Noahide Code at the U.S. Military Chaplain Program

“Disseminating the Seven Noahide Laws”

The following is a synopsis of the talk presented by

Rabbi Yossi Schulman.
Assistant Director of Ask Noah International

At the 12th Annual Aleph Military Chaplain / Lay Leader Training Program

The Aleph Institute – Miami, Florida – Thursday, 7 February 20’19

Introduction

Good afternoon, and thank you to all the honored members of the US Armed Forces who are here today, and the Aleph Institute for making this event happen. It is a pleasure to meet all of you. I would particularly like to thank the organizers and our chaplaincy advisors for inviting me to speak on behalf of Ask Noah.

The subject of this speech is the Universal Noahide Code. I have much to say on the topic, but I’ll try to keep it short. The saying goes that Brevity is the Secret to Longevity – and I want you to all live to 120 and beyond.
I just wanted to share a story with you on that note:

Rabbi Silverberg was walking through his synagogue and spotted young David fixated on the back wall.
The Rabbi asked him, “What are you looking at, David?”
David answered: “Rabbi Silverberg, why are there names on all these bricks?”
The Rabbi answered solemnly: “Those are the names of people who have died in the service.”
With a worried look, David then asked, “Oh… Was that the 8:00 service, or the 10:00 service?”

 

The mission of our military chaplaincy and how it relates to the 7 Noahide Laws

The earliest mention I have found of military chaplaincy is actually in the Torah.  In Chapter 20 of Deuteronomy, we find the description of what the Jews were commanded to do if they were about to commence a war against their enemies beyond the boarder of their land.

The Torah describes that a Kohen priest, who was anointed for this express purpose, made the following call to the soldiers: “Hear, O Israel! Today you are approaching the battle against your enemies. Let your hearts not be faint; you shall not be afraid, and you shall not be alarmed, and you shall not be terrified because of them. For the L-rd, your G-d, is the One Who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.”

Essential to the concept of the battlefield – one where there are life and death decisions, and moral challenges are at every turn – is that before entering, there needs to be a strengthening of faith and moral attitude toward life in general.  If that is in place, and the war in the heart of the soldier has been won by focusing on values, morality and G-d, then the actions he or she takes under fire will be correctly focused and aimed at success for the greater good.

The commandment to have the announcement by the Kohen Priest Anointed for War was not just a message to the people as a whole.  It was a message to each individual soldier:  You must be the person that G-d wants you to be.  You must live with a higher standard. And when you do, you will have G-d at your side to fight for you. It was the job of the Kohen – the priestly Chaplain – to remind every soldier of that.

Dear honorable Chaplains: G-d has appointed you to a similar critical mission. In times of war, and in times of peace, the most helpful message you can give to those lives in your care is that they are going forth on a mission to defend not only liberty and freedom, but also justice and morality.

It therefore behooves us to discuss today the principles of justice, morality and faith that this country was founded on, that are timeless and universal, and that must be defended until all recognize them and can thereby live in unity and peace. This is a message that can be taught both to those who identify with an organized religion, and to those who wish to have faith and a cause, but do not have a religious affiliation and do not wish to identify with one religion in particular. And it can provide a point of unity for members of our Armed Forces, regardless of their race, culture, or background, and also engender the inspiration and support from G-d that will help those who care about morality to succeed in their cause. This message is found in the ancient, but timeless, universal code of faith and morality that was given by G-d to Noah, and renewed at Mt. Sinai, that is called in Hebrew the Sheva Mitzvot Bnei Noach – the 7 Noahide Laws.

 

The universal message of the 7 Noahide Laws teaches a global mission

Each of the 7 Noahide Laws is either explicit or implicit from verses in the Book of Genesis:

  1. Knowledge of the One True G-d: Do not worship any idols.
  2. Respect G-d: Do not blaspheme His holy Name.
  3. Respect the sanctity of human life: Do not commit murder.
  4. Respect the traditional family: Do not engage in forbidden relations.
  5. Respect the property of others: Do not commit theft.
  6. Establish a righteous judicial system.
  7. Avoid cruelty to animals: Do not eat meat taken from a still-living animal

These laws that were commanded through Noah after the Great Flood provide the basis of a righteous society. In addition to the correct lifestyle that is represented by these specific Divine Laws, Noah and all his progeny were given the responsibility to act in ways that are logically necessary to create and maintain a civilized and stable society in general. This includes obligations such as respecting parents and elders, giving charity for the poor, caring for the environment, and doing acts of goodness and kindness.

When societies throughout history did not keep the Seven Laws, they devolved into immorality, murder, corruption, and destruction. It is our distinct privilege to live in this wonderful country, the United States of America. It was founded on these principles, as the U.S. Congress formally and unanimously recognized in 1992, and this is the underlying basis for our legal system. It is this code of values that is being preserved when the United States is defended; these are the values that need to be instilled in our children for our future, and promoted to the other nations, so that we may yet have a peaceful and faithful world.

On the individual level, the Noahide Code is the reminder that tells each person: “You are not here simply like another animal in the jungle, simply for survival of the fittest, or for gratification of your physical desires. Rather, there are basic ground-rules for life that you must follow to bring out and realize your human identity and your human potential.” This is not just limited to having submission and obedience to G-d on one’s individual level; it also contains the additional good of making the world a proper place where people will respect one another because every person is created in the image of G-d. You need to conduct yourself toward your fellowman with justice and respect and kindness. And when you do this, you are bringing to fruition the ultimate purpose for which the world was created – to make this world a fitting place for G-d to be welcomed, to make His Presence known.

 

The history of outreach for the Noahide Code

Historically, the Land of Israel ceased to be a center of instruction for the Noahide Code when the Second Holy Temple was destroyed by the Romans and the Jewish people were exiled, almost 2000 years ago. The beginnings of the modern-day Noahide movement started around 1900 in France. It was interrupted by the two World Wars, after which it was revived and expanded by the urgings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the early 1980s. It was a very unique idea at that time, when the Rebbe started calling for this awareness on a global scale. When people started hearing about it from the first books and web sites that the Rebbe’s call inspired, the ball started rolling with letters and telephone calls from various people all over the United States and the world, asking for further information. When Ask Noah was founded in 1998 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this was already an established, growing grass-roots movement that was in great need of expert guidance and direction. This has been the mission of our organization.

I’d now like to give you a perspective on the Seven Noahide Laws, taken from an interview with Ask Noah’s first overseeing Rabbi, Rav Jacob Immanuel Schochet, o.b.m.:

“The Noahide Code is not specific to our time, yet now its message is more conducive and auspicious, after all the negative things that have happened throughout history and especially the last century – the World Wars, the inhumanity, the atrocities, the nuclear arms races, the materialism and hedonism, etc. Arguably, the world hit the bottom of the barrel. Why did this happen? Perhaps to demonstrate to us what happens when people abandon G-d’s rules and decide to rely on their own wits and on their own intelligence, saying; ‘I am the master of my destiny, and nowadays, with all the technological advances and human ingenuity, we are in complete control of everything, and this will bring the world to its ideal state and mankind to its peak of glory.’ What happened was the exact opposite: mankind has never been so low and so corrupt and so demoralized as through all these advances we made, because of this arrogance of relying on one’s self.”

“This failure of the modern secular ‘isms’ definitely caused a sense of disillusionment, especially after World War II and the Holocaust. Before those events, it was unimaginable that one group of people could do such a thing to another group of people. In response, the whole world screamed out, ‘Never again, never again!’ And then we went through genocidal atrocities in Cambodia, Rwanda, Somalia, Bosnia and Darfur, and violence inspired by hatred is still going on. Global institutions such as the United Nations were created to supposedly lift the whole community of nations above this debased level, but they have yet to stamp out anti-Semitism, racism and genocide. This means that people have a short memory, or a lack of resolve or willingness, so now is the time to remind us that the only way we can have true stability and true respect for the reality of the human being is if we bring in a moral code, a moral consciousness, that has not jumped out of our own minds to suit our personal likes and dislikes, but that is beyond us, because we all need to submit to that which is supreme over us. That is pretty much the only hope that mankind will have for itself, to save itself from itself. The alternative is the law of the jungle.”

Rabbi Schochet’s words hit very close to home for me, after the recent mass-shooting tragedy at a Jewish house of worship in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

 

Jewish involvement in spreading awareness of the 7 Noahide Laws

Why are the Rabbis who direct the organizations of The Aleph Institute and Ask Noah International involved in publicizing a code of faith for Non-Jews? The reason is because there is an obligation for Jews as well in regard to the Seven Noahide Laws, which are part of the Torah. This was codified by the great Torah Sage, physician and philosopher, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, or Maimonides – also called Rambam – who lived about 850 years ago in Spain and Egypt. He explained that at Mt. Sinai, G-d instructed the Jews to live a very unique way of life, which we call observing the whole Torah with many more commandments than the Non-Jews were given.  When Jews do this, it shows and demonstrates to the world at large the ability and possibility to lead a life directed by Divine commandments and Divine instructions, and this is how the Jews fulfill their mission to become a “light unto the nations.“

It is in the Torah that the Noahide code was laid down and recorded and explained, so thereby the Jewish people also became the conduit through which this message is supposed to be conveyed to the world – that this is not just some kind of a social contract, some kind of a conventional law, but rather a G-dly, eternal mission and vision for the world. So for the Jew, this is not a proselytizing mission; it is bringing awareness and knowledge of the absolute necessity to have the values and obligations upon which humanity was founded.

 

The proof for G-dly revelation at Sinai, and the absolute necessity for faith-based morality

People may question the source and veracity of the Noahide Commandments, or the need for an objective faith-based morality. I will not take up too much of your time on philosophy, but it is important to touch on these issues. There are many resources that answer these questions at length.

As I mentioned earlier, the source for the Seven Noahide commandments is the Book of Genesis. Each source verse is explained in the Oral Torah, the tradition that was passed down in a traceable, unbreakable link from Moses at Mt. Sinai and recorded in the Talmud and other writings of the Jewish Sages.  The revelation at Mt. Sinai and G-d’s public appointment of Moses who brought us the Torah is an event that was witnessed and testified to by several million people of all ages. They all verified the accuracy of the details in the first Torah scroll written by Moses that was dictated to him by G-d, and all subsequent Torah scrolls among the entire Jewish people are exact copies from earlier Torah scrolls, going back to the Torah scrolls written by Moses for each of the 12 Israelite tribes.

A similar chain of national witnessing and testimony applies for the Oral Torah that was received by Moses from G-d at Mt. Sinai. There is no other event that far back in time, over 3300 years ago, for which there is such foolproof testimony. It passes the most rigorous test for anything recorded historically, due to the vast number of people who attested to its truth as eye witnesses. This national experience was passed down faithfully and exactly in an unbroken chain from parents to children and teachers to students through all the generations.

For those who accept that there is a Creator with a purpose for mankind, Who brought the Israelites out of Egypt to give them a special mission in the world, it is clear that G-d included a message that was not only for the Jews, but also for all of humanity. This is the message of the Divine moral code that was given to Noah, the righteous forefather of the human race. It predates all subsequent religions, and it was never rescinded, so it can therefore be agreed upon by everyone as being the Will of G-d for all people.

Why is there now a particular need to renew this faith-based morality, and especially in the military?

True morality needs to have a definition beyond relative human opinions and whims. Societies adopt many laws that are really an innovated social contract, arrived at by some consensus, for example by a democratic vote as to what kind of laws the people today would like to have, what they will decide to allow, and what they will decide to forbid. And these become the law of the land. Tomorrow the people take another vote, and the law changes. Today a society may uphold human rights, and in a short time, conditions may change, and the majority may decide to exterminate or enslave a minority group that they have turned against, G-d forbid.

True morality cannot come from people. A person cannot be the judge, jury and officer over things that he does, because he is subjective and partial to the way he feels and the way he thinks. If morality is to be objective, universal and timeless, it must come from beyond any person. It must come from our Creator Who is beyond time and does not change.

So again, what are the alternatives? The alternatives are either the original Divine Code that directs and governs human behavior, which G-d has never rescinded, or an eventual decline into the social version of law of the jungle, which could be Fascism, Nazism, Bolshevism, Marxism, or any other type and form of new social philosophy that gives or takes free license for a group of people to act and do whatever they like. Hitler was democratically elected by a majority of voters; he took his ideas of Aryan supremacy from the ideas of the Progressive movement in the early 1900s. G-d’s true way that He Himself revealed to us can be contrasted with the movements we have seen in recent history: it is either G-d’s way or Hitler, G-d’s way or Stalin, G-d’s way or Mao Tse Tung, G-d’s way or Bin Laden, G-d’s way or ISIS. These are the alternatives. Either I believe there is a power over us, and that is G-d Who gave the Torah, or the world is aimless and free to swing with whomever holds the most power, regardless of whether he is righteous or evil at the moment. Therefore we need the Seven Noahide Laws as our Divine moral and unifying compass.

In my position as Assistant Director of Ask Noah, I am very aware of the need being expressed for morals, faith and unity for people around the world, and in our military as well. The military chaplaincies of several allied countries in the free world have expressed their interest and the need for distributing information about the Noahide Code. The awareness that this will raise will uplift not only the military personal who are reached. By the good example it engenders, other nations will be affected and inspired to also embrace these values.

I encourage the Chaplains here, and all Jewish and Non-Jewish military Chaplains, to bring the Noahide Code and the messages it contains to the attention of all members of the Armed Forces who are within your personal sphere of influence.  We at Ask Noah would like to hear your feedback, and we look forward to providing materials for moral guidance, basic faith and non-denominational prayer to the military chaplaincy. It is an utmost honor to be involved in this mission, and I hope that you can all join me in making a better, more united world for the future.

Our thanks to all of you for your service.

The Aleph Military Chaplain Conference in Surfside, FL, Feb. 6-10, 20’19.

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