I spoke to a Jewish friend of mine yesterday, and he told me about a heated argument he got into with a rabbi about what books a Noahide was allowed to read. He argued that, if a Noahide was wanting to learn about the Seven Laws, why prohibit him or her from reading texts that would increase awareness and understanding of the Noahide Code?
In the book The Divine Code, Rabbi Moshe Weiner said:
“It is also prohibited for a Jew to teach Torah to Gentiles in the canonized Hebrew or Aramaic text…the Talmud itself, and the books of those codifiers who write in depth about the reasoning of the Torah Laws…are definitely forbidden for Gentiles to learn.” [p. 87–88]
To understand this reasoning, let’s take a look at what the rabbis tell Noahides they are permitted to read. I will start with a part of a video by my friend and fellow Noahide Jacob Scharff and his fascinating tale of his trip to Jerusalem:
“If you want to learn all the details [of the Seven Laws], what you need to do is study the Mishna Torah,” the rabbis told him.
I have written about the problems with the Mishna Torah on other posts; let us now look at a few other things the rabbis teach. First, we will look at a snippet of a video by Rabbi Chaim Richman:
So we see that Rabbi Richman thinks Noahides should have a rabbi to learn how to “best serve HaShem in this world.” He goes on to say:
This is good advice for Noahides who want to pray. The problem with this is, prayer is not one of the Noahdie Laws. If the rabbis want Noahides to learn how to “best serve HaShem in this world,” it would seem that they would teach the Noahides what it is HaShem wants them to do as opposed to what the Noahides want to do themselves.
To clarify what it is HaShem wants us to do, Rabbi David Katz addresses his little flock of gerrings in a section of a video entitled: Who is the Ger of our Times?
So Rabbi Katz says that the Noahides need a “community, a synagogue, and a rabbi,” a place where they could go and worship, fellowship, pray, and be able to wear yarmulkas that say GER on them. Again, we must ask the question, is this how to best serve HaShem, or is this catering to what these Noahides want to do? The vast majority of today’s Noahides, certainly the ones in the United States, have come out of Christianity. The trappings of organized religion—worship, fellowship and prayer—are what they are used to. But is this really what the Noahide Law is about? Again, we turn to Rabbi Katz for clarification.
And last, but not least, we have one of Rabbi Katz’s disciples:
The rabbis who are involved with the Noahide movement have a good number of books for the Noahide to study: The World of Ger, The Tanya (the official Chabad commentary,) books based on the Mishna Torah such as The Divine Code, The Guide for the Noahide, and Path of the Righteous Gentile as well as the Mishna Torah itself.
There are, however, some very important books about the Noahide Law (as well as rabbinic authors) that these rabbis do not talk about, such as the Sefer haHinnuch and the writings of Rav S. R. Hirsch such as his commentary to the Chumash, the Tefillin (Psalms) and his Collected Writings. The reason these works are ignored is because they do not teach about Noahide Prayer, or Noahide Shabbat, or how to be “grafted” into Israel. They often disagree with the Rambam. These are books that take the Noahide down a different path than the rabbis involved with the Noahide movement want them to take, not to be a “fourth house” of Israel, or to be Israel’s best buddies, but to keep the Seven Laws.
“In the same manner God also needs in His kingdom of humanity both Jews and non-Jews. Jew and non-Jew each has been assigned his own calling and his own law, and God’s sublime purpose will be attained only if each one, Jew and non-Jew, will gladly and faithfully carry out that calling and obey that law which God has set for him, and in so doing will make his own contribution to the common good as God expects him to do.” [Rav S. R. Hirsch, T’rumath Tzvi, 6.]
And finally, we come to the most important book that the rabbis do not want Noahides to read: the Talmud, the primary text of the Seven Laws of Noah.
The reasons the rabbis give to Noahides not to read Talmud vary from Rabbi Weiner’s “delving into the Torah” to being afraid the Noahides will misunderstand the Gemara and create a new religion. Some rabbis say that the Torah was given as an inheritance to Israel, and not to the Noahides.
These all seem like reasonable concerns, but there is a problem with their logic.
Rabbi Weiner’s concern about “delving” has to do with pilpul, the dialectical approach, “deducing positive from negative and vice versa; drawing inferences from what was omitted and from ostensibly superfluous material.” [Yehudah Levi, Torah Study: A Survey of Classic Sources on Timely Issues. (Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers, Inc., 1990), 178.]
This can easily be avoided by using the other system of “sevarah, or ‘discovering the reason behind the halakhah, which enables us to compare and contrast different cases.’(Ibid.) Pilpul is a system that takes intensive training as well as an “insiders” understanding of Torah; to determine the fine points of halakha using pilpul is difficult for even the most learned Noahide, and, although certain principles can be applied to Noahide Law, pilpul should be left to the rabbis. [Secular by Design, p. 426] This is where the Sefer haHinnuch comes in so handily; Hinnuch not only gives the halakha, but the reasons and philosophy behind it.
The concern about creating a new Noahide religion is illogical as well. It is the rabbis themselves who are teaching the religious elements of Judaism (see the videos above). When a Noahide reads the Talmud, particularly Sanhedrin 56a–60a, it is clear that the Noahide Law is set in a legalistic framework, not a religious framework. There is absolutely nothing in the Talmud to suggest that the Noahide Code is a religion. To be able to study the Talmud, not as a rabbi, but as a Noahide, to see how the rabbis work out the halakha (a process which we do not need to do since we have the Codes,) is something the rabbis have yet to offer the Noahide.
For the argument that the Torah was only an inheritance of Israel, there is Rav Hirsch’s commentary to Devarim [Deuteronomy] 27:8, “‘And you shall write upon the stones all the words of this Teaching, so that they may be adequately understood.’ The Talmud, in Sotah 32a, explains that there was a translation of the Torah in the languages of the nations ‘so that all the other nations would be able to understand it also.’” [Hirsch, T’rumath Tzvi, 774.] Clearly, the knowledge of the Seven Laws was not to be kept secret, for it was the task of Israel to spread this knowledge to all nations.
It is clear that, whatever their different reasons may be—unfamiliarity with the Seven Laws, wanting a pool of potential converts, financial gain—the rabbis have not, are not, and will not teach the Noahide Law in its proper format. They do not expound upon other sources that shed light on the Noahide Code’s true potential. Instead, the rabbis want the Noahides to remain dependent on them for instruction instead of being a resource to answer questions and role models. We do not need “Noahide communities,” synagogues and rabbinic leadership. We need Noahides to be in charge and to teach the Seven Laws as they should be taught.