the snake [in the Garden of Eden]. That is to say, it was not appropriate that he should die, were it not for the snake, which had brought death to the world. Accordingly, he is the contrary of Cain, who took up the craft of the primordial snake and brought death to the world. Amram, however, did not die because of any sin of his own, and indeed he is the total opposite of Cain who brought death upon another. And even though it is the way of the world to bring death upon oneself through one’s own sin, Amram did not bring [it upon himself]. It follows that Amram was entirely life and Cain entirely death; and this is clear. For this reason, he brought down the Divine Presence to the first Heaven.

[Then] came Moses, who was a righteous person who separated from his wife. From this you know that desire was not to be found in Moses. For if he had possessed it, it would have been improper for him to separate from his wife, lest he come to sin. This is why we know that desire was absent from him. He is therefore the contrary of Adam, who possessed desire. For this reason, [at Sinai] he brought the Divine Presence down to earth, through which the Divine Presence returned to its original place.

At all events, we know from this that the [proper] place of the Divine Presence is upon earth, for the reason, which has been explained. Moreover, it will be clear how specifically the lower realms [humanity] deserved that the Divine Presence should [rest] in the lower realms, were it not for sin, which separates between existing beings and the First Cause.

Translators Afterward: The Noahide laws and the Divine attributes (s’firos).

An attempt has been made to correlate the seven Noahide laws with the Divine attributes or s’firos of chesed (kindness), g’vurah (might), tiferes(beauty), netzach (victory), hod (glory), yesod (foundation) and malchus (kingship). This was done in the book The Seven Colours of the Rainbow[50] by Rabbi Yirmeyahu Bindman. The correspondence which he posits are chesed – the prohibition on forbidden sexual relationships, g’vurah – the prohibition on murder, tiferes – the prohibition on theft, netzach – the prohibition on idolatry, hod – the prohibition on blasphemy, yesod – the prohibition on consuming the limb of a living animal, and malchus, the precept of courts. It appears that this schema was based on a teaching to this effect by Rabbi Yitzchok Ginzburg, published on the website of his organization, Gal Einei. No sources are mentioned in either of these places for the suggested correspondence.

The Maharal was himself a great Kabbalist, who, however, in his writings does not use an overtly Kabbalistic vocabulary, but rather mediates Kabbalistic concepts through logical and philosophical constructs, as in this piece. Nevertheless, his account of the correspondence of the Noahide laws with the sequence of righteous individuals who restored them, and the sequence of the last six (of the nine) Heavens together with the earth, the seven stages through which the Divine Presence was brought down, suggests a different correspondence. One of these, Isaac, explicitly associated with the Divine attribute of g’vurah or (translated above as “might” but equally known as “judgment”) is associated by the Maharal with the prohibition on arbitrary justice (courts) – not murder. Moreover the Maharal organizes six commandments into three groups (one might say, “columns”) with internal affinities: (forbidden relations-theft, blasphemy-murder, idolatry-arbitrary justice [courts]) after which is that which sums them all up, the prohibition on eating the limb of a living animal, with the significance explained by the Maharal. Without wishing to spell out a correspondence of the Noahide laws with the s’firos, the translator not having seen this explicitly in any source, it seems to the translator that there are sufficient grounds, based on this essay of the Maharal, to doubt the other suggested correspondence.


[1] Gratitude is due to Rabbi David Cohney for helpful comments and suggestions on a draft of this translation. Notes of the translator are placed in square brackets.

[2] [The Maharal (Rabbi Yehudah Arieh Loeve) adds the blessing after the name of his father (Betzalel): “whose remembrance is for the life of the world to come”- Trans.]

[3] Exodus 6:6-7.

[4] Ibid., 29:46.

[5] Ibid., 20:2.

[6] Ibid., 25:5.

[7] Isaiah 66:1.

[8] [Note that representing G-d as a Cause, which entails an effect, applies only at the level at which G-d chooses to enter the realm of existence, shared by created beings. As Maimonides writes, however, and is elucidated in Chassidic thought, there is a level at which G-d is wholly beyond this, and there apply Maimonides’ words in Hilchos Dei’os 1:3: “If one would imagine that all other beings did not exit, He would not cease to exist with their cessation of existence.” This is a level beyond ordinary causality. See Rabbi M. M. Schneerson, Sefer HaSichos 5751, NY:Kehos – Trans]

[9] Exodus 3:4.

[10] B’reishis Rabbahparshas B’reishis 19:7.

[11] [One should here note that in Jewish cosmology, as set forth in Maimonides, Hilchos De’ios, chapter 3, the universe is comprehended as a number of spheres – in all nine –  encompassing the earth in their centre. The first heaven is the first or innermost of these spheres, around the earth – Trans.]

[12] Psalms 37:29.

[13] As indicated in the immediately forthcoming quotation from the Talmud.

[14] Isaiah 3:10. [The translation here follows the interpretation of the commentary M’tzudos Dovid. – Trans.]

[15] 40a.

[16] [It needs to be explained why this is in the category of “bad to Heaven”. The reason would seem to be that the partners to a forbidden sexual relationship could both consent, so that formally neither has “violated” the other. Rather, the transgression is against the personal identity of a person, created in the image of G-d. A degradation of the person is a degradation of the One in Whose image, he or she has been made. Compare here the commentary of Rashi on Deuteronomy 21:23 – Trans.]

[17] [Called by its opposite “bircas HaShem”, literally “blessing HaShem” – Trans.]

[18] Talmud, Tractate Beitzah 25b.

[19] Leviticus 19:23.

[20] Genesis 3:5.

[21] [See Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, Likkutei Sichos (NY: Kehos), Vol. 3, p. 747, where based on the Midrash (Breishis Rabbo) and other sources, he explains that the prohibition had a duration of only three hours – Trans.]

[22] [Note that the Maharal will call this the nefesh hasichlis or “intellectual soul” later in connection with the discussion of the Noahide commandment concerning courts and justice. This is important because we need to distinguish between the soul in its spiritual root, where it possesses a purity, which we might call the Divine spark, and the intellectual soul which is capable of sinning, as we say: He sins with his soul – Trans.]

[23] 14:5.

[24] Tractate Chulin 142a.

[25] 14a.

[26] [Since he has directly reviled the basis of his existence – Trans.]

[27] See D’vorim Rabbo 5:4.

[28] Deuteronomy 32:41.

[29] Job 12:10.

[30] In a number of places in the portion Vayikro.

[31] Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 7b.

[32] Talmud, Tractate Chagiga 11b.

[33] [The Maharal has earlier quoted the Talmud which, from the law of (abstaining from the fruit of) the young trees for three years, rebukes those who eat the flesh of an animal which has not yet been slaughtered and those who have relationships with their wives before waiting for them to purify themselves. The concept is here explained in two stages. First this desire is regarded as a general desire, for whatever the person lacks. It is desire, which is ultimately exemplified by the infant, who is unable to check, repress or sublimate any desire which it feels. The person, who desires something specific, such as forbidden relationships or theft, has at least been able to suppress other desires. It is simply that in some specific area, he cannot contain desire. According to this, however, the question arises: why here does the Maharal exemplify this general desire with the quotation from the Talmud, which indicates that such desire leads a person to have relations with his wife, before she emerges from a state of ritual impurity. After all, this is also in the category of a forbidden relationship, like the forbidden sexual relationships which are the subject of a separate, specific Noahide law. The answer to this is in the difference between the two forbidden relationships. Those forbidden relationships covered by the specific Noahide law against forbidden sexual relationships relate to persons, who will always remain forbidden to a person: very close relatives, homosexuality, and a person who is married to another, in that they are and remain married to another. On the other hand, one’s wife can eventually emerge from her ritual impurity, just as the fruit of the tree will become permitted in the course of time (after the first three years) and so also the flesh of the animal will be permitted once it has been slaughtered. All that is required is that one wait. In general, we have a principle that a person can constrain desire and resist temptation now because he has “bread in his basket” (pas b’salo), that is to say, what he wants will become available to him. The general desire, at which the prohibition of consumption of the limb of a living animal is aimed, is general in the sense that it cannot bear any delay in its gratification; it is wholly unmediated. So also, as mentioned above (in a footnote), the duration of the prohibition upon the fruit of the tree of knowledge – an instance of the generic prohibition on consuming the limb of a living creature – was only for three hours, and Adam was unable to wait this time – Trans.]

[34] [The infringement of something spiritual is a defect of the soul of the sinner; the infringement of something physical is a defect of the physical nature of the sinner (a sin with the body). Hence when there is an infringement (with blasphemy) against G-d, the Source of all, both spiritual and physical, the whole person is implicated and tainted. When the person sins against the entire existence (spiritual and physical) of a person, through murder, the entire person of the sinner is similarly implicated and tainted – Trans.]

[35] Isaiah 56:2.

[36] In the Talmudic tractate Shabbos 118b.

[37] Genesis 4:26.

[38] Ibid., 6:13.

[39] Ibid., 11:4.

[40] Leviticus 18:3.

[41] Genesis 18:19.

[42] Talmud Tractate, Bava Basra 16a.

[43] Job 31:1.

[44] Genesis 12:11.

[45] Isaiah 29:23.

[46] See Psalms 41:14 quoted in the Midrash, Bamidbar rabbo 4:1.

[47] Deuteronomy 10:9.

[48] Numbers 7:9.

[49] 17a.

[50] San Jose: Resource Publications, 1995.

A New Analysis Of Modern Science, In Torah (Biblical) Account Of Creation

A New Analysis Of Modern Science, In Torah (Biblical) Account Of Creation

An New Analysis Of Modern Science, In Light Of The Torah (Biblical) Account Of Creation

By Rabbi Yosef Y. Keller, author of Astronomy According to Maimonidies Brooklyn N. Y.


In The Beginning G-d created

G-d created the universe five thousand seven hundred and sixty two (5762) years ago. In the very first moment of creation, G-d created all physical matter. as the entire universe. The universe consists of two dimensions Heaven [1] and Earth. Heaven is spiritual and is in a constant state of motion, while Earth is physical and static. [Genesis 1, 1. Nachmanides ibid. Maimonides: laws of Yesodei HaTorah 3, 1-4. Guide to The Perplexed II].

the (more spiritual) Heaven (which is in constant motion), 2) the (more physical) Earth (which stays in one place, and does not move)

The Earth was originally created in a chaotic state; including all earthly physical matter, but not yet divided into separate properties of solid, liquid, gas and plasma [Genesis 1, 2. Nachmanides ibid. Guide to The Perplexed ibid.] .

Then the Earth was divided into 4 separate entities: 1) the earth (solid), surrounded (on all sides) by 2) water (liquid), surrounded by 3) gas, Surrounded by 4) electromagnetic energy [ibid. Maimonides: laws of Yesodei HaTorah 3,9-10; 4,1] .

Then G-d said: let Light be developed. And part of the heaven became energy that radiates light and heat [Genesis 1, 3].

This large Light was later divided by G-d on the fourth day of creation [2] into many separate balls of radiating heat and energy. Namely, the Sun and many stars [3] [commentary of Rav S`adya Gaon on Genesis 1, 3-4].

The Heaven surrounds the earth (and its atmosphere) and revolves around it. Completing a full revolution of 360 degrees around the earth and its atmosphere in approximately one day (23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds). The direction of the daily revolution is from east to west, parallel to the equator (which is located right between the north and south poles). Therefore the Sun and all the stars and planets rise in the east and set in the west [Maimonidies laws of Yesodei HaTorah 3, 1-2].

At the same time the sun moves in its own independent motion from west to east, at a much slower pace (completing a revolution of 360 degrees every 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes 49.6 seconds [4]). Thus; only at the end of a full day (which is then divided into 24 hours), does the sun return to its original position [Maimonides: laws of Kiddush Hachodesh 12, 1] .

The light that was created on the first day, moved (in its own independent motion) at the same pace as the sun later would.

When the light was developed, it was placed 90 degrees west of Israel (just below its horizon [5]); thus causing night to last for approximately 12 hours, followed by an equal amount of day-time, forming one complete day(12/25 01) [6][Genesis 1, 5].

On the second day G-d said, “Let there be Rokia (atmosphere)in the midst of the waters, and let it separate between water and water.” And it was so [Genesis 1, 6] [7] .

G-d made the atmosphere. The water that is above the atmosphere exists in clusters of ice (some of them known as comets); when they descend to the atmosphere, they turn unto liquid water and then evaporate. The water below the atmosphere exists in colder temperatures in the solid form (ice), in warmer temperature in liquid form; when it heats up enough, it evaporates and rises and becomes clouds [Genesis 1, 7; 2, 6].

At the end of the second day, the water below the atmosphere still surrounded the solid Earth from all sides, covering and submerging it completely.

On the third day G-d said the water under the atmosphere should gather into one place, and let the dry land be revealed and it became so [Genesis 1, 9].

G-d designated the dry land (with its rocks, minerals and dust) to become the land that is going to be populated by human beings and animals. The gathering of water was designated by G-d to become oceans, rivers, lakes and wellsprings [Genesis 1, 10].

The earth brought out all kinds of grass, grain, fruits and vegetables [8] [Genesis 1, 11-12].

During the first 3 days of creation, there existed only one light and one unit of time (the day). Only 2 physical entities existed above the electromagnetic field of energy: the physical heavens and the Light.

On the fourth day G-d made the two great luminaries: the gaseous sun and the solid moon. Initially the moon light came from within (i.e. the moon radiated its own light). The moon: complained it is not worthy of two kings to use the same crown, i.e. that it is not proper that there should be two luminaries (that appear to be about the same size to an observer from earth [9]) both radiating their own light. G-d told the moon ”go diminish yourself”, i.e. cease to radiate light [10]. From then on, the moon only reflects sunlight, and does not radiate its own light [Chulin 60b] [11].

G-d also made (on the fourth day) the stars, planets and satellites [12].

  1. Heaven is the translation of the Hebrew word “shomayim”. The modern reference to it as “Space”; is a result of the modern conception that only something which can be sensed with 1 of a Human Being’s 5 senses (sight, hearing, touching, smelling and feeling) can be defined as something physical. Thus striping the more spiritual Heaven of its physical character; attributing motion to something else; replacing the word “Heaven” (that refers to something physical) with the word “Space” (that refers to something that is not physical matter, but merely space that physical matter can occupy). This is one example of the answer to an interesting question: what is the relationship between science (Particularly: modern science) and Torah. The Torah represents truth and reality as revealed to us by the Creator himself. Science is based on observations of finite human beings, and cannot even pass judgment on weather or not anything absolute (for instance: absolute motion) exists..
  2. These days of creation were equal in length to the day that exists today. Since the creator is omnipresent; the question that arises when one reads the Torah`s account of creation is not: how could this have been accomplished in such a short period of time, but rather: why did G-d create the world in six days, when he could have done it all in 0ne second.[For an answer to this question, see note 6
  3. The apparent width of the Sun (to someone observing it from the Earth) is 32 minutes of a degree (a complete circle being divided into 360 degrees and a degree into 60 minutes). The apparent width is a result of the proportion of its distance from the Earth to its actual size.It seams that the Light (that was created on the first day of creation) was placed at such a distance, so that its apparent width (to someone observing it from the Earth) should be 32 minutes of a degree.
  4. Maimonides (laws of Kiddush Hachodesh 12, 1) does not specificy the exact length of the solar year. However; it can be calculated from the amount of degrees, minutes and seconds that Maimonides (ibid.) states that the Sun goes per 100 (1000 and 10000) days.
  5. horizon is a 180-degree radius (90 to each direction: north, south, east and west).
  6. from the fourth day onwards, there were three units of time:1) day. 2) month. 3) Year.The sixth day of creation (the day that man was created) was the first day of the first month of year 2 (1/1 02).
  7. Every physical aspect of creation was preceded by a corresponding spiritual action: The dual language in the Torah concerning the formation of the Rokia — first G-d said “let there be Rokia… and it was so,” then G-d made the Rokia (atmosphere) — is explained by Reb Shneiur Zalman of Liadi in his Likkutei Torah (Pinchos 78b) as follows:“Let there be Rokia ”refers to the spiritual Rokia, which separates the G-dly source of physical matter from physical matter itself; “G-d made the Rokia ”refers to the physical Rokia (the atmosphere).The same explanation applies to the dual language concerning the formation of the luminaries. The development refers to the spiritual Luminaries. “And G-d made the two luminaries… and the stars” refers to the physical luminaries (the sun, moon, stars, planets and satellites).

  8. The Light supplied the energy for the plants and fruit.
  9. The Sun is much larger than the moon (the Sun’s diameter is 5.5 times the diameter of the Earth. Hence, its volume is 166 3/8 the volume of the earth. The volume of the Earth is approximately 40 times the volume of the moon [ Maimonides: laws of Yesodei HaTorah 3, 8]). The diameter of the Sun is 20 times the diameter of the moon. However, the distance between the Sun and the Earth is 20 times the distance between the moon and Earth. Therefore the apparent size of the moon (when it is full) is close to the apparent size of the Sun.
  10. With this statement, the Talmud (Chulin 60b) explains the verse (Genesis 1, 16) that begins “and G-d made the two great luminaries” and continues “the greater luminary to rule the day and the smaller luminary to rule the night”. When they were first created, they both radiated their own light; hence, they are referred to as “the two great luminaries”. Later, when the moon ceased to radiate its own light and it merely reflects sunlight, it’s referred to as “the smaller luminary”. Rav Yisroel Yitzchok Piekarsky (Even Yisroel, Droshoh for Shabos HaGodol 5708) explains: the Talmud (Bava M`tziah 12b) says that someone who eats by his parents is considered a Koton (minor), but if he is self-supported then he is considered a Godol (adult). Hence, the luminary that radiates its own light is considered a Maor Hagodol (the larger luminary), but the luminary that does not radiate its own light (and merely reflects someone else’s light) is considered a Maor HaKoton (the smaller luminary).
  11. In the days of moshiach, the moon would once again radiate its own light.
  12. The luminaries visible to the naked eye (that is not aided by a telescope) are divided into 2 categories:
    1. 7 planets (Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) that are relatively close to the Earth (the Moon completes a full revolution of 360 degrees in approximately 27 days and 8 hours. The Sun, Mercury and Venus complete a full revolution of 360 degrees in approximately 365 ¼ days. Mars completes a full revolution of 360 degrees in approximately 2 ½ years. Jupiter completes a full revolution of 360 degrees in approximately 12 years. Saturn completes a full revolution of 360 degrees in approximately 30 years).
    2. stars that are more distant from the Earth. These stars are fixed in the Heaven (that rotates daily around the Earth and its atmosphere parallel to the equator, and completes a full revolution of 360 degrees in approximately 25,000 years tilted 23 ½ degrees north and south of the equator).