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The Universal Torah

Michael Dallen writes:

In an article dated August 30, 2005, a writer name Karin Kloosterman quotes Rabbi Yoel Schwartz of Jerusalem, Rosh Yeshiva (principal or head of the yeshiva, a school for teaching Torah) of Yeshivat D'var Yerushalyim, a Har Nof yeshiva, in an article titled "Building Noahides' Ark."

The article says in part:

For Schwartz, this work [the work of bringing the Torah's universal moral principles to non-Jews] is an important part of Jewish practice. "It is a commandment for a Jew to teach Noahides... to make sure that everybody loves God, even if they are not Jewish."

With all respect, nowhere does the Torah directly command any Jew to help any Noahide or non-Jew learn the Universal Law. In the synagogue or shul I belong to - a very traditionally-minded shul (house of worship and Torah study) in Oak Park, Michigan called B'nai Tzion (Descendants of Zion) - we often have this controversy. My friend, the presiding rabbi, asks, "Where is it commanded that Jews should try to teach non-Jews anything? When did God say that He wants us to bring the Law to anybody?"

Declare ye among the nations, and publish, and set up a standard; publish, and conceal not. - Jeremiah 50:2

Israel's obligation to bring the universal wisdom of the Torah to non-Jews isn't just a function of the Golden Rule:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am HaShem (the Lord). (Leviticus 19:18).

As for the stranger*, the Torah teaches,

The stranger who stays with you shall be unto you as the homeborn [that is, like your own neighbor] among you, and you shall love him like yourself, because you [Israel] were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am HaShem (the Lord) your God. (Leviticus 19:34).

These holy rules compel sensitivity to the needs of the neighbor and the stranger, obviously; they don't command the Jews to preach at them or missionize them.

For yourself, give precedence to the soul, but for others, never forego the demands of the body. Your neighbor's physical needs are your spiritual affairs. - Rav Israel Salanter (Tenuat HaMusar)

In the Oral Torah, we learn that "Moses our teacher was commanded by the Almighty to bring all the inhabitants of the world to accept the Noahide laws. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 8:10). That is, the people of Israel, the people of Moses, who inherited the same obligation as Moses, are expected to try, whenever possible, to help their fellow men establish humanity's basic moral laws. These laws are so important and so basic to civilization - we are speaking here only of the bare-bones Universal Law, the laws that make certain criminal acts, such as murder, incest, robbery, etc., felonies - that they need to be established "at the point of a sword," if necessary, everywhere on earth. These are the laws that define what it is to be human; any violation of these laws is defined as subhuman.

You are My witnesses, sayeth the Lord (HaShem), and I am God (Isaiah 43:12).

You are My witnesses, sayeth the Lord (HaShem), and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He:
before Me there was no God formed, neither shall there be any after Me. I, even I, am HaShem (the Lord); and beside Me there is no saviour. (Isaiah 43:10-12)

HaShem created the Jews, as a people, for service: to serve as His "witnesses" (as we see above), as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation " (Exodus 19:6); as "a light unto the nations" (Isaiah 43:6). Accordingly, He requires them to try, as a people, to "compel" Noahides to keep the Noahide Law - not just by the Jews' own silent example of lawful, moral behavior but by active, earnest persuasion, "to lead their hearts to the will of their Creator." While there is no direct, specific command to this effect to be found in the Written Torah, the Torah is clear: the Jews are obligated to help guide mankind to HaShem. (See the Chatam Sofer, Shulchan Aruch, Hoshen Mishpat, Responsum 85). They are obligated, as a people, to bring mankind true knowledge of God, to help make the whole earth holy.

Israel's prayers reflect this.

[More to follow]

*Stranger - in Hebrew, geyr; plural, geyrim. In later Hebrew, the meaning of this word changed to refer mainly to converts or proselytes to Israel's religion (that is, to Judaism). In the Torah's Hebrew, as one can clearly see from the context of the quoted passage, stranger simply means stranger - that is, a visitor, a temporary sojourner, a misplaced person or a traveler - a different sort of person from one's neighbors, basicially, not a convert or proselyte. It's commonly recognized, after all, that the Hebrews in Egypt weren't converts or proselytes to Egyptian cults or religion. They were simply "strangers" - foreigners - in the sight of native Egyptians.

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