Is “evil talking” part of the seven laws?

Someone, a follower of rabbis Katz and Clorfene, did not like my article which took rabbi Clorfene’s article apart piece by piece. He showed his disgruntlement publicly and included in his attempt to “expose” me, he said the following:

​I can’t take you to a Noahide court for leshon harah, so I’ll have to do with the interwebs and making some noise.

He continued later on, saying

On the court: If, say, I see what I think is public leshon harah, then, yes, I could take you to a court and the court would have jurisdiction over the case and the means to enforce the Law if broken. Leshon harah is a prohibited act in Noahide Law.

Moving past the fact that this person was disappointed at the fact he couldn’t at leat try to hurt me using the courts, very much like those who use the coercion of “government” to force compliance or get retaliation against someone they feel has wronged them, let me deal with the more pertinent issue: is lashon harah a prohibited act in … ?

Firstly, what is lashon hara?

Lashon Hara is any derogatory or damaging statement against an individual. In Hilchot Deot 7:5, Maimonides supplies a litmus test for determining whether something is or isn’t Lashon Hara:

Anything which, if it would be publicized, would cause the subject physical or monetary damage, or would cause him anguish or fear, is Lashon Hara. (“What is Lashon Hara?” from http://torah.org/learning/halashon-review1/)

A looser definition can be found at chabad.org where it says:

Lashon hara literally means “bad talk.” This means that it is forbidden to speak negatively about someone else, even if it is true. (“Laws of Lashon Hara,” at http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/922039/jewish/Laws-of-Lashon-Hara.htm)

Now I know there are more details to it than that, but at least I want to give my accuser as much of a chance as possible.

Now I have a problem here. The person threatening me refers to something called “the noahide law.” Now, I’m not sure what exactly the guy is pointing to. You may know that I see the word “noahide” as ambiguous due to its various usages amongst Jews and Gentiles. But “the noahide law” … what is that? Is that the same as the seven laws commanded by God upon the children of Noah, the Gentiles, as the Talmud states?

For me personally, the term “noahide law” became confusing after I started to consider the book “the Divine Code” by R’ Moshe Weiner. I noticed that when it kept referring to a “Noahide Code,” it was different to “the seven laws for the descendants of Noah, of Gentiles.” It included the seven laws but is a much larger body of supposed “authoritative rulings” upon Gentiles. The details of the pure seven laws are smaller in number.

Now is the complainant kvetching about the pure seven laws or a subjective wider body of principles based on who knows what?

Let me just stick to the absolute and fundamental, just the pure seven without extensions. Here’s my question in more specific wording: is lashon hara part of the seven commandments?

Yes, I’m going to do what I enjoy doing. I’m going to recount the seven commandments. Here goes:

– Justice (Laws, Equity, Courts, prohibition against injustice)

– Cursing God’s name

– Idolatry

– Forbidden sexual partners

– Theft

– Murder

– Eating the limb of a living animal

Now let’s just deal with the basics here, just the basics. Just look at those laws! You should see something missing. There is no sign of “lashon hara.” There is a law against cursing God’s name, but that’s literally not lashon hara. And no other law deals directly with speech. Murder does not because that is talking about the ending of physical life. Theft is about taking or withholding a person’s property without their consent. There is no core commandment against lashon hara.

So to sum up, lashon hara is not part of the seven laws.

Now I’ve seen what various rabbis have said about lashon hara, some say that it is indicated by the law against cursing God, or that it is similar to murder, or that it is as bad as or worse than idolatry, murder and sexual immorality (see Gossip in the Noahide Law). And all these laws are part of the seven laws. But although lashon hara is “similar to” and “as bad as” or “worse than” part of the seven laws, it is literally not part of the seven.

Now there is a rational basis and societal benefit to guarding one’s speech. In that way, it is very important for any human to be committed to proper speech. And the fact it has similarities to some aspects and details of the seven points to its significance for Gentiles. It’s part of living up to the responsibility that comes with being a human made in God’s image.

So no, lashon hara is not strictly or technically in the seven laws. But it has great moral importance for Gentiles.

On a side note, could I really be taken to court, a righteous court, a court upholding the seven laws, about this? If a dude, like this “gerring,” forsook reasoning with me and wanted to just make sure I got punished, could he take me to a good court?

Before I answer, I should add that that there is no positive evidence that I committed “evil speech” according to the rules of it. My accuser didn’t even bother to point out the exact phrase where I did it, nor did he cite the exact detail of the laws of “evil speech” that he thinks I broke. It’s a bit like being stopped by a policeman who accuses you of breaking the traffic laws, and you ask, “which one?” to which he doesn’t tell you which one but just goes on to claim you broke them. It causes me to doubt that there is even a solid case against me. (That is not to say I think traffic “laws” have any innate authority – I don’t think they do.)

So let’s imagine he could point to a detail of lashon hara that I had allegedly broken. Could he really mount a case against me?

Now the seven laws, in a better world, would be international law. They would apply to all Gentiles. But, as I’ve stated, lashon hara is not one of the seven laws. Since it is not international law, it is in the hands of each community to decide if and how such non-seven-laws issues should be handled. It is up to each community to decide if it should or even can “give up” an individual to another community which more readily punishes certain non-seven-laws “infractions. And I’m talking about literal communities, not virtual ones.

So my accuser lives in an entirely different country and continent to me and has a different mindset to me. It is wholly likely that he would be in a totally different community to me. In fact there’s a great chance that he would be living in Israel if he has any consistency with this “ger” notion. Therefore the notion of him trying to threaten and coerce me by means of a court because he thinks I attacked his rabbi rather than rebutting his rabbi’s teaching seems rather unlikely.

I wanted to add that last bit because I like to imagine what a Torah-observant Gentile world would look like.

OK, I shall now move on.

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17 Comments

  1. Hrvatski Noahid

    Rav Weiner determined the Torah Law for Gentiles more comprehensively than just the “pure” seven laws. If we follow Rav Weiner, the general prohibition of murder and harming another person includes the prohibition of evil talking. You write that lashon hara is not strictly or technically in the seven laws but it has great moral importance for Gentiles. That is a meaningless statement. If lashon hara is not in the seven laws, it does not have great moral importance for Gentiles. If you follow the “core” 7 Commandments, you need to do so consistently.

    • Just to check, are you saying that if something is not commanded then it is not of great moral importance? Because I think even the divine code disagrees with that idea.

  2. Hrvatski Noahid

    Yes, I am saying that if something is not commanded then it is not of great moral importance. But my definition of a commandment includes positive aspects, so it is broader than yours.

    • Good. Thanks for stating your claim clearly. I’ll look to firstly shy away from my personal opinion and give quotes that clarify the meaning of commandment with respect to the seven laws, and then I’ll use rabbi Weiner’s book and other sources to show that something not commanded can still be of great moral importance.

      I acknowledge that we come at this subject from different angles. Your view of what a commandment is is different to mine; yours based on the Divine Code and mine based on the Talmud and other books. So what I will eventually write will not be to convince you of anything. It’ll just be my way of dealing with your claim that if something is not commanded then it is not of great moral importance.

      I’ll start working on that soon.

      Thanx for sharing your disagreement.

  3. Hrvatski Noahid

    I look forward to it. Peace.

    • HRV, how comes this is continuing, this friendship despite disagreeing? I disagree with other people and things break down.

  4. Hrvatski Noahid

    I think we are motivated by a desire for truth and not by ego. We have been communicating since 2011. Your friendship helped me in some of the darkest times of my life. You have my everlasting thankfulness.

    • God bless you, HRV! You’ve been a faithful friend to me too. I hope I always remember to cherish and not to get caught up by ego and needing to beat others. I hope I can have your mature outlook! Again, God bless you!

  5. Hrvatski Noahid

    God bless you too, in this world and in the world to come!

  6. Elisheva

    Hesedyahu, Very well thought.
    1/ Indeed, Lashon ha’Ra is not part of the seven. The reason is that Lashon ha’Ra is a derivative of the prohibition of Rechilut (Gossip) which is explicitly addressed exclusively to Israel (Leviticus 19:16) “you will not go tale bearing among your people”. The severity of this prohibition for Israel is emphasized by way of exegesis and assimilated to part of the seven but this does NOT extend the prohibition of Lashon Hara to BN.
    2/ Even a Jew will not be liable in a Beit Din for gossiping according to the principle that what is punishable is a deed and there is no deed in speech. That does not exclude, as you say, that “it has a great moral importance for Gentiles”. So if this gossip is written in a newspaper, it does become a harmful deed and then “the laws of the land” will have to deal with the problem.
    3/ Of course, rebutting a rabbi’s teachings is in no way a personal attack. If you took rabbi Cloferne’s article “apart piece by piece”, he should relate to your arguments in a scholarly manner and clarify. Not doing so is denying you the right to learn, which in turn denies him the right to teach…

    • Elisheva

      Another word, the punishment for Lashon Hara for Israel is the wonderful divine manifestation of leprosy – a thing which does not affect Gentiles.

      • Elisheva, a particular follower of rabbi David Katz has been using the argument that the only way to get leprosy is to do lashon hara, and Naaman had leprosy, therefore showing that lashon hara applies to non-Jews. I’ve seen one rebuttal to that argument. May I ask if you have a view on such an argument. And would you be kind enough to share it with me.

    • Oh, Elisheva. Here I was about to quote your book in an article I’m writing (I will clearly state that it’s from your book) and then you appear. Despite the … ah, forget it. It’s just good to see your words. I still respect you as one of my teachers. That won’t change. Thanks for your comment.

  7. Elisheva

    There is NO BASIS for inferring that lashon hara was the cause of Naaman’s leprosy because in his case, it was an illness that can also affect Gentiles.
    Indeed, the cure Elisha suggests (immersing 7 times in the Jordan) is NOT the way Jews are purified of the leprosy affecting them (as described in Vayikra). Elisha offers Naaman a miraculous cure, but it is still a cure (as the Aramaic translation of this section makes clear). Also, when Naaman’s leprosy is transferred to Gehazi, it is said that he turned “leprous as snow” which is a sign of Tzaraat affecting Jews for a number of reasons – lashon hara being singled out because it is explicit in the Torah (as in the case of Miriam). It never said that Naaman was “white as snow”.
    The Halacha wonderfully embodies this difference: If a Gentile who is affected by signs of Tzaraat converts, we consider it as if it just now affected him as he became a Jew (for the count of days of seclusion) and he goes through the process described in the Torah and not a medical treatment.
    So like the leprosy described in the Torah is specific to Jews and does not apply to Gentiles, its cause is specific to Jews and Lashon Ha’ra does not cause leprosy to Gentiles.

  8. David Rhodes

    Strangely, out of the entire article, the most interesting point to me was how you saw no innate value in traffic laws. I’ve been wondering about this, as I generally understand the commandment to “establish courts” as referring to establishing courts to enforce the seven laws. Could such courts cover other matters, or would they be restricted to these laws and other courts would have to be established for other issues. What exactly is your opinion on “traffic laws.” I don’t know, but it strikes me that avoiding traffic laws often leads to manslaughter. Surely preventitive measures are valuable. I don’t know. What power does the State itself have, and what is the correct idea of national sovereignty anyway! Dang, so many questions from one statement, and it wasn’t even what the article was about! Sorry, just picked up on that one point and all the questions it brings up to me for how to establish a proper society for gentiles. May God bless!

    • I’m glad you found something to question about the article and I enjoyed the way you phrased your ponderings.

      Let me give my opinion on what you’ve said and asked.

      I didn’t give a value statement about traffic laws. I didn’t say “I see no value in traffic laws.” I said I see no innate authority to those laws.

      I conclude that irresponsible driving leads to murder, not necessarily avoiding “traffic laws.” To me, all a traffic law is the threat: “drive as I tell you or I’ll hurt you!” A traffic law is not innately the call to responsibility but rather the imposition of coercion. that is all the state/govt can do: threaten you. But to drive maturely and responsibly with awareness, that is what avoids murder, regardless of threats/laws.

      I do see some value in rules, in preventative measures. And if accidents and irresponsibility occur, there should be punishments/restorations if possible. But in UK and USA and Australia, the sort of driving the politicians (not the judges of a court) think they can control and punish is much wider than even morality. Extorting people and threatening them for driving over a certain painted line or not having a certain piece of paper are examples and evidence that what is called “traffic laws” is not about prevention but rather about oppression, the bad side of “control.”

      I’ve been “tainted” by the argumentation I’ve seen from voluntaryists, anarchists (philosophical ones like Larken Rose and Lysander Spooner [his book “No Treason: Constitution of No Authority”] and Marc Stevens, not people who do violence) and libertarians. I don’t see the source of the authority of the state. And they do seem to only be the group that has the monopoly on legitimized violence and aggression. Thankfully there is no clear moral principle from God that demands obedience to the dictates of those people, that violent group.

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