Dinim – Leave it alone; it can’t be done
I’ve heard rumbling amongst Jews and Gentiles. I’m told by some people that we Gentiles can’t keep the law of Dinim. I’m told by others that it has no impact on our day to day lives and therefore, on occasion, leave it out of their listing of the Seven Commandments pertinent to humans on a whole. To such people, cursing God, idol worship, murder, theft, sexual inappropriateness, and eating meat taken from animals while they’re still alive, all these things are relevant to a person’s day to day existence. But Dinim isn’t. Either that, or it’s just something beyond our power to keep.
Dinim – we can’t keep it
A stranger reading this may ask, “David, what is Dinim?” I would say, “Why, dear stranger, I’m so glad you asked.”
Dinim can be translated or understood a number of ways. The way I prefer to put it across is Justice. Before I go into the details, it’s always important to remember the following: each of the Seven Commandments are broad categories of law so there are many details involved in each. A particular positive aspect of this commandment is that Gentiles should set up courts to administer justice according to the Seven Commandments, or, at the very least, not contradict them. Right now, I’ll only state this aspect because, unfortunately, this is the only aspect people seem to dwell on. Later on, I’ll get into this a bit more. But for now, let’s pretend that this is all there is to Dinim.
So currently people look around and see the state of our world and its political systems and justice systems and see the blatantly obvious: they are dens of immorality and corruption. The political and justice systems don’t just ignore the Seven Universal Commandments; they more or less spit on them in different ways for different reasons. Normally those reasons involve keeping power and control, getting money, the placing of human desire above morality (or the confusion between the two). Not only that, but they also notice that it is the people, the population who allow such systems to remain. The relatively few Gentiles who actually know the Seven Commandments (i.e., the fact that there are seven commandments and that they are from God) and keep them are almost nothing in the vast sea of political and judicial disobedience against our most basic moral obligations to God. Some believe that with the scope of the issue, it will only be kept when the true Davidic king (not the false hope of the christians) claims his throne and the world is changed. Some will note that they are ignorant of any community in the past that ever kept the Seven Commandments and were judged by them. Others will say that the commandment only really impacts the courts themselves and the judges and practitioners within it, nothing to do with the normal Joe Bloggs on the street.
Based on this “overwhelming” evidence, it seems plain that we cannot set up courts that administer justice according to the Seven Commandments. Thus we can’t keep this law of Dinim. That makes it irrelevant to our day-to-day lives. Thus we should focus on those laws we can keep. Some have used this reasoning as part of their incentive to leave the Gentile world altogether and become Jews. Some, when teaching or talking about the Seven Commandments on different media, will talk about each law and will make only a passing reference to this law of Dinim, Justice, due to its irrelevance, and spend more time teaching the other six laws.
So Dinim nestles nicely at the bottom of the pile of our obligations, gathering dust, only to be looked at from a distance whilst we deal with what matters in the here-and-now.
Dinim – Our human obligation
Whether the way of looking at things is that the commandment is irrelevant or that it cannot be done, in essence, the person has chosen to fold their hands and give up on it. The problem is too big and we are too small. Or, it’s got nothing to do with the individual righteous Gentile, so it’s more important to deal with what is relevant to that person’s situation which just happens to be every single one of the other commandments.
There’s a difference between giving up and working towards. For example, the Jews are presently unable to perform Temple rites. There are nay-sayers that just say “it cannot be done” and just leave the subject alone. This is not the approach of their wise Sages who said a person must still study those laws to get understanding that can apply to other areas of life, to be prepared for when the time comes, and because by studying them you are still doing what you can to fulfill them. Add to that the fact that the Jewish people currently live in the land now, so they can be more actively working to make these things come about. So rather than folding one’s hands or jumping ship saying “it can’t be done”, wisdom teaches that current limitations only show that there is work to do and work to be done.
It’s very much the same with the law of Justice which some limit to making sure courts uphold the seven commandments. Let’s pretend that this limited understanding of the law is correct. [We can only pretend as it is not correct.] So imagine that we cannot establish courts that uphold the seven commandments. Let’s imagine that it has never been done, a claim that cannot be verified. What then? Taking the same approach as with Jews and the temple laws they cannot keep, do we as Gentiles fold our hands and say “it cannot be done”? Do we jump ship and escape our seven commandments, seven divine commandments?
No! We become entrepreneurs: we see the gap in the “market” of our obligations and we see if and how we can fill that gap. If we can’t fill the gap due to lack of manpower, we plan a way around it so that we can build the foundations that can be useful to future generations. By exercising our minds to the task we can find ways how the command applies elsewhere (and it does). We do what we can to fulfill it, even if it’s to study the hell out of it! And why? Because it’s about commitment to the cause, not just reaching the destination.
Some say “because I won’t reach the destination myself, I won’t bother moving; I’ll focus on something else like the other six that are well within my reach”. But it’s silly really. We know that a journey is as much about the travelling, the experiences along the way, than just the destination. Those experiences build our character, not just getting from A to B. Unfortunately some don’t apply such thinking to what should matter most: our obligation to God.
For those that are waiting for that future Davidic king to come and for those changes in human perspective to come, I’d say this: I didn’t leave one messiah figure who does all the work for me to exchange him for another. This notion of “I’ll just wait until moshiach comes and then the world will change and the Dinim command will be kept” is just another way of shifting responsibility (and the seven commandments are all about responsibility). Don’t get me wrong. I respect the Jewish faith in the coming of the true Davidic king. But what’s in God’s hands are in God’s hand. What’s in that Jewish king’s hands will be in his hands. What am I gonna do with what God has placed in my hands? One thing’s for certain: I’m not going to put down this obligation and say it can’t be done. I’m not going to let it nestle obscurely at the bottom of the pile as if irrelevant. It’s my obligation as a human, my obligation to God as a Gentile! As long as that’s the case, it can’t be “irrelevant”.
Dinim – the scope
So the person who has set Dinim aside in one way or another many times can have it in his head that the law of Dinim is just about setting up courts that administer justice according to the Seven Commandments. The way the universal obligations are promoted across the internet can have much to blame for this. The way the commandment is taught can have a lot to do with it as well. It’s like we can have this summarized version of the law in our heads, and all that there is is “Courts of Law”. So what does a court of law have to do with me who has never set foot in one? Apparently nothing.
On so many levels this limited view is a distortion and an injurious oversimplification of the command of Dinim.
First, let’s just look at how the word can be translated or the ways that it has been expressed. The word Dinim can be expressed as “Courts”. But it also can be expressed as “Laws”, “Justice”, “Civil Laws”, “Equity”. Each of these word concepts give us a hint as to the multi-faceted and detailed nature of this Command. Of course, there must be a core and more simple element to this Command, but as has been shown to me by others, there is more to these Seven Commandments than just the aspects that require a death penalty for the breaking of them. Gentiles are obligated to keep the seven laws and their ancillaries, the obligations that support and accompany the Seven Commandments.
There is also the additional point that there is a different understanding of the law of Dinim from a person nicknamed RambaN who said that the law wasn’t just about the upholding of the seven universal laws, but also about having a system of law to deal with the administering of fines for certain crimes, rape, overcharging, etc, a system of law that reflects the Jewish Torah civil law (although not exactly and not as strict). So we’re not just talking about a court that can only deal with the Seven Commandments, but the establishment of a just system of societal laws.
Second, let’s just recall an important fact about the Seven Commandments. As has been repeated throughout the rabbinical discussions about our obligations, they are broad and general commandments with subdivisions. To paraphrase one source, our law against theft doesn’t straight out say “do not defraud” or “do not cheat” or “do not covet”. All we have is a general title, “Theft”, and there are many obligations that it covers that are not explicitly mentioned. As this is true for all the Seven Commandments, it must include Dinim. Looking at the different ways it is expressed – Courts, Justice, Equity, Laws – then there are surely many laws can come under such a general title. What are these laws and are they all limited to the physical structure of a court, or are we talking about justice and equity? Since the law of Dinim can be expressed any of these ways, then it would incorporate all of these aspects and thus have many sub-laws.
Third, the Talmud states that there is a positive and negative aspect to the law of Dinim. That means that the human duty to establish justice is only the positive aspect of this commandment, the part of the commandment that tells you to positively and actively do something. But what about the negative aspect, the part of the commandment that tells you to refrain from doing something? Even this is handled in different ways.
Now there are some – those that are stuck in the “Courts” notion of the law of Dinim – that say that the negative, prohibitive aspect of this law is as follows: Gentiles are to refrain from failing to set up courts of justice. Apart from the convoluted way of phrasing that, there is a certain problem with this understanding. Here’s an example.
The core universal commandments are expressed as prohibitions, “do not’s”. Do not worship idols, do not murder, etc. Now if you ask a knowledgeable Jew or Gentile what the positive aspect of the prohibition against idolatry, the answer should be that a person should know God, or worship Him alone. [I’m not saying that a Gentile is positively commanded to know or worship God as a core obligation in the Seven Commandments; there is no such positive command there. Only Dinim is overtly stated as having a positive and negative aspect.] Notice the difference in wording between the prohibition and the positive command.
Prohibition: Do not worship idols.
Positive aspect: Know the true God or worship him.
The positive aspect is not a re-iteration of the prohibition. Its message is opposite of what is prohibited. If the prohibition is not to worship false gods, then the opposite action is to know the true God. It’s the same for theft, where the prohibition is “don’t steal” and the positive aspect is to respect people’s property rights, give charity. It’s again the same for murder, where the prohibition is “don’t murder” and the positive aspect is to respect the sanctity of human life. You see the pattern: different wording, different directions in action.
Now just take a look at how these single-minded, Courts-focused people express the positive aspect of the command of Dinim, comparing it with the positive aspect they focus on.
Positive aspect: Set up courts of justice
Prohibition: Don’t fail to set up courts of justice.
You should notice the problem. They have simply reiterated the same words, but as a prohibition. They’ve said essentially that the prohibition is exactly the same as the positive command. Judging by the previous differences between the positive and the negative aspect of commandments, it should be plain that such a rendition of the prohibition is a bad one, if not lazy.
So what is the prohibition? What is the negative aspect of the positive command to set up courts of law? The Schottenstein version of the Talmud has a good discourse about what this is and shows two aspects of the prohibition, one that has a individual application and another that has a court application. The Soncino version of the Talmud summarizes both aspects in a succinct commentary on the Talmudic statement that the law of Dinim has a positive and negative aspect: to refrain from injustice. Another way of putting this is that we are not to pervert justice. And as the Schottenstein edition has confirmed, this has both individual and societal implications. Take careful note: this has individual implications.
This highlights an obligation, not just on courts, but on every Gentile: we have to avoid injustice, the perversion of justice. All of a sudden it’s much more than just “oh, it’s the courts, and there are no such courts, so I can’t do anything”. It’s now on the people, the individuals, the human beings, to do what they can to avoid perversion of justice. Also, seeing that the positive side of this command is hinged on at least the upholding of the Seven Commandments, or at most on a just system of righteous law that reflect the Jewish Torah, then the negative side should be to avoid perverting justice in light of those Commandments.
Let me give an example that fits into our day and age, one that I’ve been harping on about repeatedly in my posts. There is a command in the Jewish Torah law that comes under the banner of our law of Dinim not to elect an unjust judge or official. For a Gentile, this can stretch to supporting any unjust person or party to get into a place of authority. I hope you can see where this goes. Think about it. Where does your money go? How should you use your money? What are you supporting when you spend? Does your money go to support unjust causes? You can see that this can go politically too. Do you vote? To you support parties that are unjust in light of the Torah law for Gentiles, in light of basic standard for human morality? Since almost all political parties and presidential candidates or prime minister candidates promote the breaking of the basic moral code, then your support of them has perverted justice.
And on the positive side, what have we done to promote the establishing of righteous authorities and righteous courts, to promote justice and equity? Sure, we don’t have the proper courts of justice now; they come across like courts of commerce and injustice too many times. Sure, the current unjust system is like one fat grossly-distorted pig and we seem like a few ants in comparison. But what are we doing in our circle of influence to make a difference, to at least raise the standard where we are? Are you at least being a good example of good judgment regarding the issues that you have to manage? Are you teaching those around you – either through casual conversation, deep discussion, debate, or deliberate teaching of dependants/children – regarding proper judgement, proper equity? It is interesting to note that the Divine Code, a great book regarding the Noahide Commandments states the following, which adds relevance to this point:
Parents are obligated to provide education to their children, and specifically in the fulfillment of the Noahide Code. This education for the children is an obligation within the commandment of dinim, to strengthen the observance of the Noahide precepts in the world. (p.83, Part 1, Chapter 4, Topic 9, Divine Code, by R. Moshe Weiner)
Take careful note of the obligation Rabbi Weiner highlights, and I’ll repeat it: an obligation within the commandment of dinim, to strengthen the observance of the Noahide precepts in the world. That is something that is relevant to every Gentile, not just a court.
Lastly, let’s look at the fact that each of the Seven Commandments have a central concept which has a wider impact than what can be enforced legally. The prohibition against idolatry promotes the fact that we Gentiles, we humans, should grasp onto reality and not make much out of fictions. This can involve being careful how much weight we put on philosophies and fantasies and desires, e.g., the lust for money or official roles, or letting private philosophies and powerful tools dictate reality, like naturalism or scientism. The scope of the central concept is wider than what can be enforced legally. Legally, you wouldn’t get punished for thinking or acting as if nature was all there is, or as if science can answer every single question, or spending too much time on making money and thus destroying your family relationships. Legally, you would be punished for sacrificing a virgin to the mountain god.
In the same way, when you think about the core principle that the law of Dinim is trying to enforce, you can see it has much wider implications than what can be legally enforced. For example, think about the prohibition against bribing a judge. This is part of the law of Dinim. This teaches us that you should not distort justice with a bribe. This is not true just for a court room, but in the family environment and in the workplace. A boss shouldn’t take money from an employee to get favours. A parent shouldn’t accept favours from a child to overlook certain bad behaviours. So this aspect has wide implications.
Or what about looking at the fact that justice can only be administered if the people are properly educated? So we should be obligated to educate and habituate the people in our circle of influence about morality.
So on many different levels, the person who limits the commandment about Dinim to just courts is mistaken. The scope of Dinim is much wider.
Dinim by content, not by name
A problem that the so called “noahide movement” faces is that it comes across as a religious sect. Its numbers right now are relatively small compared to the rest of the world and its political and judicial issues. For many in that “movement”, to be a “noahide” you have to know that there are precisely seven commandments given by God to Gentiles as received by God in the Law that Moses received, and also that person has to be keeping those commandments on that basis. It should be fairly obvious that the vast majority of the world is therefore excluded.
As I’ve said before, the word “noahide” and the concept I just described has little bearing on what was originally said about who is responsible for keeping the Seven Commandments. The Seven Commandments is the way the Torah describes the way how Gentiles on a whole – not just some tiny religious group – should live on a basic level. But it doesn’t say that a Gentile must also know that he is keeping the seven commandments in order to be classified as righteous or upright. The seven commands govern actions primarily not thoughts. So this opens a certain doorway, a certain way of thinking.
Imagine that you somehow become a judge who can only judge according to the seven commandments are. You pull a stranger off the street and ask him if he knows what the seven commandments commanded to the sons of Noah. He gives you a blank, quizzical look and states that he has no clue what you are talking about. So you attempt to judge him legally according to the Seven Laws he’s never heard of. You ask if he has worshipped anything in the universe, the stars, or a human, or an idea, or a mountain. He claims that he’s not religious and doesn’t really worship or bow down to anything or anyone. You continue through the list. Has he cursed God? No, he respects others and doesn’t speak bad of things he doesn’t understand. Has he ever murdered anyone or stolen anything? He hasn’t murdered anyone and although he has stolen a few things in his past, he’s been punished and has learned for the better not to go down that road again. Has he ever had sex with a married woman, or another man, or committed any form of incest. He denies that with a disgusted look on his face. Has he eaten anything whilst it’s alive or eaten the meat taken from an animal while it was still alive? He’s not sure. He says that he wouldn’t do it knowingly. You ask him about his political affiliation, who he would vote for. He says that he’s fed up of the current political parties and can’t be bothered to vote for people who in the end rip off everyone and have people killed unjustly.
Did you know that for all intents and purposes, in a land governed by the Seven Laws, this person could be considered a law-abiding citizen at a basic level, yet would probably not be classed as a so called “noahide” if he doesn’t wish to affiliate with them because of their religious stance?
You see there are people out there that can be reached out to, people who have grasped that basic level of morality expressed in the Seven Commandments without even knowing the numbering and codification of the Seven. There is no commandment that a Gentile must know that he is keeping the Seven Commandments. A Gentile must avoid the acts prohibited by the basic code. So there may be many Gentiles who see the injustice in our government and our courts but not know the exact codification of the law of Dinim. They have a point of view that coincides with the general content of the law of Dinim but don’t know the name. But in one way or another they are crying out for some change other than voting for more immoral political parties, for more of the injustice that our courts of commerce provide. I see it on the internet, on youtube, amongst the people I interact with in and out of work. They may have different ideas for solving the problem, but they see a problem.
I personally don’t care if a person wants to label themselves as “noahide” or not. What I care about is their actions as that is what makes a Gentile upright, not a label. And I believe that there are many label-less Gentiles and many Gentiles with different labels out there that actually care about justice, even if they’re mistaken about some of the details.
OK, so I’ve come to the end of this piece. What’s to add? Maybe a lot more. It’s not in my head right now, so let me just cap it off.
The obligation of Dinim, Justice, is one of our most basic laws. As can be seen in our society today, it is the ignorance and ignoring of this commandment that has helped erode the foundations of the well-being of the countries and peoples of the world. It has helped spread apathy and atheism across the world. How? Because if there is a lack of righteous judgement here on earth, it makes it that bit harder to accept the Judge of all the world. From the education of family to the influence of friends and acquaintances to the police system to public policy, on so many levels, this law has such relevance I am surprised that anyone can think that it is not needful for study and application in any generation.
The fact is that things have gotten as bad as they have because those who could do something positive didn’t. There was a neglect of justice everywhere in society. The problems only end up in the courts and in politics but they begin with the people, the individuals. In light of this, how can it ever be said that this law doesn’t have incredible relevance for us today, now, even in the absence of proper courts of justice, only one aspect of our basic human obligation.
Those who know the Seven Commandments should be working one way or another to change the current political and judicial system we are currently under more than anyone else. It doesn’t have to be activism or burning down government buildings. Even becoming aware of what is going on around us is better than claiming that this law cannot be fulfilled or that it is beyond our day to day existence. There are too many layers and levels to our law to accept this idea. And even if our lifetimes come and go and the system appears to remain, at the very least we would have fulfilled our obligation to God by working for his cause. For those who accept the authority of God, then his words in Jeremiah 9 should be apt.
Don’t let the wise one boast about his wisdom, neither let the strong man boast about his strength. Don’t let the rich one boast about his right. But rather let the boaster boast in this: that he understands and knows me, that I, GOD, perform kindness, judgment and justice in the earth, because I delight in these things, declares GOD.
But there may be a chance that someone who doesn’t accept God may read this. Miracles happen, right? I think that regardless of your point of view on that, justice and fairness is important to a better life for everyone. We should be working together to make a positive change in our world. If the world’s too big to grasp (they say a drop of water can cover the whole world, just really really thin), then what about your country? And if the country is too big, then what about your county/province, or your city/town, or your community. But at the very least, make a change within yourself.