It’s not commanded so it’s not important

There are different ways to approach the seven laws.

Before I continue, let me just say that I’m surprised. At what? you may ask. I’m surprised that I’m still writing stuff about the seven laws. It’s odd, I know. I’m the one saying they are broad precepts with various applications and extensions, but, still, it astounds me. How many years has it been? My God! At the end of this year, it’ll be five years! And there’s still stuff to write about.

And, in addition, get this! Get this! I haven’t even started reading the Mishneh Torah yet or many other resources out there that talks of the seven laws and all the teachings available for us Gentiles, us people who are not Jewish. Wow, just imagine how many articles could be written about the differe … hmmm. I’m getting into something else. Let me get back to the subject. Hehehe!

So, like I was saying, there are different ways to approach the seven laws, and a friend of mine confronted my approach in the last article and made a few claims. One claim was this:

… if something is not commanded, it is of no great moral importance.

The friend of mine who brought this up added that his understanding of “commandment” was wider than mine. In this situation, in my article, I had said that lashon hara or evil speech was not part of the core commandment of murder. For him, because of the teaching of his rabbi, rabbi Moshe Weiner, he saw lashon hara as part of the law of murder, so it was commanded.

Therefore, associated with his view that commandments are that broad so as to cover all morally important areas, there is nothing outside of the Gentile Torah “commandments” that is of great moral importance.

So I’m going to tackle this in a number of ways:

1) Contrast my view with that of my friends;

2) Regardless of our views, according to rabbis, even according to rabbi Weiner, there are principles of great moral importance that are not commanded, and;

3) the source of my view of the “limited” scope of the core seven laws.

Let me state now that my friend is a principled fellow. He generally does not share views without some source, which tends to be the Divine Code.

Ok, let’s get to it!

So let me first comment on our similarities. We both envision a gamut of moral principles applicable to Gentiles without becoming a Jew, without trying to create a “ger” construct that doesn’t even live in Torah Israel, without creating a new religion based on the seven commandments but advocating that non-Jews are expected to keep religious symbolic laws. We both see core Gentile Torah commandments and surrounding principles through which a non-Jew can excel in this world in terms of righteousness.

So if someone were to come up to my friend and I and ask whether a person should acknowledge the one true God, we would both agree and say “Yes!” If another question was asked of us, whether a person should spread gossip and spread tales, we’d both say, “No!”

But if a person were to ask us if God commanded Gentiles to acknowledge His rulership, he would say yes and I would say no. If we were asked whether God commanded us to avoid gossip and spreading lies, he would say yes and I would say no.

If someone were to ask us if the seven precepts were broad, we would both say yes. But if we were further questioned about the nature of that breadth, you’d find that he thinks it’s broad because it has details I wouldn’t include, and I think it’s broad because even the core seven has tightly packed details and because delving into them teaches a person things which are not commanded but are important. For example, part of the actual command of Dinim is to avoid perverting justice in the course of due process. This teaches a principle that we ought to be fair in our own homes and with the people we meet. That latter principle of personal fairness is not a commandment of God but is an important principle that can be deduced from the actual command. But there’s a chance my friend may see the principle of personal fairness as God’s command (he may not, but this is only an example and analogy).

So let me show you my source for the limited view on actual commands as opposed to the not-commanded principles one can learn from the commanded laws. I’ve used it before but I’ll state it again with some commentary from rabbis.

The prohibition [of the seven laws] is their death sentence.29 R. Huna, Rab Judah, and all the disciples of Rab maintained: A [non-Jew] is executed for the violation of the seven Noachian laws;

Footnote 29: I.e., in speaking of [non-Jews], when the Tanna teaches that they are forbidden to do something, he ipso facto teaches that it is punishable by death; for only in speaking of Jews is it necessary to distinguish between prohibition and punishment. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 57a, can be read at halakhah.com or using their free Android app “Talmud in English”, original source: Soncino edition of the Babylonian Talmud, edited by rabbi Epstein)

The commentary shows that for non-Jews, with regards to those things counted amongst the seven laws, whatever is commanded is linked to the liability of death.

Additionally, in response to my friend’s claim that his definition of commandment is broad including positive commands, the Talmud teaches the following.

Only negative injunctions are enumerated, not positive ones. 38 But the precept of observing social laws is  a positive one, yet it is reckoned? — It is both positive and negative.

Footnote 38: The seven Noachian laws deal with things which a [non-Jew] must abstain from doing. (ibid. tractate 58b-59a)

As can be seen again, only prohibitions are included in the seven laws, not active commands. The only exception is Dinim, Justice which has both parts in it.

So whatever is forbidden as part of the seven laws has a liability of death attached.

The editor of the Schottenstein edition of the Talmud understands the passage in a similar way.

A warning stated concerning [the seven laws] can be understood as equivalent to a statement of their liability to execution. [25]

Footnote 25: I.e., whenever a Tanna states that a Noahite is warned against performing a certain act, he does not necessarily mean that the act is exempt from capital punishment; rather, should the Noahite go ahead and do that act, he could in fact be liable to execution. (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin 57a)

This is a statement confirmed by both Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and their Wars, Chapter 9 (sometimes halakhah 14, other times halakhah 15), and Ramban in his commentary on Genesis 34:13.

They are commanded to name judges and establish Courts in every town in order to judge [transgressions of] the six commandments and to instruct the people [about their obligations]. A Ben Noah who transgressed one the seven commandments is put to death by the sword 8. How so? A Ben Noah who committed idol worship, or blessed the Name of God [blasphemed], or murdered, or had intercourse with one of the six kins forbidden to him, or stole [even] less than one cent, or eat even the slightest quantity of a limb taken from a living animal or its meat, or saw someone committing such transgressions and did not judge and put him to death is himself put to death by the sword (Laws of Kings and Wars, chapter IX 14). (This quote is from Elisheva Barre’s book, Torah for Gentiles, on page 176. It accurately reflects the older reading of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah which is also referred to in RambaN’s commentary on Genesis 34:13)

Also included in this commandment [of Dinim -DD] is, as Rambam says, the requirement that they set up judges in every city, as is the requirement for Israel. However, if they do not do this (i.e., set up courts and judges), they are not put to death, for this is a positive commandment for them and [the Sages] said only, “their admonition not to do a particular act is what leads to their death (i.e., the Torah’s warning that something is forbidden is sufficient to warrant the death penalty for the Noahide laws)” (Sanhedrin 57a), but something is not called an “admonition” unless it is a prohibition expressed as a negative commandment, as opposed to a positive commandment. And this is the approach of the Gemara as well, in Sanhedrin (59a). (taken from pg 225 of “The Torah: with RambaN’s commentary, translated, annotatated, and elucidated, Bereishis/Genesis” where Ramban comments on Genesis 34:13)

And with regards to what commandments are part of the seven, the Schottenstein edition, Babylonian Talmud, tractate 58b states,

Only negative prohibitions for whict 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. [42]

Footnote 42. The various listings of the seven Noahide commandments contain only prohibitions against performing certain acts (do not steal, do not commit adultery). The Noahide fulfils them by not acting (refraining from theft and adultery).

So from all this, I believe I have shown that the seven laws, with the exception of Dinim, are only prohibitions that carry the liability of the death penalty. So acts of idolatry, cursing God’s name and murder carry the liability or potential of the death penalty, as the sources I quoted did state. There are other sources that say the same thing, like the Sefer HaChinnuch and many other books, but I don’t want to be stuck re-writing quotes.

Now it’s clear to me that the crime of murder according to the seven laws has the liability of the death penalty in a righteous court of law because it is part of the seven laws. But it cannot be said that lashon hara has that punishment. Even the Divine Code doesn’t claim this. I’ll get more into what the Divine Code does say later.

So the question is this: does the claim that “if something is not commanded, then it is of no great moral importance?” Can someone who relies on the authority and authorship of the Divine Code make such a claim consistent with that foundation of the Divine Code? Let me begin to quote. (Wow, that didn’t last long did it.)

The abovementioned rule applies only to Jewish commandments that are not duty-bound by logic (even if they have a logical reason) such as circumcision or tithes. However, those that are duty-bound by logic, such as honoring one’s parents, and kindness and charity, are obligated to be kept, because such is the correct way for a person to act, as befitting the image of God in which he was created. However, a Gentile may not keep them because it is a commandment from God, but rather because one is obligated to be a good, moral person.

Likewise, many prohibitions that are commanded upon Jews are obligations for Gentiles to observe based on logic, such as the prohibitions against hating others, taking revenge or bearing a grudge. (pg 72, topic 8, chapter 3, Part 1 of “The Divine Code,” written by Rabbi Moshe Weiner, edited by Dr Michael Schulman)

Look very carefully at what is said in this quote. Honouring one’s parents, kindness and charity, not holding a grudge, etc, these things are not commanded! They are not commanded upon Gentiles. But the question is whether those things are important. If they are not, then my friend’s claim holds true. But if they are important, then my friend’s claim falls because they are not commanded, yet are important.

What does the author say? He says that such principles are obligations, something not bound because of God’s command but because being in God image, such behaviour is necessary to reflect that. They are obligations based on logic, they are so weighty that it should be compelling to the mind and heart of any person, any non-Jew, seeking to be a decent person.

Although the author doesn’t use the word “important,” the existence of “obligation” means that we are not talking trivial matters but rather about important matters. And because they govern the way we live, they are about morality. Therefore we have the author of the Divine Code pointing to things which are not commanded yet are of moral importance.

I can add that the prohibition against delving into Torah is not one of the seven commandments. The prohibition against making a new religion is not one of the seven commandments. They are not one of the seven commandments as they do not carry the death penalty in a court of law. But they are important. They are of great moral importance.

Let me add the words of another rabbi showing that things which are not commanded of Gentiles are still important. (It’s important to quote rabbis because too many God-fearing Gentiles who respect the written and oral tradition tend to deprecate the notion of a Gentile being able to make strong points about Torah without rabbinical backing.)

Furthermore, many rabbinic texts recognize value in gentiles fulfilling positive religious commandments. One gemara (Kiddushin 31a) utilizes Dama ben Netina, a non-Jew, as the paradigm of honoring parents. Rabbenu Nissim (commentary on Sanhedrin 56b) assumes that the obligation of charity exists for non–Jews. R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe Orach Chaim 2:25) contends that non-Jews have a religious obligation to pray in times of distress. Based on Rambam, he argues that the seven Noahide laws must be rooted in a faith commitment to God. Given such a religious orientation, a person of faith confronting difficulties would naturally turn to God in the hope of succor. (Ramban on the Torah: An Expansive View of the Noahide Laws, by rabbi Avi Weinstein, at http://blog.webyeshiva.org/ramban-on-the-torah-an-expansive-view-of-the-noahide-laws/

Again, this points to things which are not commanded, yet are important. In another part of that article, the rabbi says something much in line with the way I think about this issue of morality and the seven laws.

My rosh yeshiva, R. Aharon Lichtenstein of Yeshivat Har Etzion,[v] offers a middle view that fits well with what I noted last time. R. Lichtenstein says Judaism certainly assumes a natural morality, intuitive and universally binding on all human beings.[vi] That morality, however, is not the same as Noahide law, a point also made by R. Dr. Norman Lamm and Prof. Aaron Kirschenbaum.[vii]

This is an important distinction for our purposes here; it means that there is an intuitive and universal human morality, yet God decided (or, as we saw last time, was “forced” by human failure to act on that universal morality) to make more specific legislation. (ibid.)

Let me share with you a footnote from the Divine Code that again points to something being important, yet not being a divine commandment.

18. However, this is forbidden for a Jew, because of the prohibition “Do not turn to the idols” (mentioned in topic 1). See topic 4, which explains that the basic reason for all the mentioned prohibitions in this chapter for Gentiles are precautions, lest one be drawn after an idol. But when there are practical reasons for a Gentile to enter a house of idol worship, it is permitted. This constitutes the basic difference between this command to Jews and to Gentiles. The Jewish prohibition, even though logically based, is obligatory in any case. But the Gentile is prohibited from a totally rational basis, so therefore in specific instances when there are other considerations in which the basic logic doesn’t apply, the prohibition is lifted. (footnote 18, pg 144, from “The Divine Code,” written by Rabbi Moshe Weiner, edited by Dr Michael Schulman)

This is from a chapter called “The Prohibition of Turning to Idol Worship.” According to the writer, all the prohibitions in that chapter are precautions but they are not divine commandments, only obligations based on logic. The Jewish command is a divine command, an absolute. But for Gentiles it is not one of the seven laws. It’s not part of the seven laws one of which is against idolatry. But it is a principle logically derived from the divine law.

1. Even though Gentiles are not commanded to “be fruitful and multiply,” it is nevertheless God’s will that every man who is able should marry a woman and have children from her … (pg 510, topic 1, chapter 4, Part VI, from “The Divine Code,” written by Rabbi Moshe Weiner, edited by Dr Michael Schulman)

Again, something not commanded, yet having importance.

The author draws general support for the second opinion from Likkutei Siĥot vol. 5, p. 159-160, which says that a fundamental (i.e. Divinely mandated) obligation of Gentiles is to develop the world into a correct and just environment for a faithful humanity. (pg 80, ibid.)

Again, when arguing another point, the author points again to a very important principle that is not one of the seven commandments, that of developing the world into a correct and just environment for a faithful humanity.

Beyond these seven categories of prohibitions, there are also fundamental and universal positive obligations, including: belief, faith and trust in God; turning to Him for one’s needs; and creating a civilized world. (pg 31, ibid.)

So according to the Divine Code, “belief, faith and trust in God, turning to Him for one’s needs, and creating a civilized world” is not part of the seven laws, but rather they are beyond the seven. So once again, signs that there are things not commanded yet are of importance.

It’s my contention that the claim that because God didn’t command Gentiles something it is therefore not important is a fallacy, a non-sequitur. One part of the statement doesn’t follow to the other without hidden pre-conclusions. It is a fact that God gave commandments. It is a fact that there are important moral principles to follow. But the notion that only what God commands is of moral importance has no basis either in Torah or reality. I’ve yet to see positive evidence of this claim.

My view of a divine commandment for Gentiles does not include positive obligations because the Talmud states that the seven laws are only prohibitions (save Dinim which has prohibitive and active parts). My view of a divine commandment doesn’t include principles that don’t have the liability of the death penalty in a righteous court of law because the Talmud states that all the seven laws carry that possibility.

Yet, because delving into the seven laws can teach extra important messages and principles, and because the seven laws, to me, encourage a person to be decent and honest because of the God who made us all in his image, and because deeper thought into positive human relations can lead to righteous and beneficial behaviour, my worldview includes the seven laws, the extended principles they teach, the responsibility of being made in God’s image and the notion of creating a world to be settled in (something else taught in the Divine Code). When I say the seven commandments are broad, I’m not saying they are exhaustive with regards to regulating all human behaviour because I don’t believe that the seven laws are the be-all-and-end-all of human behaviour, but rather, as many teach, including Rabbi Weiner, it is the baseline for Gentile behaviour (footnote 7, pg 471 in the Divine Code). There is both a lot to the seven laws, and there is a lot beyond the seven laws that has nothing to do with taking on additional commandments or foraging through Jewish ceremonies and ritual to chop bits off to make them suitable for Noahide observance.

Being decent and moral human beings is not commanded, but it is expected.

But I saw a possible source for some of the belief that God commanded a lot more than the seven laws, or that God commanded Gentiles a lot more. In fact, there are many sources for the idea. Just recently I was in a chat where a Gentile was adamant that one of the seven laws commanded by God was “the prohibition against murder and personal injury.” Somehow and from somewhere, this Gentile, or should I say non-Jew, had gotten the idea that God had given humanity a commandment forbidding personal injury. Of course, God commanded against murder, and again personal injury is not good, but the idea that personal injury was one of the things prohibited by the seven laws has no basis to it in the tradition.

But it was symptomatic of a fear something is only wrong if it was prohibited by an overt commandment from God. “Oh, it’s not in the Seven Commandments so it is totally fine.” Certain people keep bringing that claim up saying that this is what I believe, as if this is the only stance that can be taken if the commandments of God are narrower than they seem to believe it to be. But this flies against what rabbi Moshe Weiner (the Divine Code), echoing Rav Nissim Ga’on and rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and others have said. They have all taught that, for a Gentile, there is more to morality than commandment, that aside from the commandment, humans should live lives befitting the divine image we are formed in, that we do good not because God necessarily commanded it, but just to be decent and moral human beings.

But one popular source of the belief that the seven commandments are wider than they actually are is the Divine Code itself.

Now don’t stone me. I think the Divine Code is excellent. That doesn’t mean I have to take it as the absolute and only truth. It’s ok, I know what some already think because it has been said to me numerous times. “Oh, David, you’re only a relatively inexperienced and unlearned Gentile, but the writer of the Divine Code is a rabbi who has years, decades of experience and learning. Who are you to contradict him?” If I truly am a “no one,” a “nothing,” then just ignore what I say next. I’m not going to try to convince that I’m worth your time or attention.

You see it is the Divine Code that teaches that God commanded positive commandments, active commandments, upon Gentiles, even though the Talmud says otherwise.

The prohibition of idolatry has two facets: the command to recognize and know God (this was explained in Part I, topics 1:1-4), and the
prohibition against serving idols. (pg 134, “The Divine Code”)

The Divine Code teaches that Gentiles have a positive commandment in the prohibition of idolatry, to recognise and know God. That’s how it is commonly understood. Based on the principle that “from the negative, one can infer the positive,” and interpreting the commentary of Rashi and the words of Rambam, the Divine Code clearly says this: “It is therefore obvious that all the nations of the world are commanded to believe in and recognize God” (pg 48).” On page 93, it says “The commandment to fear God has a logical basis and is a part of accepting and recognizing Him. It is included in the Noahide prohibition against blasphemy …” So to the writer of the Divine Code, a Gentile has positive commandments, but he states that they are within prohibitions.

To continue, on page 276, it says “… since there is a positive commandment for Gentiles to keep their promises …”

I have to repeat, the issue here is not whether Gentiles should or should not keep their promises, or fear and recognise God. The issue is whether Gentiles were commanded to do these things. I’m not talking about “logically derived” or “commandments created by logic.” The prohibitions against murder and theft are not logically derived; God commanded them. The commandments that are part of the seven have a death penalty assigned and are prohibitions. Yet again and again, the writer of the Divine Code says “there’s this positive command” and “here’s another positive command.”

In English, if you logically derive thing X from something else, then thing X is not commanded. You were not ordered to do thing X. No one told you to do thing X. A command is someone telling you, ordering you, to do or not do something. A logical derivation, an obligation based on logic, is logically not an order, but is simply a moral conclusion. And, based on what the Talmud and its commentators have said, I see no compelling evidence that God gave positive commands.

So if you’re looking to me (I know you’re not, but that’s the shape of the sentence I’m constructing) to say that God gave Gentiles positive commandments, you won’t get it. And if you believe that all Gentile acts are shaped by commandments, similar to the Jewish Torah worldview, then, once again, that’s not my way of thinking.

But to say again, being decent and moral human beings is not commanded, but it is expected. I may be alone in this (I don’t think I am alone in this), but I find great joy and fulfilment not only living within God’s commandments and plumbing their depths, but also in living up to his expectations. I not only embrace what he has enjoined upon me, but also the responsibility natural to the way God created every human being.

And yes, many of the secrets to these responsibilities can be found in those Jewish commandments that are … Let me use the words of the Divine Code.

Likewise, many prohibitions that are commanded upon Jews are
obligations for Gentiles to observe based on logic … A Gentile should observe these prohibitions out of human decency, and not as Divine commandments of their own. (pg 72-73, “The Divine Code”)

I know this essay won’t convince my friend, but I’m not trying to convince him or anyone. I just hope this essay goes some way to explaining how I think, why I can be adamant about there only being seven divine commandments for Gentiles which may appear somewhat limited whilst acknowledging that there is more that we should do which is not commanded.

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6 Comments

  1. I totally get it.
    I know that for me personally, that the more I study the seven laws and the Torah ethics for humanity the more I and my world view evolves. I am not who I was a year ago. My world view today would be considered foreign to what it was a few years ago.

    • It’s a blessing that you saw good in the article. Yes, it’s amazing how much the whole world seems to change when we delve more into the truth of Torah. I mean, it’s the same but … it’s like the glasses we wear … can’t find the words. I think you get the gist.

  2. Hrvatski Noahid

    “Within the Seven Noahide Commandments, each one has a negative aspect (Do not commit…) At the same time, each one has a positive aspect and teaching that molds you into a better person (The Divine Code by Rabbi Moshe Weiner, Ask Noah International, 2011, p 563).

    It is critically important to follow the negative and positive aspects of the 7 Commandments because HaShem **commanded** them and not because of human logic:

    “If one rationalizes the observance of these seven precepts and observes them based only on that reasoning, he may indeed be an intelligent person, and he may do many good deeds. But if one’s observance is based only on human intellect, which is limited, it is definitely not connected with the eternally existing Divine Truth. Therefore, such an approach lacks the essential element of binding to God’s will, and, as the world has seen from tragic experiences, the person who follows that approach will be at increased risk of rationalizing an actual transgression.” (the same, p 35)

    You write that kindness and charity are not commanded. It is not that simple. The Noahide prohibition of murder and injury includes the positive aspect to save a person’s life (p 449, topic 3). If you feed a starving man, you saved his life.

    “The Prohibition of Murder: This command is not limited to murder; rather any harm caused to another person or to his honor is a branch of this prohibition. From this we learn the value of a person’s life and his honor. A person must endeavor to help and save every person to the best of his capability. From this follows the obligation to give charity and help others.”
    https://asknoah.org/faq/learn-from-noahide-laws#more-4842

    So charity is a positive aspect of the Noahide prohibition of murder. Similar derivations exist for other “logical” obligations.

    • Hi HRV. I hope and pray I was respectful to you in the article.

      I have understood that the foundation of your claims is different to mine. You’ve set rabbi Weiner as your authority. So that’s why I don’t aim to convince you because I know where you stand.

      I won’t debate what you’ve quoted. But I do hope I’ve remained respectful.

  3. Hrvatski Noahid

    Yes, of course! I enjoyed your article. Peace.

  4. DP

    “If something is not commanded, it is of no great moral importance.”

    Looking back at the debates of the early Xian movement, this was the historical Paul’s big, big theological blunder in prescribing Gentiles’ behaviour towards each other outside the seven categories of universal laws.

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