Light from the Sidra


Torah: Genesis 6:9-11:32.Haftarah:Isaiah 54:1-55:5.

Seven things to rule them all, seven things to bind them…

On 10 January 2006, a ‘High Council’ was set up in Israel to represent a movement known as the B’nei Noach, ‘Children of Noah’. The B’nei Noach are Gentiles who want to follow seven laws that, according to the Rabbis, were given to Noah after the Flood, laws that are binding on all his descendants. In recent years a number of Christian churches have rejected the orthodox Christian teaching that salvation is found only through faith in Jesus and instead observe the Noachide laws.

The Babylonian Talmud, in Sanhedrin 56a and other places, says, ‘Seven precepts were the sons of Noah commanded: social laws [by which is meant establishing courts of justice]; to refrain from blasphemy; idolatry; adultery; bloodshed; robbery; and eating flesh cut from a living animal.’

Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein says on page 145 of his book Judaism: ‘The pious of the nations of the world who observe the seven Noachic precepts will inherit the world to come as Israel.’

Isn’t it interesting that although the Jewish people believe the eternal destiny of non-Jews depends on their observing the Noachide laws, they do very little to let Gentiles know about the seven laws. Isn’t it interesting that the people who have done most to spread the commands of God among the heathen are the very people the rabbis accuse of breaking the commandments! The people who have done most to turn the nations from blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, bloodshed and robbery are Christian evangelists and Bible Societies.

But there appears to be confusion about the meaning of some of the Noachide laws. In Asher Norman’s book 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus, he says on page 217 that the seven laws of Noah provide ‘for personal salvation for Gentiles’. But he is faced with a problem because he knows Gentile Christians believe Jesus is God (not a ‘god’). For a Jew to worship Jesus, Norman says, would be idolatry for which they will lose their portion in the world to come. However, says Norman, it is not idolatry for a Christian to worship him.

What, then, is idolatry? Who decides what false gods it is permissible to worship without breaking the Noachide laws? And if the rabbis can’t decide what the seven laws of Noah mean, how can they decide the meaning of the 613 mitzvot?

Having said that, the rabbis do have some interesting observations on Genesis 9:26,27: ‘And [Noah] said: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be a slave to them. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem…”’ (Tanakh-The Holy Scriptures. The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text).

The Talmud comments on this verse: ‘God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem, [that means], although God has enlarged Japheth, the Divine Presence rests only in the tents of Shem. (Yoma 9b-10a, The Soncino Talmud).

The Talmudic scholar Rachmiel Frydland translates the Talmudic verse in this way: ‘“May God beautify Japhet and He shall dwell in the tents of Shem.” It means that though God gives beauty to Japhet, He dwells in the tents of Shem.’ Frydland interprets the verse to mean that although Japhet possesses physical attractiveness, Shem will have the presence of Messiah in his tents.

Another Talmudic passage, Megilah 9b, says: ‘God enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; [this means] that the words of Japheth shall be in the tents of Shem.’ (The Soncino Talmud)

Frydland translates thes Talmudic verse: ‘“May God beautify Japhet” means that the beauty of Japhet will be in Shem’s tents’. He interprets the passage to mean that many beautiful Japhetic people will be attracted to the Messiah and to Shem, in whose tent Messiah dwells.

With the hindsight of history, we can see that from Shem came the Jewish people and from the Jewish people came the Messiah. During the last 2,000 years, many from Japhet and the Gentiles have left their idols and been attracted by the beauty of the Messiah to the tents of Shem. Isn’t it time Shem came back to dwell in his own tent where the glory of Messiah dwells?

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