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|Maimonides and Noahides
Aug 24, 2005
The fragment from my essay, which you quoted, is provided with a footnote
referring to Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 8:10-11. Following is
the English translation of these paragraphs from Maimonides:
"Moses our master has also commanded, as instructed by the Glory, to coerce
all those coming into the world to accept the Seven Commandments of the Sons
of Noah, while anyone who does not accept [these commandments] shall be
killed. But the one who accepts them is called everywhere [in Rabbinic
sources] ger toshav [a Hebrew term that may be literally translated as
"resident alien"]; and he has to accept [the Seven Commandments] upon
himself in the presence of three members [of a Rabbinic court].
Whoever accepts the Seven Commandments and is careful to perform them, is
one of the righteous among the nations of the world, and has a share in the
World-to-Come. This, however, [pertains] if he accepts them and performs
them on the account that the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded about them
in the Torah and informed us through Moses that the sons of Noah had been
commanded about them before [Moses' time]. But if he performs them out of
[mere] rational deliberation, he is not a ger toshav and not one of the
righteous among the nations of the world, nor one of their wise men."
Thus, it is clear that Maimonides linked the legal concept of "ger toshav"
with the theological concept of "righteous among the [non-Jewish] nations of
the world," and thought the achievment of the status responding to these
concepts contingent on a public declaration, in court, of one's commitment
to the Seven Noahide Commandments. Please note that based on the evidence of
some medieval manuscripts, some scholars prefer to read "but one of their
wise men" in the end of the quotation. This may have moral-philosophical
implications, but not theological ones (i.e., it may be meritorious to be a
wise man, but that does not give you a share in the World-to-Come, according
to Maimonides' wording here).
The demand for a public commitment, in a Rabbinic court, to observance of
the Seven Noahide Commandments obviously means that no practicing Moslem
would be considered a "ger toshav" or "righteous from among the nations." On
the other hand, Maimonides stated that Moslems (in his words, "Ishmaelites,"
i.e., Arabs) are not practicing idolatry, which has some implications for
"A ger toshav - that is, one who has accepted upon himself the Seven
[Noahide] Commandments, as we have explained - his wine is forbidden [for a
Jew] to drink, but permitted to make benefit of [in any way that does not
involve consumption of the wine]. Also, [a Jew] may leave [his own] wine
with him [for a brief time] but may not deposit his wine with him. And all
the gentiles who do not worship the stars [i.e., idols] - as, for example,
those Ishmaelites - their wine is forbidden to drink, but permitted to make
benefit of" (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Forbidden Foods, 11:7).
I don't know whether there are online translations of these paragraphs from
Maimonides, but if you read Hebrew, you can find the whole of Mishneh Torah
A Lonely Champion of Tolerance