Who is the authority?
I wonder how short I can make this. Should it matter?
Anyway, so I’ve read a few books about the Seven Laws such as “The Divine Code” by Rabbi Moshe Weiner and endorsed by a heap of rabbis, “The Rainbow Covenant” by Michael Dallen, “The Guide for the Noahide” by Mori Michael Shelomo bar-Ron, and “Torah for Non-Jews” by Elisheva Barre, amongst the other books that are out there. I’m not saying that I’ve read them all, but I’ve read a good amount. I’ll state it now, right now, that I have a great fondness for each of these books for different reasons. I’ve learnt a lot from each.
Now in some of these books, it will be claimed that something is forbidden to Gentiles. Once a Gentile knows the basic seven commandments (no, I won’t go through them again right now … well, at least for now), he or she may notice that what is forbidden or commanded is not part of those core commandments.
I should speak for myself, shouldn’t I? I agree.
So I will read these books and it will say “x is forbidden”, and then I will look at the basic details of the seven laws and will see that action “x” isn’t there. Now the seven commandments are supposed to be commandments of God upon Gentiles. So the question for me arises, “in what way is action x forbidden?” Look, I know the seven commandments are broad precepts that have more details than just being seven simple statements. I know this. But if the seven commandments are from God, then who determines these additional prohibitions. And it is sometimes stated that these additional details are linked to or offshoots of the Seven Laws.
The book “The Divine Code” is a perfect example of this although other books like “The Rainbow Covenant” does similar things. I can give a few examples.
On page 57, it says:
1. If anyone comes to convince individuals or a community – by influencing, or with intellectual arguments, or by demonstrating supernatural powers or the like, or with false claims to be a prophet – to serve idols, or to nullify one of the Seven Noahide Commandments, or to add a commandment (in addition to the Seven Noahide Commandments transmitted by Moses), even if he says that God commanded that this should be done, it is forbidden to listen to him or to accept his words. All are commanded to remove and silence him by any necessary means.
It should be noted that this statement is not part of the section of the book that prohibits idolatry. And the Divine Code has yet to have a section on the law concerning justice. So according to this passage, it is forbidden to listen to such a false person, it is forbidden to accept his words, and it is commanded upon all to remove and silence this person.
“It is forbidden to arrange a discussion or a debate with one who prophesies in the name of idols …” (ibid. page 59)
That speaks for itself.
“On a day that idolaters celebrate as a festival for their religion or for praising one of their idols, it is forbidden to attend their celebration ….” (ibid. page 236)
“It is forbidden to swear in vain, for no purpose at all, whether one swears in God’s Name or a term referring to Him, which is a desecration of His Name and is tantamount to swearing falsely in His Name. Even if a person swears in vain but not in God’s Name, he at least profanes his words.” (ibid. page 280)
So even if a person doesn’t swear in God’s name, it is “forbidden”.
[this isn’t going to be so short after all, is it?]
“It is forbidden to place oneself in danger ….” (ibid 448)
“It is forbidden to sit or stand together with evil gossipers ….” (ibid. page 458)
[ASIDE: I’m not singling out the Divine Code in these “commands” and “prohibitions” that it brings forth. Other books do the same thing, like “The Path of the Righteous Gentile” by rabbi Chaim Clorfene and Yakov Rogalsky. For example, when it states that “it is commanded to destroy all idols” in its section about Idolatry, Part 4, statement 5; and when it says “It is forbidden to listen to the music, smell the fragrance, or gaze at the ornaments of idolatrous worship. All the more so, one is forbidden to gaze at the idol itself …” in the same chapter, Part 5 statement 15; and when it says “It is forbidden to signal with the hands or the feet or to wink at any person who is in the category of a forbidden relationship …” in its chapter of Sexual Relations, statement 14. So although I gave some examples from the Divine Code in particular, other books do the same thing.
It should also be stated again that although I’m picking out what I see as issues with these books, I’m not outright condemning them or claiming that they are worthless. They are still very much informative, helpful and useful. But let’s not pretend that they are perfect. END OF ASIDE.]
Now I know what some of you may be thinking. Actually, I don’t, but I can guess. “Well, David, it is wrong to do these things or at least not a good thing.” I can agree with that statement. But there is a difference between saying that something is wrong or not good or inadvisable or incongruous with a righteous path and a book that is touted as being authoritative laying down the law for Gentiles and saying “this is forbidden”. The difference is that saying that something is wrong, not good, inadvisable, or incongruous with a righteous path is more easily understood as being words of advice; whereas saying that something is forbidden comes across like the rabbi is laying down the law for Gentiles from his own authority and not as a divine commandment.
What adds to the confusion is that the Divine Code will use the same word “forbidden” for things that are part of the core Seven Commandments and for things that don’t appear to be part of the fundamental law, like on page 297 where it will say that eating meat taken from an animal while it’s alive is “forbidden”. Or on another page it will say that murder is “forbidden”.
Yes, I have asked those affiliated with the asknoah what it means to be forbidden, and I was told the following:
“If something is identified there [in the Divine Code] as forbidden for a Gentile, but it does not bring liability to capital punishment within the Noahide Code, that means it is a sin, but it doesn’t violate the strict letter of any of the specific 7 Noahide Commandments.”
I’m not going to deal with this vague object called “the Noahide Code” right now (something which, within the Divine Code, is not the same as just “the Seven Commandments). But the wording of this response needs thought, especially in light of what I learn from other rabbis.
The word “sin” is a loaded word in a language (English) that is burdened with a dying but still extant christian legacy. And the rest of what is said is telling: “it doesn’t violate the strict letter of any of the specific 7 Commandments”. So this isn’t what we would call a legal issue. This is not “halakhah” for Gentiles. This is not within our basic God-commanded obligations.
Think again about the word “forbidden”. When rabbis tell a Gentile that something not part of the core seven commandments is forbidden, then a question arises: who forbade it? Who is creating these prohibitions? And who creates those additional commandments, like the one I mentioned above, saying that it is commanded to remove and silence certain people? It cannot be said to be God if it is not part of the Seven Commandments. And sometimes it seems like these are logical derivations from the commandments rather than actual commandments. And who is doing the logical derivations?
Again, who is the authority?
A time ago, I said that when it comes to the Seven Laws and how Gentiles run their lives and countries, the rabbis have no legal authority. What does that mean? That means that a rabbi can teach what the Seven Laws state, and he can advise about ways a Gentile can improve him- or herself in other ways, but he has no authority to lay down the law for Gentiles. He only has as much “authority” as a Gentile gives him, and therefore the rabbi doesn’t have the authority, the Gentile does.
I’ve given the reasons before why this is so, saying that according to the Seven Laws, the law of justice, we Gentiles are obligated to judge and decide upon the laws ourselves. Of course, we can be taught the Seven Commandments by the rabbis, and they can tell us what God forbids in that body of law. As you can see by much of my blog, I’m quoting one rabbi or another. But the person responsible for the keeping of the Seven Commandments is the Gentile. The person responsible for deciding how to live his or her life is the Gentile. And if a rabbi goes outside of the Seven Laws and says that “action x is forbidden,” again, the question has to be who forbade it, and in what way.
There have been things that one rabbi says are forbidden which are outside the scope of the seven commandments but another rabbi says “no, it’s not – it’s outside of the seven commandments.” The second rabbi says, it may be a bad habit, it may be harmful, but it takes it too far to claim that something is forbidden and a sin. How is a Gentile to live with the different messages? Again, let me make this personal. How will I live with the different messages?
I’ve been told to find a rabbi and live by his decisions. I’ve been told that a fool just follows his own heart. I have been told that just as I rely on the doctor, I should rely on a rabbi who is meant to be the expert.
This advice is not stupid advice. But it is not the only piece of advice open to a Gentile. Once a Gentile learns about the fundamental principles of the Seven Commandments, with regards to the rest, the teachings that are outside of those Seven, one can only do the best one can. With the amount of ambiguity in the rabbinic world, with one freely contradicting the other, and as they have no legal authority, their advice outside of the fundamental Seven is just that: advice.
When even the great book, “the Divine Code”, endorsed by so many a rabbi, says that debating a false teacher is forbidden, and it has nothing to do with the Seven Laws, it is only his advice, not God’s law. Take it or leave it! A Gentile is free to make rabbi Weiner their main rabbi and only follow his advice as if he had become their trusted doctor. Or that Gentile can see his words as a voice in the midst of many, and compare it accordingly. Or a Gentile can simply ignore him as I’ve seen a good amount of Gentiles do, those Gentiles knowing and keeping the Seven Laws.
The main thing is that we keep and know our law. Then we should be the best we can be outside of what is commanded, with or without a rabbi.
Looking for irresponsibility
So I search within myself to find why I would be concerned with authority. Why would it bother me, this authority question? And then I think I find it, the reason for the question.
There is a perceived safety in following the orders or “rulings” of authority figures. It relieves a person of responsibility somewhat. It’s an apparent shortcut to finding out answers or solutions for oneself. If something goes wrong, it’s possible to say that it’s someone else’s fault. A government, a politician, a teacher, an instructor or a rabbi can be blamed as the source of an incorrect act, idea or teaching. “I was only doing what my rabbi taught me!”
My personal opinion is that such an excuse doesn’t absolve a Gentile when he or she does wrong or harmful things. Whether you have a rabbi or not, each individual is responsible for his or her own actions. And to use the excuse that “I do something only based on the authority of the rabbis” is irresponsible. To say “I don’t do ‘x’ simply because it was written in the Divine Code,” is a sign of two things: 1) that this person can read and remember what is written in a book; and 2) they haven’t grasped onto the seven laws, or being a good person, or following God, but simply wanted a man to follow. And the sad thing is that, before the judgment of God, no man can say “oh it wasn’t me because rabbi so and so told me to do it.” When you follow the opinions of a person, you follow that person in the right and in the wrong. And where life really matters, in those crucial times of decision, a person is really on their own.
[ASIDE: And yes, it is possible for a rabbi’s opinion to be harmful or wrong. A person can say “well, as long as I’m following this rabbi, I’m sure I’m going the best way. I don’t see anything wrong with his teachings. And even if he is wrong, what he’s telling me can’t be that harmful, right?” The problem is that the Jewish life is different to that of a Gentile’s. Their law is meant to isolate them from the nations of the world. When they interpolate their law into ours, there can be negative effects for a Gentile, even if they feel good. And that is not the only issue. END OF ASIDE.]
It’s understandable that a beginner needs a crutch, a template, a given framework to begin and strengthen their own development. Sometimes, when you’re totally ignorant, you have to take advice and follow guidance. But it is important not to live one’s life fastened to the mother’s teat, always in the place of ignorance needing to live based on the words of another. With maturity comes the questioning of what was taught to you when you were dependent, and many times the moving away from what you were originally taught. And maturity is very much needed when it comes to the Seven Laws, and we, as Gentiles, cannot and should not rely on the Jews for direction and decision-making. Knowing that amongst them there are varying levels of knowledge, various opinions, the fact that there is an essential difference between the nature of the seven laws for Gentiles and the 613 commandments for Jews and in our distinct roles in the world, it is of great importance that a Gentile matures in his keeping and knowledge of the seven commandments and the principles of human decency, that he or she learns to make the right decisions about the course of action and life one must take, not to blur the Jew-Gentile lines, or to over-emphasise them, but so that the Gentile can enrich his or her own life and the lives of those around him or her, growing in his or her own identity, having an understanding of that identity to help those in a similar situation in life. (Wow, that was a long sentence!)
I personally want to learn what I can whilst being responsible for what I do, knowing why I do what I do, the foundations of it not just the fact that I was told to do so. And taking that choice in my hands, the issue of authority can drift into nothingness in the place of learning and living, having nothing to do with some “other” telling me “x” is forbidden and “y” is permissible when they have nothing to do with the seven commandments. At a time like that, it is through understanding and sharing that a person grows in areas of life outside of the seven commandments, rather than through the laying down of law.