May 18, 2024
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Jewish, Christian and Muslim Theologians Find Common Moral Ground

Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians from Melbourne, Australia, found common moral ground when publishing “An Education in a Shared Ethic,” a little-known but ground-breaking document that sets forth the common values upon which Judaism, Christianity and Islam agree. These values, part of a Divine covenant, are referred to as the Noahide Code.

Dr. Shimon Cowen, a Chabad rabbi and director of the Institute for Judaism and Civilization; Ismail Albayrak, chair of Islamic Studies and the department of Islamic-Catholic relations at Australian Catholic University; and Professor Tracey Rowland, appointed by the Pope to the International Theological Commission and a dean at the University of Melbourne, stated, “The common values making up this shared ethic are found in the Abrahamic stem of the world religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” They suggest that although western societies were founded on what has become known as the Judeo-Christian ethic, “the interaction of Islamic culture with Judeo-Christian culture, both in Australia and globally, has now made it desirable to seek a deeper common denominator, which we have here called the Abrahamic values.”

The shared values of these three Abrahamic religions are the “moral rules by which Abraham lived before these religions developed.” The authors explain that even though “these religions absorbed, elaborated and added to these stem Abrahamic values,” they continue “to acknowledge them as central… These differences—the way cultures have developed beyond this stem—do not detract from the educational template of this shared ethic and do not disturb it.” The individual religions continue to acknowledge these seven laws of Noah as the foundation upon which the religions were developed. Moreover, “at the Divine revelation at Mount Sinai, of which the Ten Commandments are the centerpiece, these pre-existing moral laws were reiterated by Moses. Judaism, Christianity and Islam acknowledge Moses as a genuine transmitter of these values to their own prophetic traditions.”

A Monotheistic Moral Vision

The heart of the commonality shared by the Abrahamic faiths concerns the ideal of monotheism. These faiths concur on three classical theological dimensions of monotheism and the importance of God’s relationship to the world.

The first is that creation is wholly dependent upon God. God is the world’s Creator and Sustainer.

The second is that God has revealed a moral code or compass for humanity. The norms of that Code are eternal, have been set forth in Scripture and are elaborated upon by religious tradition.

The third involves a process, guided by God. The process aims at a reconstituted creation that is brought into alignment with the Divine. Such reconstituted creation will be freed from evil and imperfection and can be accomplished through the interaction of Divine providence and ethical human conduct that is informed by Divine teaching.

To produce a civilization based on Godly values, a respect or a reverence for God is paramount. Such reverence is the principle motivator enabling people to follow the moral conduct communicated through revelation. The knowledge of the existence of Divine redemption is what in turn activates redemption into concrete moral actions and permits us to rectify our conduct in a way that is consistent with the moral code of Noah.

This universal moral code acknowledges that, in order to transcend our innate selfishness and the subjectivity of our intellects, society must be predicated upon a belief in God. If we are to follow His Commandments, we must recognize the existence of a Higher Power, one to whom we are responsible for our actions. Morality should not (and cannot) be altered to suit one’s personal whims or social convenience.

Once we understand these first two commandments of the Noahide Code—belief in One Creator (God) and respect and reverence for Him by not blaspheming His name—the three faiths agree on five other specific laws initially provided to Noah by God. They involve guarding sexual purity, establishing a system of justice to bring society’s rules into alignment with God’s moral principles, sanctifying human life, respecting the property of others and prohibiting gratuitous pain to animals, including the needless destruction of natural resources.

Cooperation Among the Abrahamic Religions

While the original 2013 report from Australia may be one of the first times in which members of all three Abrahamic religions together wrote of our shared common values, individual leaders of the three faiths have previously recognized their support for the Noahide Code.

Jews recognize they have a special obligation to spread knowledge of the Noahide laws, which were reiterated at Sinai and are elaborated in the tradition of commentary that comes down from Sinai. Maimonides (1138-1204) stated that Moses was instructed by God to charge the Jewish people with the task of communicating to “all of the inhabitants of the world” the universal commandments given to the children of Noah and to bring about their observance.

Throughout history, circumstances often prevented Jews from sharing the Noahide laws. In the early 1980s, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson began advocating a revival of this lost tradition. The Rebbe urged Jews to inform non-Jews about the Noahide Code of Conduct. He said that, “every Jew has the obligation to encourage all the peoples of the world to observe the Seven Noahide Laws. An integral component of the Jew’s task is to see to it that all peoples, not just Jews, acknowledge God as Creator and ruler of the world… The religious tolerance of today, and the trend towards greater freedom, gives us the unique opportunity to enhance widespread observance of these laws.” A group of Modern Orthodox rabbis more recently affirmed “the fundamental ethical obligations that all people have before God [as] … taught through the universal Noahide covenant.”

Our tradition is clear: Jews are mandated not to proselytize religious conversion to Judaism but simply to make known to all of humanity the laws that we are all commanded to follow. The Noahide Laws are not co-extensive with all the commandments given to the Jewish people. Rather, they are the common-denominator values that all human beings—including Jews, Christians and Muslims—are obligated to preserve. Because a life of atheism can be more dangerous to society than believing in the Divine, regardless of one’s particular faith, Rabbi Schneerson opined that it was generally preferable that “non-Jewish children are educated in their [faith-based] schools rather than in public schools.”

Most Christian believers today see these Seven Noahide Laws as compatible with the main ethical tenets of their faith and advocate adhering to its Code of Conduct. Indeed, early Christian references to the Noahide Laws as a Code of Conduct can be found in the first century when Paul agreed to admit gentiles into the Christian Church only after they accepted the substance of these principles.

A Bilateral Commission 2007 meeting in Jerusalem between a Vatican delegation and Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen contained an agreement recognizing the Noahide Covenant as a universal moral code that is incumbent upon all humanity. The Bilateral Commission affirmed that “This idea is reflected in Christian Scripture in the Book of Acts 15:28-29.” The New Testament incorporated the universal values of the Noahide Laws.

Because Noah is recognized as a prophet in the Koran, several Muslim leaders expressed support for and compliance with the Seven Noahide Laws. For example, the Arab mayors of Shefa-Amar and Abu Gosh signed a 2004 Declaration committing to establish a more humane world by adopting the values of the Seven Noahide Laws. The spiritual leader of the Israeli Druze community, Sheikh Mowafak Tarif, likewise recognized these seven principles as fundamental values of society and called upon non-Jews living in Israel to observe the Noahide laws. Moroccan King Mohammed VI expressed the view that these values truly unite civilizations. And Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi from Italy unequivocally declared, “Islamic law holds within it the seven laws of Noah and can be taught correctly to the Muslims of the world.” It is hoped that acceptance of these common moral values can end the centuries-old animosity between Muslims and Jews and Christians.

It is encouraging that some Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders in Australia sought to find common ground and worked together to promote the flourishing of humanity through educating about a shared ethic: the Noahide Code that provides the foundational premises of the three Abrahamic faiths.

Religious leaders of other western societies should follow the Australians’ example and educate their citizenry about the shared universal moral and ethical values of the Noahide Code. By doing so, we may have a chance to reverse the widespread acceptance of a worldview that is fundamentally atheistic, materialistic and geared to a pleasure and pain calculus alone.

Our religious institutions must avoid parochialism and stand up for the traditional values promulgated by God to Noah after the Biblical flood. Spreading this ethical tradition not only enhances the spiritual good but also verifies the resonance of this common ethical quest.

By Arthur Goldberg

Arthur Goldberg is co-director of the Jewish Institute for Global Awareness ( and can be reached at [email protected].

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