Noahide Laws for the Entire World

  from a Prison Chaplain

by Rabbi Binyomin Scheiman

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By the grace of G-d 
Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Binyomin Scheiman 
Similarly Moses, our Teacher and Rabbi, was commanded by G-d to encourage all on Earth to accept the Seven Commandments that were commanded to Noah and his descendants . . . as written in the Torah and made known to us by Moses . . .

—  Maimonides Code Laws of Kings  
and Their Wars, Chapter 8, laws 10 & 11  

In 1987 the Lubavitcher Rebbe * again vigorously reminded the Jewish people of its responsibility to educate the non-Jewish world as to their obligation to observe the Seven Noahide * Laws. The Rebbe emphasized that one should use any opportunity to speak about these universal laws when, due to Divine Providence, one meets a non-Jew. Obviously in times past, this was not available to Jews living in violent regimes, but now that, thank G-d, Jews live in predominately tolerant countries we can once again fulfill this obligation. The Rebbe further emphasized that Maimonides placed this obligation just before the two chapters on the laws of the Messiah, to show that one is a consequence of the fulfillment of the other.

As a prison chaplain I meet many goyim * [Gentiles], an unusual situation for a rabbi. I therefore took this directive very personally and resolved to help the non-Jewish prisoners that I often meet in this manner.

Prisoners register their religion

Many non-Jewish prisoners mistakenly register as Jewish. Often their father was Jewish

— but not their mother

— or they have some Jewish relatives or they are Black Hebrews, or simply come to my visits to get the latkes * or at least to have some visitor (or maybe it's my dynamic personality – nah!). In the past I cordially explained to them that I was there for the Jewish inmates only, but now I realize what a golden opportunity I had wasted.

A missed opportunity

In 1983 I received a call from a family in Arizona. They had recently moved there from Chicago but had left their son back in Illinois. He had gotten himself in some trouble and was sent to the Joliet Correctional Center (approximately 40 miles southwest of Chicago). They asked me to visit him.

When I arrived, the guard escorted me to a rather large hall. I asked if this was the right room; after all, I was only coming to see one inmate. He assured me that this was the room for "the service." More than a few minutes passed and I was starting to feel a little nervous. I was in a prison after all, when I suddenly heard the footsteps of what seemed like more than one Jewish kid. I looked up to see a hundred inmates clutching Bibles on their way to the hall. I quickly realized that they were expecting a different kind of service than I provided. So I informed the guard of the mistake, and he returned the inmates to their cells. After the Rebbe reminded the Jewish people of our obligation to the entire world, I realized that I had missed a great chance to spread the word. From then on, I resolved to use every future opportunity to teach non-Jews about the Noahide Laws.

Conversion to Judaism is not an option

In past articles I have told you about inmates who have come to my visits thinking that they are Jewish when they really aren't. [Their mothers weren't Jewish.] Obviously prison is not a place for conversion; Jews themselves have many difficulties in keeping mitzvahs * [commandments]. I explain to inmates requesting information about conversion that they are no worse being non-Jews. They can still be close to G-d. The Noahide Commandments are their venue.

Many complex sha'alos * [religious questions] have been raised about what is permissible for Gentiles to study in the Torah and which mitzvahs or customs they can perform. Orthodox Rabbis have advised me that inmates who genuinely want to convert to Judaism can only do so after their release. Obviously, imprisonment is not a situation for one to make such a monumental decision. Incidentally, not one of these potential converts has followed through with conversion after release.

A success story

In 1992 I was introduced to Aron S., an African-American inmate at the Centralia Correctional Center. He was serving the last five years of a 20-year sentence. Aron is a poster boy for rehabilitation. He had done it all. Violent crimes, drugs, alcohol abuse, you name it. In prison he changed his life. A self-starter, he got clean and educated himself. He then turned his attention to spirituality. He read about eastern religions, the occult, and finally about the Kabbala.*

He finally found his way to my visit list. We talked about Hasidism and he was hooked. He respected the limitations of the mitzvahs that he could observe, and he appreciated being a ben-Noach * [Noahide person].

In the last year of his sentence, he was transferred to the Robinson Correctional Center, a minimum-security prison that emphasizes programs aimed at reintegrating inmates into society. The warden was so struck by Aron's genuine change of life and his charisma that he decided to use Aron as a role model for other inmates. Aron was immediately inducted into the "turn around" program, a prisoner to prisoner counseling society. He was also urged to join the Toastmasters — an inmate motivational speakers bureau. Aron was tagged to speak to inmates awaiting their release.

At each of these opportunities, Aron emphasized that the only way to stay out once out was through observing the Seven Noahide Commandments!

The Rebbe's wisdom has affected more than just the prisoners themselves but all of society by preventing many of them from returning to their life of crime.

Aron was released in the spring of '98, and we are still in touch.

  This article originally appeared in The Jewish Press of Friday, October 30, 1998.

Contents of This Page

About the Rabbi ~ To Contact the Rabbi
The Jewish Press ~ Glossary and Pronunciation

The Rabbi

Binyomin Scheiman spends most of his week as spiritual leader of Jewish Prisoners Assistance Foundation serving clients and families throughout the state of Illinois. He is also a chaplain for the Illinois State Police. For the Sabbath, he serves as co-rabbi of the Lubavitch-Chabad and Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe Synagogue of Niles (Illinois). Since June '98, he has written a weekly column for The Jewish Press. During the summer, Rabbi Scheiman has directed Gan Israel Camp for children. One of his sons now runs the camp. Rabbi Scheiman is an ordained rabbi, having received his ordination at the Central Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Brooklyn, New York.

Rabbi Scheiman lives in Des Plaines, Illinois, where he raised his family with his late wife.  They have been in service to Jewish communities in the Chicago area and the state of Illinois since 1980.

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Contact

JPAF
Jewish Prisoners Assistance Foundation

9401 Margail
Des Plaines, IL  60016  USA

Under the auspices of Lubavitch-Chabad of Illinois

Cell number to contact Rabbi Binyomin Scheiman: 1 847-334-1770
Telephone: 1 847-296-1770
Fax: 1 847-296-1823

E-mail: chabad@chabadandfree.com
Website: www.chabadandfree.com

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The Publisher

The Jewish Press
America's Largest Independent Anglo-Jewish Weekly Newspaper
338 Third Avenue
Brooklyn, New York  11215-1897  USA
Toll-free telephone out of New York State:
1 800-992-1600
(Tel: 1 718-330-1100)
Fax: 1 718-330-1110

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Glossary and Pronunciation:

Lubavitcher - loo BAH vitch er

Rebbe - REH bee, REH beh

Noahide - NOH uh hide
another spelling:  Noachide - NOH uh kide

goyim - GOY im (Hebrew)

latkes - LAHT kess, LAHT kuz;  Yiddish for potato pancakes

mitzvahs - MITS vuz;  in spoken English this is the plural of the Hebrew word mitzvah

sha'alos - SHY luz;  in spoken English this is the plural of the Hebrew word sha'ala

Kabbala - kah BUH luh

ben-Noach - BEN NOH akh (Hebrew)

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