QUESTION: I’ve always thought that the observance of a Sabbath day was given in the Garden of Eden, and it is incumbent upon all mankind to keep it and that the commandment to “remember the Sabbath” refers to this earlier time. But is it true that the Torah Law actually says that all Gentiles, including Noahides, are not commanded or obligated at all to observe the Sabbath?
ANSWER: To clarify this, let’s first review the Biblical history. At the onset of the Seventh Day of the first week (sundown on Friday of the Seven Days of Creation), God abstained [yishbot in Hebrew] from His “work” of creation. However, Adam and Hava (Eve) did not receive any commandments regarding a Sabbath observance. In fact, in Genesis 1:28, God told them that they and their descendants should focus their attention on their Divine mission to “subdue” the earth, which involves engaging in daily activities which leave an impression of human mastery and creativity in the world.
After the Flood, when the righteous man Noah (a “tzaddik”) and his family left the ark, God told them (Genesis 8:22) “As long as the earth lasts… day and night shall not cease [lo yishbotu in Hebrew].” This statement has an alternative traditional reading, “you shall not make a Sabbath,” as stated in the Talmud. According to Torah Law, this is an injunction that a Sabbath of deliberative abstention from creative activity shall not be observed by any of the Gentiles descended from Noah.
(Although the text of the Talmud we have as it was printed in Europe seemingly refers this to “idolaters” instead of all Gentiles, including pious Noahides, the original text preserved in the book “Chisronos Ha’Shas” (“Deletions from the Talmud“) makes it clear that pious Noahides are also included. Shortly after the printing press was invented, that and other similar textual changes were forced upon the printers after the original printing of the Talmud was confiscated and censored by the officials, who did not consider themselves to be idolaters.
**Although it says in Genesis 2:1-3 that God designated the Seventh Day as holy and sanctified, don’t forget the basic principle that God did not limit Torah to always be a *chronological* account of events. In fact, God first dictated the book of Genesis to Moses shortly after the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai. The first time there was any commandment about a special observance of a “Sabbath” was 4 weeks after the Israelites miraculously passed through the Sea of Reeds on dry land. When they ran out of the matzah they took out of Egypt, God provided them with mannah as food from Heaven. But no mannah fell on the Seventh Day. God instead provided a miraculous double portion on Friday afternoon, and He commanded the Israelites to remain in their camp on the Seventh Day. Moses explained to them that they were, from that time on, uniquely commanded to observe the Seventh Day as a day of rest and a holy Sabbath (Exodus 16:23). Thus, at the first mention of the Seventh Day in the text of Genesis, as it was dictated at Mount Sinai, God told Moses to insert the information that He had (2 weeks earlier) blessed the Seventh Day (referring to the double portion of mannah that fell on Friday afternoon for the Israelites), and He made it “holy” (kadosh = “separated”) when He prohibited the Israelites from leaving their camp on that day.
This is the subject of Rashi’s explanation of Genesis 2:3: “And [God] blessed the seventh day and He hallowed it…” [Rashi explains]: “He blessed it with manna, for on all the days of the week, it descended for them [in the amount of] an omer per person, whereas on the sixth day,[each one received] a double portion. And He hallowed it with manna, that it did not descend at all on the Sabbath. This verse is written with reference to the future.” — [from Midrash Genesis Rabbah 11:2]
A few days later, the Israelites were told directly by God at Mount Sinai to keep a holy day of restraint on the Seventh Day as one of the “Ten Commandments” (Exodus 20:8-11), which began with the limiting statement: “I am The Lord your God, Who took you out of the Land of Egypt, from the house of slaves.” The “you” here obviously applies to the Jewish people, so they are the “you” to whom that entire set of ten commandments was addressed. When the “Ten Commandments” were repeated by Moses in Deuteronomy, it was made even more explicit that the commandment of Sabbath observance on the Seventh Day of the week was addressed to the Jewish people who had been slaves in Egypt: “Guard the Sabbath Day to “sanctify” [= separate] it, as The Lord, your God, commanded you. … And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt …” (Deut. 5:12-15). (This Jewish commandment also serves, from that time on, as God’s testimony to the rest of the nations that God created the spiritual and physical realms in seven days).
After the Ten Commandments were given, Moses spent many weeks in Heaven learning the Oral Torah from God. He was told that the restraint God commanded for their Sabbath was to refrain from activities of “melakha,” which is loosely and inaccurately translated into English as “work.” The true definition of “melakha” can be learned from the verses Exodus 35:1-19. Here the Jews were commanded to make the Tabernacle in the desert, with all its vessels and priestly garments, as a temple for God’s Divine Presence. But at the outset, they were commanded that they must only work on constructing the Tabernacle during the first six days of the week. For the Seventh Day, their Sabbath, they were told to refrain from the specific creative activities required for building the Tabernacle and the articles associated with it. The Oral Torah explains that these amount to a total of 39 specific creative activities. (The Sages throughout the generations added some additional restrictions to keep a Jew from even coming close to performing one of these 39 forbidden actions.) If an emergency occurs on the Sabbath, God forbid, a forbidden “melakha” is allowed to be done if necessary for the preservation of life. Here are JUST A FEW examples of the Jewish Sabbath restrictions :
- A Jew must not light, increase, decrease or put out even the smallest “fire” on the Sabbath. On a simple level, electricity is included in the Torah’s definition of fire because electric current heats and cures the conductive metal it moves through. Maimonides stated the rule that the heat within a heated piece of metal is considered to be fire from the standpoint of Sabbath observance, and this includes adjusting or switching electric circuits (although Jews may set timers before the Sabbath to switch circuits automatically). Obviously, driving a motor vehicle is forbidden since this switches electricity and burns fuel.
- A Jew must not carry any object in the public domain on the Sabbath. So even though he may carry heavy furniture indoors to the point of exhaustion if needed on the Sabbath, he must not walk out of a private domain with so much as a tissue in his pocket.
- A Jew must not cook food on the Sabbath, so food must be pre-cooked before the start of the Sabbath (before sundown on Friday). Heating water is included, so no hot water can be used from the tap unless the water heater is turned off before sundown.
- Other actions forbidden to Jews on the Sabbath include: wringing out a wet cloth, dyeing, sewing, writing, erasing, tying a permanent knot, hammering, harvesting or pruning, buying or selling, and making a vessel (for example, by making an opening in a sealed metal can).
Note: For Gentiles, there is no problem with simply acknowledging the special quality which G-d assigns to the Seventh Day. And there is no problem for them to do any normal activity in a nicer way, and having in mind to honor the Seventh Day by doing so. Here are a few examples:
- just resting for the sake of one’s own physical rest and relaxation, or taking a day off from one’s job if permitted by the employer, or vacationing
- [as stated by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet o.b.m.] eating a very nice meal after sunset on Friday and/or during the day on Saturday (which can include lighting candles on the table during either of those times to beautify the meal)
- wearing nicer clothes
[To further emphasize the specialty that God places on the seventh in a sequence that relates to the Jews, note the following: (a) Jews are also commanded by God to keep a SABBATICAL YEAR once every seven years, in which plowing, sowing, and reaping are forbidden on their property in the Holy Land of Israel for the entire year, and all personal loans between Jews are cancelled. (b) The seventh month of the Jewish calendar is the most holy, with the observances of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah. (c) Moses received the Torah because he was the leader in the seventh generation from Abraham. (d) David was chosen to start the eternal patrilineal Jewish royal dynasty that will produce the Messiah because he was the leader of the seventh generation from Moses. (e) The Messianic Era will be established speedily and in our days, but no later than the start of the seventh millennium from Creation (in the year 2239 of the Common Era).]
To learn about pre-Sinai recognitions of the Seventh Day, one must turn to the Midrash, which gives the following information:
Although Adam and Hava (Eve) erred on Friday afternoon, they were allowed to enjoy the original Godly Light of Creation throughout the Seventh Day. In praise of this kindness from God, Adam composed Psalm 92, which was passed down through the generations to Moses, who recorded it (and all the Psalms 90-100).
Abraham (who was the first Jew spiritually, but still a Noahide under Torah Law), prophetically knew of all the rules that would be given to the Jewish people in the future in the Written Torah and Oral Torah, as well as the future Rabbinical injunctions. On this basis, only he and his immediate family, as the precursors of the Jewish people, observed these on some level, either in practical physical terms or on a more abstract spiritual basis. So he did observe some aspects of the future Jewish Sabbath and Festivals, which he passed down to Isaac and Jacob and their wives. However, since they still had the legal status of Children of Noah, they specifically did not keep a Sabbath 100% as the Jewish people would after the revelation at Mt. Sinai (as explained in the commentary of Nachmanides).
Moses, as an adopted prince in the family of Pharoah, knew about the traditions of Abraham. Based on that, he convinced Pharoah that logically the Hebrew slaves would work more efficiently if they were given one day of the week to rest (as a practical matter, and not as a religious sanctification). Moses then arranged for it to be given on the Seventh Day.
QUESTION : Can a Noahide pursue his regular course of employment on a Saturday?
ANSWER: Yes. All weekday activities are permitted to a Noahide on Saturday, whether for business or recreation. If your employer is flexible and will allow you to take some or all Saturdays as one of your weekly days off, that is fine. But as a Gentile, you should not tell your employer that you are requesting Saturday off as a religious obligation (and anyway that should not be your intent).
QUESTION: Is it permissible for a Noahide to purchase items (spend money) and travel on the Sabbath?
ANSWER: Yes. All activities that are permissible on weekdays can be done by Noahides on the Sabbath.
QUESTION: I’ve been told that a Noahide must “mark” the Sabbath in some way. Could you give me examples of ways to mark Sabbath in the manner of a Noahide?
ANSWER: A Noahide is allowed, but not required or obligated, to mark the significance of the Seventh Day in some ways. But there must not be a belief or conviction that he or she has – or is allowed to take on as a Gentile – any religious obligation to abstain from productive activity on the Seventh Day, or on any other day. (Although indeed, there must be an intellectual recognition that G-d assigns a special quality to the Seventh Day since that is part of the Torah of Truth).
Here are some suggestions for good ways that a Noahide may mark the Seventh Day if he or she so desires (all expressly without a vow):
- Put in some extra or more quality time in learning appropriate Torah subjects, being sure to obtain translations from an observant Jewish publishing company. Suggestions for books to learn from: the Hebrew Bible (Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Holy Writings); a book which teaches about proper observance of the Noahide Code; and works of Chassidic teachings from our list of recommended books. One may also read Torah-based perspectives and insights on subjects of nature and science, with the object of increasing his or her appreciation of the greatness and the miracles of God’s creation (but don’t waste your time on modern myths such as evolution).
- Put in some extra or more quality time for your prayers. (Note: Psalm 92 is specifically for the Seventh Day, and Psalms from chapters 120-150 are specially designated as appropriate to say on that day as well.)
- One may spend extra quality time with one’s family, strengthening the bonds of love and strengthening the family’s understanding of and commitment to the Torah-true Noahide values. (Note: “quality” time on any day presupposes that the TV will be off! Ask Noah supports the movement for TV-free homes.)
- A candle may be lit on the dinner table to beautify the Friday evening meal.
QUESTION: The fourth commandment of the 10 Commandments for the Jews says the seventh day is the Sabbath. How do the Jews know the Sabbath is on Saturday?
ANSWER: There are several answers to this question. Here we will just give two straightforward answers:
(1a) After the Jewish people left Egypt in the Exodus, they had to travel in the wilderness for 40 years before God allowed them to enter and take possession of the Land of Israel. During those 40 years, they were sustained by the mannah that fell from Heaven on every day of the week EXCEPT for their Sabbath day (Saturday). Since the Jews had to observe their Sabbath restrictions every Saturday, a double portion of mannah was miraculously provided every Friday, and none fell on Saturday. So the entire nation (several millions of people) knew exactly which day was the Saturday Sabbath, as established by this ongoing miracle from God, Also, the Oral Torah relates that the 10 Commandments were spoken by God to the entire nation on a Saturday morning. This was incorporated into the Hebrew calendar. Many centuries later, the leaders of the Roman empire imported the Jewish seven-day week into their calendar.
(1b) [A continuation of (1a)] Part of the Jewish observance of the Sabbath is that one of the daily morning prayers is to count the number of days until the next Sabbath. On Sunday one says, “Today is the first day to the Sabbath,” and so on, until Friday when one says, “Today is the sixth day to the Sabbath.” (In Hebrew, the first six days of the week do not have names, only numbers – “First Day,” “Second Day,” etc.) So from the time that the mannah stopped approximately 3300 years ago, the Jews have been counting the days of the week. Even if a few individuals or an entire community might have lost count at some point, there were always millions of Jews who were faithfully keeping an accurate count. This count of the seven days of the week was incorporated into the Jewish calendar and from there into the Roman calendar.
(2) Among the Jewish people, there have always been special righteous individuals in every generation who were blessed with prophetic insight and enhanced spiritual vision. Although the spiritual light of the Sabbath is not consciously perceived by most of us, it shines openly in the Heavenly realms. These prophetic individuals know precisely the moment when the Sabbath arrives when they see this spiritual light beginning to shine. Here is an occurrence that illustrates this point (as published in “L’Chaim,” no. 316, 6 May ’94):
When the Rizhiner Rebbe was a small child he was learning a tractate of Mishna with his teacher. The teacher explained that the subject matter dealt with a situation when, for some reason, a person forgets when Shabbat is.
“But how can a person possibly forget?” asked the boy, totally amazed at the idea.
The teacher began to detail some possible reasons: “A person might have gotten lost in a desert or forest and lost all track of the time,” he explained.
But his pupil would have none of it. “It’s absolutely impossible to forget,” he protested.
It didn’t matter how many examples the teacher provided; the boy stubbornly reiterated his protest that it was an impossibility.
Finally, the teacher asked him, “Why is it that you find this idea so hard to accept?”
“It’s very simple. On Shabbat the sky looks different than it does the whole week, so if a person isn’t sure what day it is, all he has to do is to look up at the sky, and he will know at once if it is Shabbat or not.”
QUESTION: Since God created the Sabbath just shortly after He created Adam, why wasn’t the 4th of the 10 Commandments for the Jews (the Sabbath) included in the 7 Commandments?
ANSWER: Please see the explanation at the top of this page.
Here is another question along the same lines: God created the kosher and non-kosher animals even before He created Adam and Hava (Eve). The distinction between these was known to mankind from the outset, as we see that Noah was told by G-d to take extra numbers of kosher animals onto the ark. When he left the ark, Noah used some of these kosher animals as sacrificial offerings to God. But God did not give any commandment to eat only kosher animals until the Jews were encamped at Mt. Sinai, and He gave it to them then. Why?
The general answer is that God assigned the Jewish people to connect to a deeper dimension of creation, within the same physical world as the Gentiles. This did not change the important mission which He assigned to Gentiles, which is to conform the seven emotional dimensions of their being to the requirements of seven foundational Divine commandments.
It is critical for Gentiles to recognize their 7 specific commandments, given through Noah and then through Moses at Mount Sinai, as their main obligation to God, and not 8 or just 6 (as pointed out above, that the number 7 is beloved by God). Consider: the other 6 days of the week are also holy (to a lesser degree) for Jews. On the 6 weekdays, observant Jews connect to God through their obligatory prayers, Torah study, and other commandments. Gentiles can also elevate themselves every day by observing and learning about their 7 commandments, praying, saying blessings to God before and after eating, doing acts of goodness and kindness, and observing their logical moral obligations (many of which have corresponding Jewish commandments, such as honoring parents and giving proper charity). That’s the perfect system that God, in His infinite wisdom, established for all mankind.
By Rabbi Dr. Michael Schulman (original text posted and copyrighted © by Asknoah.org)