Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Were the Founders Noachides?

A caller on the Michael Medved show yesterday tried to argue with MM that our country’s Founding Fathers were Noachides — or perhaps what he meant to say was that they included Noachides somewhat on the model of Abraham Lincoln, who would undoubtedly fit the description. Michael of course knows his stuff and batted this down, though it’s something that I’ve wondered about myself. A longer discussion.

Meanwhile, JTA reports fascinatingly on the burgeoning Internet-based Noachide movement:

When Jack Saunders began questioning the core religious claims of Christianity in the mid-1980s, it set him on a journey that eventually led to his embrace of the Torah and Jewish teachings.


But rather than become Jewish, the former Baptist minister — at the time the head of a small rural parish near the Georgia-Tennessee border — ultimately took on the identity of a B’nai Noah, or Noahide. The term refers to the covenant that God made with Noah after the flood.

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posted June 25, 2009 at 12:02 am

By and large, the Founders were more or less Deist, to one degree or another. I would imagine that a Deist could qualify as a Noachide, although most Deists tended to downplay God’s action in the world, which most Jews and Christians would dislike.
I guess the question here depends on the interpretation. Depending on whether you consider Christians idolaters or not (which, as I am aware, was a point of debate in Rabbinical thought), they would be Noachides in the broad sense, since Christian ethics cover all the Noachide bases. By this definition, all US Presidents were Noachides, nominally, at least. If a Noachide is defined as someone without formal religious (or at least Christian) affiliation who carried out the Laws of Noah, then someone like Lincoln would be an example.
On the other hand, if a Noachide is defined as a ger toshav, in the more formal sense, none to my knowledge existed after the fall of the Jerusalem to the Romans before the modern Noachide movement.
This is really an interesting situation in that there are two different ways of defining Noahide in the modern context. Broadly, any monotheist (and possibly adherents of some forms of ostensibly polytheistic but philosophically monistic religions, such as the Vedantic branch of Hinduism) would be a Noachide. The modern Noachide movement, however, seems to be more about promoting the idea of the ger toshav. In short, it’s a sort of “Jewish Gentile” movement, where the believers reject any other religion outside of Judaism, but do not convert themselves. Thus they study Torah and Jewish spirituality, while keeping the less complex Noachide laws. This type of Noachidism is not a broad way of defining righteous gentiles, but a sort of parallel religion to or branch of Judaism. Which is OK–it’s just that since the two versions of what “Noachide” means are very much different, it renders discussion confusing at times. Then again, I guess “Noachide” is easier to say for the average Gentile than “Ger-toshavite”!

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Matt Schneeweiss

posted June 25, 2009 at 10:18 am

There seems to be a prevalent notion that a Noahide is defined as one who merely by observes the Seven Commandments of Noah, regardless of his reasons and motivations. According to Maimonides, this is not true. In the Laws of Kings 8:11 Maimonides writes:
Anyone who accepts the Seven Commandments and is careful to observe them is considered one of the Pious Gentiles and has a portion in the World to Come – provided that he accepts them and does them because the Holy One, Blessed is He, commanded them in His Torah, and taught us through Moses, our teacher, that prior Noahides were commanded in them. But if he observes [the Seven Commandments] out of a rational decision [and not because they were commanded in the Torah through Moses], then he is not a ger toshav, nor is he considered to be one of the Pious Gentiles; rather, he is considered to be one of the Wise Gentiles.
According to Maimonides, a deist – especially one who maintains that God does not interact with the world and mankind – would certainly not qualify as a Noahide or a Pious Gentile, no matter how scrupulously he observed the Seven Commandments. Moreover, the popular notion that adherents of other religions (as well as athiests) qualify as Noahides does not hold water according to Maimonides.
I say “according to Maimonides” because he is the source quoted above. However, I read over a dozen commentaries on Maimonides Laws of Kings 8:11 in search of a dissenting opinion, and I couldn’t find a single one. If anybody knows of an authoritative source which states that a gentile can qualify as a Noahide, Pious Gentile, or Ger Toshav by observing the Seven Commandments not based on the authority of God in the Torah of Moses, please share!

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Brian Beckman

posted June 25, 2009 at 10:39 am

To Matt: Would it be that the Rambam is describing is an upward pathway from feeling to understanding to acceptance, sort of like kaved, lev, moach, i.e., Kaf, Lamed, Mim?

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Gabriel Hanna

posted June 25, 2009 at 2:11 pm

David doesn’t seem to interested in anything Maimonides has to say.
The Founding Fathers (those who weren’t Christians anyway) may well have been following the commandments of Noah, but I doubt that any of them had any familiarity with the Jewish conception of ger toshav.
They would have been doing those things because they seem reasonable. Consider Thomas Jefferson’s excisions of the Gospels:
In extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurges, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and unsophisticated doctrines.
Then you take men such as George Washington, of whom no one can say for sure WHAT exactly he believed, other than in a Providence that intervened in human affairs from time to time, so he couldn’t have been a deist in the mold of Jefferson or Voltaire.

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posted June 25, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Matt: By the criteria you give, or at least according to Maimonides, then, there is no real distinction between a Noachide and a ger toshav. That’s fine, but I think that this tends to get obscured in much discussion of the Noachide phenomenon. It also leaves open the question of what is considered the fate of “pious Gentiles”, that is, those who are ger toshav, “wise Gentiles”, and Gentiles in general, in the World to Come, in the Jewish perspective.
Personally, it seems to me that if we look at the sociological aspect of the laws on the ger toshav (I’m not dismissing the spiritual aspects, just not considering them in this context), it was a way of allowing non-Jews to settle in ancient Israel such that they were not obliged to become Jews fully, but were required to give up practices (e.g. idolatry and polytheism) that would be disruptive to the state. In the modern context, given that the only Jewish state is secular, the concept of a ger toshav doesn’t seem to me to make complete sense. If I were going to embrace Jewish spirituality and leave any other religion I was practicing before, it would seem to me most logical to make the plunge completely and convert to Judaism outright.
On the other hand, I strongly believe that everyone should follow the relgious path most suitable to himself or herself. It is an interesting phenomenon, though.

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Matt Schneeweiss

posted June 25, 2009 at 8:57 pm

I don’t know what your comment is based on. I have known David for a long time; not only is he an open-minded truth-seeker, but he is always interested in what the traditional sources have to say.
You write: “ By the criteria you give, or at least according to Maimonides, then, there is no real distinction between a Noachide and a ger toshav.” Yes and no. In the Laws of Prohibited Sexual Intercourse 14:7-8 Maimonides writes:
14:7 – Who is a ger toshav? This refers to a gentile who accepts upon himself not to worship idolatry, along with the other commandments with which the Children of Noah have been charged, but he has not been circumcised nor has he immersed in a mikveh. We accept such an individual, and he is considered one of the Pious Gentiles. Why is he called a ger toshav? Because it is permissible to allow him to dwell among us in the Land of Israel, as we explained in the Laws of Idolatry.
14:8 – We only accept a ger toshav during an era in which the Jubilee Year is observed, but nowadays, even if he accepts the entire Torah with the exception of a single detail of the law, we do not accept him.

According to Maimonides, “Noahide” is a descriptive, not a legalistic term. What we would call “a Noahide,” Maimonides would call “a gentile observing the Seven Commandments of the Children of Noah.” “Ger Toshav,” on the other hand, is a legal term, which applies to a fully observant Noahide who wishes to be accepted into the social community of Israel and to live among the Jews in the Land of Israel. So that’s what I mean by “yes and no”: yes, in the sense that the identity of “ger toshav” overlaps with the identity of “Noahide”; no, in the sense that the nature of the two identities differ, and that the former has legal ramifications.
If I were going to embrace Jewish spirituality and leave any other religion I was practicing before, it would seem to me most logical to make the plunge completely and convert to Judaism outright.
Can you elaborate on the logic of “taking the plunge”? Personally – and based on my conversations with Noahides – I don’t think the decision is so simple. First of all, we have to recognize that we live in a unique time and place. For the vast majority of our history, the Jews have been persecuted, tormented, and held back from the privileges enjoyed by their gentile neighbors. If you were a Torah-observant gentile living at that time, and you could gain most of the benefits of the Torah system without suffering the discrimination, that would seem like a good move to me.
Secondly, let’s not forget the other difficulties involved with conversion: keeping the Sabbath, observing the kosher restrictions, not violating the laws which regulate the permissible times of marital intercourse, etc. These laws can be very disruptive to family and professional life. Let’s say you are married to a spouse who does not want to convert. Living as a Noahide would seem to be the best option. Let’s say you had a job which demanded that you be available on weekends and holidays. Again, living as a Noahide would be the best option. These are just a few examples. I recommend talking to some Noahides who haven’t converted and ask them about the factors that went into their decision.
I’ve been invited to be a speaker at a Noahide convention at an Orthodox Synagogue in Plainview, NY this weekend. I’ll ask the Noahides I meet there about their decision, and I’ll try to get back to you on what they say.

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Gabriel Hanna

posted June 25, 2009 at 10:20 pm

I don’t know what your comment is based on.
Check the squid threads. David argued theistic evolution must be false because squids with souls wouldn’t be “in God’s image”. Maimonides said that God has no corporeal form; minds and souls are what is made in God’s image.
David never acknowledged this.

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