This article is dedicated to the memory of my much beloved and missed brother-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Azar, a very exceptional and popular teacher at various seminaries, who lost his protracted battle with cancer this past week. Rav Yosef leaves behind a widow, my sister Yocheved, and ten children, eight of whom are still living at home; the youngest is only five years old.
Although it may seem strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, it should actually be commonplace. After all, there are hundreds of times more non-Jews than Jews in the world, and each one of them should be concerned about his or her halachic responsibility. Many non-Jews are indeed concerned about their future place in Olam Haba, and had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, many thousands more would observe the mitzvos that they are commanded. It is tragic that they have been misled into false beliefs and practices.
An entire body of literature discusses the mitzvah responsibilities of non-Jews. Although it was Adam who was originally commanded to observe these mitzvos, they are usually referred to as the “Seven Mitzvos of Bnei Noach,” since all of mankind is descended from Noach.
Furthermore, a Jew should be familiar with the halachos that apply to a non-Jew, since it is forbidden to cause a non-Jew to transgress his mitzvos. This is included under the Torah’s violation of lifnei iver lo sitein michshol, “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person.” In this case, this means do not cause someone to sin, if he is blind to the severity of his violation (Avodah Zarah 6b).
In actuality, a non-Jew must observe more than seven mitzvos. The “Seven Mitzvos” are really categories; furthermore, there are additional mitzvos that apply, as we will explain.
The seven cardinal prohibitions that apply to a non-Jew are:
1. AVODAH ZARAH
It is forbidden for a non-Jew to worship idols in any way. Most religions of the world are idolatrous, particularly the major religions of the East.
Although Christianity constitutes idol worship for a Jew, there is a dispute whether it is idolatry for a ben Noach. Some poskim contend that its concepts of G-d do not violate the prohibition against Avodah Zarah that was commanded to Adam and Noach (Tosafos, Bechoros 2b s.v. Shema; Rama, Orach Chayim 156). However, most later poskim contend that Christian belief does constitute Avodah Zarah, even for a non-Jew (Shu’t Noda BiYehudah, Tenina, Yoreh Deah #148; Chazon Ish, Likutim, Sanhedrin 63b p. 536). In this regard, there is a widespread misconception among Jews that only Catholicism is Avodah Zarah, but not Protestantism. This is untrue. Every branch and type of Christianity includes idolatrous beliefs.
2. GILUY ARAYOS, which prohibits many illicit relationships.
3. MURDER, including abortion (Sanhedrin 57b), suicide, and mercy killing.
4. EIVER MIN HACHAI, eating flesh taken from a live animal.
This prohibition includes eating a limb or flesh removed from an animal while it was alive, even if the animal is now dead.
In the context of this mitzvah, the Rishonim raise an interesting question. Adam was forbidden to eat meat (see Bereishis 1:29-30), but, after the Flood, Noach was permitted to do so (Bereishis 9:3; see Rashi in both places). So, why was Adam prohibited from eating flesh of a living animal, if he was prohibited from eating meat altogether?
Two differing approaches are presented to answer this question. The Rambam explains that the prohibition to eat meat that was given to Adam was rescinded after the Flood, and it was then that the prohibition of Eiver Min HaChai was commanded to Noach for the first time (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:1). According to this approach, six of the present day “Seven Mitzvos” were commanded to Adam, while the seventh was commanded only at the time of Noach.
Other Rishonim contend that Adam was permitted to eat the meat of an animal that was already dead, and was prohibited only from killing animals for food. In addition, he was prohibited to eat meat that was removed from a living animal, and this prohibition is one of the “Seven Mitzvos” (Rashi, Sanhedrin 57a s.v. Lemishri and Bereishis 1:29; Tosafos, Sanhedrin 56b s.v. Achal). The first prohibition was rescinded after the Flood, when mankind was permitted to slaughter animals for food. Thus, according to the Rambam, Adam was prohibited both from killing animals and from eating any meat, while according to the other Rishonim, he was prohibited from killing animals but allowed to eat meat.
Although a non-Jew may not eat the flesh of a living animal, he may eat blood drawn from a living animal (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:10; cf. Sanhedrin 56b and 59a, and Rashi, Bereishis 9:3). Some African tribesmen extract blood from their livestock, mix it with milk, and drink it for a nutritious beverage. Although we may consider this practice very offensive, it does not in any way violate the mitzvos for a non-Jew.
Cursing Hashem. As with his other mitzvos, a non-Jew may not claim that he was unaware it is forbidden.
This prohibition includes taking even a very small item that does not belong to him, eating something of the owner’s food on the job without permission, or not paying his employees or contractors (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:9). According to some opinions, it includes not paying his workers or contractors on time (Meiri, Sanhedrin).
7. DINIM, literally, laws.
This mitzvah includes the application of a code of civil law, including laws of damages, torts, loans, assault, cheating, and commerce (Ramban, Breishis 34:13; cf. Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14). Furthermore, there is a requirement to establish courts in every city and region, to guarantee that people observe their mitzvos (Sanhedrin 56b; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14).
ARE NON-JEWS REQUIRED TO OBSERVE THE COMMERCIAL LAW OF THE TORAH?
Does the mitzvah of Dinim require non-Jews to establish their own system of law, or is the mitzvah to observe and enforce the Torah’s mitzvos, which we usually refer to as the halachos of Choshen Mishpat?
In a long teshuvah, the Rama (Shu’t #10) contends that this question is disputed by Amora’im in the Gemara. He concludes that non-Jews are required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat, just like Jews. Following this approach, a non-Jew may not sue in a civil court that uses any system of law other than that of the Torah. Instead, he must litigate in a beis din or in a court of non-Jewish judges who follow halachic guidelines (see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:11). Therefore, a non-Jew who accepts money on the basis of civil litigation is considered stealing, just like a Jew. The Rama’s opinion is accepted by many early poskim (e.g., Tumim 110:3; Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #91).
However, the Netziv disagrees with the Rama, contending that non-Jews are not obligated to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat. In his opinion, the Torah requires non-Jews to create their own legal rules and procedures. Although a Jew is forbidden from using the non-Jewish court system and laws, according to the Netziv a non-Jew may use secular courts to resolve his litigation and indeed fulfills a mitzvah when doing so (HaEmek Shaylah #2:3). Other poskim accept the Netziv’s position (Chazon Ish, Bava Kama 10:1). Several major poskim contend that the dispute between the Rama and Netziv is an earlier dispute between the Rambam and Ramban (Shu’t Maharam Schick, Orach Chayim #142; Shu’t Maharsham 4:86; Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Choshen Mishpat #55).
What is a non-Jew to do if he wishes to sue someone? May he litigate in civil court or must he sue in beis din? Because this subject is disputed, we would have to decide whether the rule of safek de’oraysa lechumra (we are strict regarding a doubt concerning a Torah law) applies to a non-Jew. If the non-Jew asks how to proceed in the most mehadrin fashion, we would tell him to take his matter to beis din, because this is permitted (and a mitzvah) according to all opinions.
It should be noted that, according to both opinions, a non-Jew must observe dina demalchusa dina – laws established by civil authorities for the common good. Therefore, he must certainly observe tax codes, traffic laws, building and zoning codes, and regulations against smuggling.
AN INTERESTING SHAYLAH – BRIBING A DISHONEST JUDGE
The Chasam Sofer (6:14) was asked the following shaylah: A non-Jew sued a Jew falsely in a dishonest court. The Jew knew that the non-Jewish judge would rule against him, despite the absence of any evidence. However, bribing the judge may gain a ruling in the Jew’s favor. May he bribe the dishonest judge to rule honestly?
Chasam Sofer rules that it is permitted. The prohibition against bribing a non-Jew is because he is responsible to have an honest court. However, if the result of the bribe will be a legitimate ruling, it is permitted. (Of course, the Jewish litigant must be absolutely certain that he is right.)
In addition to the “Seven Mitzvos,” there are other activities that are also prohibited to a non-Jew. According to many opinions, a non-Jew may not graft trees from different species or crossbreed animals (Sanhedrin 56b; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:6; Meiri ad loc.; cf. Shach Yoreh Deah 297:3 and Dagul Mei’re’vavah ad loc.; Chazon Ish, Kelayim 1:1). According to many poskim, a non-Jew may not even own a grafted fruit tree, and a Jew may not sell him such a tree, because that would cause a non-Jew to violate his mitzvah (Shu’t Mahari Asad, Yoreh Deah #350; Shu’t Maharsham 1:179).
Some poskim contend that non-Jews are prohibited from engaging in sorcery (see Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 11:4). According to this opinion, a non-Jew may not use any type of black magic, necromancy or fortune telling. However, most opinions disagree (Radbaz, Hilchos Melachim 10:6).
MAY A NON-JEW OBSERVE MITZVOS?
A non-Jew may not keep Shabbos or a day of rest (without doing melacha) on any day of the week (Sanhedrin 58b). The reason for this is subject to dispute. Rashi explains that a non-Jew is obligated to work every day, because the Torah writes, “Yom Valayla Lo Yishbosu,” which can be interpreted to mean, “Day and night they (i.e., the non-Jews) may not rest.” The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 10:9), however, explains that a gentile is prohibited from making his own holiday or religious observance, because the Torah is opposed to the creation of man-made religions. In the words of the Rambam, “A non-Jew is not permitted to create his own religion or mitzvah. Either he becomes a righteous convert (a ger tzedek) and accepts the observance of all the mitzvos, or he remains with the laws that he has, without adding or detracting.” A third reason mentioned is that a Jew may mistakenly learn from a gentile who keeps a day of rest, and the Jew may create his own mitzvos (Meiri).
Because of this halacha, a non-Jew studying for conversion must perform a small act of Shabbos desecration every Shabbos. There is a dispute among poskim whether this applies to a non-Jew who has undergone bris milah and is awaiting immersion in a mikvah to complete his conversion (Shu’t Binyan Tzion #91).
You probably noticed that there are few positive mitzvos among the non-Jew’s commandments. They are required to believe that the mitzvos were commanded by Hashem through Moshe Rabbeinu (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11). They are also obligated to establish courts. A non-Jew is permitted to observe the mitzvos of the Torah, with a few exceptions (for example, see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:10). He is even permitted to offer korbanos (Zevachim 116b).
The Gemara states that a non-Jew is not permitted to study Torah (Sanhedrin 59a). One opinion of the Gemara explains that the Torah belongs to the Jewish people, and by studying Torah the gentile is “stealing” Jewish property. However, there are many exceptions to this ruling. First, a gentile may study all the halachos applicable to observing his mitzvos (Meiri). Rambam rules that it is a mitzvah to teach a non-Jew the halachos of offering korbanos, if he intends to bring them (Rambam, Maasei Hakorbanos 19:16). According to the Rama’s opinion that a non-Jew must observe the Torah’s civil laws, the non-Jew may study all the intricate laws of Choshen Mishpat. Furthermore, since a non-Jew is permitted to observe most mitzvos of the Torah, some opinions contend that he may learn the laws of those mitzvos in order to observe them correctly (Meiri, Sanhedrin 58b).
There is a dispute among poskim whether one may teach a non-Jew Torah if the non-Jew is planning to convert. The Meiri (Sanhedrin 58b) and Maharsha (Shabbos 31a s.v. Amar lei mikra) rule that it is permitted, whereas Rabbi Akiva Eiger forbids it (Shu’t #41). Others permit teaching Nevi’im and Kesuvim to non-Jews (Shiltei HaGibborim, Avodah Zarah 20a, quoting Or Zarua), and other poskim permit teaching a non-Jew about miracles that the Jews experienced (Shu’t Melamed Leho’il Yoreh Deah #77).
Incidentally, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one is permitted to teach Torah to Jews while a non-Jew is listening (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:132). For this reason, he permits conducting a Seder with a non-Jew in attendance.
OLAM HABA FOR A NON-JEW
A gentile who observes his mitzvos because Hashem commanded them through Moshe Rabbeinu is called one of the Chassidei Umos HaOlam and merits a place in Olam Haba. Observing these mitzvos carefully does not suffice to make a non-Jew into a Chassid. He must observe his mitzvos as a commandment of Hashem (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11).
When I was a congregational rabbi, I often met non-Jews who were interested in Judaism. I always presented the option of becoming an observant ben Noach. I vividly recall meeting a woman whose grandfather was Jewish, but who herself was halachically not Jewish. She was keeping kosher – no small feat in her town, where there was no Jewish community. Although she had come to speak about converting, since we do not encourage conversion I explained the halachos of Bnei Noach to her instead.
An even more interesting experience occurred when I was once making a kashrus inspection at an ice cream plant. A worker there asked me where I was from, and then informed me that he used to attend a Reform Temple two blocks from my house! I was surprised, not expecting to find a Jew in the plant. However, it turned out that he was not Jewish at all, but had stopped attending church after rejecting its beliefs. Now, he was concerned, because he had stopped attending the Reform Temple that was far from his house. I discussed with him the religious beliefs and observances of Bnei Noach, explaining that they must be meticulously honest in all their business dealings, just like Jews. I told him that Hashem gave mitzvos to both Jews and non-Jews, and that Judaism is the only major religion that does not claim a monopoly on heaven. Non-Jews, too, merit olam haba if they observe their mitzvos.
Over the years, I have noticed that many churchgoing non-Jews in the United States have rejected the tenets of Christianity. What they have accepted is that Hashem appeared to Moshe and the Jewish people at Sinai and commanded us about His mitzvos. This belief is vital for non-Jews to qualify as Chassidei Umos HaOlam – they must accept that the commandments of Bnei Noach were commanded to Moshe (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 8:11).
As Jews, we do not proselytize to gentiles, nor seek converts. However, when we meet sincere non-Jews, we should direct them correctly in their quest for truth by introducing them to the Seven Mitzvos of Bnei Noach.