The importance of getting it right – part 1
Recently I’ve seen a great example of what can go wrong if a person has the wrong idea about the seven laws. And it comes as no surprise when the commandments are routinely taught in distorted ways or handled in ways that seem unjustified.
And the effects of holding incorrect views about God’s commandments can be significant. It can result in being overly harsh when it comes to judging the acts of oneself and others; it can result in discouragement in God or the laws themselves; it can cause a person to either become so isolated from other Gentiles or become so all-embracing that it is impossible for anyone to do any wrong. You can get fools, like Asher Meza, teaching that the seven laws is just one’s conscious or that the commandments are morally stagnant.
I wonder how many of us have read or understood the teachings that warn against altering God’s commandments, from the first woman’s addition to God’s command which may have led to the first sin against God which had such wide implications, to some of the implications that arise from Korah’s rebellion as written in the Torah, to the outright commandments that Israel should neither add nor take away from God’s commandments, to the warning in Mishlei (Proverbs) not to add to God’s word so that one doesn’t become a liar. The warning against getting the wrong ideas about God’s laws are not just a one-off isolated teaching, but is repeated a number of times, and for good reason!
It is vital, of the utmost importance, that a Gentile gets a right perspective on God’s commandments as best as one can. From the Talmud to the writings of Rambam, the significance of knowing what is permitted and prohibited for a non-Jew is given the highest importance. Whether you accept my view of the death penalty or not, one thing that should be observed is that there is something crucially important about not breaking the divine laws. Alongside that, it becomes incumbent upon us to make sure that we learn what our divine obligations actually are.
I’ll give a few examples of where I think it’s gone wrong. Because I can be accused of purely giving my own opinion which can and has been thrown in the proverbial dirt or toilet, I’ll try to give some quotes from Torah tradition to show I’m not simply running on my own steam. When it comes to the Talmud, I’ll be quoting from either the Schottenstein edition of the Talmud or Soncino’s edition.
Only negative prohibitions for which one must sit and not do an act are counted among the Noahide commandments; but positive commandments to get up and do something are not counted. (Tractate Sanhedrin 58b, Schottenstein)
And just to share the commentaries,
The various listings of the seven Noahide commandments contain only prohibitions against performing certain acts (e.g., do not steal, do not commit adultery). The Noahite fulfils them by not acting (refraining from theft and adultery). (Schottenstein edition’s comments on the above portion)
The seven Noachian laws deal with things which a heathen must abstain from doing. (Soncino edition’s comments on the above portions)
So it should be clear to you from these quotes that the seven commandments consists of acts Gentiles must not do. [ASIDE: I’ll get to the law of Dinim later in this article or article series depending on how long this post is.]
Yet too many times I am faced with webpages, social media memes and even teachings from rabbis where mainly positive commands are stated. I sat through one rabbi’s teaching on Youtube where he consistently made the main emphasis of the Seven Laws the “positive” side of them. At no point did he simply state the command as a prohibition. Elsewhere, I’ll see the first law in their ordering stated as “Believe in one God” or something to that effect. And it will be stated as if it is one of the Seven Commandments that God enjoined upon humanity.
Can I be blunt with you? It may be painfully so. OK, get ready!
There is no commandment from God upon Gentiles to believe in God. It is not one of the seven laws.
How do we know this? Because the Talmud clearly stated that no positive commands are counted among the seven laws, only acts we should refrain from.
I wish we lived in a time where I could leave it just like that. But we don’t. Someone is bound to come along and say “well, David, does that mean it’s totally ok to be an atheist?” I’ve said many times that just because something isn’t commanded it is therefore perfectly ok and beneficial for a person. I know that atheism is possibly the most stupid, idiotic and immoral – yes, immoral, not simply amoral – worldview a person can have. But I’m not going to reinvent the wheel and go over that point again. My focus here is the Seven Commandments. I’m already near the end of writing about the atheism nonsense.
So there is also no command to respect the family unit or marriage, or to protect your neighbour’s property, or to bless and praise God. There isn’t even a command to be kind to animals and the environment.
It may be said that by keeping the seven prohibitions has the effect of doing positive acts or have positive side-effects of respecting the family unit or being kind to animals. I don’t deny that. But again, the focus here is the seven laws themselves, not the incidental products of obeying the prohibitions.
I know, it may be better PR and give a more pleasant face to the seven commandments if they are depicted as encouragement to do positive acts rather than being told not to do things. But, once again, I’ll be blunt. If a person simply has a list of positive commands for the seven laws, then they are not teaching or being taught the seven laws.
Now what I’m promoting here is going to face instant or nigh-instant rejection from many. Some follow the Divine Code. Others follow books like the Rainbow Covenant or have some rabbi that taught them that they were commanded to do some positive act. The Divine Code outrightly states that some positive things are commanded by God. Rabbi Moshe Weiner paints the picture that a Gentile has two aspects to the law against idolatry: a prohibition against worshipping idols and a positive command to recognize and know God (pg. 134). Who on earth is gonna listen to an apparently lone Gentile writing a blogpost like me contradict an renowned rabbi like rabbi Moshe Weiner and a most popular book like the Divine Code? The obvious answer is no one.
(Again, that’s part of the reason why this blog is more a collection for myself than an edict for anyone to listen to me.)
But that’s why I made sure to quote rabbinic sources at the beginning of this section, to show that this isn’t just David writing about David’s ideas which David got from personal and isolated contemplation. As shown by the Talmud and its commentaries, other rabbis state that there is no such divine command upon Gentiles to worship or know or believe in God.
Let me state my own opinion here. I believe what shows that the Divine Code may contain incorrect information is that the Talmud only states that one command had an active aspect of doing something and a prohibitive aspect of being commanded to be inactive, that being Dinim (Tractate Sanhedrin 59a). But rabbi Moshe Weiner states, with no Talmudic reference, that another law, the law against idolatry, had two aspects, a positive (active) one and a negative (inactive) one. But it may be that he is not simply writing up the basic seven commandments but rather an expansive code of law for Gentiles wanting to go beyond the seven, a “noahide code” that includes aspects that are not actual commands of God enjoined upon the world but rather are principles of doing good that can be derived from the seven laws. And yes, there is an important qualitative difference.
Look, it is a great and good thing to promote the seven laws. It is fantastic to push for righteousness in the world that both is part of the seven broad precepts, and that is not part of the seven but is logical and rational. I’d love for the knowledge of God (not just belief in God) to flourish throughout the world as well as respect for God, respect for the family unit and respect for living things. But to promote such ideas by claiming that these positive aspects are actually the seven commandments is a falsehood. And, at least on my little island of mind and blog, at least I’ll make a clear stance against it.
There’s more to come