When I began to teach Torah via e-mail, I started to receive letters from Gentiles – most of them former Christians – who are guided by the Torah. They do not become members of our people through the halachic process of conversion, but they are guided by those Torah teachings and precepts which apply to humankind. In order to understand their spiritual approach, we need to be aware of the following two paths within the Torah:
1. There is a specific path of 613 mitzvos for our people, and this path enables us to become a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Through fulfilling this path in the Land of Israel, we can inspire all the nations to serve the elevating purpose of Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One. This universal mission is described as, “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6 – commentary of Radak). We therefore accepted at Mount Sinai the responsibility to fulfill the 613 mitzvos of this path, and through this acceptance, we entered into an intimate covenant with Hashem. A Gentile can enter into this intimate covenant and become a member of our people through going through a conversion process. This process includes the acceptance of the responsibility to fulfill all the mitzvos which are incumbent upon the members of our people.
2. There is a general path of mitzvos for all humanity. This path was revealed to Adam and Eve, and it was reaffirmed in the generation of Noah after the great flood. Those who follow this path are therefore referred to as, Bnai Noach – the Children of Noah. As Maimonides explains, this universal path was later reaffirmed when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 8:11).
At this stage of history, the majority of the Children of Noah who follow this universal path are former Christians. They have chosen to accept Torah teachings regarding the Divine Oneness and Unity, the ability of all human beings to pray directly to Hashem, the purpose of the human being in this world, the ability of all human beings to return to Hashem through improving their behavior, and the role of the Messiah, a great human being who will lead our people and humanity into the era of universal enlightenment and shalom.
The Children of Noah recognize that the Torah and its interpretations were given to our people; thus, these Gentiles seek guidance from rabbis and other teachers of Torah among our people. I encourage these seekers to choose those Torah teachers who have the honesty and humility to seek the guidance of leading Torah sages on complex issues and challenges, for a true Torah teacher is a disciple of these wise sages. In this spirit, the Hebrew term for a Torah scholar is “talmid chacham” – a disciple of the wise.
I consider the Children of Noah to be true friends of our people, as they both love and respect our people and our spiritual path. They also speak out strongly against all forms of anti-Semitism, and they are very concerned about the security of the State of Israel. These true friends need to be careful, however, to follow the true leaders of our people. These are the leaders who understand the following message of all the Prophets of Israel: Our security in the Promised Land depends on our loyalty to all the teachings and mitzvos of the Torah. It is the Torah which is to guide our people in all our endeavors, as in this way we will have a unified and elevated existence where all our word and deeds are serving the life-giving Divine purpose.
The Children of Noah who are concerned about the security of Israel therefore need to be wary of those within Israel who wish to be guided, even partially, by the ideology of nationalism. Some of these nationalists consider themselves to be religious, but they feel that the laws of the Torah can be changed in order to serve the nationalistic ambitions of the State. These nationalists may speak in the name of patriotism, but they forget that the true patriotism of our people is to be loyal to the following Divine mission: to become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” and thereby serve as a “light to the nations.”
I believe that the Children of Noah are serving as the vanguard of the multitudes of people who will make a pilgrimage to Zion at the dawn of the messianic age. When these pilgrims arrive in Zion, they will study those Torah teachings which will enable them to fulfill the universal spiritual path, “for from Zion will go forth Torah and the Word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3). In honor of this vanguard, I would like to review with you the following story:
On the 12th of Sivan, 5762, the Israeli magazine Mishpacha published a story about Guenther Gotschalk, a German Gentile who settled in the Land of Israel with his family over forty years ago. After much study and reflection, he and his wife decided that they could no longer remain Christians.
For example, Guenther explained that when they studied the history of Christianity, they became aware of how the Church became an enemy of Judaism, and how it spread hatred of the Jewish people. This awareness greatly contributed to their disillusionment with Christianity. As they discovered through their research, the Church taught that the Jewish people were guilty of “deicide” – the killing of the man that Christianity views as Lord and Messiah. Hatred of the Jewish people therefore became deeply imbedded in European culture.
Guenther’s view on the role of the Church is shared by Professor Harry James Cargas, a Christian historian and the author of many books, including, “A Christian Response to the Holocaust.” He tells the story of how Father Tiso, a priest who became president of Slovakia, encouraged the murder of Jews; moreover, he loaded up 20,000 Jewish men, women, and children for deportation to Auschwitz. Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl managed to escape from the train and made it to the residency of the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican’s ambassador to the Slovak republic. He pleaded with the Nuncio to pressure Father Tiso to stop the trains and thereby save the lives of thousands of little innocent children. The Nuncio replied:
“There is no such thing as an innocent Jewish child! You will all pay with your blood for the killing of our Savior!” (Cited in “Once Upon a Shtetl” by Chaim Shapiro – Mesorah Publications.)
Hatred of the Jewish people still exists in Europe, and Guenther feels that this hatred is a major reason why many Europeans tend to be anti-Israel. Guenther’s view is supported by the reports in the media about how anti-Israel rhetoric in Europe by native Europeans is often accompanied by old anti-Jewish stereotypes and libels.
After Guenther and his wife became disillusioned with Christianity, they discovered that there is a universal path within the Torah which would enable them to serve Hashem. They later decided to move to the Land of Israel, where they would continue to study and fulfill the mitzvos of this universal path.
Guenther and his wife settled on Moshav Migdal on the edge of the Sea of Kinneret, in the north of Israel. They are vegetarians – a factor which makes it easier for them to keep a strictly kosher home. As Gentiles, they are not obligated to keep kosher, but a major reason for keeping kosher, said Guenther, is because all of their five children converted to Judaism.
Some other individuals from Germany joined Guenther and his family on the Moshav, and together with Guenther and his wife, they started a project to help disabled children in Israel. A few of these volunteers from Germany had already converted to Judaism, while the others decided to remain Gentiles and to follow the Torah’s universal path; however, the children of those who remained Gentiles eventually converted to Judaism.
Since Guenther spoke so highly of Judaism, the journalist from the magazine asked him why he did not convert and become a Jew. Guenther replied:
“I felt that I need to atone for the crimes of the Holocaust as a German Gentile, although truthfully speaking, there is no real atonement for this.”
Guenther also mentioned that he was inspired by the following prophecy regarding the dawn of the messianic age:
“Thus said Hashem, God of all the hosts of creation: In those days it will happen that ten men, of all the different languages of the nations, will take hold, will take hold of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you!’ ” (Zechariah 8:23)
Have a Good and Strengthening Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen