In order for a non-Jew to fulfill his obligation to follow the 7 Noahide Laws, is it required that he accept those laws as binding, or is it sufficient if he coincidentally happens to follow the 7 Laws without thinking about it.

This question is inspired by this answer.


After thinking a bit about this question, I think the question itself might be illogical. If the answer to "Is it required that he accept those laws as binding" is "yes," then it is impossible to "coincidentally happen to follow the 7 Laws without thinking about it." So I guess the first clause of the question is really my question.

  • So your question is really, "do non-Jews need to consciously observe the Noachide laws?" – Seth J Jul 27 '15 at 16:15
  • @SethJ not exactly. One could consciously observe them without accepting them as binding if he knows they exist. (hmm these 7 laws seem like they're worthwhile guidelines to live my life by) – Daniel Jul 27 '15 at 16:36
  • It sounds like this is a correlate of "mitzvos tzrichos kavanah" as applied to non-Jews - if a Jew can fulfill a mitzvah without "intending" to, then there's no reason why a non-Jew can't... Conversely, one can "accept" that murder, theft, adultery, etc. is immoral WITHOUT needing to accept the authority of the Torah. So does that count as "acceptance?" – Isaac Kotlicky Jul 27 '15 at 17:20
  • @IsaacKotlicky not exactly. I rewrote my explanation to show that the Rambam states that "acceptance" means that it is obligatory after the acceptance. Only after that is done does the kavanah aspect start to apply. – sabbahillel Jul 28 '15 at 0:30

The Rambam states in הלכות מלכים הלכה יא

כל המקבל שבע מצות בני נח ונזהר לעשותן הרי זה מחסידי עומות העולם. ויש לו חלק עולם הבא. והוא שיקבל אותן ויעשה אותן מפני שצוה בהן הקב"ה בתורה והודיענו על ידי משה רבינו שבני נח מקודם נצטוו בהן. אבל אם עשען מפני הכרע הדעת אין זה גר תושב ואיו מחסידי עומות העולם ולא מחכמיהם.

Melachim uMilchamot 8:11 translates this as

Anyone who accepts upon himself the fulfillment of these seven mitzvot and is precise in their observance is considered one of 'the pious among the gentiles' and will merit a share in the world to come.

This applies only when he accepts them and fulfills them because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah and informed us through Moses, our teacher, that Noah's descendants had been commanded to fulfill them previously.

However, if he fulfills them out of intellectual conviction, he is not a resident alien, nor of 'the pious among the gentiles,' nor of their wise men.

The term מקבל (accepts on himself) implies that he accepts it as obligatory. This is similar to the way the Bnai Yisrael "accepted" the Torah at Har Sinai. That is, once it was accepted, it was obligatory from then on. Similarly, the fact that the non-Jew who accepts the sheva mitzvos must accept that they are mitzvos (commandments) shows that he must regard them as obligatory and from Hashem as brought down by Moshe just as the 613 mitzvos of the Torah are binding on Bnai Yisrael.

Wikipedia at Seven Laws of Noah besides pointing to the Rambam and the chabad translation, also points to the Encyclopedia Talmudis discussion of the matter. It goes into more detail but has details that are irrelevant to the question as asked. Look there if you want to see more or want to see references to the Encyclopedia Talmudis.

  • 1
    Many versions of the Rambam have the phrasing, "אלא מחכמיהם" ("rather, [they are merely] of their wise men"). This seems to imply that there is some value in observing the laws even without believing they are divinely commanded; even though this is improper, it is notably superior to violation of the laws. See comments on this answer. – Fred Jul 28 '15 at 2:36
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    Again, I would differentiate accepting the performance of the mitzvot with accepting them AS MITZVOT. Your interpretation of Rambam's language implies the latter, but it only absolutely means the former. A believer in "natural law"/"Human Rights" might accept the CONTENT of the mitzvot as imperative even though they do not accept THE SOURCE as imperative (since they derive it from a separate source.) Some may argue that this is one and the same as Torah, akin how how Avraham "observed prior to it being commanded" by deriving it philosophically from the world around him. – Isaac Kotlicky Jul 28 '15 at 11:19
  • @IsaacKotlicky Note that the Rambam explicitly states that they must be accepted as being מפני שצוה בהן הקב"ה which is the way that Avraham derived it before being explicitly commanded (which is a different question). – sabbahillel Jul 28 '15 at 11:36
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    The ONLY thing clear is that accepting the authority of Torah re:7MB"N for a non-Jew indicates a high spiritual status. The Rambam you quoted DOES NOT SAY that one can ONLY fulfill it if they believe fully in the Torah, God, etc. In fact, Hilchot Melachim 9 where the Rambam discusses the actual laws DOESN'T require belief in God, and Rambam EXPLICITLY recognizes that "they are concepts which intellect itself tends to accept." @Daniel – Isaac Kotlicky Jul 28 '15 at 16:33
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    It appears that the RITVA on Makkos 9a agrees with @IsaacKotlicky view that a ben Noach stam is one who is not commanded yet does, rather than someone who is like a ger toshav, which is commanded and does. The difference seems to be that a ben Noach does not accept, while a ger toshav accepts. Also, keep in mind that if a beit din is required, then why is their a mitzveh l'hichuso to sustain a ben Noach that gives tzedekah, and not just a ger toshav(H"Melachim 10:10). – EhevuTov Mar 2 '17 at 15:21

I quote this very interesting article,written by Matthew Zachary Gindin, about the interpretation of the Rambam pass given by the famous HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine

Rav Kook on Wise Gentiles and their Fate.

This is a fascinating comment of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, z”l. Rav Kook was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of 20th century pre-Israel Palestine and was a great mystic and poet. Read it bearing in mind that the emended reading for the Rambam that he proposes is in fact found in the older Yemenite manuscripts of Mishneh Torah, and was also accepted and propounded by Rav Soloveitchik, z”l.

The Righteous Among The Nations [The Rambam wrote:] “Any [gentile] who accepts the seven Noahide commandments and is careful in their performance is one of the righteous of the nations (chasidei umot ha’olam), and he has a portion in the world-to-come. That is if he accepts them and performs them because the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded them in the Torah and proclaimed through Moses that Noahides had previously been commanded in these. But if they perform them because it makes sense [to them], such a person is … not one of the ‘righteous of the nations’ nor one of their wise men” (Hilchot Melachim 8:11). [This statement of the Rambam requires emendation.] The correct reading is: “he is not [merely] one of ‘the righteous of the gentiles, ’ but one of their wise men.” I tend to think that the Rambam means to say that having a portion in the world-tocome is an inferior level (although it too is very great). Since even wicked and ignorant Jews attain it, it is-compared to [truly] spiritual levels-low. The Rambam says that intellectual awareness brings a person much closer to [understanding] the righteousness of God’s Providence. 10/8/2017 Rav Kook on Wise Gentiles and their Fate – Talis In Wonderland https://talisinwonderland.com/2011/04/06/rav-kook-on-holy-gentiles/ 2/4 Therefore, having a portion in the world-to-come is a level attained by the righteous of the nations who have not attained an intellectual awareness, but who have rather accepted the faith simply, with heart-felt emotion, and have acted well, as a result of having accepted the concept that the commandments were given by God. But if a person has come to understand the seven Noahide commandments as a result of his own thinking, he is truly wise of heart and lled with understanding. Such a person is considered one of their wise men, for the trait of wisdom is very great. And it is superuous to say that he has a portion in the world-to-come. [Indeed,] he stands on a holy level that needs to be spoken of with a fuller expression than “having a portion in the world-to-come.” However, even were we to accept the Rambam’s words simply [without emendation], we will nd nothing in them strange if we say that the quality of the world-to-come that the Rambam is speaking of is a particular state that the divine and special nature of our holy Torah gives to those who keep the Torah. But there are other states that can be transmitted by anything good-only, it is not called the “world-to-come.” That special [state called the “world-to-come”] derives from the power of the Torah, and is appropriate for anyone who accepts it and the sanctity of its faith. But this does not in any way deny other qualities that can be imagined regarding every philosophy, each in its own way. Igrot Hara’yah This passage says that the spiritual level conveyed automatically to Jews (and non-Jews) with simple faith in the Torah, “the world to come”, is a lower level than that attained by truly wise gentiles. This reading of Rambam is exactly the opposite of the reading accepted by many pre-modern (and some modern) Ashkenazi Rabbis, who read the Rambam as saying that wise gentiles do not have a portion in “the world to come” since they were not on as high a level as a simple Jew or a gentile with faith in the Torah. R’ Kook’s comment that various attainments result from the various philosophies of the world, and higher attainments can be imagined for those reach knowledge of God’s will based on their own wisdom, is intriguing

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