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Volume 1, Issue 5

Covenant Connection

April, 2006....................... Iyar 5766

From the Desk of Michael Dallen

From April and Nissan (includingPesach/Passover)to the new moon of Iyar and May,counting the days to shavuous (Pentecost),the anniversary of Matan Torah: Revelation at Sinai

Shalom! Pesach (Passover) slowed us down, and then a technical issue caused further delay - sorry for the lateness of this newsletter. We should do better with the next. In this one, a Dutch Noahide, Sefanja Severin, makes some good points, and a group of rabbis in Jerusalem speak about us in the following "Statement of Clarification."

Sefanja Severin was born in Groningen, the Netherlands, in 1979. He was raised as a Christian and "took the religion seriously." But, "while searching for rational arguments to convince others to convert to Christianity," he writes, he "discovered Judaism and embraced it." He is married and works as a network engineer/administrator at the University of Professional Arts Education in Rotterdam.

To the editor: In your newsletter of December 2005, Vol 1, Issue 1, you wrote: "People don't need to be on the verge of converting to Judaism and, in fact, don't even need to believe in HaShem. They do need to know about the Seven Universal Commandments."

When I tell a person that abortion is wrong, he will most likely ask: "Why so? On what authority are you speaking?" Which forces me to explain why I believe the Torah is true, resulting in a theological discussion.

One advantage of convincing people at the theological level first is that they will start learning about the Commandments on their own, which accelerates the learning process. A second advantage is that the person will be freed of any psychological damaging ideas from his former religion.

Why do you think that it is better to start the discussion at the practical level rather than at the theological level, despite the two advantages I just mentioned?

How do you convince people to act in accordance with the Seven Commandments while avoiding theological discussions? Just by shouting: "Boo on abortion!"?

Ok. This is more than just a question about strategies for religious outreach (in Hebrew, kiruv). The deeper issue is whether the universal covenant system that God gives us requires us to share what we know about Him with people who don't know the Seven Commandments (and who also think that He exists in physical form).

First of all, now would be a good time to say that if I implied before that I knew for certain that the First Covenant law against avodah zorah [literally, strange service] does or doesn't present an obstacle to Noahides who want to worship a trio of gods or an elephant-headed god, a Shinto forest spirit or a Buddha, I'm sorry. I don't think that the First Covenant does prohibit it - that, at this point in human history, God absolutely requires everyone on earth to worship Him directly, as the Jews and pious Noahides do. Some critics have found fault with my comments on this issue.

Many Jewish scholars have tried to distinguish between different forms of worship that aren't perfectly monotheistic. I tried to do so myself, discussing the differences between different gentile theologies in Rainbow Covenant. If you have a copy, go to pages 277-278. (If you don't have a copy you should get one. Order it from your favorite local bookstore or go to Amazon.com or arnes&Noble or, best of all, get it direct from the publisher: http://www.lightcatcherbooks.com/products_books_rainbowcovenant.shtml.)It examines theological associationism - called shittuf in Hebrew - which is imagining that God has one or more physical alter-egos, and the concept of theological partnership (shuttfut), such as believing that Satan is one of God's co-equal partners. It also goes into questions of theological veneration versus adoration, and particularly the phenomenon of substitution - of trying to replace God with a different deity, such as Ba'al, "the god within," the People, the Fatherland, and so forth. The problem is that I'm just not sure that these differences are all that substantial.

(Incidentally, our recent critics didn't object to anything in those book pages; they object, strongly, to an answer to one of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on our website: http://www.1stcovenant.com/pages/FAQWhyyou.htm.)

Why aren't these differences substantial? One, it's hard to know how seriously people take what they claim to be their religions. Christians may speak highly the Bible, for instance, but never bother to read it. Muslims may memorize the Koran but don't understand what it says because they don't understand Arabic. People frequently don't actually know what their religions teach while accepting all sorts of concepts that contradict them. Their practices may contradict their nominal religions too - one often sees people "belonging" to religions that require sexual modesty conducting themselves extremely immodestly, even while they flaunt the insignia of that religion, sometimes tattooed on their skin! Similarly, people who supposedly reject pagan idolatry may, for instance, throw themselves into celebrating wildly pagan festivals and rites. Muslim terrorists just attacked a Red Sea resort where good Egyptian Muslims celebrated an ancient Egyptian pagan holiday.

The test for me is how people conduct themselves (and particularly how they conduct themselves in regard to the Jews). Many Jewish writers consider atheism lower than even a pagan religion, but even proud atheists can be highly moral, civilized people. And supposedly strictly faithful followers of Israel's several "daughter religions" can, in the name of the deity whom they believe to be the God of Israel, do unbelievably awful things - and receive blessings for it from their religious leaders! It all depends on their current culture.

I can appreciate that - for instance - the nice Presbyterian lady who lives across the street from me has very strange religious beliefs. Nonetheless, I don't think that this lady's entertaining such beliefs constitutes a crime in the Noahide Law. I'll go further: I don't think that her acting on those beliefs, to pray to an impossible god, or even to light candles or make offerings to it, is criminal. But I don't know for sure. It would be a Torah crime if I did it but I'm Jewish. Jewish people are supposed to know better than to think or act like that.

My feeling at the moment is that, so long as this nice lady does not necessarily know better than that, so long as God has not more fully revealed Himself to her and her people, she's no criminal. She doesn't need to be prosecuted in a Noahide court.

I wrote in Rainbow Covenant, "Idolatry is always blasphemous. Blasphemy is always idolatrous. The opposite of both idolatry and blasphemy is the sanctification of the One God's holy Name." (Page 232). Whether my neighbor thinks that the God of Israel is so aloof, distant or inadequate that He needs to refer my neighbor to one of His lower-level "partners" or one of His co-equal "associates" or alter-egos, she's still denigrating God. He - Hashem - is infinitely greater than that. If she decides that He simply doesn't exist or that He's abandoned the world or that He's less potent than some other god, she's still disrespecting Him. Is one kind of sacrilege acceptable and the other criminal?

Through the Noahide Law, the 7M, God prohibits many things that are horrible but not everything that's horrible. Cutting the fins off living sharks is barbaric, as we mentioned. Yet, as Rabbi Michael Katz points out, it's not a crime in the Noahide Law. The great covenantal ban on eating flesh torn from a living being applies primarily to mammals. While the Torah teaches us that we must not cause any animal unnecessary suffering - the prohibition is called tsaar baaley chaim, inflicting suffering on a living creature - this is not a Noahide prohibition. You might call it a detail of the Law, one of the details that BN (b'nai no'ach) need to determine for themselves, but it's not part of black-letter Noahide Law.

Naturally, that doesn't mean that a Noahide may slice the fins off a living shark, that it's perfectly OK. It isn't OK, it's savage and immoral. We all should recognize that causing any creature needless pain is contemptible and we should, when we can, try to stop it and condemn it. But that's moral condemnation, not necessarily legal prosecution. Cruelty in and of itself isn't a Noahide Law crime.

Similarly, as I see it, the Noahide Law permits my nice Presbyterian neighbor to think and do things in the spiritual realm that aren't at all nice. She's insulting God by trying to personify Him, to reduce Him to give her a level of comfort with Him. But I don't think that the Noahide Law makes her criminally culpable for it. Whether she and her people should know better by now than to try to turn God into a little idol is another matter. There may indeed be considerable moral culpability there, as there would be if she went and tore a fin off a living shark, but the question here is whether she's breaking the Noahide Law, and - at least as I see it - she's not.

Remember that the Noahide Law is all logical law. Each one of the Noahide laws is, at least theoretically, capable of being discovered by logic alone. We should all know better than to commit murder, God forbid, steal things, have sex with animals or our own mother's daughters, curse God, whip ourselves to glorify His Name or deliberately kill babies. We shouldn't need Revelation to tell us those things. (Even though, poor half-angelic, half-animal beings that we are, we frequently do need help to cut through the cultural clutter, to recognize them.) This extends even to the details of the Law: we have the power to determine the details logically but, in fact, we usually need someone to teach them to us.

Writing something last week about whether America can become more worthy of God's blessings, I got thinking about how Abraham Lincoln and many of America's founders, America's greatest generation so far, were real students of the Noahide Law. Even though they didn't necessarily know that.

The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. Thomas Jefferson, A Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1774

Particularly in their early years, as young men and boys, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, among others, used to struggle to learn the details of the Law: how to conduct themselves like honorable, upright men at all times. They kept journals, they wrote in diaries, they discussed matters with adults; they tried, through logic, to determine all these things. And, because the details of the Law can be discovered logically, they succeeded more often than they failed.

We look forward to the time - we hope soon - that popular culture will actively encourage young people to emulate people like Franklin and Lincoln, to discover what is good and honorable. That is, as opposed to popular culture encouraging children and adults to behave sensuously and barbarically.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. - President Washington's Farewell Address to the Nation, 1796

Back to abortion and the question of Sefanja Severin. Remembering that the 7M - the sheva mitzvot, the Seven Commandments - are all logical laws, science now gives us the ability to discuss the abortion prohibition quite rationally. Humankind has learned a lot about the process of human development in utero from ultra-sound and other radiological technology. Scientists have even video-taped abortions.

It's interesting that an activist "pro-choice" scientist who is Jewish, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, M.D., had the thought of video-taping an abortion - on behalf of the pro-choice cause! What he saw turned him into a "pro-life" anti-abortion activist. The tape he made, Silent Scream, became famous. It's very dramatic, gory and hard to watch, but Silent Scream makes a logical and extremely strong case against prohibited abortion.

No man . . . can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were born free, being the image and resemblance of God Himself. - John Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, 1649

We start with the postulate that every human life is precious - the Torah doesn't just teach us that every human being exists in the image of God but also that every human being ought to know that. Logic begins there.

We know from Torah that, up until 40 days from conception, the inseminated egg is regarded as "merely water," or merely a hairy egg. That is, before the close of the first six and a half weeks after conception, the growing egg can be terminated, for any reason, and no criminal penalty applies. After 40 days, the egg has become a fetus: we can see from our technology that nerves have developed - nerves which give the fetus the ability to feel and transmit pain to a quickly developing nerve center called the brain. Similarly, after 40 days, except in very rare cases, the fetus becomes either male or female. That is, the fetus is no longer an "it" but a him or a her.

At that point the Law forbids the abortion that logic, based on scientific facts, also prohibits. One doesn't wantonly destroy any human him or her. The Torah sets out the Noahide Law that applies to Israel as well as BN: it's forbidden. Except, of course, where the fetus seriously threatens the mother's continued existence (hers is a human life in the truest sense, a life in being, since the mother has already been born and, because birth alters being, the born come before the unborn). But logic tells us the same thing.

Religion, on the other hand, isn't purely a matter of logic. People believe what they believe, usually because of their parents, teachers and peers. Some of us came to believe in the God of Israel because logic seemed to require it - we looked at the evidence of history (particularly Jewish history), the sublimity and uniqueness of the Bible, the nature of Creation, the miracle of Torah, and so forth - but logic alone doesn't necessarily lead one to God.

Eventually, logic alone will lead my nice Presbyterian lady or her descendants to believe with all their might in Hashem. He will manifest Himself in such a way as to make Himself known to them through the evidence of their senses and plain common sense. In the meantime, the many Noahides who have come or are coming to respect and follow the One God alone deserve a lot of credit. They're doing what they're made for, revering their Maker. They didn't get Israel's ancient family tradition along with their mothers' milk; they didn't grow up learning to reject any god but God. They have broken through their upbringing, or in many cases simply built upon an unusual tradition diligently. They went where logic as well as passion took them.

Until God does manifest Himself to humankind so that people will turn to Him because of logic alone, it can't be possible - so it seems to me - that the Noahide Code forbids failing to turn directly to God. The people of Israel thank God for elevating them enough - through the miracles of the Exodus, through the blessings and refining effects of Torah - to recognize His greatness without an intermediary. That's about 1/4 of 1% of humankind. 99.75% of the descendants of Noah haven't inherited Israel's national tradition.

If one doesn't turn to God one inevitably turns to gods. If a Jewish person does that it's called avodah zorah, idolatry. But if a Noahide does that it's not necessarily a "strange service" for him or her - it's not strange at all, if it's merely the tradition of one's teachers. The Noahide prohibition against avodah zorah, pending the future messianic revelation, is logically limited. This is the prohibition against actually strange service - against cutting oneself or others "to suffer as He suffered," against whipping anyone, against killing or treating anyone cruelly for the greater glory of one's god or gods, and similarly disgusting acts. Because logic alone should tell a person that no god or gods worth worshipping would ever want to be worshipped like that.

My feeling about sharing the Torah's core laws - the Noahide Law - with Noahides is that, once people discover the magnificence of His Law, they will insist on knowing more about the Lawgiver. Most observant Noahides and Jews don't need much encouragement to speak about the oneness and greatness of God; they are ready to testify that way at all times. It would be like triggering a coiled-up spring.

Finally we come back to tactics. The question is, what kind of kiruv - what kind of outreach - will be most effective in bringing people to the truth? What works for one person may not work for another. One must speak to one's audience, not to some idealized audience; one can reach people only on their own level.

Not just tactically but legally, philosophically, we don't need to disparage other people's gods. We just want them to follow the dictates of logic - the Noahide Law. We need to learn how to discuss these logical laws with people who may have never heard of them, with logic and grace. We need to learn how to keep these beautiful laws ourselves - we need to study them, in their details, to elevate ourselves. The world's Washingtons and Adamses are made, not born. Everyone, Jew and Noahide, needs to study God's ways in order to keep them, to do His will and try to constantly keep coming closer to Him. Ultimately, that's how to succeed at kiruv - outreach.

We received a lot of mail after the last newsletter. Most was praise. It was interesting hearing from a gentleman with a Muslim name in Pakistan applying to join the First Covenant Foundation as a member. One extremely charming fellow in another part of the world offered free webhosting and other generous help - thank you, Mr. Heiliczer. Olivia Mitchell asked whether subscribers could write for the newsletter, about news that especially affects Noahides, and perhaps a column discussing Biblical support for Noahides. Naturally, I answered her, of course! We welcome your submissions.

An artist in Germany, Gabriele Klein, sent us an enchanting collection of colorful small paintings on silk, mounted on greeting card-sized stock, to offer over the Internet to advance the First Covenant cause. (She had earlier taken took the trouble to purchase - it wasn't cheap, including shipping to Germany - and read, critique and praise Rainbow Covenant.) She also thanked me for recommending the Hertz Torah or chumash (the Pentateuch - Five Books of Moses - with Haftorahs - the prophetic Biblical texts associated with the Torah-portions). I regard it as a much better Torah commentary for Noahides than the now more generally used Stone edition from Artscroll. You can order the Hertz Chumash from the publisher - Soncino - I believe, but it would be better to support your favorite bookstore and order it through them. Sometimes you can also find excellent used copies - the Hertz used to be the favorite chumash of Orthodox English-speaking Jews worldwide.

Sam Abady, a trial lawyer in New York, sent praise but objected to my statement that the 's' sound at the end of the Hebrew word mitzvos, or commandments, is "mainstream Orthodox American." He insists that it's mitzvot: that the soft letter 'tav' at the end, which changes the singular into plural, is properly pronounced with a 't' sound and that the 's' is merely a linguistic feature of Yiddish incorporated into Hebrew. He may be right. In the meantime, I shall probably keep calling the Sabbath shabbos, the upcoming holiday of Pentecost shavuous, not shavuout, and the mitzvot or mitzvoth - mitzvos.

An old friend, Dr. James D. Tabor, liked the last newsletter and republished it to his discussion group - as Frances Makarova, Rachav, did with hers. This is perfectly fine with us, incidentally. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention Prof. Tabor's new book, The Jesus Dynasty. He's appeared on TV's Nightline and 20/20 about it, it was the cover story of U.S. News and World Report, and he seems to be flying all over the world to speak about it. It mentions the Noahide Law, he says. (I have asked him to also mention the only book that he says he can recommend on the subject, Rainbow Covenant.)
In other news, a group of rabbis in Jerusalem issued a declaration about us. Some of them were troubled by what they called my recent "soft on idolatry" comments, and many people got the idea that they had banned and denounced me, the book Rainbow Covenant, and the Rainbow Covenant-First Covenant Foundation generally. So they issued the following statement, which we are reprinting, in part:


Statement of Clarification

The Special Court
For Matters Concerning Bnei NoaH
under the Auspices of the Sanhedrin

28 Nissan 5766 (April 26, 2006)

Statement of Clarification

Several months ago (10 Teveth), in an interview on the Tamar Yonah show, Mr. Jim Long, one of the 10 Bnei NoaH who formed the High Council of Bnei NoaH under the guidance of the Sanhedrin, fielded a caller’s question concerning the Rainbow Covenant web site, the book by the same title, and its author Michael Dallen. The question and its answer have given the impression to many that the Sanhedrin has banned the web site and the book. This is totally false. While several rabbis did voice concern over some of the content of the web site, the Beith Din for Bnei Noah made a conscious decision not to issue any ban on the site, and certainly not on the book, which has been widely praised.


HaRav Yoel Schwartz, Av Bet Din
Ribbi Dov Abraham Ben-Shorr
Ribbi Michael Shelomo Bar Ron


This website has been established by "Friends of the Sanhedrin" in consultation with the Re-established Sanhedrin.
It is authorized to distribute information. However the material presented here has not necessarily been
reviewed by the Sanhedrin and may or may not represent the official position of the Sanhedrin
Copyright © 2006, All rights reserved. webmaster@thesanhedrin.org

We sincerely appreciate this statement. I especially want to thank all the good people - I know that there were several Noahides involved with this, including our own Pam and Larry Rogers, Nancy January, who founded the Oklahoma Bnai Noah Society, and Frances (Rachav) in Australia - who worked and lobbied to get it.

Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, now these rabbis have issued this proclamation, instead of just hiding it away on their website, shouldn't it be published at least as widely as the defamatory statement that it's trying to correct? If the group's spokesman was speaking for the group on the radio program, shouldn't they clarify or retract what he said on the same program? Shouldn't they do whatever they reasonably can do to repair the damage?

Those who try to right a wrong desire praise, not censure. But there is another problem here that's obvious: what kind of court is it which calls itself "the Sanhedrin" that acts this way? This name, sanhedrin, which literally means court, is supposed to evoke and exemplify the Torah principles of justice, complete fairness and due process. But no one from this group ever called me or any of us to give evidence. What kind of court hands down serious decisions, whether to condemn or exonerate, without even bothering to hear from the parties?

With all due respect for the pious and learned men who contributed to this group, it has certainly gone astray.

I thought that its founding held promise, that a very diverse group of Torah scholars would be formed in Jerusalem to help lay the groundwork for creating a real Sanhedrin. Jack Saunders and I talked this over at some length beforehand. Jack, who used to be a Protestant pastor, serves with Rabbi Michael Katz and me as a First Covenant Foundation director. We considered this group's invitation to him to join what it called its Noahide High Council. So Jack flew to Jerusalem, went before the group, took a solemn oath in public to keep the Torah as a Noahide, and joined.

The underlying idea seemed good to us. The Great Sanhedrin, the holy supreme tribunal which both Israel and Noahides have been awaiting, will be re-established in the coming millenial era. Since we don't expect God to perform the commandments that He gave us to perform for us, like putting on our tefillin for us, we naturally expect that this will demand some effort from us: work. We need to get ready for this time, in other words, to work out the court rules, procedures and jurisdictional principles needed for a real court to function. Also, since we're talking about the Great Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin Gadol, they need to be good - they need to embody the principles of Torah judgment.

Unfortunately, this group seems to have persuaded itself that, rather than preparing the way for the actual Sanhedrin, it itself is the Sanhedrin. That's arrogance where there needs to be humility. Not only that, we have seen so much back-biting, political maneuvering and attempts at power-grabbing that it almost makes the very concept of human justice seem ridiculous. If it ends this way or continues this way it will go down in Jewish history as just another failed attempt, a laughable attempt, to rush the Messianic Age. It will discredit the very concepts that it tried to exemplify.

They call it "the Sanhedrin," "the developing Sanhedrin," "the proto-Sanhedrin," and even "the developing proto-Sanhedrin." It might still have a future as the developmental Sanhedrin - as an organization in the nature of a think tank considering the implications and the ground rules for establishing the real thing. Besides just clergy, ordained rabbis, it should reach out to at least some of the brilliant legal scholars and academicians who grace the people of Israel and ask them to contribute.

(We got a note, by the way, from Bar-Ilan University's distinguished professor of law, Prof. Arnold Enker, praising the last newsletter. He and his colleagues, especially including Professor Nahum Rakover, and also Susan Last Stone at Harvard Law, have done extraordinary work on the 7M system. He has tried to interest some of the proto-Sanhedrin's rabbinic scholars in the latest legal research on it - the research and new discoveries that much of Rainbow Covenant is based on. So far as either he or I know, none of them has been particularly open to it.

We still have hope. It would be a pity for this grand, ambitious effort to fail completely.

We will have more next month. Please visit our website in the meantime - and please excuse the lateness and the typos.

Mankind cannot rise to the essential principles on which society must rest unless it meets with Israel. And Israel cannot fathom the deeps of its own national and religious tradition unless it meets with mankind." - Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh (1823-1900), Israel and Humanity, quoted in a famous Noahide work, The Unknown Sanctuary, by Aime' Palliere.

God gave the Torah to the Jewish people so that all nations might benefit from it. - Midrash

Please treat this newsletter as a call to action. We call on God, as the prayer that Israel says every morning just before reciting the Hebrew statement of faith known as the shema asks: (Please understand that this is much richer in Hebrew than in English.)

We call on God for help. As the prayer that Israel says every morning just before reciting the Hebrew statement of faith known as the shema asks (please understand that this is much richer in Hebrew than in English): Our Father, the merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy on us, instill in our hearts to understand and elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teachings with love. Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your commandments, and unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name. Amen

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