The Talmud, in Sanhedrin 56a-b, gives the Noahide laws, applicable to all mankind:

Our Rabbis taught: Seven precepts were the sons of Noah commanded: To establish courts of justice; and refrain from blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, murder, stealing, and eating the flesh of live animals.

It then explains that these laws are derived from a single line in Genesis:

And the Lord God commanded the man saying, ‘of every tree of the garden you may freely eat’. [Gen. 2:16]

Here is how:

-“Establish courts of justice” is derived from “And the Lord God commanded”, because “command” relates to justice and judgment.

-“No blasphemy” is derived from the words “The Lord”, which are used in connection with blasphemy in Leviticus: "And he who blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death." [Lev. 24:16]

-“No idolatry” is derived from the word “God”, because the word “God” is used in that context in Exodus: "You shall have no other gods before Me. "[Ex. 20:3]

-“No murder” is derived from “the man”, because the word “man” is used in that context in Genesis: "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." [Gen. 9:6]

-“No adultery” is derived from the word “saying”, because it used in that context in Jeremiah: "They say, ‘If a man puts away his wife, and she go from him, and became another man's…’"[Jer. 3:1]

-“No stealing” is derived from “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat”. Since it was necessary to authorize Adam to eat of the trees of the garden, it follows that without such authorization it was forbidden, since the trees did not belong to him.

-“No eating flesh from live animals” is derived from “You may freely eat”, because it implies “You may eat only what is ready for eating, which is not the case while the animal is alive.”

Is this the ONLY source for the Noahide laws?

I ask because, considering their universality and their importance, it is puzzling that they have to be derived in such a contrived manner, instead of being spelled out directly in the Torah.

  • 9
    Is this any different from most other laws derived from extra words? Why expect other sources for these rules in particular? Please edit your post to clarify
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 19:06
  • If there was something more explicit in the Torah, wouldn't the Gemara have used that Passuk? Presumably, since it used this 'inexact' Passuk, there isn't any Passuk that is 'better'. Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 13:34

2 Answers 2


See R. Yehuda Halevi's Kuzari (3:73) where he writes:

The Rabbi: Let us rather assume two other possibilities. Either they employ secret methods of interpretation which we are unable to discern, and which were handed down to them, together with the method of the 'Thirteen Rules of Interpretation,' or they use Biblical verses as a kind of fulcrum of interpretation in a method called Asmakhtā, and make them a sort of hall mark of tradition. An instance is given in the following verse: 'And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat' (Gen. ii. 16 sq.). It forms the basis of the 'seven Noahide laws' in the following manner:

['He] commanded' refers to jurisdiction. 'The Lord' refers to prohibition of blasphemy. 'God' refers to prohibition of idolatry. 'The man' refers to prohibition of murder. 'Saying' refers to prohibition of incest. 'Of every tree of the garden,' prohibition of rape. 'Thou mayest surely eat,' a prohibition of flesh from the living animal.

There is a wide difference between these injunctions and the verse. The people, however, accepted these seven laws as tradition, connecting them with the verse as aid to memory.

The Hebrew translation is clearer in stating that this verse is not the actual source for the laws:

כמה רחוק בין אלו העניינים ובין הפסוק הזה, אך אצל העם קבלה משבע המצוות האלה, סומכין אותה בפסוק הזה בסימן שמיקל עליהם זכרם.

The Rambam (Hil. Melachim 9:1) also does not refer to this source (ויצו). Instead he writes:

עַל שִׁשָּׁה דְּבָרִים נִצְטַוָּה אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן. עַל עֲבוֹדָה זָרָה. וְעַל בִּרְכַּת הַשֵּׁם. וְעַל שְׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים. וְעַל גִּלּוּי עֲרָיוֹת. וְעַל הַגֵּזֶל. וְעַל הַדִּינִים. אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁכֻּלָּן הֵן קַבָּלָה בְּיָדֵינוּ מִמּשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ. וְהַדַּעַת נוֹטָה לָהֶן. מִכְּלַל דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה יֵרָאֶה שֶׁעַל אֵלּוּ נִצְטַוָּה.

  • Are you saying this is an asmachta, a mnemonic device to help us remember a teaching from tradition, and not a derivation? How does one know which is which, then? Is the rule "If the logic satisfies you, it's a derivation; if the logic does not satisfy you, call it just a mnemonic device"? That's the essence of my question. Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 1:37
  • @MauriceMizrahi I am quoting the Kuzari who says this
    – wfb
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 15:13

No, there are no sources for it in the Bible. Surprising as it may sound, the Bible does not mention these commands, known as the Seven Noahide Laws, which the rabbis later wrote down around 200 C.E.. In fact, these laws would practically go unnoticed in Jewish literature until the third century C.E.

Although there is no source for this, these laws are explicable in nature and could be considered the basic laws of humanity, applicable to all human beings. The seven Noahide commandments are mentioned in the Tosefta, as in the Mishnah and Midrashim, as part of the “Oral Torah,” the unwritten parts of the Torah and in some instances reflect the halakhah. Interestingly, Professor Shamma Friedman has proven that Tosefta predates the Mishnah.

The question – why would non-Jews want to know the divine origin of the commands? – if only the goal was to perform the commands in and of itself. If this is so, why should people dwell on whether or not G-d gave these commandments? However, if the goal is more than an additional stipulation, the question makes sense.

In respect to Talmud, in Sanhedrin 56a-b, I think it is as the Talmud often states, hanging by a thread. Indeed, the Talmud states that many of its laws are like "mountains hanging by a thread" (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 5a). The Talmud, in this instance, is using the popular form of derash, or a kind of derasha, which is reading something into the text that is not there or explicit. Something that actually runs contrary to the plain meaning of the text. Thus, this is a perfect example of post-biblical laws with no real basis in the Torah, they are, as the Talmud says, hanging on it by a thread.

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