By Harriet P. Gross
At Yom Kippur we’ll be standing together before God, renewing the vows of better behavior that we make every year. But there’s another group of non-Jews who may be doing something very similar: the Noahides — Gentiles striving to serve God in a Jewish way.
I’d heard about them years ago, but learned much more during my recent time in Pittsburgh, where a couple of devoted Jews are assisting those interested in the Noahide way of life. Most are disaffected Christians who find that the idea of reaching God through someone else’s death doesn’t ring true, who’ve learned that Judaism offers another way — one that doesn’t require actually becoming Jewish. Their numbers are small, but growing.
Toby Tabachnick wrote about the Noahide connection in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle during the recent week I was there. He quoted a local Lubavitcher, Michael Schulman, a guide for this seeking-and-finding group: “There are two paths to serve God and have a reward in the world to come, the path of the Jew, and that of the non-Jew. The Noahide has seven commandments given as part of the Torah. If a Gentile accepts these seven commandments and recognizes that they come from God, that’s the second path.”
God gave those commandments to Noah and his family after the flood, and any Gentile who commits to following them is a Noahide. Six are prohibitions: no idolatry, blasphemy, homicide or robbery; certain sexual relations are forbidden, as is the eating of meat taken from a live animal (this last, in its extended interpretation, not only calls for humane slaughter of animals used for food, but for the humane treatment of all animals). Only one of the seven is positive: It requires the establishment of courts of justice.
Tabachnick also quotes Amy Boiles of Denver City, Texas, a small town near the New Mexico border, who was a practicing Christian until “I could no longer pretend that the New Testament is true. There’s a verse in Genesis where God tells Cain he’ll be forgiven if he improves himself, and this is contrary to Christianity,” she says. “In Christianity, you can only be forgiven through a blood sacrifice — through Jesus. I didn’t know there was another option. I didn’t know that under the umbrella of Judaism, there’s a place for non-Jews.” When a friend told her about the Noahide way, it was “liberating for me,” she said. “God doesn’t require man to go through Jesus. You can go straight to God.”
Schulman is a physicist who gave up research engineering about four years ago to run Ask Noah International (ANI), a Noahide outreach organization, full-time. ANI serves as a highly necessary connection between widely scattered Gentiles trying to follow this new path, which is daunting enough itself, even more difficult if their Christian families of origin are not accepting of this choice.
According to Boiles, “When you leave Christianity and the church, you lose community. But I had to do it.” So did Larry Telencio of Naples, Fla., who found ANI after rejecting his Christian background. “The Noahide path was basically all the things I believed in,” he said. “I believe in one God, and Hashem is the only God.”
Another Pittsburgh Lubavitcher, Chaim Reisner, founded ANI and its Web site, asknoah.org, to educate, provide study materials, answer questions and connect Noahides with each other, helping them build a new community to replace the ones they’ve lost.
Schulman says the Talmudic sages felt a duty to spread God’s words to Gentiles, but the need for self-preservation in so many times and places afterward made doing so impossible. It was only about 30 years ago that “The [Lubavitcher] Rebbe said the time has come,” Schulman said. “Societies are open enough. Jewish people have success in the world. There is a new obligation to pick this up again.” Lubavitch took up the cause to assure that Noahide obligations are conveyed to Gentiles in full accordance with Torah. Two books covering the principles of faith and the first six commandments have been compiled and published by Torah scholar Rabbi Moshe Weiner, who is now completing his third and final volume.
What about conversion? Maybe. Boiles says, “Part of me yearns for it. But I take this very seriously. Right now my path is to serve Hashem as a Righteous Gentile. My job is to align myself with Jews, [because] we have a collective mission.”
Let’s pray together this Yom Kippur that these righteous, seeking Gentiles are also favorably inscribed within God’s Great Book.
By Harriet P. Gross