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

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10 Comments

  1. Hrvatski Noahid

    We discussed this. I know your position. You know mine.

    The Talmud is a Jewish encyclopedia. It is not a practical guide for observing the 7 Commandments. If the Torah says that Gentiles need to fear God, the difference between a divine commandment and a logical obligation or positive aspect derived from it is rather academic. The main thing is to fear God!

    • It’s not academic. It’s never good to put words in God’s mouth or add to his law. So no, it is not academic. And yes, I know your position. Your main position is that you are a good man. I won’t let our disagreement distract me from that.

      By the way, the Talmud is not the Jewish encyclopedia. It does contain practical teachings.

      Hope you’re well.

  2. Well stated, sir. This is actually a fundamental point that gets to the heart of the difference between Jews and Noahides (or “non-Jews”, or whatever term you prefer).

    Jews are servants of Hashem. And, as servants (read: slaves), their Master makes demands of their time. He requires them to pray, to slaughter their animals in particular ways, and to spend time knowing Him. This is fitting, because they are His people – meaning, He purchased them from Egypt to be slaves to Him.

    Noahides, on the other hand, are not servants at all. We are free-men. Since the world belongs to Hashem, He has set down some boundaries we are not to cross while residing in it. However, our time belongs to us, so He makes no actual positive demands upon us. Would He like us to pray? Would He like us to get to know Him? Of course! But, He doesn’t demand such service from us – it is ours to give freely, if we choose to. And, we are free to do so to whatever degree, and in (mostly) whatever form we desire.

    • Damn! It’s like you sang a masterpiece and then just dropped the mic and walked off the stage. As simple as that answer is, I’m in awe of it. You grace my blog with your comments rarely, and when you do it, you do it well! Of course, we both know the immense blessing there is in servitude to Hashem, but being free-men … man, I’m not even gonna try to dishonour that great comment by trying to say my understanding of it. Just … just, thank you, my teacher! Thank you.

    • Hrvatski Noahid

      I disagree with this comment. The logical obligations and positive aspects derived from the 7 commandments are *absolute obligations.* We Gentiles have an obligation to learn the 7 commandments, to fear God and to give charity. We *do not* have the freedom not to do these things. We are not free-men at all.

      • define “absolute obligations.” Do you mean they are commanded upon Gentiles with the same force as the prohibition against having sex with a married woman? If so, what evidence do you provide?

  3. Hrvatski Noahid

    Logical obligations are absolute obligations upon Gentiles and we are liable to be punished for transgressing these obligations and for acting against moral and logical ways of practice (the Divine Code by Rabbi Moshe Weiner, Ask Noah International, 2011, p 72 topic 8). I do not care if they have the same force as the prohibition of having sex with a married woman. I disagree strongly with the argument made by the Talmud, by you and by Jacob that HaShem makes no actual positive demands upon us. I think your argument sets an unacceptably low standard of behavior for Gentiles. The meaning of absolute obligations is obvious to a native English speaker. I refuse to define them beyond their obvious meaning.

    • I don’t understand why you would refuse to tell me what you mean by absolute obligations. If it was obvious to me, then I would not have asked. It is not obvious to me and I’m a native English speaker.

      You have to appreciate that neither Jacob nor I are not under R’ Weiner as you are, just as I appreciate that you’ve made him an authority over you. So we are bound to have different points of view.

      You’ve stated a number of times that you don’t care about the difference between divine decrees and the logical obligations your rabbi have derived. You call the difference “purely academic.” For me, it is not. For me, I can’t disagree with what the Talmud teaches because a rabbi today appears to say something different. The Talmud is the primary source, not rabbi Weiner, and not the Divine Code.

      I’ve got to ask, what argument do you think I am making that creates this low standard that doesn’t satisfy you? To me, the seven commandments are the most basic standard. I can hold to this while admitting that other acts have consequences. I just have no clue what you’re saying about “absolute obligations.” Are you saying that other actions not covered by the seven have punishments attached?

  4. Hrvatski Noahid

    The real primary source is the God of Israel. The Divine Code is Torah no less than the Talmud.

    To say that HaShem made no actual positive demands upon us means that some of the most important Torah Law obligations may be neglected. If a woman does not have a positive obligation to act modestly, she may walk around naked as long as she does not sleep with a forbidden sexual partner. Surely you see that this standard is unacceptably low!

    I am saying that Gentiles have positive obligations which we *must* observe. And I see that claiming otherwise sets a dangerously low standard.

    • You’ve misunderstood what “primary source” means. See http://web.calstatela.edu/library/guides/pswhat.htm. If you write a letter, you are not the primary source; the letter is. If someone then writes about your letter, trying to analyse and understand it, that writing of the second person is a secondary source. So God is not the primary source. He is the source of the primary source, i.e., the written and oral Torah.

      Now your argument about positive demands is not an argument from first principles to conclusion. I don’t see any evidence of first principles, only your belief that there must be a BASIC standard that meets your acceptance. And if those commandments don’t meet your standard, then it’s not good enough and it’s not true. I’ll tell you my starting point:

      God gave the written and oral law to Israel and Moshe. The Talmud is one of the documents that records some of the oral law. In the Talmud there is a clear statement that there are seven commandments for non-Jews. It states that these commandments are things that people should not do and they comprise of prohibitions except for one of the laws, Dinim, which has a part of it that involves things a person must do (active) and things a person should not do (inactive). Now the Divine Code must be based on the teachings that came before, it is not an authority in and of itself. Now there are teachings about Gentiles, non-Jews, doing other good things. There are teachings about people being made in the image of God and reflecting that. There are teachings about non-Jews receiving punishments for acts not contained in the seven. There are teachings about non-Jews receiving rewards for doing acts outside of the seven. But all the while the basic seven remain as the commandments upon Gentiles.

      Now tell me your first principles. If it’s simply “the Divine Code says so and I believe it,” then that’s your choice and again, I’m not gonna knock you for that. You’re a good man and I respect you as such and the Divine Code does contain teachings for good actions.

      And to equate the Divine Code to the Talmud … If you see rabbi Moshe Weiner as your rabbi, I think you had better ask him if his work is equal in authority to the Talmud, if it is “Torah no less than the Talmud.” I don’t believe he will say that it does. If he does make that claim, then he’s your authority and I doubt you’ll listen to me. I understand that and I don’t condemn you for that. But I’m surprised that you would make such a claim.

      In my worldview, the fact that good acts are not commanded but rather are things that people should do doesn’t make an unacceptably low standard. Why? Because the creator of morality is God irrespective of what we think is best. So if he sets his commandments at that level, then so be it. I trust him.

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