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July 16, 2009 - Image 17

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2009-07-16

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After The Ark

Non-Jewish interest grows in the seven laws of Noah.

Ben Harris

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Cleveland, Tenn.


hen Jack Saunders began
questioning the core religious
claims of Christianity in the
mid-1980s, it set him on a journey that
eventually led to his embrace of the Torah
and Jewish teachings.
But rather than become Jewish, the
former Baptist minister — at the time
the head of a small rural parish near the
Georgia-Tennessee border — ultimately
took on the identity of a B'nai Noah, or
The term refers to the covenant that
God made with Noah after the flood,
requiring all humankind to observe seven
categories of laws: the prohibitions on
idolatry, murder, theft, sexual immorality,
blasphemy and eating the limb of a living
animal, and the requirement to establish
courts of justice.
Saunders gradually began gently prod-
ding his followers in that direction, too,
preaching solely from the Old Testament
and quietly sowing doubts about central
Christian teachings like the virgin birth.
Eventually, approximately half the church
members became Noahides as well, tear-
ing down the church steeple and renaming
their congregation Frazier's Chapel B'nai
Noah Study Center.
Noahides now have numerous ways to
study and connect to each other, includ-
ing a virtual Noahide yeshivah, Noahide
personals and an organization of Noahide
home-schoolers that provides detailed
curricula for Noahide youth.
"A Noahide has some freedom in
deciding how to celebrate," advises the
curriculum guide for Passover. "Consider
reading a story of the Exodus, or watch-
ing Dreamworks' Prince of Egypt before or
after the meal."

Small Groups
Kristine Cassady, a 31-year-old mother
who home-schools her five children in
Indianapolis, started the Noahide Online
Association of Homseschoolers, or NOAH,
two years ago because of the few Noahide
resources available for children. Cassady
says about 35 families are now affiliated
with the group.
"We're trying to teach our children
Torah, coming to the realization that

Jack Saunders, right, pledges to keep the seven Noahide laws at a 2006 ceremony in Israel presided over by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.

HaShem has given the nations the laws
from Noah," Cassady said.
Like Saunders, most B'nai Noah come
from Christian or messianic Judaism
backgrounds, and their frustrations with
Christianity tend to be more intellectual
than spiritual.
"We were always seeking the truth,
we didn't care where it fell:' said Ray
Pettersen, who runs the Web site
NoahideNations.com and hosts a Noahide
radio show on Arutz Sheva, an Israeli sta-
tion with conservative viewpoints.
"In Christianity, we always found flaws,
but when you ask the pastor, you're always
told, `Well you got to have faith' For some-
one like me, that's not good enough."
With the spread of the Internet, the
curious can now choose from an impres-
sive array of books and Web sites — many
operated by Chabad or its affiliates, others
by Noahides themselves.
The Internet also has helped foster a
sense of community for Noahides, who
can study Torah and participate in dis-
cussion groups now with Noahides from
around the world. Several sites list contact
information for Noahide communities as
far afield as Brazil and the Philippines,
while events such as the virtual Rosh
Hashanah — hosted by the Oklahoma

B'nai Noah Society with the help of a
webcam and microphone — help unite
Noahides separated by geography.

Growing Community
Several conferences also have brought
Noahides together, the most recent in early
June near Dallas.
"We need communities',' said conference
organizer Andrea Woodward, a Texan who
followed her Baptist minister into Noahide
belief 16 years ago. The minister went on to
move to Israel and become an Orthodox Jew.
"The Internet has been our primary
connection through the years," Woodward
said. "And that is growing. But can you
imagine if all your friends are Internet
friends? It's just not satisfactory."
Building communities entails creating
religious practices, another area where
Noahides have directed their energies.
Nearly all the Noahide laws are prohi-
bitions, and many Noahides say they
need rituals to pass on some affirmative
religious identity to their children. But
mindful of the fact that most Torah laws
are incumbent only on Jews, and of the
prohibition on creating a separate religion,
they adhere strictly to rabbinic dictates
concerning what they may observe.
The Oklahoma group spent 11 years

creating a Noahide siddur, Service From
the Heart, that also functions as a guide
to Noahide living. Many Noahides mark
Shabbat by blessing wine and eating a
festive meal, and refrain from eating pork

Need For Ritual
"One of the precious things that the rab-
bis in Israel are doing is trying to give us
liturgy and Halachah that's not new, but
something that we can pass on to the chil-
dren," Woodward said.
"Noahides that come of age to marry
have grown up without friends of like
faith. There's no one to marry. And in
order for us to have this thing grow and
be passed on generation to generation, we
need some structure. We need some rites
of passage."
Though some Noahides go on to for-
mally embrace Judaism as converts, their
geographic separation from the centers of
Jewish life renders that choice viable for
only a few. But Noahides also take com-
fort in the knowledge that the Torah has
ordained a purpose for them as gentiles.
"We decided HaShem might need more
gentiles than he needs Jews," Rogers said.
"We set out to be the best B'nai Noah we
can be." ❑

July 16 . 2009


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