Amy Boiles lives in Denver City, Texas, a town of some 4,000 residents, situated near the New Mexico state line. Boiles, like the others in Denver City, was a practicing Christian — until about a year ago, when, as she puts it, she could no longer “pretend that the New Testament is true.”
Through a high school friend, Boiles began learning about an alternate way for gentiles to serve G-d. And with the help of Michael Schulman, a Lubavitch physicist in Pittsburgh, she found spiritual guidance, as well as a community.
Boiles is a Noahide, a gentile who follows the seven commandments that G-d gave to Noah and his children after the flood to ensure order in the world. The laws prohibit (1) idolatry, (2) blasphemy, (3) homicide, (4) forbidden sexual relations, (5) robbery, and (6) eating meat taken from a live animal (cruelty to animals) and require (7) establishment of courts of justice.
“There are two paths to serve G-d and to have a reward in the world to come,” Schulman said, “that of the Jew, and that of the non-Jew. The Noahide has seven commandments given as part of the Torah. If a gentile accepts these seven commandments, the person recognizes that these are coming from G-d, so that’s his path.”
Schulman has been running a Noahide outreach organization, Ask Noah International (ANI), since 1999. Although he was employed as a senior research engineer from 1988 through 2006, he no longer works as a physicist, and is devoted full time to Ask Noah.
The organization, founded by Chaim Reisner, also of Pittsburgh, boasts an extensive website (asknoah.org), with educational and outreach materials and essays, and fields the questions of those interested in the Noahide laws. Schulman and Reisner also work to connect Noahides with each other, helping them find community.
Boiles was attracted to the Noahide commandments after being inspired from a verse in Genesis where G-d tells Cain he will be forgiven if he improves himself.
“This was contrary to Christianity,” Boiles said, “In Christianity, you can only be forgiven through a blood sacrifice — through Jesus Christ. I didn’t know there was another option. I didn’t know that under the umbrella of Judaism there is a place for non-Jews.”
“G-d doesn’t require man to go through Jesus. You can go straight to G-d. That’s liberating for me,” she said.
At age 61, Larry Telencio, of Naples, Fla., having rejected his Christian background, was searching for meaning. He found ANI on the Internet and now studies the universal laws, as well as Torah, although “not too deeply. Deep delving into the Torah is forbidden to a gentile,” he said.
“The Noahide path was basically all the things I believed in,” Telencio said. “I believe in one G-d, and Hashem is the only G-d.”
While the Lubavitch are known for their efforts of outreach to other Jews, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, saw a mandate to reach out to gentiles as well, Schulman said.
Although the sages of the Talmud understood the importance of spreading the word of G-d to gentiles, that duty was suppressed for centuries in favor of “self-preservation,” Schulman said, after the Jews’ exile following the destruction of the temples. About 30 years ago, Jews began to resume the mission of educating non-Jews.
“In the 1980s, the Rebbe said the time has come, and societies are open enough. Jewish people have success in the world. There is a new obligation to pick it up again,” Schulman said.
The Lubavitch decided to take up the cause to ensure the Noahide laws were conveyed to non-Jews in accordance with the Torah.
“There were others outside Lubavitch that took this up more quickly than Lubavitch groups,” Schulman said. “They were spreading the seven commandments, but in some cases, they were not properly educated. In some other cases, they had their own agendas. There needed to be a dedicated Torah-based organization that has oversight to take up this message.”
Schulman became involved with spreading the word of the Noahide laws when Reisner sought some help with his fledgling website.
“I became the webmaster,” Schulman said, “and from there, I started seeing how much this was needed. I saw the [Noahide] movement was going offtrack, and saw that it needed to go on the path of a Torah teacher.”
The movement is growing, according to Schulman, and is becoming more widely accepted, although there is a notable lack of Noahide communities in the United States, and Noahides here must go to the Internet to find other Noahides with whom to connect.
Noahides in other countries, such as the Philippines, the United Kingdom and Kenya, have had more success in building Noahide communities, Schulman said. While the Philippine and Kenyan communities do not yet have local rabbis, the Noahide community organization in the United Kingdom is led by Rabbi Yitzchok Sufrin in London.
Schulman has developed a set of courses on Noahide principles of the commandments and faith, and, more recently, has been putting together appropriate prayer services to help these communities.
He is also helping to edit a comprehensive codification of the commandments.
“The Rebbe wanted a codification of the Noahide commandments, like the Code of Jewish Law,” Schulman said. “The Rebbe said there should be one for the Noahide communities.”
Codification of the Noahide laws has become one of Schulman and Reisner’s “major goals,” Schulman said, and they recruited Torah scholar Rabbi Moshe Weiner to take on the project. While Weiner thought he would be able to complete the project in a year, it has taken four years to cover just the first six of the seven commandments. In 2007, ANI published volume one, covering the first three commandments, and the principles of faith, and in 2008, the second volume, covering the second three commandments, was published.
While some Noahides do aspire to convert, most are content living as non-Jews, following the Noahide laws.
“It is not a goal at all to encourage conversion,” Schulman said, “although some do decide to go down that road. Most people just want to connect with the truth.”
Both Telencio and Boiles appreciate Schulman’s help in connecting them with a virtual Noahide community.
“There are no other Noahides in Naples,” Telencio said. “Most of my contacts are through the Internet.”
And community, wherever one finds it, is important, especially after leaving behind the religion in which one is raised.
“When you leave Christianity and the church, you lose community,” Boiles said. “And my family has been a problem. But I had to do it. Now I see that my job is to align myself with Jews, and that we have a collective mission.
“I’m very magnetically drawn to Judaism. Part of me yearns for conversion, but I take this very seriously. Right now my path is as a righteous gentile, and to serve Hashem.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)