Prayer, How Should Noahides Pray?
First Covenant Religion
by Michael Dallen
Prayer and Freedom to Worship
This crucially important subject needs an extensive work-up — a set of books unto itself. In the meantime, let us at least consider the following:
One of the hallmarks of the Universal Torah is the tremendous freedom it grants b'nai Noah (all humanity, in this context, excepting only b'nai Israel) in the matter of worship.
We know this from the Torah: God desires mankind's worship, the adoration and devotion of each of us, directed to Him alone. He expects us to reach out to Him in prayer. Further, as recent scientific studies suggest, He created human beings not just with the ability but with some level of innate desire — a desire which, whether one is already conscious of it or not, can and should be cultivated by practice — to reach out to Him in prayer. In all of this, He grants b'nai noah liberty to determine how to worship Him.
Students of the Universal Law often cite the proposition that people should never try to originate a new religion based solely upon their own decisions or "create" Divine commandments for themselves. (See Maimonides, Mishneh Torah (Yad), Hilchot Melachim 10:9. See First Covenant Religion, following.) The path of godliness and the Universal Commandments lies open before all mankind. People are not to create, as an alternative, a new kind of holiness for themselves, whether "holy" days (holidays) or "holy" rites, that God has not created. To quote The Rainbow Covenant, "one cannot mix man-made religion with God-made religion in any way to please Him. Instead of a superior synthesis the result necessarily involves putting the real thing into the service of the fake." Still, He does want and expect us — all people, everywhere — to reach out to Him with prayer. He does want and expect us to serve Him, in our lives, on His holy days and otherwise.
In fact, if we don't do so, if we refuse to serve Him, if we refuse to pray to Him, we deny Him. Israel is legally commanded to serve Him and pray to Him - through the Torah, and a Jew deserves punishment from a duly constituted Torah court (none exist at present but the principle is eternal) for failing to do so. A non-Jew is not legally commanded to do so - the Universal Law that all nations must enforce is all negatives, prohibitions, rather than legally enforceable positive commands - but the moral obligation remains. To fail to worship Him is to fail to do the opposite of what the Universal Law forbids; practically, this is both blasphemous and idolatrous. This constitutes a violation of the Universal Torah which, although it isn't punishable by any human court, renders one morally guilty on an absolute level. Similarly, if we direct our prayers or service and devotion to someone or something that isn't Him, to someone or something that He created (or to some imaginary phenonomon), we are committing idolatry and sacrilege - both of which are crimes in the Universal Law.
Practically, one who doesn't serve and worship God will end up serving someone or something other than God, some other ultimate good.
People make their bellies their gods, their fine clothes their law, and their household maintenance their ethics. - R' Bachya Ibn Yosef, Duties of the Heart (c. 1161 CE) 9:2
Man must always follow either gods or God. Because man needs to devote himself to a leader, a cause, or at least some concept of ultimate good, to guide him. God created us so, for His greater glory.
Idolatry describes the act of following, with attachment and devotion, any thing, being, appetite or power instead of or in preference to the Creator, God, HaShem. Conforming to peer pressure instead of conscience - what one knows or should know to be right, joined to one's awe or fear of the All-Knowing Judge - also exemplifies idolatry. Nature abhors a vacuum, if one doesn't serve and worship God one will serve and worship something other than God. So one needs to serve and worship God.
God forbids any impure baggage — any idolatrous habits, or counter-revolutionary accutrements — at His holy service. No one should ever approach the Lord, HaShem Himself, in any way but humbly. So one should pray to Him with some self-restraint and discipline.
One should never direct one's prayers to any thing or force or being but Him. One should never pray to Him in a place of filth or bad odors, in a place closely associated with idolatry or sexual immorality. One should never pray to Him with one's genitals exposed. One should never pray to Him in circumstances where one is likely to be interrupted. One should never pray to Him where circumstances are likely to deflect one's concentration on His perfect holiness to selfish, lustful, or otherwise animalistic thoughts or concerns.
How does one pray? What should one include in one's prayers of petition, praise and gratitude — or whatever one wants to bring up with Him?
Some b'nai No'ach argue that all their prayers should be based in some way on the Hebrew siddur, the Jewish prayerbook. They feel that only the Hebrew prayers — most of which were finally fixed in their current form around 450 BCE — are sufficiently pure and holy to serve them as a model. So they take the translations that they find in siddurim, or prayerbooks, and try to turn them — prayers and songs and statements of faith, which were designed by Israel, for Israel — and try to modify them to suit their own needs.
So far, very few of the prayers to emerge from this process and be published have been impressive. The process itself seems to be flawed. It's inspired very few people. Neither is it likely to make Noahides feel more comfortable when it comes to praying along with Israel— since Israel's communal prayer services are almost invariably conducted in Hebrew (which was designed, so it seems, to be a difficult language for non Hebrew-speakers to master), while these services are also structured in such a way that non-initiates have a hard time following them.
It seems reasonable to conclude that the inaccessibility of Jewish prayer services to b'nai noah is part of God's larger plan. Also, there is another way.
One remembers that hundreds of millions of people who have called themselves Christians have been praying prayers and singing hymns for many, many centuries. A tremendous number of these prayers and hymns, even when they aren't based on the (Hebrew) Psalms, or even on the prayers in the siddur itself, are readily available and can be modified — modified, that is, to satisfy the needs of pious Noahides.
A fully observant, pious Noahide can't accept many of the elements that go into Christian prayer. That would include anything relating to the Christian Trinity concept (the idea that the God of Israel is triune), for instance. Or anything that tends to deny that life and the world are real, that His Law is real, or that He cares about how we conduct ourselves at least as much as He cares about what's in our hearts. Or anything that tends to deny that life on earth won't improve before the world ends.
A pious Noahide prays to God Himself, HaShem alone. A pure Noahide prayer reflects and fits into the three root principles of pure Hebrew monotheism: belief in God, in the Torah's divine origin, and in ultimate reward and punishment. Even better, it should reflect and fit into the thirteen core beliefs of Israel, Israel's Thirteen Principles of Faith (See Rainbow Covenant, appendix, Israel's Thirteen Principles of Faith (pp. 313-324) and Joseph Albo's three root principles (p. 328). See further: Maimonides, Introduction to the Mishnah Torah, Sanhedrin 10; and, in the Hebrew siddur, the prayers yigdal and ani ma'amin.)
Over more than three thousand years, the people of Israel have come across many different religions, including hundreds of outrageously idolatrous, blasphemous "systems of faith" full of horrible, degrading rituals and concepts. History also indicates, together with such classic Hebrew sources as, e.g., the Bible's Book of Esther, that Israel has often managed to successfully transmute such foreign, evil nonsense into purity and holiness. Modern b'nai Noah should be able to do no less — especially when today's b'nai Noah have all the advantages of modernity, including tremendous access to books and other materials in translation, not to mention tools like word processors and the Internet.
Having access to the Hebrew siddur, in translation, people should avail themselves of it. They should learn what they can of the structure of the ancient Hebrew prayers — canonized as they were by Israel's prophets themselves, Ezra, Nehemiah, and others in their generation. The siddur is a fantastic resource, deep beyond measure, rich beyond belief. But b'nai Noah also have access to a huge body of other, non-Hebrew prayers, songs, and statements of faith. People should avail themselves of that, too — to edit, adapt, and transmute it into something that is indeed pure and holy.
I encountered the following prayer, or statement of faith, recently, on the wall of a nursing home for the infirm elderly, an establishment sponsored by a Christian organization. The author was an Irish Catholic nun, the Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley (1778-1841), who founded the nursing order called the Sisters of Mercy.
She was a devout Catholic, so her theological ideas come from a very foreign religion: Christianity isn't the religion of Jesus, or Yeshu, who was said, after all, to be a devout, Torah-observant Jewish man, a follower of HaShem. Rather, it is, in large part, a religion about Jesus, a religion centered on Jesus, or at least on some concept involving Jesus, a material being, who is said to be more or less co-equal with HaShem. In other words, Catherine McAuley's concept of God, and redemption, in the following prayer — even though they are obviously mixed, to some extent, with concepts that long pre-date Jesus and go back all the way to Sinai — are extremely problematic. However, if one looks only her words, at what this prayer actually says, regardless of any of the various unvoiced ideas of its author, it's a perfectly lovely prayer. As such, why shouldn't one make use of it, in the service of the God Who made us all?
Like many statements, songs — including Christian-radio songs — and prayers — including those from the ( Christian) Book of Common Prayer, we can use it. It expresses true thoughts for us. Regardless of its provenance, it seems — to me — to be pure and holy and beautiful on its face.
My God, I am Yours for time and eternity. Teach me to cast myself entirely into the arms of Your loving
providence with the most lively, unlimited confidence in Your compassionate tender pity. Grant me,
o most merciful redeemer, that whatever You ordain or permit may be acceptable to me.
Take from my heart all painful anxiety; suffer nothing to sadden me but sin; nothing
to delight me but the hope of coming to the possession of You, my God
and my all, in Your everlasting kingdom. — Amen.
Finally, after admiring this lovely prayer, let us ask this question: what if it did need to be modified somehow? What if it contained something unholy and impure?
The answer to that is simple: the common domain is the common inheritance of humanity, it exists for free use. All these old texts lie in the public domain. Everything we speak of here, excepting things like newly copyrighted songs, lies in the public domain. One has every right to change or modify whatever lies in the common domain.
As it stands, Catherine McAuley's prayer doesn't particularly need modification. We can employ it as is, I think, in purity and holiness, to glorify and worship HaShem — the One God, the only God — alone. We can also borrow from the Hebrew prayers — many other religions, including Christianity and Islam, have done so for centuries — and learn from the Torah what is the essence of prayer.
The main point of this essay is that people need not be ashamed to borrow from non-Hebrew sources. They are actually only borrowing from themselves, from the common inheritance of our species. Further, we have every right to cleanse and purify whatever we take, to transmute it, to make the impure pure, to turn unholiness into holiness. This is the underlying dynamic of all Biblical religion anyway: to perfect the imperfect, in the service of God; to make the world holy, pursuant to His rule.
As of today, during the days of the great holiday of Sukkot (Sukkos), we are beginning something new here: an "open-source" approach to liturgy - prayer. This is an "open-source," interactive section. You should find it interesting; your contributions are invited. Click here: Prayers