Discussion on the Commandment of Justice

Looking around, I found some very useful information about the commandment of Dinim. I’m gonna share it here for easy access to anyone looking. The information comes from the site http://www.dafyomi.co.il/, from a section called “Insights to the Daf” which discusses passages in the Talmud. The full address of the page that I’m taking the information from is http://www.dafyomi.co.il/sanhedrin/insites/sn-dt-056.htm. I’ll be translating many of the terms that they transliterate (conveying Hebrew words as English letters) to make them easier for me to understand and for others who happen to pass by this page. But one exception is that I’ll leave the word “Dinim” just as that, “Dinim”. I won’t exchange it for “Laws” or “Justice”. A note I’ll make is that I’ll be using the word “Gentiles” to translate the terms “Nochrim” and “Bnei Noach”.


OPINIONS: The Gemara lists the Seven Commandments of Bnei Noach [Gentiles]. One of those commandments is the requirement to set up a system of courts and law (“Dinim”). What are the parameters of this commandment?

(a) The RAMBAM (Laws of Kings and Wars 9:14) writes that the reason why Shimon and Levi deemed that the people of Shechem deserved to be put to death (Bereishis 34:25) was that they [the people of Shechem] failed to fulfill the commandment of Dinim when they did not arrange a trial to judge the perpetrator for the rape of their sister Dina (an act which is considered like stealing, one of the Seven Commandments enjoined upon Gentiles).

The RAMBAN (Bereishis 34:25) asks many questions on the words of the Rambam. Among his questions, he asks that the commandment of Dinim includes the law that a judge is not allowed to decide a case based on corrupt or fraudulent grounds. If a judge does so, he is liable for the death penalty for the active transgression of a prohibition. (The Ramban cites a Talmud Yerushalmi as proof for this.) However, if the Gentiles in a certain city failed to set up a court altogether, they are not liable for the death penalty, since they merely neglected to perform a positive commandment and did not transgress a prohibition. The Gemara later (57a) teaches that “Azharasan Zo Hi Misasan” — the law prescribes the death penalty for Gentiles for transgressing any command for which they have been warned. This implies that only the violation of an Azharah, which refers to a negative prohibition (see 59b), carries the death penalty. Since the commandment to set up courts of law is a positive commandment, failure to fulfill it should not warrant the death penalty.

The CHIDUSHEI HA’RAN asks another question on the Rambam. Perhaps there was a court in the city of Shechem, but that court simply did not have the authority to try Shechem or his father, Chamor, the leader of the city. Accordingly, it is unreasonable to suggest that the entire city was liable to the death penalty for failure to try individuals who were “above the law.”

The Ramban and the Chidushei ha’Ran therefore give a different reason for why Shimon and Levi felt that their action was justified. They saw that besides the sin that was perpetuated with their sister, the people of Shechem were all evil idolaters, and therefore they were deserving of death. Although Yakov Avinu [Jacob our father] also knew this, he did not deem it prudent for Shimon and Levi to kill all of the residents of the city since such an act would arouse the ire of the surrounding nations. (According to the Sefer ha’Yashar, Yakov and his family indeed faced a tremendous threat, from which they were saved only by a miracle.)

How does the Rambam answer the questions on his explanation? The ME’IRI explains that the Ramban’s assumption that the commandment to set up courts is a positive active commandment (a commandment to do something) and thus is not punishable with death is incorrect. The Gemara later (58b-59a) says that only negative prohibitions are included in the seven commandments enjoined upon Gentiles, even though there actually are more than seven commandments (such as the prohibition against observing Shabbos). The Gemara questions its own assertion: if only prohibitions are included in the seven commandments enjoined upon Gentiles, then why is the commandment of Dinim — a positive commandment — included? The Gemara answers that the commandment of Dinim includes both a positive and a negative element. The Me’iri explains that the negative element is a prohibition against letting evildoers, such as thieves and rapists, thrive in the midst of society. Since this negative prohibition is included in the commandment of Dinim, it indeed is appropriate to refer to that commandment as an “Azharah”, a prohibition.

The OR HA’CHAIM answers the Chidushei ha’Ran’s question. He explains that the Rambam must have deduced from the verse that the people of Shechem encouraged and even advised Shechem how to carry out his wicked deed, and thus they were just as guilty and deserving of death.

(b) The Ramban explains his position on the commandments of Dinim. He says that not only are Gentiles commanded with a command to establish courts, but they are also commanded to apply the Torah’s laws of monetary matters (with regard to cases of stealing, overcharging, cheating, paying workers on time, etc.).

(c) The MARGOLIYOS HA’YAM quotes the RI ANTULI who maintains that Gentiles are commanded to judge based on the laws they have established in their country, and not necessarily based on the laws of the Torah.

The Margoliyos ha’Yam quotes the TESHUVOS HA’REMA (#10) who explains that these two opinions stem from the argument in the Gemara between Rebbi Yochanan and Rebbi Yitzchak regarding the source of the commandment of Dinim. According to Rebbi Yochanan, who says that the source for this commandment is the word “va’Yetzav” — “And he commanded” (Bereishis 2:16), even secular law suffices to fulfill this obligation. According to Rebbi Yitzchak, who derives the Mitzvah of Dinim from the word “Elokim” — “Hash-m” [God] (ibid.), the Gentiles are supposed to use only the monetary laws given to the Jewish people at the mountain of Sinai. (See Teshuvos ha’Rema at length.) (Y. Montrose)


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