NOAHIDES AND THE CELEBRATION OF PASSOVER

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Richard Mather…

Religious holidays can be strange times for Noahides. Noahides do not observe Christian festivals like Easter and Christmas, and yet they may find themselves cut off from the celebration of Passover, partly because there are no Noahide customs to speak of and partly because many Noahides are not attached to a synagogue.

What is a Noahide? Noahides follow the Noahide Way, a divine moral code given to Adam, Noah and Moses. This code commands the establishment of courts of justice and prohibits idolatry, blasphemy, murder, sexual immorality, theft and cruelty to animals. These commandments are known as “The Seven Commandments of the Sons of Noah.”

Noahides, whose commandments predate Abraham, are not supposed to create new religious festivals, nor are they allowed to observe Jewish religious holidays in the manner of the Jewish people.

During Passover, Noahides find themselves in a quandary. How to observe this important holiday without trespassing on Jewish traditions? The general rule is that Noahides are allowed to observe Passover, the Sabbath and other holidays to some extent on the understanding that such observances are not commanded by Hashem. In other words, a Noahide has the option of commemorating Passover in a modified way, if he or she chooses to do so.

In his book The Divine Code, Rabbi Moshe Weiner reiterates the rabbinical prohibition of setting aside any day for a specific religious observance or statute. However, a Gentile is allowed to eat unleavened bread or sit in a sukkah booth if he does it “for his own satisfaction” and “is not establishing a festival for himself.”

So the removal of chametz (any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, or their derivatives, which has leavened or risen) is not required of Noahides. But there are things Noahides may do in order to appreciate the spirit of Passover, such as spring cleaning, donating to charity, reading the Exodus story or having a meal with family and friends, which is the suggestion of Rabbi Yoel Schwartz, from the Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah.

But I am more persuaded by another of Rabbi Schwartz’s suggestions, which is to contemplate the concept of human freedom. The Exodus from Egypt, says the rabbi, profited Jew and Gentile alike in that it was “a cleansing from the bad habits of mankind.” Obviously, bad habits like theft and immorality are prohibited by the Noahide code. And a Gentile who cleanses himself from such “bad habits” and commits himself to the Noahide Way becomes one of the “pious ones of the nations” and earns himself an eternal portion in the World to Come.

Freedom is one of those words that mean different things to different people. Many of us can be thankful that will live in a country where there is freedom of the press. We can be thankful that we are not enslaved by a Hitler or a Stalin. On the other hand, too much freedom can be dangerous. Allowing Iran or Hamas to act with impunity, for example, endangers the freedom of Israeli and Western civilians.

There is a difference between liberty and license, which is why G-d commanded the establishment of courts of law. When it works properly, justice protects rather than hinders freedom. So it is right and just that murderers, rapists and terrorists have their freedom taken away. But this raises all kinds of issues such as why did Hashem create a world in which good and evil can operate freely?

The standard answer is that He gave us free will. And although He urges us to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19), we have the choice to do otherwise. But even when we “miss the mark” or “go astray” there is the possibility of repentance, of turning towards Him and following his divine plan for goodness and kindness. Passover is an excellent time to remember Hashem’s power to punish and redeem. Even His punishment of the Egyptians is part of a wider redemptive plan – to liberate the Israelites and turn them into a light unto the nations.

Indeed, one of the reasons Passover is so important is that it is a prelude to the giving of the Torah, which incorporates and expands upon the Seven Noahide Laws. Interestingly, Noahides observe the Seven Laws because they were commanded at Sinai and not because Adam or Noah received them previously. Also important is the fact that Hashem revealed the Torah. This is crucial because a Noahide is only considered righteous if he accepts the seven Noahide laws as coming from G-d. If he derives the laws from his own intellect, he is not considered righteous.

Finally, the Exodus is worth contemplating because it is symbolic of the truth that there is no other authority in the universe. Pharaoh’s power is limited, narrow and corrupt – an earthly parody of Hashem’s unlimited and righteous kingship. Both Jews and Noahides proclaim Hashem’s uniqueness, unity and authority. As Rabbi Moshe Weiner states, “it is a continuous obligation for every person to think about and contemplate the existence of the Master of the universe and His greatness, in order to set the knowledge of G-d strongly in his heart and mind.”

King David summed it up when he said, “The Lord is beneficent in all His ways and faithful in all His works.” Hashem’s goodness and His immense love for the Israelites were demonstrated during the first Passover and the subsequent giving of the Torah. It is the same belief in His goodness and power that sustains the faith of Noahides who believe that everything Hashem does is for the ultimate good of the individual and the good of the entire world.

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