This is a review of The Divine Code by Rabbi Moshe Weiner. In this attempt to write a Shulchan Aruch for Bnai Noah, Rabbi Weiner bases his book on Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah (a subject I covered in an earlier blog on a similarly-themed book HERE.) Because of this limited format, The Divine Code can be viewed as a greatly expanded version of Rabbis Clorfene and Rodalsky’s The Path of the Righteous Gentile written nearly three decades earlier. Since The Divine Code is a project of the Chabad Ask Noah International, and Rabbi Weiner is himself a Chabad rabbi, the book is infused with Chabad doctrine.
After the obligatory haskama letters, there is an editor’s Preface. Here is a quote from the preface:
Thus, the world’s population at this time, when the Noahide Code is finally being presented openly for all mankind, is surely more than able to contain the reincarnated souls of all good and deserving Gentiles who have lived in the past.
In the Introduction, the author states that:
We can understand the words of Rambam in Laws of Kings 8:11, that “wise ones” of the Gentiles may be found who are keeping aspects of the Noahide mitzvot according to their intellect and their knowledge…if a Gentile observes these only from an intellectual standpoint, but not because of God’s command to Moses, he will receive reward for his good deeds; but he has not earned a part in the ultimate spiritual reward of the future eternal World to Come.
This is the concept of justification by faith, the “salvation” of the soul.
The Divine Code starts out with the first chapter titled Fundamentals of the Faith, an unfortunate title since it seems to designate faith as a component of Noahide Law. I wish to stress here that this is not to disparage faith. The problem is that, halakhically speaking, belief in God is not commanded to Noahides. There is no prohibition against atheism for the non-Jew as there is for the Jew. This is not to say that faith is bad or wrong; it simply means that it is not a part of the Noahide Code. The mitzvah of idolatry is a prohibition against the worship of any other gods; there is no positive commandment to believe. This is one of the great differences between Noahide law and Jewish law; the Noahide Law is all-inclusive. It is for all peoples, all nations. Halakhically speaking, an atheist can be an observant Noahide, one of the “wise of the nations.” Faith is of no consequence to the atheist, and the author’s statement that, “Any Gentile who accepts these Seven Noahide Commandments, and is careful to observe them, is truly a pious individual of the nations of the world, and merits an eternal portion in the future World to Come. (And with this merit, the person will be included in the Resurrection of the Dead). However, if one fulfills the commandments of the Noahide Code only out of intellectual conviction (because his logic dictates them), he is forbidden by Torah Law to settle in the land of Israel, and he is not considered among the pious individuals of the nations of the world.” exhibits a lack of understanding of the nature of the Noahide law. This is not to say that this viewpoint is wrong; it simply means that belief in God is not, and should not be, a prerequisite for keeping the Seven Laws as so many claim. The Noahide Code is a moral and legal code, not a religious one.
The author goes on to say that, “If there are deviant believers, scorners or deniers…who publicize their views that they do not believe in God or that they deny that the Torah is from God (yet they do not actually transgress any one of the Noahide Commandments in practice because of fear of the government, or based on their concepts of morality or the like), a court does not judge them, since no physical transgression has been done.” The nature of the Noahide law is a legal one, and an atheist cannot be brought before a Noahide beis din.
Later, the author states, It is also prohibited for a Jew to teach Torah to Gentiles in the canonized Hebrew or Aramaic text [cf. Tractate Hagigah 13], either because of the inherent holiness of the Torah’s Hebrew letters and its precise wording, or because they may cause others to err if they know how to read the original text and as a result go on to give their own explanations and interpretations of the Written or Oral Torah. However, here we are mainly speaking about a sincere and pious Gentile who wants to learn Torah on his own in translated books. We can add that after the Torah was translated into Greek as the Septuagint, it is permitted to learn Torah in one’s own language from a proper translation.”
What the author is doing here is taking the primary texts of the Torah out of the hands of the Gentiles. I have encountered this opinion often among Chabad rabbis; I even had one Chabad rabbi tell me I was not allowed to read the Written Torah in English.
Now we come to Chapter Six of Part One: Prayer and Grace After Meals.
“Prayer, blessings and praise to God, even though they are not strictly required for Gentiles because they were not commanded explicitly in the Noahide Code to observe these things, are nevertheless an intellectual obligation.” The author then lists all different sorts of blessings for plant products, foods and beverages, blessings for the start of a meal, blessings for different foods without bread, etc. “For example, when beginning to eat mixed salad, first say the blessing over avocado, then tomato, then cheese.”
The problem with this section is that prayer and blessings are not in the Noahide Code whatsoever. I am not making a judgment call on this, merely pointing out that this has absolutely nothing to do with the Noahide Code, yet it is included in this book.
The book goes on; you have a special blessing for smelling sweet spices such as cinnamon or cloves, or for hearing good news. Then there are Daytime Prayers, Evening Prayers, all sorts of Psalms, a prayer for livelihood and a prayer for travelers.
Then, after all that, we come to Chapter Seven: Sacrificial Offerings. “It is permitted for a Gentile to offer sacrifices, meaning to build an altar and offer upon it a kosher animal or bird which he owns as a sacrifice.” Again, this has nothing to do with the Seven Laws.
“A person should direct his heart and the totality of his behavior to one goal, which is becoming aware of God, and searching to be close to Him.” Tell me this doesn’t sound like religion to you.
And finally, a chapter on Repentance. This rounds out the first part of The Divine Code.
And now, after 130 pages of rabbinic teachings that are not part of the Noahide Code, we come to the actual Noahide Laws. The first one, naturally, is the prohibition of idolatry. The Divine Code goes through the usual things such as not listening to idolatrous music or smelling fragrant idols. But then we come to a certain part:
“It is prohibited to engage in debates about matters of faith with deviant believers (those specifically mentioned in Part 1, topic 1:7) and apostates (those who only go after the thoughts of their own heart and mind, and who don’t take upon themselves the obligation to both recognize the Creator and accept the observance of His commandments for the Gentiles). It is also prohibited to listen to their heresies or argue with them at all about the true faith, because in general their thoughts are still bound up with idol worship or atheism, respectively.”
Here’s the problem. Under Noahide Law, we non-Jews are commanded to set up, not only courts, but organized legal systems (cf. Ramban, Bereishis 34:13). Our government, our courts, our legal system should be designed to prohibit idolatry (as opposed to what we have now, which makes idolatry legal). Jews are prohibited from attacking idolatrous religions outside of Eretz Yisrael; Noahides are not. In fact, it is our Torah-bound duty to eliminate idolatry from our society. Noahides are also forbidden to have any sort of organized religion (which the author explains in Chapter Six), so it makes sense that we need to get rid of the idolatrous religions which permeate our culture, particularly the largest—Christianity. It stands to reason that, if we got rid of Christianity and other organized religions, the vast majority of our problems with idolatry would disappear. Sadly, this is exactly what the rabbis do not want us to do, attack and destroy idolatrous religions. They are afraid of the blowback, which is why they tell Noahides not to attack, debate, or even play poker with idolaters. However, it is our necks on the line, not theirs, and no amount of prayers or mezuzahs on your doorposts are going to help you if you fail to pursue the elimination of idol worship.
Another problem is the bit about atheists. Yes, atheism is prohibited under Jewish law, but as I mentioned above, not so for Noahides. We should engage atheists in debate if necessary. However, coming at them with religion, as the author does, will not work. You must approach an atheist with logic and reason, not faith and religion.
Chapter Four of Part II is about The Service of Moleh, an extinct religion which centered around human sacrifice. Since Moleh worship hasn’t been around for millennia, it seems as though it would have been more prudent and practical to discuss an idolatrous religion that does center around human sacrifice, namely Christianity. As I mentioned above, the rabbis are extremely reluctant to do this, the Jews being halakhically forbidden to attack other religions outside of Israel being the main reason. Noahides, on the other hand, have no such prohibition, despite the author’s claims.
Part Three, Blasphemy, is fairly straightforward; don’t curse God, use His name to curse, make vows in His Name you can’t keep, etc. But again, we have a Constitution that gives people the freedom to blaspheme, and that should be the focus of our endeavors. After all, you cannot prosecute someone for blasphemy if it is legal to blaspheme. Although the author is halakhically correct in his examples, he misses the focus of what Noahide Law is all about, namely, to set up a legal system which forbids blasphemy.
Chapter Four covers the “Limb of the Living,” the prohibition against eating meat from a live animal. the author does a good job explaining the details of this law, although, since few of us butcher our own meat, the focus should be on our legal system that allows prohibitions of Noahide Law to go unchecked.
Chapter Seven covers Restrictions on Causing Suffering to a Living Creature. This chapter doesn’t even scratch the surface of environmental concerns, although it does mention that, “Hunting merely for the sake of sport is not permitted.” This applies to “sport fishing” as well.
Part Five, The Prohibition of Murder and Injury is an admirable section covering some hot topics such as abortion and euthanasia. Many problems in our legal system, such as the “Stand your Ground” law, need to be analyzed according to Torah law. Likewise Chapter Six of this section, The Prohibition of Causing Personal Injury or Damage has many implications with the failure of our current legal system and its inconsistent rulings and punishments.
Part Six, The Prohibition of Forbidden Relations is another hot topic, particularly today with the legalization of homosexual “marriage” as well as concepts such as modesty. I don’t think I have to explain how far our society has gotten from the Torah ideal.
Part Seven only covers half of the Prohibition of Theft. This is no surprise since this is a major topic in the Torah not only for individuals but for society, covering not only robbery but subjects such as rape, wages and corporate business practices. The rest of this chapter is supposed to be in a second volume which has yet to be published.
Part Eight, alluded to in the Table of Contents, is Establishment of Laws and Courts. There are, in this volume, no chapters. This isn’t a surprise since the Rambam in the Mishna Torah devotes very little to this section, only a few sparse sentences about establishing courts in every city (along with the moral characteristics of a judge and witnesses). This is the major problem with Rambam’s Mishna Torah; the de-emphasis on the law of Dinim, or Social Justice. Instead of being the most important of the Seven Laws, it is usually relegated to being the least important. The implications of Ramban’s commentary (and many others) are no less than an overhaul of not only our Constitution but our entire legal system.
Despite some excellent parts, particularly at the end of the book, the problem with The Divine Code is its focus. Since Noahide Law is to be neither as exact nor as strict as Jewish Law, having a book of detailed laws with no clear explanation on how to implement them into our society misses the mark. And since Noahide Law is neither as strict nor as exact as Jewish law, there is flexibility in how the laws and punishments are implemented and enforced among the nations and their different cultures. The Divine Code fails to address this flexibility. Adding to this is the first part of the book, which lays the foundation for the Noahide Law to be viewed in a strictly religious framework.
To sum it up: The Divine Code is a comprehensive book of Jewish Law for Noahides. What it is not is a book of Noahide Law. I therefore give it one and one-half out of five matzos on my Noahide Rating Scale.