י״ט באלול ה׳תשע״ז (September 10, 2017)

Sanhedrin 56a-b: Obligations for Non-Jews

We usually think of the Torah as commanding the Jewish People to live according to its laws. What responsibilities and obligations does the Torah command non-Jews to perform?

The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a baraita that teaches the laws of the sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ – the seven Noachide laws:

  1. Dinim – the commandment to establish a legal system
  2. Birkat HaShem – a prohibition against blasphemy
  3. Avoda Zara – a prohibition against idol worship
  4. Giluy Arayot – a prohibition against sexual depravity
  5. Shefiḥut Damim – a prohibition against murder
  6. Gezel – a prohibition against stealing
  7. Ever min ha-ḥai – a prohibition against eating from a living animal

The source for these seven commandments is presented by Rabbi Yoḥanan as stemming from the first commandment given by God to Adam. In Sefer Bereshit (2:16-17) we find that God commanded Adam to eat freely of any of the trees in the Garden of Eden with the exception of the etz ha-da’at tov va-ra – the tree of knowledge of good and evil – which was forbidden to him. By means of a series of homiletical interpretations, the words in these pesukim are understood to refer to the various actions and behaviors that are forbidden.

In the midrashic compendium Lekaḥ Tov another suggestion is raised regarding the source of the sheva mitzvot benei Noaḥ. Aside from the homiletical interpretation of the verses in Sefer Bereshit, we also find a number of specific references in the Tanakh to punishments given to non-Jews for these types of transgressions. Thus we find that Kayin is punished for killing Hevel (Bereshit chapter 4), Avimelekh is punished for attempting to engage in sexual relations with Sarah (Bereshit chapter 20), the generation of the flood were punished for ḥamas – for stealing (Bereshit 6:11) – and we find in Sefer Iyyov (31:26-28) that idol worship was forbidden to them.

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