Plainview, New York Noahide Conference

June 26-28, 2009

On June 26, Noahides and Jews gathered together at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Plainview, New York for the first-ever Plainview Noahide Conference.  The conference included Jews and Noahides joining together for Shabbat services and a weekend of Torah study, prayer, friendship, and hospitality.

Rabbi Reuven Mann – the rabbi of Congregation Rinat Yisrael, a well-known Torah scholar and a long-time supporter of Noahides – conceived the idea of the conference and spearheaded its development.  

“We are very pleased to welcome all of our Noahide friends who have come to spend Shabbat with us and enjoy a weekend of Torah study, prayer, friendship and hospitality,” wrote Rabbi Mann in his welcome to the Noahide attendees.  “As Jews, we identify with our forefather, Avraham, who was called the Ivri.  The Rabbis define this term to mean ‘apart from’ explaining that all of the world is on one side and Avraham is on the other side.  Avraham related to Hashem in a manner which was completely different from the rest of mankind.   

“The Torah demands that we resist the pull of our ordinary religious impulses which lead us down the path of idolatry.  Instead, we must use our minds in a search for the God of reality, the creator of heaven and earth. The objective is to put aside any emotional agenda and serve Hashem according to the way He has outlined for us in His Torah.  This sets us apart from other people who reject Torah and seek to replace it with an alternative religion that conforms to their emotional desires but is not faithful to the divine word. We therefore feel a great kinship with all people, Jews and non-Jews, who embrace Hashem and acknowledge the authority of Torah according to the Written and Oral Laws.

“We have great admiration for Noahides who have the wisdom and courage to renounce man-made religion and, like Avraham, embark on a path which ‘sets them apart’ from friends and family,” continued Rabbi Mann.  “We feel great affection for our Noahide friends for we share the most precious things: recognition of Hashem, belief in His Torah, and commitment to achieving its highest goals through study, good deeds, and ongoing self improvement.”

Noahides, as they are often called, are non-Jewish people who have accepted the Torah path of life and strive to keep the Torah’s seven Noahide laws.  Although Noahides exist in many areas of the world, their communities are often small, and those who have the option often seek learning and fellowship opportunities in local Jewish communities.

"After leaving their former religious systems to follow truth, Noahides often feel isolated, both geographically and socially,” said Josh Plank, who flew from Indiana to attend the conference.  “It is truly a privilege to learn and pray with like-minded others and to be so warmly welcomed by the Jewish community."

The conference began with a welcome by Rabbi Mann on Friday afternoon, followed by an interactive learning session with Matthew Schneeweiss, who divides his time between yeshiva learning in Far Rockaway, New York, and his home near Seattle, Washington.  Titled “How to be a Tzadik (a righteous person): by just Eating”, Mr. Schneeweiss’ presentation focused on Proverbs 13:25, which reads, “A righteous person eats to satisfy his soul, but the stomach of the wicked will lack.”  (Artscroll translation)  Citing sources from Psalms, the Radak and the Rambam, Mr. Schneeweiss showed how the verse guides us to a full understanding of what it means to eat properly.  Eating is not just to satisfy one’s bodily needs or to provide good health.  The true tzadik conducts all of his bodily activities – eating, sleeping, and the like – so that he can maintain strong health in order to be able to be involved in the service of Hashem.

All of the Noahide attendees then joined their host families for Shabbat dinner.

Morning services on Shabbat included a presentation by Rabbi Mann on kingship.  Rabbi Mann discussed the laws pertaining to who can be king, and the discussion branched to how a person should deal with a situation where they know confidential information that would affect whether someone is qualified to be kinGod  The discussion included the important distinction as to whether this information arose before the person was declared to be king or after.  The attendees also discussed differences between that situation and the situation where someone who is divorced wishes to marry a Kohen and (a) the fact of the divorce is kept secret by the divorcee, or (b) the Kohen withholds the fact that he is a Kohen so that the divorcee does not know. 

The conference continued on Shabbat with a presentation by Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim, the founder of " and publisher of The JewishTimes.   Rabbi Ben-Chaim spoke about religious equality between Noahides and Jews.   He pointed out that Sabbath observance and certain aspects of Torah study were prohibited to Noahides only to allow the Jew to remain unobscured as the exclusive authority on Torah.   The Noahides lack of cessation from labor is their way of endorsing the path set forth for them by God.

Later that afternoon, attendees joined for a presentation on prayer by Jessie Fischbein, author of the noted book on prayer, Infertility In The Bible; How The Matriarchs Changed Their Fate; How You Can Too.  Mrs. Fischbein began by asking what the point of prayer is, if Hashem already knows what we’re going to say.  Further, how can Hashem change His mind as a result of our prayer, because didn’t He take anything we might have to say into consideration before we said the prayer?  Ms. Fischbein answered these questions by explaining that when we stand before the Creator and speak, it changes us.  Through prayer, we recognize the Creator, we admit that we don’t have control over the outcome of our situation, we prioritize, we make a logical argument to the Creator (as, she pointed out, Moses did), and as a result we realize how our wants and needs fit objectively into Hashem’s plan for the world.  Because this process moves us to a higher level, this can change how Hashem relates to us.  

Shabbat concluded with a presentation by long-time Noahides Doug and Kal Taylor, who talked about what they’ve gained in their 20-year search for truth, community, and the true service of Hashem.   Doug Taylor spoke about three key principles he has learned over his many years of study:  (1) Ask questions, (2) Wisdom is the ability to see, and act on the basis of, consequences, and (3) Differentiation between facts and interpretations.  He then walked the audience through a day in the life of a Noahide, showing how Torah affects his everyday activities both at home and in his work life.  Kal Taylor shared her introduction years ago to the ideas of Torah and how her teacher Rabbi Morton Moskowitz had challenged her, “I can prove to you that the Torah life is the best life there is.”  After months of classes, she realized that he had done exactly that.  Over the years, she used the ideas of Torah in raising and home-schooling her and Doug’s two (now teen-age) sons as a basis for teaching them clear thinking and character development.

The evening continued with a showing of the movie “The Disputation,” a dramatic re-enactment of the famous disputation of Barcelona between the Jewish rabbinic scholar Nachmanides and a Dominican Friar named Pablo Christiani, a convert from Judaism to Christianity.  While Nachmanides clearly won the debate, it still created difficulty for the Jews, and Nachmanides was forced to go into exile.  Discussion about the movie lasted well into the night.  

Rabbi Pinny Rosenthal kicked off the Sunday portion of the conference with a fascinating presentation on the “evil eye.”  Using clear reasoning and examples from current day life, Rabbi Rosenthal showed that the evil eye is the powerful force of envy, and that one must never underestimate its power.  Envy can bring real difficulty into our lives, and we must be careful in sharing information in order to avoid arousing envy in others.  In addition, we need to ask ourselves why we need to share certain information with others at all.  This is an important exercise in both self-awareness and self-control that can help us to live appropriately and humbly, and thereby avoid the envy of others.


The conference concluded Sunday with a presentation by Rabbi Mann on sacrifices.  He expounded on the Ralbag, who holds that people find it hard to accept that their sins can be forgiven.  The purpose of the sacrifice is to provide people with a physical act to do to attain atonement, because without it they find it hard to accept the idea of forgiveness.  Yet it’s true.  If we do repentance, then we are forgiven.  And even though sacrifices are prohibited at this time because the Temple is not standing, a person should realize that he is forgiven completely through repentance.

“I self studied for five years but never met a Jew or a Noahide face to face in all that time,” said Noahide attendee Francesca Donaldo.  “I feel like the conference was an entire 360 degree package of learning, hospitality, and a model that took my independent studies to another level.  It was the connection of the community, the classes, the food, shared prayer, the morning and late night talks, the laughter, seeing how people treat one another and how they live the Torah life in reality.”

“It’s hard to convey just how rich a time like this can be,” noted Doug Taylor, a conference attendee and speaker.  “The hospitality of Rabbi Mann, his family, and the Jewish community is something you have to experience to appreciate.  These people are beyond wonderful.  We are so incredibly fortunate to know them.”