... increasing awareness of Torah among non-Jews ...
Seven Colors of the Rainbow
the stage following the flood, humanity was still one united body, speaking only
the Hebrew language and living in one place, the area now known as Mesopotamia
or Iraq, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow through a fertile plain.
Here the people had settled and given birth to children. Their state of security
was so great that they began to consider themselves the masters of all creation,
ready to challenge God Himself for supremacy. They saw their own unity as the
key to this, and they did not commit the sins of banditry and sexual infidelity
for which the previous generation had been condemned. They were kind and loving
to one another, but they grew arrogant as a group and decided to build a high
tower, the Tower of Babel, from which to gain an access to heaven.
was a form of idolatry, and their punishment from the heavenly court was that
their languages should be confused. They would no longer understand each other
as before. This was the origin of separate languages as we now have them;
seventy basic tongues were established, from which all of today's languages
descended. This was also the number of the actual nations of the non-Jewish
world before they were subdivided and intermingled. Thousands of words in
English and other languages bear signs of Hebrew origin from this event, often
with similarities where no known relationship exists between the other languages
themselves. For example, the English word “direct” or “direction” has
counterparts in fifteen other languages, as far apart as Gaelic tu-rus,
Malay da-ra, and Russian do-ro-ga, all of which originate in the
Hebrew word derech, meaning road or way.
of their newly acquired linguistic differences, the people began to quarrel over
the building of the tower and they were forced to abandon the project. They
decided to move away from this central place, and they re-assembled in different
locations depending on which language they spoke. Thus, the families of the
earth became settled in their separate locations. While this was going on, the
Seven Laws in all their detail were being taught from an academy in Jerusalem
established by Shem, the son of Noah, and his grandson Eber. Anyone who wanted
was free to come and learn. However, various temptations and the distances
between the peoples were increasing. Soon the nations developed idolatrous cults
of their own, based on the mistake of early stargazers who thought that since
the stars and planets were serving their Creator, it was proper to worship them
instead of Him.
and Eber were scholars of the whole Torah, as it is known to the Jews today, but
in their time only the Seven Laws had actually been manifested as commandments
for the people to observe and keep; the rest remained, as it were, “in
these circumstances there arose the first wicked king, Nimrod of Ur, who forced
all others to submit to him by making himself an actual object of worship. This
was the first instance of a form of tyranny that has never since disappeared, a
tyranny over the human spirit as it strives for truth and for the freedom to
express it. The solution came through the efforts of one man, whose descendants
developed into the Jewish people themselves, still today the prime target for
all such wicked rulers. This man was Abraham, born in Ur into a family of
idolaters, who arrived by his own reasoning at the conclusion that only the
Creator Himself should be worshiped and served, and that His name must be made
known to all humankind.
tried to kill Abraham for speaking out against his ruling cult, but Abraham was
miraculously saved. Then God told him to leave the land of his birth and to
travel to “a land which I shall show you.” This was the land of Israel, the
Holy Land, which God gave to Abraham and his descendants as an inheritance, as a
place in which to keep all of His commandments in the Torah and thus to be close
Abraham studied at the academy of Shem and Eber, and he acquired great wisdom.
He traveled with his wife and his flocks and herds, offering hospitality to
people and discussing the concepts of divinity with them, each according to his
level. Sarah, meanwhile, instructed the women. Abraham wrote books and devoted
all his wealth to doing kindness to everyone who needed it. He brought them
primarily to the Seven Laws, by which he himself was bound, but his efforts for
the spreading of this awareness earned him a much higher reward; his descendants
were to be given the privilege of keeping the whole Torah in the Jewish manner.
they had passed many years without children, Abraham's first wife, Sarah, gave
birth to Isaac, in whom Abraham's wisdom and his blessings were to be continued.
Sarah had previously allowed Abraham to take a second wife, Hagar, in order that
he might have a son. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, in whom Arab and Moslem
leadership originated. Ishmael challenged Isaac for the entire succession;
though he was not found worthy for this, his greatness continued, and he died
righteous and esteemed.
continued Abraham's work in his turn, never leaving the Holy Land all his life.
His son, Jacob, completed the original task by fathering twelve sons and taking
them to live in Egypt at God's command. These twelve men became the fathers of
the Jewish people. Jacob was also challenged for the succession by his twin
brother, Esau. Western power and success, as dramatically revealed in the rise
of the Roman Empire, originated in Esau. Jacob knew the unworthiness of Esau and
captured his truth by impersonating him before their father, later also escaping
his brother's revenge.
Jacob brought his family to Egypt, the observance of the Seven Laws was not
widespread. Egypt in particular was a sinful place where immorality had a status
close to law. After Jacob's twelve sons died, the evil kings of Egypt, the
pharaohs, set out to enslave the Jewish people, to destroy their spiritual and
ethical concepts, and to restrict their independence of thought. Thus the
situation remained for hundreds of years. But God saw their sufferings, and He
remembered the relationship of divine love that He had made with Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob. At an appointed time, He brought them out of Egypt among great
plagues and wonders, through the hand of the chosen prophet, Moses, whom He had
found worthy to teach and to lead them.
led the Jews out into the Sinai Desert, and they gathered at a small mountain
where Moses ascended to God before the eyes of them all. He remained there
receiving the whole Torah from God through his prophetic faculties, and then he
came down to teach it to them. Thus, the Jewish people were established as they
exist today, charged with keeping the entire body of the divine commandments.
event took place in the year 1312 BCE (Before Common Era). At this time, during
which the whole world was aware of what was happening, the state of the Garden
of Eden was restored to humanity. (This state was to be lost again through other
sins and errors of judgment.) The other nations were again given the Seven Laws
that had been told to Noah, and the Jews were given the duty of teaching them.
From then onward, all non-Jews who kept the Seven Laws were known by the Hebrew
title of Chasidei Umot ha-Olam or “righteous of the nations.”
the Jews were brought out of the desert and restored to the land of Israel, the
place whose nature was fit for wisdom and for the observance of Torah law. There
they obeyed the commandments to set a king over themselves to rule according to
the Torah and to build a Temple on the original altar site in Jerusalem for the
offering of sacrifices as the law prescribed. In these ways they performed the
task of linking all of earthly creation to its origin in heaven.
the Jews lived on their land, with the Temple in their midst, they had a high
level of spiritual awareness. Prophecy was a constant factor in their lives.
These centuries also saw the rise of other empires: Greece, with its scientific
and artistic excellence, and Persia and Babylon, with highly developed sorcery
cults of a kind that has now disappeared. The Greek world produced many truly
great thinkers, such as the philosopher Aristotle, but its cult of beauty also
led many people to a self-indulgent way of life, immoral and idolatrous.
inevitably, there were elements that came into conflict with Torah and the world
of Jewish learning. During the early years of the Second Temple, these forces
mounted an all-out campaign to conquer the land of Israel and to force the Jews
away from the Torah. These Greeks opposed the Torah as much because of the Seven
Laws as from any concern over the life led by the Jews themselves. They wanted
to pollute Jewish wisdom with impure concepts to the point where it would lose
the capacity to influence non-Jews in favor of Noachide practice. They sent
troops into the Holy Temple itself in an attempt to destroy its altars and to
contaminate the sacred olive oil used for lighting the lamps. This was no act of
random destruction: this oil and its light correspond in the Temple service to
the maintaining of pure Torah wisdom.
the Cohanim, the priestly branch of the Jewish nation who were devoted to
the Temple service, rose in armed revolt against the invader. With divine help,
they gained a military victory. On re-entering the Temple, they discovered one
single flask of oil that had remained sealed against contamination. It contained
only enough oil for one day, but they trusted in God. In a further miracle, the
light lasted eight whole days until more pure oil could be prepared. This was
the origin of the present-day Jewish festival of Chanukah, where lights
are lit for eight days in perpetuation of the miracle.
victory over the Greeks did not merely secure the Jewish nation against an
invader but also restored Torah to its place and maintained the entire moral
order of the world. The Jews had also won the ability to teach the Seven Laws
without interference, and through the succeeding years their influence grew. A
movement arose among Greeks and other nations to abandon Greek culture and seek
Torah enlightenment instead. In Temple times, the non-Jews who formally took on
the duty of observance of the Seven Laws were given the right to live in the
land of Israel alongside the Jews, sharing in its divine insights and joys
together with them. Both within the land and outside it they formed large
communities in association with the synagogues. By the time of the rise of
Imperial Rome they had become so prominent that the Roman government gave them
special status in law, with the influence of their beliefs felt all across the
were known as Godfearers,” yirei shamayim in Hebrew. In Italy and other
western regions of the empire they were called by the Latin equivalent metuentes.
In the Greek-speaking lands to the east, where they were much more numerous,
they were known as phoboumenoi (fearers of the One) or theosebei (worshipers
of God). A memorial tablet found in the synagogue of Aphrodisias in Turkey in
1976, commemorating donors to charity, has two separate groups of names: one is
of Jews, but the other is of Greeks, such as “Polychronios,” “Apianos,”
and “Athenagoras,” and it is headed with the words, “and also these
Fearers of the One....”
similar inscription has also been found in the synagogue of Sardis, this time
with three groups of names: born Jews, full converts to Judaism, and observers
of the Seven Laws. The “Fearers” are mentioned many times by the Roman
commentators and historians, often with sarcasm and mockery of their closeness
to the Jewish world and its ideas.
records how each city in Syria from which the emperor had expelled the Jews
still had its population of Greek “sympathizers.” He also describes the
large non-Jewish community associated with the synagogue of Antioch, which was
then one of the largest cities in the world. The biographer Plutarch, in his
Life of Cicero, describes how the great lawyer-politician defended a free Roman
accused of abandoning the pagan religion of the state in favor of “Jewish
practices,” making clear that the accused had not in fact become a Jew.
satirists Petronius and Juvenal derided non-Jews who “act the part of the
Jew,” mocking at their reluctance to be circumcised even after accepting
Jewish truth upon themselves. Talmudic sources speak of a non-Jewish king named
Lemuel who was reproached by Rabbi Hanina for unseemly behavior with the
reminder, “Your father was a Fearer of Heaven.” The Noachide observers were
often well-educated people, sometimes members of the Roman aristocracy, and they
endured and answered the pagan wits with great patience and intellectual
distinction. The Roman Emperor Antoninus, who enjoyed a close friendship with
the Jewish sage Rabbi Judah the Prince, was thought to have established that
relationship on the basis of a personal adherence to the Seven Laws. Josephus
also mentions a King Izates, who underwent a Jewish “conversion” without
being circumcised after discussions with a Jew named Ananias who lived within
his kingdom of Adiabene in Mesopotamia. These Gentiles lived happy and fruitful
lives, filled with the knowledge of truth, realizing their non-Jewish potential
before the eyes of everyone.
is often claimed that “ten percent of the empire” was Jewish, but the number
of Jews who emerged from that period into more recent times does not bear out
the contention that all these millions had converted in full. By far the
majority of them were Noachide observers, non-Jews who had rejected paganism and
formed an association with the Torah that gave them a status of their own.
were times which saw a great moral development in the non-Jewish world, as the
absurdity of the old pagan ways became obvious to everyone. Public and private
morality became the dominant issue in people's lives, as it is to a great extent
today. While the Jews were established in the Holy Land, with the Temple at its
heart for all to see, there was no mistaking the source from which the necessary
ideas had to come. Similar developments were taking place also in the Persian
Empire, and even in India and China, because the fame and glory of the Temple
were known in all parts of the world. At this time the Hindu religion was led
away from its early idolatry toward acknowledging the single Creator as it does
today. The Buddhist ideology also arose to take the Far East onto a higher level
than it had known before.
these developments proceeded, the Roman state became the scene of a considerable
struggle between non-Jews who stood fast by the Seven Laws and early church
leaders who wanted the public to settle for a new religion that was based on
Jewish themes but incorporated elements of Greek idolatry into its framework.
The writing of the New Testament in Greek, based on the deeds of a certain Jew
who had believed himself linked to messianic concepts, was intended to further
the aim of the latter group. When the church made its bid for official
domination, it was offering to reconcile the widespread desire for idolatrous
concepts with the equally widespread desire for pure truth.
time, there was a clear division between these two tendencies at all levels of
life and politics. At its peak the struggle led to the brief but eventful reign
of the Emperor Julian, known to Christian history as “the Apostate.” He was
a remarkable man, only twenty-four years old when he came to the imperial throne
in the year 361, determined to give a moral basis to the crisis-ridden
government in a very short span of time.
was a cousin of the emperor, raised far away from the Roman court surroundings,
and his early education had been mainly in Greek philosophy. Though he was
considered an outsider in Roman politics, or perhaps because of it, the Emperor
Constantius recognized his keen intelligence and gave him an important military
command in the war against the tribes in what is now Germany. Against all the
odds, he succeeded in battle and aroused the jealousy of the emperor, who
ordered him recalled.
friends in Rome, aware of his moral and intellectual potential, rose up in
revolt when they heard of his recall and proclaimed him emperor. Before the
situation could develop into a full-scale civil war, Constantius died, leaving
Julian as his only legitimate successor. The young man came to the throne with
no ties to any of the powerful established forces of the state, whose greed and
arrogance were tearing the fabric of society apart. His philosophical training
had brought him close to Jewish ideas and to the Seven Laws at the exact time
when their relevance was greatest.
the Christian bishops were pressing hard for their faith to become the sole
official doctrine, Julian refused them and proclaimed constitutional freedom of
religion. He allowed pagan temples to function, along with synagogues and
Christian churches, but his policy in government was based on spiritual values
that were intended to raise the tone of life above the level of interfaith
competition. He reduced the taxes that burdened the working people and kept
inflation down by banning price rises and stemming the flow of gold across the
empire's borders. He completed the war with the aggressive German tribes,
realizing that the state would never become stable until its borders were
secure. The support of the “Godfearers” maintained his prestige, and the
quality of the social fabric began to improve.
the senatorial class soon felt their privileges were being threatened, and the
church sought to win them over as allies for the Christian cause. Propaganda was
spread among the poor, alleging that the Jews and their adherents were planning
to exploit them even more, and this was helped by the power which Julian's
policies had given to the bureaucrats who administered the reforms. Within two
years the emperor's position was under threat; he had gone for high moral
stakes, but the empire itself was so unstable that chaos had risen against him.
order to win final military security, he led an army to the east against the
Persian Empire, the last strong power that posed a danger to Rome. His legions
reached the Persian capital itself, going further than Roman armies had ever
gone before. However, he retreated from the task of mounting a siege in the heat
of summer. As the army marched away, he was hit by a stray arrow and died on the
sand. Thus fell the last official advocate of the Seven Laws until modern times,
a man whose courage was brooked only by the most elemental forces that menace
the rule of law.
From Seven Colors of the Rainbow: Torah Ethics for Non-Jews by Yirmeyahu Bindman © 1995 Resource Publications, Inc. Published on this website by special arrangement with Resource Publications, Inc. Material may be downloaded for individual use but not otherwise published or distributed without the written permission of Resource Publications, Inc., 160 E. Virginia St. #290, San Jose, CA 95112.
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Copyright © 2004, Schueller House. Revised - 11/06/11