Were Adam and Eve Jewish?

The reason I ask is that the Jewish calendar seems to be exclusively about Jewish history and the Jewish experience: Passover celebrates our liberation from Egypt, Shavout our receiving the Torah at Sinai, Yom Kippur is when G‑d forgave us for the sin of the Golden Calf and Sukkot recalls the divine protection during our wanderings through the desert. The list goes on: Simchat Torah, Chanukah, Purim, Lag BaOmer, Tishah B'Av—virtually all our holy days, festivals and special dates are distinctly Jewish affairs, concerned with our lives as Jews.

One very significant exception: the festival of Rosh Hashanah, which marks the birthday of the first two human beings, Adam and Eve, who walked the earth some 2,000 years before the first Jew was born and nearly 2,500 years before we were proclaimed a people at Mount Sinai.

Rosh Hashanah is clearly more than a token "Goyim Appreciation Day." But how?

And Rosh Hashanah is clearly more than a token "Goyim Appreciation Day." As its name proclaims, it's the head of the Jewish year. And as the Chassidic masters point out, the head of a thing is its primary and most encompassing component.

We Jews have a reputation for being an insular lot. We stand before G‑d as Jews, relate to each other as Jews, study, pray, and do acts of kindness as Jews, are born, marry, die and are buried as Jews. And we keep our Jewishness to ourselves: unlike most other religions and isms, we have no interest in converting non-Jews to Judaism. If people show interest, we try to talk them out of it.

So why is the very "head" of our year the one festival which relates to humanity as a whole?

Yet Judaism does have a universal message—one that is fundamental, indeed primal, to our identity as Jews. In the words of our sages, "Civility (derech eretz) comes before Torah."

Long before the Children of Israel received the Torah with its 613 mitzvot, Adam and Eve were given the fundamental laws of civilization. Later, these were reiterated to Noah and his sons and became known as the "Seven Noahide Laws." And when we stood at Sinai to receive "our" mitzvot, we were also given the job of "prevailing upon all inhabitants of the world to accept the laws commanded to the Children of Noah" (Maimonides' Mishnah Torah, Laws of Kings 7:10).

The Noahide Code is Judaism's universal message, yet it is not a "religion." The Noahide Code is not a "religion." This isn't a scaled-down Judaism for non-Jews. Rather, it's G‑d's blueprint for civilization, a seven-point foundation for the building of a just, moral and ethical society on earth. The Seven Laws include basics such as: Do not murder your fellow man. Do not steal. Be faithful to your spouse. Do not tear a limb off a living animal. Establish the legal and social institutions that will ensure a just and compassionate society.

Where it gets interesting is with the first two laws: belief in G‑d and the prohibition against blaspheme. I have a confession to make: some of my best friends are atheists. I can already hear them saying: "In my book, when you bring G‑d into the picture, that's religion, not morality or ethics. You can be a moral person also if you don't believe in and respect G‑d." But the entire point of the Noahide Code is that there's no morality without G‑d. Humanism won't cut it.

How you think of G‑d, how you communicate with G‑d, how you serve G‑d—that's between you and G‑d. That's religion. That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about the basic premise that the world has a Boss. That we are answerable to a higher authority than ourselves. That the One who created human life also set down the rules for humane living, and enforces those rules.

This—the Noachide Code insists—is the only viable basis for a civilized world.

A few short weeks ago, the awful realization hit us squarely in the face with the force of a Category Five storm: How pitifully thin the veneer of civilization is, how quickly it crumbles when its artificial supports are swept away!

This is what it takes, in this great country of ours, to stave off the law of the jungle: policemen to watch what we're doing, and policemen's police to make sure the policemen show up for work in the morning. Oh, and a few more important things: electric lights so that the policemen can see us, and passable roads so that they can cart us off to jail.

Turn off the lights, flood the roads and disable the punch clocks in the police stations, and five thousand years of civilization evaporate in an hour. The strong prey on the weak, pillaging and raping simply because they can.

I have another confession: some of my best friends are cultural snobs. I hear them saying: "You say that civilization broke down? You call those people civilized? Do they attend the opera on Wednesday nights? Have they read Voltaire? Do they gather in each other's homes in the evenings to discuss the great moral philosophers of the Rationalist and Humanist schools? These are people who have lived in poverty and depravity all their lives. Nothing really changed. It's just that before the hurricane, the crime and squalor in their ghettos followed certain known patterns and were nicely contained by police reports and government statistics. What shocked you was just more of the same, without the usual frames of reference. That's all..."

Turn off the lights, flood the roads and disable the punch clocks in the police stations, and five thousand years of civilization evaporate in an hour. Ok. So let's look back not three weeks but a hundred years. Question: What country had more moral philosophers per square kilometer than any other before or since? Answer: A large Western European country, begins with the letter G. Question: What country orchestrated, but a generation later, a highly efficient operation, aided by sophisticated technologies and accompanied by strains of Wagner, which was also the most horrendous acts of torture and murder in human history? Answer: Same place.

It's really quite logical. As the ancients said, you can't raise yourself by grabbing a fistful of your own hair and pulling upwards. Nothing human-based will ever transcend the human. A philosophy conceived by the human mind will be elegantly refuted—or side-stepped—by that same mind at the service of its own instincts.

Morality and ethics—the notion that "I want to do this but I won't because it's wrong" and "I don't feel like it, but I'll do it because it's the right thing to do"--might be temporarily enforced by a philosopher's thesis or a policeman's gun. But not for long.

On Rosh Hashanah we remember, and remind the world, that G‑d created man and woman, G‑d gave them the gift of life, and G‑d laid down its rules: respect the life, family and property of your fellow, treat the creatures of your planet kindly, do charity and uphold justice. Do so not only because it makes sense to you, not only because it "feels right," but because you are a subject of G‑d and you accept your Sovereign's decrees.

This is the fountainhead of our existence. Without this, there is nothing.