The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism

BookThe Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism

The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism

The Idea of Noahide Law

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


August 25th, 2011

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Throughout history the image of the non-Jew in Judaism has profoundly influenced the way in which Jews interact with non-Jews. It has also shaped the understanding that Jews have of their own identity, as it determines just what distinguishes them from the non-Jews around them. A crucial element in this is the concept of Noahide law, understood by the ancient rabbis and subsequent Jewish thinkers as incumbent upon all humankind, unlike the full 613 divine commandments of the Torah, which are incumbent on Jews alone. The approach adopted in this now classic study is to consider the history of the idea of Noahide law, and to show how the concept is relevant to practical discussions of the halakhah pertaining to non-Jews and to relations between Jews and non-Jews. The seven chapters that make up the first part of the study examine each of the Noahide laws in turn, with a view to showing their halakhic development in the rabbinic sources, in the codes, and in the responsa literature. The discussion draws primarily on classical texts by traditional commentators as they attempt to deal with living issues from the rabbinic world as equally vital concerns in their own time. The second part deals with the theory of Noahide law, concluding with a consideration of why it is an appropriate starting point for Jewish philosophy today.

'The depth and breadth of this book's treatment of its subject are its great strengths. It is much more sophisticated in both method and content than any other single volume on the subject.' Journal of Religion 'A goldmine of information and philosophical reflection ... a book of major importance.' Jewish Law Association 'The absolute best and most complete book I have found [on righteous gentiles] is Novak's ... it gives the most detailed explanation and digs really deep.'

'Any reader interested in understanding how the non-Jew has been perceived throughout Jewish history should certainly turn to The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism for an authoritative discussion . . . scholarly . . . provides insight, not only into the classical Jewish perceptions of non-Jews and their place in the world, but also into Jewish–Christian and Jewish–Muslim relations and a more sophisticated understanding of Jewish law vis-à-vis the Gentile.'  
David Tesler, AJL Reviews

'Novak demonstrates an intimate acquaintance with Jewish law and philosophy in this work of impressive scholarship. Little changed from the first edition, this second edition includes helpful chapter summaries and a lucid afterword by Matthew LaGrone . . . Novak's account of the myriad ways that Jewish texts and thinkers have thought about "Others"—especially Christians and Muslims—provides historical and philosophical context for contemporary discussions of topics ranging from human rights to interreligious dialogue. Recommended.'  
S. Gowler, Choice

Author Information

David Novak is Professor of the Study of Religion and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. He is the author of several books, the most recent being The Jewish Social Contract: A Essay in Political Theology (2005), Talking with Christians: Musings of a Jewish Theologian (2005), and Covenantal Rights: A Study in Jewish Political Theory (2000).

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Cover 1
Half Title 2
Title Page 4
Copyright 5
Dedication 6
Preface 8
Contents 14
Chapter Summaries 16
1. The Origins of the Noahide Laws26
2. The Law of Adjudication51
3. The Law of Blasphemy68
4. The Law of Idolatry80
5. The Law of Homicide112
6. The Law of Sexual Relations 128
7. The Law of Robbery142
8. The Law of the Torn Limb150
9. Aggadic Speculation 159
10. Maimonides’ Theory of Noahide Law168
11. Albo’s Theory of Noahide Law191
12. Late Medieval Developments210
13. Moses Mendelssohn and his School221
14. Hermann Cohen and the Jewish Neo-Kantians228
15. Conclusion 240
Afterword 246
List of Abbreviations 256
Notes 258
Bibliography 320
Index 338