... increasing awareness of Torah among non-Jews ...
Seven Colors of the Rainbow
the Jews were exiled, it became much more difficult for Gentiles to gain
instruction on the Seven Laws or to keep them. Conditions for Jews became
dangerous, even the teaching of the Torah sometimes being banned, and it was
almost impossible for Gentiles to leave the surroundings where these penalties
originated and find Jews willing to teach them. The Seven Laws had gone into
exile also; some of the Godfearers actually became Jews, but most found the
difficulties of their position too great without a secure Jewish community to
support them. Like other non-Jewish people, they or their children tended to
assume that Christianity, with its admixture of Torah concepts, would offer at
least a little satisfaction.
the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the kingdoms of the Middle Ages,
these conditions continued. Only a few exceptionally courageous people were
willing or able to find the Seven Laws for themselves.
Christian and Moslem kingdoms came into armed conflict with each other, with war
loss and danger an everyday occurrence, and Jews were unable to fulfill their
duty of teaching in circumstances of open risk to their lives. A non-Jew who
converted to Judaism in full would surely have to flee from danger, but at the
end he would have the Jewish society to join. One who remained content with his
non-Jewish identity under the Seven Laws would face just as much risk without
any such solution.
on many occasions, the church and its officials were called upon to deal with
“Judaizing” tendencies among the population. Similar phenomena also occurred
in Moslem countries. A preacher would recommend that people abandon the official
religion in favor of conforming to Jewish belief or practice in some way. Some
would listen to him and do as he said, and soon the inquisitional machinery
would be mobilized with terrible effect, often also against the Jews themselves
for allegedly spreading contrary ideas.
Albigensian or Cathar movement in early France tried to purge the prevailing
non-Jewish religion of idolatry. Later, the Taborite and Hussite campaigns in
Bohemia were motivated by the same basic principle. In nineteenth-century
Russia, when the presence of Jews first began to attract the attention of the
people at large, the Subbotniki were persecuted by the tsars for “Judaizing.”
Learned Jews understood that the root of these misguided movements lay in the
instinctive desire of non-Jewish people to observe the Seven Laws.
Unfortunately, in the threatening surroundings of exile, there was nothing Jews
could do to help. They had to attend to their own safety.
when the wars of the Reformation began to discredit the crusading outlook
altogether did the atmosphere begin to improve. Ideas of bettering the
government and extending individual freedom gained ground among kings and
citizens who had no more time or money for such expeditions. When the Thirty
Years War destroyed the old Catholic order, plunging Europe into an almost
mindless chaos of bloodshed and illegality, the church and the governments were
left without prestige. A new basis for law had to be found from morality itself.
And so the burnings of Jewish books, which took place in the Middle Ages, gave
way to a new interest in Hebrew learning among non-Jews. It was not long before
the leading thinkers began to encounter the Seven Laws once more.
dialogue took place mostly in Holland, where Jewish refugees from Spain became
close to the Dutch citizens who had fought to expel the Spanish governors from
their tiny country. Rabbinic scholars discussed with the Dutch all the issues
that confronted them in establishing their small state and securing its
prosperity. Artists such as Rembrandt joined in this discussion also, painting
many portraits of the rabbis themselves. Great legal minds assembled at the
universities. They taught and wrote on the principles and philosophy of law, and
they began to codify the legal tradition out of the mass of legal precedents
that had come down from the Middle Ages.
these were the English jurist John Selden (1584-1654) and the Dutch legal
philosopher Hugo de Groot (1583-1645), known by the Latin name of Grotius.
Selden was a Hebraist, a non-Jew who knew the Hebrew language and read the
Jewish source-books in the original to learn their contents. He was not a
Talmudic scholar, but he knew the works of the rabbis well, and he accepted
their moral authority. He wrote a complete exposition of the Seven Laws for the
scholars of his time in his Latin work, De jure naturali et gentium, juxta
disciplinium ebraorum ("On natural and Gentile law, compared with
began the seventh chapter of his book:
juris Noachidarum...quod de judiciis est, atque enumerationem ex Talmudicis
igitur in enumeratione illa Septumum est, “eber min ha-chai,” quo crudelitas
immanis in animalia cetera vetatur.
of the Noachide laws, those of judicial significance, are enumerated first in
the Talmud among other sources.
seventh is therefore the prohibition of “the limb of a living animal,” which
forbids cruelty to animals.
laid the foundations of modern international law in his De jure belli ac
pacis (“On the rights of war and peace”), where he quoted the leading
Rabbinic writers extensively as sources for the universal morality. He wrote:
the Hebrew sources we find of the “pious ones of the Gentiles,” as the
Talmud describes them. These, as the Jewish teachers themselves declare, are
bound to observe the laws given to Adam and Noah, to abstain from idols, from
blood, and from other things which will be mentioned further.
this way the Seven Laws were brought once more into the foundations of
non-Jewish life, helping to form the ideas with which the western world led
humankind into the modern era. Men of learning became the founders of states
based on morality, owing little to the prejudices which had gone before. Their
assimilation of Torah concepts made it inevitable that the Jews themselves would
later be emancipated and freed from legal segregation.
rabbis also negotiated the readmission of the Jews into England on terms
involving the Seven Laws. The leaders of the English republic were less
committed to the principles then the Dutch had been, but they reached an
agreement satisfactory enough to begin Jewish life in the west as we know it
the United States of America was established, as the first new state designed
according to these principles from the outset, non-Jewish people began to sense
the new conditions and to show renewed interest in the Jews who, though now free
from official hostility, were still exiled among them.
began to be asked of the Jews: why do you maintain your separate identity? what
interests do you serve? where do you go from here if this is not where you truly
belong? and what is your purpose here if your destiny is only to leave?
were legitimate questions, and they needed answers. Because the Jews, only newly
released from restrictive ghetto surroundings, were often eager to pass
undistinguished from their non-Jewish neighbors, the answers were often hard to
find. But some were able to find them. The nineteenth-century German Rabbi
Samson Rafael Hirsch, who was then the leader of the only large Jewish community
living in free and affluent circumstances, gathered non-Jews quietly around him
for study and wrote on the concept of the Seven Laws in his books and letters.
Other questing personalities also managed to reach the goal. One of these was a
young Frenchman named Aimé Pallière, who in the year 1900 had a series of
conversations with the Rabbi of Leghorn (Livorno) in Italy on what religious
path he should choose. They corresponded by letter, exchanging questions and
ideas, and between them they set out the whole path for the rediscovery of the
Seven Laws in modern times. We ourselves can begin to understand our own
situation in its truth when we read the words that passed between Rabbi Elijah
Benamozeg and his pupil Aimé Pallière.
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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