There’s more to the Seven Laws

Discussing the commandment of theft with one of my teachers highlighted for me how the Seven Commandments are more than seven simple statement, or even seven broad prohibitions. Each of the commandments have necessary presuppositions and definitions that need to be in place for the commandments themselves to have any meaning.

For example, the law of theft presupposes ownership. So the question is, what defines ownership? Knowing the principles and definitions of ownership is very important to know when an item is stolen from another person. Another example is the prohibition against sex with certain partners. And part of that commandment is a prohibition against adultery, having sex with someone’s else’s wife. The question then comes up, what is marriage? Or to put it in more concrete terms, what criteria is there which a relationship between a man and a woman must fulfil in order for another man’s sex with that woman to be prohibited? Another question for each of these questions is whether the terms are defined by the teachings in the Jewish Torah or by the cultures of the nations.

Although some under-the-surface aspects may seem obvious, or may have been defined in literature about the Seven Laws, those aspects still remain as important. They include things like: what a judge is; what a god is; what a curse is; what the definition of coercion that would make a person exempt from prosecution regarding the breaking of the seven laws; what the age of culpability is; if such an age exists; how death is defined (e.g., does it include brain death), etc.

There are many layers of understanding and principle to the Seven Commandments, even if they are meant to be the basic bedrock of morality for civilisation. For me personally, an appreciation of that fact helps me to know that the basic bedrock of morality doesn’t necessarily mean a overly simple code that requires no thought or mental investigation.

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5 Comments

  1. “Another question for each of these questions is whether the terms are defined by the teachings in the Jewish Torah … “, you wrote.

    This question may well make sense were it to say, “Another question for each of these questions is WHERE ARE THEY defined by the teachings in the Jewish Torah … ” – because, Torah served as God’s blueprint of creation.

    • No. I meant my statement as it was stated with the “whether” not your “where are they”.

      • You meant then that the Torah and worldly events can be separated, when in fact Torah is the blueprint of the world, as the Jewish sages tell us, and as they tell us too, Torah preceded the world by 2,000 years. Your version of the question denies this truth and therefore is practically heretical.

      • Here’s what I said: ” Another question for each of these questions is whether the terms are defined by the teachings in the Jewish Torah or by the cultures of the nations.” So the question (not a statement or argument) that is intended by this sentence is: “are certain parts of the application of the seven laws determined by the non-Jewish culture or the Torah?” I’m not giving this question for you to answer. I’m only making a point. It’s a bit like the Jewish law of not putting on the clothing of the other gender which is determined by what a culture defines as male and female garments.

        What should be clear is that it is a question and therefore denies nothing of what you’re claiming. And judging by Rambam’s statements about “min”, no; the QUESTION is not heretical.

      • Also, I, as a non-Jew, am not breaking any part of the Seven Laws by asking the question, neither philosophically or halakhically.

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