Noahide vs. Torah Law


Moshe Ben-Chaim




Doug: During a session today of my class on Fundamentals of Torah for Non- Jews, one of the participants asked about the verse in Genesis to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, etc. This person wondered about that as a commandment.

My understanding from Rabbi Chait is that the commandment to be fruitful and multiply does not devolve upon the Noahides, although it does devolve upon the Jews. Thus, we have no requirement to have children. It's also my understanding that the entire Jewish Torah law was given - and the seven laws were re-given - at Sinai, and that Sinai is the definitive source now, for everything. This participant wanted to know why those original commandments would not still hold, since they were given by Hashem before the Jewish people ever came into existence.

Rashi on Genesis 9:7 comments that the "be fruitful and multiply" statement in 9:1 is a blessing; while in 9:7 it is a commandment. The question about this commandment is discussed in Sanhedrin 59b, but the arguments appear somewhat complex, especially to try to explain in a basics class. I know of no source that argues that the command to be fruitful and multiply devolves on the Noahides, but I'm at a loss to explain to this participant why that's the case.

By the way, even if we just say that everything was re-stated at Sinai and that the command no longer devolves on Noahides, I expect this participant will ask, "Why is that so, if it was originally given to Noahides in Genesis?"

Do you have any thoughts or suggestions?






Rabbi: Yes, as Rabbi Chait said, the Talmud you cited states that Noahides have no commandment to procreate. Yet, your student’s question must be answered: “Why did Noahides originally possess that command, and why was it later removed?”

As you state, Sinai became the new starting point; now redefining Noahide law, and it was also the origin of Judaism. The 7 Noahide laws were then reiterated for both Jew and Noahide, and 603 new laws were given to the Jews alone. (But that’s only 610! 613 are arrived at by 3 other laws not reiterated as commands: circumcision, procreation and Gid Hanasheh. Read on…)

Talmud Sanhedrin 59a cites the rule through which we learn which original Noahide laws remained, and which were usurped: “All that God (at Sinai) repeats of the Noahide laws apply to both Noahide and Jew. All that is not repeated applies only to Jew, and is removed from Noahide law.” Of the original Noahide laws, there are 3 laws that were never repeated: the prohibition of eating the Gid Hanasheh, derived from the story of Jacob’s wrestling with the “man”, procreation, and circumcision. As these were not repeated after their original command to Noahides, these prohibitions no longer apply to Noahide, from Sinai and onwards. They apply only to the Jew. Although details of procreation and circumcision are found after Sinai, the actual “command” was never repeated. Therefore, procreation, Gid Hanasheh and circumcision are no longer applicable to Noahide, and now apply to Jew alone.

Can we arrive at an explanation of this phenomenon, of laws once applicable, but then subsequently removed? And can we explain this very rule, that repetition of a Noahide laws causes it to remain for Noahide, but absence of that repetition at Sinai causes it to be removed?



Torah: New, or an Addendum?

Perhaps the answer lies in whether we view the Torah given at Sinai as an entirely “new” system for those former Noahides (Jacob’s descendants) or as an “addendum”.

If Torah is a new system, then it makes sense to reiterate even those former Noahide laws. A “new” system means by definition, a “replacement”. If so, then we must be told what is included in the replacement. Therefore, the former Noahide laws require reiteration. But if we view the Torah at Sinai as an addendum, as I will demonstrate is the case, the question arises: “Why reiterate those 7 laws already in existence?” An addendum does not intend on addressing that former code, to which it is attached. It is to add to it. Therefore, no repetition is necessary! Why then are they repeated? We can now answer your student’s question…


Sinai’s repetition of the 7 Noahide laws is not to teach their continued observance for the Israelites. For the Torah is merely an addendum. Thus, it is not to replace former laws, but to add on to them. Why then does the Torah in fact repeat the 7 laws, if they are unaffected by the addendum of 603 ‘new’ laws? The Talmud says this is to teach a different lesson: those who are not Israelites must still continue in the former Noahide laws. However, procreation, Gid Hanasheh and circumcision were not repeated. Therefore, they no longer devolve upon Noahides. To be clear, the repetition of the 7 laws is not to teach the Jew anything new. Therefore, repetition exists for another reason. And that reason is to reaffirm that Noahides must continue in their observance, despite the giving of an addendum to the Jew.

In fact, this addendum idea makes perfect sense. For if Torah was really a “new” system, and only given to the children of Jacob, then all other Noahides would be justified in abandoning their 7 laws. For they can say, “God gave a new law to mankind, and only to the Jews. We are then free from the old system of 7.”  But if we say that the Torah’s new laws are an addendum to a select Noahide group, the sons of Jacob, then the other Noahides have no argument for abandonment. God simply modified the Noahide laws for the sons of Jacob. But all other Noahides remain as they were prior to Sinai, observing the original 7 Noahide laws.

Proof that Torah is an addendum, and not a replacement, may be learned from Maimonides’ discussion concerning the ‘progressive’ nature of the laws through time: Adam received 6 commands, Noah received 1 more (not including procreation), God commanded Abraham in circumcision and Jacob in Gid Hanasheh. Finally, God “completed” the law through Moses. (Laws of Kings; 9:1) You must note: Maimonides used the term “completed”. This indicates that those laws given to Moses at Sinai were an “addendum” to the previous laws. They “completed” those laws.


What more can be derived from this understanding that Torah was an addendum?


God’s Preference

I often wondered why Adam was not a recipient of the 613 commands. The Talmud discusses a few views; one is that Adam received only one command: to accept God as Creator – the prohibition against idolatry. (Sanhedrin, 56b) The Talmud goes on to teach that through this single command, Adam was to use his mind to derive 2 other commands: he should not curse God and he should set up courts. (ibid, Rashi) This is quite interesting.

The primary lesson here is that God intended man to use his mind. Living by imposed commands was not the preferred method of human life. God gave mankind alone a mind. This is all he truly needs to serve God, as we see from Abraham. For with no teacher, Abraham arrived at such a high level of knowledge of God, that God spoke to him, and ultimately created a nation from him. For God desired Abraham’s example: he was to be a beacon for all mankind. This first argument defending the idea that Torah is an addendum is an argument of “God’s preference”. The necessity for at least one command against idolatry is to teach man his role as “servant”, and God’s role as “Authority”. Without any command, man would not know this. Once man knows this, he is now capable of deriving all else.

Another interesting feature of Adam’s requirement to derive those laws, are their respective categories. We said, Adam was to use his mind to derive 2 other commands besides idolatry: he should not curse God and he should set up courts. These three laws actually form the three categories of all human action: thought (idolatry), speech (cursing) and action (courts). Man cannot do anything else. Saadia Gaon teaches that the Ten Commandments also follow these categories. And with a brilliant order as well.

The first five are:

I. Accepting God

II. Idolatry

III. Cursing God

IV. Sabbath

V.  Honoring Parents


The second five are:

VI. Murder

VII. Adultery

VIII. Kidnapping

IX. False Testimony

X. Prohibited Desire


Saadia Gaon teaches that the first five address man’s laws between him and God; the second five are between man and man. Both sets follow an order of “most important, to the least”. Between man and God, what are most primary are our thoughts (accepting God and not accepting others). The next is speech (Cursing God) and the last two are actions (Sabbath and Honoring Parents). Our relationship to God is primarily based on our intelligent opinions of what He is, not so much our speech or actions, which are mere expressions. But between man and man, most primary are our actions, then speech, then our thoughts. For society crumbles more due to actions, than speech or thoughts. Through the beauty in the design of the Ten Commandments we see a brilliant corroboration for the three categories Adam was to derive and observe. The idea is this: even from the very beginning, God’s intent was that man always subject all his actions – thought, speech and activity – to God. This never changed, even with the giving of the Ten Commandments. We thereby learn that God’s intent for man is perfect, and therefore it is constant.



Human and Historical Development

Another proof that Torah is an addendum is argued from the standpoint of “human and historical development”. In truth, many commands could not possibly be given to Adam, since they only came to address subsequent events. These include prohibitions of copying the Canaanites, the Egyptians, witchcraft, many idolatrous rites, and all of our holidays. For a holiday cannot act as a remembrance, if the event to be remembered had not yet transpired! Thus, all men from Adam through Joseph could not be commanded in Passover. (Rashi says Abraham made the three angels matzah since “it was Passover”. This is a metaphor.) And copying heathen and idolatrous peoples and rites cannot be prohibited before those people existed. As human corruption increased, so did God’s Torah grow until He gave it at the perfect moment. Of course we know the statement, “God pondered the Torah and created the world”. This implies that Torah already existed at Creation! Well, it did, as God knew all mankind’s flaws from the outset. But I speak in terms of man’s perspective. However, this statement means that God created the world based on the perfections ultimately to be given through Torah. The Earth was created as a compliment to Torah. Creation is subordinate to Torah. This is how to understand this statement.

But this argument from the “human and historical development” is second in priority to the first argument; that God desired man to use his mind. Again, God’s preference was that man derives true ideals using his mind alone. Thus, Adam was not given a Torah. Adam possessed all he required to live perfectly. But mankind erred throughout time. Torah became necessary. In fact, the first argument explains the second argument: due to man’s lack of intelligence in not following “God’s preference”, he erred, and Torah became necessary to address mankind’s corrupt “development”.


Procreation, circumcision and Gid Hanasheh, originally Noahide laws, were transferred to the Jew because Jewish law now replaced Noahide law as the “optimum system”. An optimum system cannot be bereft of laws, which Noahide law might contain. (San. 59a) That would indicate Noahide law perfects man where Torah falls short. (The female captive and stealing less than a prutah coin are prohibited for Noahides and not Jews for separate reasons. ibid)

But why these three? Procreation, circumcision and Gid Hanasheh address three essential components of perfection.. Circumcision minimizes sexual gratification of both men and women. (Maimonides; The “Guide”, Book III, chap. xlix). Gid Hanasheh expresses man’s internal perfection of his ideals. And procreation continues these people who are perfected in the physical (circumcision) and the spiritual (Gid Hanasheh).

The first state of man could have led him to perfection. But it didn’t. This latter, Torah law modifies man’s original obligations, now leading him towards perfection. The former Noahide law still exists, but no longer as a means for current-day man to perfect him. Noahide law is a limited system that guarantees its followers continued life. However, any infraction in Noahide law is punished with death. Although a Jew who steals is not killed, a Noahide is killed for the identical act. This is not due to an unfair God, but due to the nature of each system. Noahide law guarantees life, as it is the minimal system any human must follow. It sets the threshold of God’s tolerance for any human being to live. But Torah law is a “perfecting” system. Therefore, Jews are not killed for stealing, as the complete Torah system offers any follower a path of correction and perfection.