The Modern Noahide Movement
Non-Jews living in observance of the Seven Noahide Laws.
Meet Jim Long. A documentary filmmaker with striking blue eyes, Long recites blessings in Hebrew before eating, peppers his conversation with Hebrew phrases--a "b'ezrat Hashem" (with God's help) here, a "baruch Hashem" (praise God) there--and keeps a household that is, to the untrained eye, traditionally Orthodox. Only Long is not actually Jewish, nor does he have any plans to convert.
Instead, Long and his wife Carol are part of a small but growing movement known as the Noahides, or B'nei Noah--the Children of Noah. It's a life based on, or starting from, the so-called Sheva Mitzvot B'nei Noah, the Seven Commandments for the Children of Noah. Derived from the Book of Genesis and elucidated in the Talmud and other traditional texts, the laws are, according to Jewish tradition, incumbent on all humanity. Though sometimes phrased and ordered differently, the Sheva Mitzvot B'nei Noah are: (1) Do not worship false gods; (2) Do not murder; (3) Do not steal; (4) Do not be sexually immoral; (5) Do not eat a limb removed from a live animal; (6) Do not blaspheme; (7) Set up a court system.
To Noahides, these seven laws are but a starting point, the foundation on which they've built a lifestyle of obligations and voluntary observances. The result is a life every bit as rigorous and all-encompassing as Orthodox Judaism, which guides and structures all aspects of their existence. While others drawn so intensely to Judaism would likely convert, these non-Jews have chosen to remain outside the fold, believing that life as a Noahide is an end in itself, a way to be partners--if not quite equals to the Chosen People--in the divine plan for the world.
Unbeknownst to most Jews, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of Noahides, and most, like the Longs, are former Christians who've turned their backs on the faith. This is not the first time the world has seen a community of "Righteous Gentiles" who center their beliefs around Judaism, but Long and his fellow Noahides represent the first modern attempt to take that 2000-year-old body of theoretic writings and bring it to life as a worldwide movement. And for that, they can largely thank the vision of one 20th-century Jewish thinker: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher rebbe.
The Chabad Factor
Schneerson's teachings about the messiah (mashiach or moshiach) are well known: He believed that taking steps to hasten the arrival of the messiah is every Jew's most significant duty. And to the Rebbe, bringing the messiah meant not just living a life of Jewish observance, but also bringing all Jews to tradition as well.
Spreading the Noahide laws to non-Jews was part and parcel of that same dream. The messiah would come when Jew and non-Jew alike do God's will; for the latter group, that means following the Noahide laws. Though these ideas were long a part of Schneerson's teachings, it was only toward the end of his life that he began urging his followers to go out and actively spread Noahide beliefs to non-Jews as an antidote to society's moral degeneracy.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.