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Image of the Non-Jew in JudaismA Historical and Constructive Study of the Noahide Laws$
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David Novak

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781906764074

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: February 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781906764074.001.0001

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Aggadic Speculation

Aggadic Speculation

Chapter:
(p.144) Chapter Nine Aggadic Speculation
Source:
Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism
Author(s):

David Novak

Publisher:
Liverpool University Press
DOI:10.3828/liverpool/9781906764074.003.0010

This chapter addresses how the rabbis used the creative resources of theological inference to discover how the tradition charted universal moral law. This charting is particularly common when it comes to revelation, as the relationship of Jews and non-Jews to the Noahide law changed appreciably in the rabbinic mind. According to a famous aggadah, all people originally experienced the Noahide laws as divine directives. However, after Sinai, non-Jews no longer accepted the divine origins of these laws. Although gentiles no longer perceive a transcendent intention behind the laws, they are still obligated to adhere to them because of their social and political value. This powerful aggadah can be read in two ways: first, because non-Jews no longer hold to the divine origin of the Noahide laws but still observe them, the laws themselves must be rational, that is, capable of being understood and followed in the absence of direct revelation; second, if the rational element of the commandments are minimized, as they are by the medieval kabbalists, then the moral distance between Jews and non-Jews becomes abysmal. The chapter argues for the first view, which is philosophically more coherent and more in line with the developed Jewish tradition from rabbinic times to now.

Keywords:   rabbis, theological inference, universal moral law, revelation, Jews, non-Jews, Noahide law, aggadah, Jewish tradition

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