And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you. – Genesis 9:8-9
Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come.—Sanhedrin 105a
One of my regular readers is an LDS Swedish theologian who is doing her best to counter anti-Semitic and anti-Mormon bloggers in her über-secular country. This week she posed a question that would be a great topic for a book: Do rabbis believe that Mormons are Noahides? Rabbis who understand our beliefs would undoubtedly apply that label to observant Mormons and other practicing Christians. However, there are good reasons for Mormons themselves to reject it.
Rabbinic Judaism divides the world’s moral people into two groups: Jews who observe the laws of the Torah, and Gentile Noahides who observe the Seven Laws of Noah. Jews believe that these laws were given to all mankind through our non-Jewish common ancestors Adam and Eve (Talmudic interpretation of Genesis 2:16) and Noah (9th chapter of Genesis). According to Jewish teachings, only Jews are required to observe the Torah’s 613 commandments, which include the Ten Commandments and the Noahide laws, while non-Jews who keep the Noahide laws are considered to be “righteous Gentiles” who will be rewarded in the world to come.
Mormons certainly have no theological objection to any of the Noahide laws. We are firmly opposed to idolatry, murder, theft, sexual immorality, and blasphemy. While our scriptures do not contain a specific prohibition against eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive, I doubt very much that many Mormons are guilty of doing so. Moreover, the Word of Wisdom (our health and dietary code) commands Latter-day Saints to use meat sparingly and only in times of winter, cold, or famine. Mormons have always established legal courts in their communities and believe in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the laws of the land. In spite of our scriptures’ lack of an affirmative commandment to avoid eating meat cut from a living animal, I’m pretty sure that Mormons would get a passing mark on any objective Noahide assessment. When Mormons are asked by Jews whether they are Noahides, they almost always answer yes.
When asked, I always tell rabbis that I consider myself to be an Israelite, so I can’t be a Noahide. Faithful Mormons are given special blessings (patriarchal blessings) that declare in which Israelite tribe they will receive their spiritual inheritance. The tribe may or may not correspond to their blood lineage, but the tribal designation is very real to Mormons, who strongly believe that they are Latter-day Israelites. My patriarchal blessing goes one step further by informing me that I am a direct descendant of Ephraim, the son of Joseph. If Israelite descendants of Ephraim could somehow be found and identified by rabbis today, would they be expected to observe the Seven Laws of Noah or the laws of the Torah? My guess is the latter. The Hebrew Bible clearly teaches that all of the Children of Israel, not just the Jews, received the Torah at Sinai. The 10 Lost Tribes disappeared from history about 600 years after Moses, but while the Israelites wandered through the desert and lived in the Land of Israel, they all had the same responsibility to observe the Law of Moses. For this reason, I believe that a Mormon who claims to be a Noahide—outside the covenants of Abraham and Moses—is implicitly denying his Israelite identity.
Regular readers know that one of my goals is to seek common ground and promote understanding between Mormons and Jews. On one level, it’s great for Jews to consider their LDS friends as “righteous Gentiles” who live moral lives worthy of respect (and vice versa, of course). However, they should know that by doing so they are exempting Mormons from the religious obligations expected of members of the House of Israel, which is impossible to square with our theology. I wish I had a quick and easy answer for my Swedish friend, but on this important issue I think clarity is even more important than agreement.