As stressed in traditional Jewish writings, the core of all religious practice and the principle underlying all Divine worship is faith. As explained in Kabbalah, faith is the highest power of the soul, lying well beyond the reach of the rational mind, floating, as it were, above comprehension.
Although the most fundamental of the Bnei Noach commandments is the prohibition of the worship of other gods, the question must still be raised whether Bnei Noach are actually required to believe in God? This may seem like a strange question to ask, for why would anyone be committed to perform God’s commandments if he or she does not believe in Him? However, it may seem less puzzling if we consider that there are many situations in life when a person loses conscious faith in the Almighty, yet continues to follow the Torah’s commandments, forgoing questions of faith to a later time.
Furthermore, it is common to find people that perform religious commandments for a variety of reasons other than their belief in God. It may be that they do so because of tradition (as children they were raised with these practices), because of collective cultural values (their society prescribes it), or even just to alleviate social pressure (their peers would not associate with them if they did not), all without believing that God exists or that He commanded them to perform these acts.
At the present, there are relatively few Bnei Noach in the world so these external reasons for performing the Bnei Noach commandments may not seem to be very prominent in anyone’s life. But, as the numbers increase, as the prophets foresaw, and people become second and third generation Bnei Noach living in large communities or even cultures that practice these commandments, the question of obligatory faith will become more and more important.
The Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith
Indeed, talking of faith in God is quite vague. What exactly does faith in God include? What are the articles or principles of faith as delineated by the Torah? And, are they different for Jews and for non-Jews?
Though faith is a super-rational faculty, and therefore not normally subject to translation into a limited set of logical ordered principles, about 850 years ago, Maimonides—arguably the greatest authority on Jewish law and Torah thought1—compiled a list of 13 principles of Jewish faith.2 They are:
- God is the Creator and is responsible for all that happens.
- God is One
- God is not corporeal.
- God is non-temporal.
- God alone should be worshiped.
- Prophecy is true.
- The prophecy of Moses is primary and true.
- The Torah is complete
- The Torah is eternal.
- There is Divine Providence.
- God gives reward and punishment
- The Messiah will arrive
- God will resurrect the dead
As argued by later authorities,3 Maimonides 13 principles all stem from 3 more general principles:
- Faith in the Oneness and Singularity of the Almighty, out of which stem the first through the fifth principles;
- Faith in the Torah’s universal and everlasting verity as the expression of God’s Will, out of which stem the sixth through the ninth principles; and,
- Faith in reward and punishment based on each individual’s conduct, from which stem the tenth through the thirteenth principles.
Of course, these three principles themselves are all an elaboration of the Torah’s all inclusive expression of faith in the absolute Oneness of God: “Hear O’ Israel, God is our God, God is One.”4
So, we now have that the most general principle of faith in the absolute Oneness of God divides into three more specific principles, which in turn divide into the thirteen principles listed by Maimonides. This numerical progression from 1 to 3 to 13 is part of a mystical series of numbers that is based in the Torah’s oral tradition regarding the word “covenant” as it appears in the Written Torah. For this reason the numbers in this mystical series are known as “covenant numbers.”
The traditional source for the series of covenant numbers is found in a Mishnah that states: “Circumcision is great, for thirteen covenants were made on it.”5 As explained by the Talmudic commentaries this statement refers to 13 instances of the word “covenant” (in its different grammatical forms) found in the verses that describe how God commanded Abraham to perform circumcision.6 That circumcision in this Mishnah is described as “great” is not only qualitative but also quantitative. Hence, the Mishnah, as explained by the commentaries, is noting that the word “covenant” appears in these verses more times than it does in reference to other covenants chronicled in the Torah. Specifically, the commentaries explain that the Mishnah is comparing the thirteen times that the word “covenant” appears in reference to circumcision, the covenant made between God and Abraham, to the three times that it appears in reference to the covenant made between God and the Jewish people with the giving of the Torah.7 It is also comparing the thirteen “covenants” of circumcision to the single “covenant” appearing in the verses describing how God promised the Land of Canaan to Abraham.8 We now know the source of the three numbers, 1, 3, and 13, in this series.
But as mentioned above, before making the covenants with Abraham (regarding the Land of Canaan and circumcision) and with the Jewish people (regarding the Torah), the Almighty made a covenant with Noah. God promised that he would not destroy the world again by flood. In the verses in the Torah describing this covenant, the word “covenant” (in its various grammatical forms) appears seven times. Thus the complete series begins with the numbers 1, 3, 7, and 13.9 Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, let us hint that the 7 instances of the word “covenant” found in the verses describing God’s covenant with Noah correspond to the 7 Bnei Noach commandments (and to the 7 colors of the rainbow, the sign of the covenant between God and Noah), as will be explained more fully later on.
The Seven Principles of Faith for Bnei Noach
The series of covenant numbers thus begins with the numbers: 1, 3, 7, 13.10 How fitting it is then that Bnei Noach should possess 7 principles of faith. Indeed, looking at Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith, we can see that before dividing into three general categories they first clearly divide into 7 more specific categories, as follows:
- Faith in the existence of God the Creator
- Faith in the Oneness of God
- We should worship only God
- The verity of prophecy
- The eternal truth of the Torah
- Reward and punishment
- The ultimately good destiny of creation
These 7 principles of faith, which cover the basic tenets of faith for Bnei Noach, beautifully correspond to the seven Laws of Bnei Noach, and as such can be seen as their inner essence and spirit. Whereas six of these seven laws are usually stated negatively, i.e., as prohibitions, these articles of faith are positive in nature. Therefore, teaching each commandment with its corresponding principle provides a more balanced view on the Bnei Noach faith and commitment:
Faith in the existence of God the Creator clearly gives positive expression to the prohibition against blasphemy.
Faith in the Oneness of God is obviously the positive expression of the prohibition against idolatry.
While the second principle excludes worshiping any other being as a deity, the third principle (that man was created to worship God alone) deals with our obligation to worship the Almighty. In the Talmud,11 not recognizing that God is the origin of all blessing, not thanking Him for the good things we possess in life, is likened to stealing from one’s parents. Knowing that God is the source of all good, we turn to Him, and only to Him, in worship and prayer. Worship is thus seen to begin with not stealing from God that which He rightly deserves—the conscious awareness that all that we have, even our very existence, derives from Him. Thus this principle is the positive aspect of the prohibition against thievery, and as such, it implies that Bnei Noach should indeed have a book of prayers and make blessings over food,12 etc., as will be discussed further in chapter 5.
The fourth principle of faith in the truth of prophecy acknowledges that man was created in the image of God, and is therefore able to commune with God in prophecy.13 Hence, this principle reflects the basic sanctity of human life and thus it represents the positive aspect of the prohibition against murder.
The Talmud explains that sexual cravings are the most powerful force dissuading people from following the Torah. They are the “spirit of folly”14 that induce one to bypass the injunctions of the Torah, creating the illusion that the violation of these prohibitions will not sever our conscious connection with the Almighty. Thus, the fifth principle, professing faith in the eternal nature of the Torah—whose directives comprise the way of life and are the basis of our connection with the Creator—provides the positive application of the prohibition against adultery. Following this principle, throughout the book of Proverbs the Torah is likened to a woman of valor to whom her husband forever remains loyal.
The sixth principle, the belief in God’s reward and punishment based on His Providence over our actions, corresponds to the injunction to establish courts of law. Just courts of law are indeed a human expression of Divine Providence and justice.
To date, the image of Noah’s dove and the rainbow, the sign of God’s covenant with him, serve as the universal symbols for the peace and brotherhood that we all yearn for. According to Maimonides,15 the one commandment that was given to Noah, in addition to the six that had previously been given to Adam, is the prohibition against eating a limb from a living animal. The final article of faith in the ultimately good destiny awaiting mankind is the mystical stipulation of this commandment for Bnei Noach. Though the commandment does not prohibit the consumption of animals entirely, it does preclude treating them with cruelty and causing them pain, thus foreshadowing a positive ecological vision of mankind as it will be in a more rectified future. In the Bible, the salvation of man is tied directly with the salvation of animals: “Man and animal shall You save, O’ God.”16The prohibition against eating the flesh of a living animal thus encourages our faith in the rectified and good future awaiting all of creation, as one.
1. Maimonides is the Greek form of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known by his acronym, the Rambam (1135-1204).
2. Though Maimonides was evidently not aware of it, in the Zohar it is written that faith is indeed based on thirteen principles (Zohar III, 62b), which correspond to the 13 tikuneidikna (garments of the beard)—the 13 principles of Divine effluence that run from thesefirah of crown (super-consciousness) to the conscious sefirot and that are symbolically associated with the parts of the human beard. From this correspondence of the 13 principles of faith with the 13 tikunei dikna we learn that principles of faith, like thesefirah of crown itself, exhibit a paradoxical quality. On the one hand they are verily super-rational, but on the other they are well-defined and ordered.
The paradoxical nature of the 13 Principles of Faith can be illustrated numerically: 13 . 102 (the numerical value of the word “faith,” in Hebrew, אֱמוּנָה ) = 1326. 1326 is the numerical value of the third verse of the Priestly Blessing: “May God lift His countenance upon you and give you peace” (יִשָּׂא י־הוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם ). The first word of this verseיִשָּׂא stems from the same root as the Hebrew term for “paradox” (נְשִׂיאַת הַפָכִים ).
3. Rabbi Joseph Albo, Sefer Ha’ikarim, part A, chapter 4.
4. Deuteronomy 6:4.
5. Nedarim 31b.
6. Genesis chapter 17.
7. Berachot 48b and commentaries there.
8. Genesis 15:18.
9. Chronologically, the order of the covenants is the covenant made with Noah (7), followed by the covenant with Abraham regarding the Land of Israel (1), followed by the covenant with Abraham regarding circumcision (13), and finally the covenant with the Jewish people regarding the Torah (3). But, mathematically, the order of the numbers in the series is of course 1, 3, 7, and 13.
10. The mathematical expression of this series is: for all integers n, f[n] = n2 ^ n ^ 1.
11. Berachot 35b.
12. This connection between thievery and worship was first made by the Torah Temimah, who argued that it implies that non-Jews should bless God before eating or taking pleasure form something in the world.
13. “God said: Let us create man in our image and after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
14. Sotah 3a.
15. Maimonides, Hilchot Melachim 9:1.
16. Psalms 36:7.