Strawman fallacy: Because you only keep seven …
It’s important to state from the start that this is not aimed at a certain faction or even a certain individual. This is about a terrible idea which I thought was only in the mind of false teachers like Asher Meza. But unfortunately both the teaching and some specific wording has been found in the mouth of a Gentile under the tutelage of rabbi David Katz. And yes, I’m linking it to rabbi David Katz because it is not far from what I’ve heard him teaching. I’m not charging him with making the claims his disciple makes. But the apple has not fallen far from the tree (I’m talking about in terms of what is being taught, not the actual individuals).
Please take a look at this facebook post that was made public.
As a show of courtesy, I had asked for the writer’s permission if he wished to be named. What was returned to me was venom, so I retracted my request. I’m just showing the image as is with no alteration.
So just look at the first line.
You’ve heard that the ben Noah have Seven Laws and are prohibited to take on any other mitzvos in the Torah
The writer, speaking about the people who hold similar views to me, starts the comment with a strawman. Here’s the actual claim I make: God commanded Seven Commandments upon Gentiles, the descendants of Noah (Sanhedrin 56a), and it is wrong and bad to claim that God commanded more upon Gentiles. That’s the actual claim.
How does the writer create a strawman? He states that people like me claim that God has commanded seven laws and you’re not allowed to do anything more. So if it even looks like a Jewish commandment or a good deed, you can’t do it.
I hope you can see why the writer’s depiction is a strawman argument. Nobody said you can’t have and practice principles other than the Seven. Rambam didn’t say it. The Talmud didn’t say it. I’ve never said it. The people I know haven’t said it. The point I’ve been making is that you shouldn’t put words and commands in the mouth of God. “Don’t add to God’s words so that you don’t get classed as a liar” (Proverbs 30:6).
If a Gentile says to himself that it’s a good idea not to muzzle the ox as he treads the corn, and then goes out and treats his oxen in that manner, then he hasn’t added to God’s command. It’s of practical benefit and he does it to treat his oxen better.
But if a Gentile says that God commanded him prohibiting the muzzling of oxen as they tread the corn, then he has done something wrong, something he shouldn’t have done. Even if he says, “God commanded the Jews so he commanded me as well,” he is still adding to the Seven, claiming that God commanded him extra.
Again, I hope you see the difference.
So when the writer then writes a list of actions (or inactions) most of which are not part of the seven commandments. I say most because he said this
Paying workers on the day they work.
But this is actually part of the Gentile law. Well in a way anyway. To quote,
A gentile is liable for violating the prohibition against theft whether he stole from another gentile or from a Jew.
This applies to one who forcefully robs an individual or steals money, a kidnapper, an employer who withholds his worker’s wages … (halakhah 9, chapter 9, Laws of Kings and their wars, Mishneh Torah, by Rambam)
As you can see, not giving a worker his wages when it was contractually agreed or as soon as reasonably possible is theft (not simply “on the day they work”).
But again, using the true principle as opposed to the strawman principle, it’s easy to see that a lot of the other things listed are of practical use to Gentiles on a whole. Let’s take a look.
Not muzzling your ox when plowing a field. Wearing a barrier between you and the furniture when menstruating. Paying workers on the day they work. Resting your fields on the seventh year. Not charging interest when loaning money to your family. Not charging interest when loaning money to a Jew. Eating kosher. Not mixing wool with linen. Not using one’s Rabbi’s microwave when your staying over on Shabbat. Praying to God.Offering to God. Believing in God. Believing in Torah. Learning Torah. Tzedakah. Allowing a stranger to glean one’s fields. Not taunting the ger in their midst.
Now a lot of these are irrelevant to most Gentiles. Most Gentiles don’t have rabbis or have dealings with entities called “ger.” Mixing wool with linen seems to have no practical use for Gentiles so I have no idea why that’s there. Unless there is actually a practical benefit to not mixing linen and wool, there’s little point in giving this the time of day.
Also there’s nothing morally wrong with charging Jew or Gentile interest on loans, but there’s also nothing morally wrong about charging no interest. But a Gentile who, for the sake of kindness or attracting business or whatever practical benefit, chooses not to charge interest isn’t keeping an additional commandment. He’s not saying “God commanded me not to charge interest.”
Giving the fields a rest every seventh year, for a Gentile, to do it every seven years is just arbitrary. I remember learning in school that farmers would let parts of their field lie fallow every few years. So there’s no need for a “rest every seventh year for a Gentile. But if a farmer chooses to let his field lay fallow every two years or every three years or every four years, etc., he’s not keeping an extra commandment, even if he chose every seven years.
Look, reader, I don’t want to bore you going point-by-point through this person’s misunderstanding. It may seem repetitive. But it’s important to know and show the difference between keeping a commandment and just doing a good deed because it’s good and/or has a benefit to it.
The writer brings up “eating kosher.” Someone who really understands Jewish Torah Law will know that there is a lot more to eating kosher than simply avoiding eating the animals forbidden to Israel in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. It’s a whole lifestyle of eating that covers how the animal is slaughtered and the separation of certain food items and the setup of a kitchen. The Torah gives no rational basis for avoiding the unclean animals (although some claim health benefits, but that’s not stated in the Torah). Maybe people are being taught that somehow only eating the ritually clean foods is somehow “spiritually” better or connects them to God (???) Let’s pretend that that is true. Or maybe a person doesn’t want to eat meat taken from an animal treated cruelly. Whatever the case may be, it’s still done not out of commandment but rather for self-growth or piety. But it’s still not wrong to have a ham sandwich or a cheese burger.
Hmmm … should I even touch the menstruating point? I’ve known …. errr … I’ve seen … *blush* … Look it’s just about if it’s practical for the Gentile woman. Nothing about commandment to do with it!
Ok, quickly moving on! Heh!
If a person knows God is real, then the act of praying to God, trusting in him and giving to him is a natural response, not a commanded one. If I know God is real, but he didn’t dictate to me that I must pray to him under force of commandment, then am I forbidden to express myself to or about him? To think so is illogical and such an argument wouldn’t follow. Worshipping God is not the act of taking on a commandment any more than singing a love song to the person you’re in love with. Praying to God is no more a commandment than phoning an earthly parent.
I’ve got to say, it is particularly disappointing to see this sort of argument in the mouths of any God-fearer, the idea that because God didn’t overtly command his own worship and positive expressions to and about him, that’s a negative. “God, you didn’t command me to do it so it’s forbidden.” Me, a so-called “seven laws only guy,” I’ve never said such a stupid idea. Nobody who agrees with my conclusions has made such a silly argument.
Acknowledging God, for a Gentile, isn’t a commandment, especially those of us who do not have the heritage of Israel but rather a non-Torah background, who will more likely need to see logical argument and emotional encouragement to accept such truths. And once acknowledgement has been voluntarily done, the notion that the natural actions afterwards, of prayer and trust, need to be commanded or taken on as commandment or else it is forbidden is totally ridiculous, lacking intellectual merit and positive evidence from Torah.
We’re no longer in an agricultural society for the most so talking about letting foreigners take gleanings from your harvest doesn’t impact many people nowadays. But being kind and generous to anyone, regardless of nationality, is just doing good. It can be out of a heart that has that giving nature, or out of cultural or family custom or tradition. It’s just a good thing to do. A person who does it, even habitually, isn’t “taking on a commandment.”
You see, as I’ve said previously, when I say God only gave seven broad commandments, I’m not saying God forbade any other action unless it’s a commandment. He didn’t forbid parents from loving their children because it’s not one of the seven. He didn’t attach a “free-for-all” sign to the act of pedophilia, gambling, drug and alcohol abuse, pornography, slothfulness and laziness, amongst many other things just because they may not have been explicitly prohibited in the seven.
But in our different non-Torah lands and communities, it appears God does two things. Firstly he gives foundational commandments as the basis for life in this world. Secondly, he gives us more leeway to learn what it is to be human or “adam,” to find morality in humanity and vice versa. He judges all our actions, not just the ones covered by the seven, and understands our situation, it being fundamentally different to that of his chosen people, the Torah nation of Israel.
The fallacy that the writer of the post commits to can be seen as the result of the notion that all good behaviour must be commanded, as if we were all Jews at Sinai who were given an extensive list of divine commandments. It is the more poisonous idea that if something is not commanded, it is totally ok.
Let me be blunt! There is no positive evidence for the idea that something not prohibited by explicit command of God is totally fine, that the person doing it can “get away with it.” If God didn’t give the exact and explicit command that lying was prohibited, there’s no evidence that says therefore you can lie all your days and get away with it.
Also, there is no positive evidence to the notion that if God didn’t give an explicit active command to do something, that doing that thing becomes an additional command that you’re obeying. So if a Gentile is not commanded to give charity and he chooses to give charity, that doesn’t become an additional command for him.
But in the minds of some, it’s all about being commanded.
When I first heard someone equating the seven laws to the bronze age, it was Asher Meza. He had made a number of videos denouncing the seven laws in order to teach non-Jews that remaining Gentile was never the divine will but rather all those who knew the God of Israel would become Jews. As well as calling the seven laws relics of the bronze age, he said they were morally stagnant.
Now we have a non-Jew preaching a similar message. The seven laws, that are supposed to be from God, he relegates the point of them to simply living a “bronze age” life, meaning beggarly and backwards. It’s what you scrape to just so that “the Jews won’t be rid of you.” I’ve seen for myself that the writer of the post would say that the seven laws were only for restraining the body, limiting some behaviours and were devoid of spirit (almost like “morally stagnant”), that the point of the seven laws is simply to keep a person civilised just enough to avoid getting wiped out.
And the writer is supposed to be someone who honours God, the source of the seven commandments?!?
When I gave my video rebuttal about Asher Meza’s comments, I accused him of blasphemy for treating God’s law so poorly. I make that same accusation against those who portray God’s law, the seven, so poorly. Where’s the respect? Where’s the acknowledgement that the starting point is not a backwards position, and the baseline is the ground from which to jump and build on, not “the world of the scavenger?”
Yet the question is asked, “if action x is not prohibited by the seven, then how is it evil?” For example, if “pushing” (selling) harmful addictive substances to those who don’t know better isn’t explicitly forbidden in the seven, then how is it evil for the Gentile? The inverse could be asked: if there are no positive commandments amongst most of the seven, then what is good for the Gentile? [For those who accept the Divine Code as an authority, just humour me.]
He would say: Beloved is man, since he is created in the image [of God]. A deeper love – it is revealed to him that he is created in the image, as it says (Genesis 9:6): “for in God’s image He made man.” (Pirkei Avot 3:14)
This stamp, not the seven laws, separates us from the animal. Even before the first human was given the seven laws, he was still a human, not a beast. And, being brief, being a human, being in the image didn’t just give us the ability to choose, but the responsibility to make the choices that emulate the Person or even the characteristic we were formed in. Another way of saying it is “imiteo deo,” imitating or reflecting the Judge (“elohim“). We don’t just reflect him with the ability to judge but by making right judgments. Take a look!
IMITATION OF GOD (Imitatio Dei), a theological concept meaning man’s obligation to imitate God in His actions.
The doctrine of the imitation of God is related to the biblical account of the creation of man in the image of God, which acknowledges a resemblance between man and his Creator. Yet man is to imitate God, not impersonate Him (see Gen. 3:5). (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/imitation-of-god)
Rabbi Baruch Epstein explains that, clearly, the Talmud does not mean to imply that the seven commandments of Noah are learned from this command to Adam, but rather that these seven laws are the basis of natural morality incumbent on all humanity – starting with creation of the first man. Rabbi Keidar expands: “The sages understood that the seven commandments to Noah are known to man, if he but look to his tzelem Elokim … for, indeed, the recognition of what is moral is embedded in man in his being created in the ‘image of God’.”
As such, the “image of God” within man – his tzelem Elokim – is the innate intuitive capacity to achieve moral understanding, to make moral decisions without access to reason. (http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/bereishit-in-the-image-of-god/)
I believe that good and evil is defined in one way by a deviation from that image and imitation.
The seven laws are those parts of governing good and evil that can be implemented in a court of justice, but, as anyone should know from the legal system in our various lands, that right and wrong are wider than what can be pinned down in a court of law. The seven laws are practically also a guide to what is beyond the courts. If a person is diligent in them, it can produce a lot more fruit, personally and communally, than simply controlling and restricting certain bodily behaviours.
The writer of the facebook post said:
The Seven means you get to live. Seven + Hashem, and your destination is Sinai.
Compare this to the statement of the Maharal of Prague, quoted by rabbi Yoel Schwartz in his work “Noahide Commandments” on page 4.
The actions of a person should be done in order to fulfill and carry out the commandments of the Creator, since these are the things that elevate a person. As the Maharal from Prague wrote in Tiferet Yisrael (Chapter 4), “The commandments of the Torah can be likened to a rope by which a person is drawn out of a hole or a well. The person is drawn from the lowest levels to the higher levels of the world. The more he does, the more he removes materialism from himself, which then enables him to sit next to the Lord of Hosts.”
The seven commandments are still commandments, and they were enjoined upon us Gentiles. The source of the commandments is God whether a person believes it or not. Therefore the seven commandments are still a means of drawing man away from materialism. To quote rabbi Yoel Schwartz again from the same page,
There is, sometimes, an opposite process when outside actions (not connected or controlled by the person) influence the internal thinking of a person as it is explained in Sefer Ha’Chinuch #16, explaining why the Torah has so many practical precepts:
“Know that a person is governed by his actions. His heart and all his thoughts are influenced by the actions that he is involved in be they good or bad. Even a wicked man whose thoughts are concentrated on doing evil all day, if he should start studying Torah and Mitzvot, even if he is not doing it for G-d’s sake, he will start acting in a more positive manner. This is because the heart goes after the deeds. The same holds true, concerning a righteous man, who lives according to the Torah and Mitzvot, but makes a living from dubious transactions, or if for example he is forced by the King or ruler to deal in such dubious matters, he will eventually be transformed from a righteous man to an evil one.”
So since God’s commandments to man, the seven, are from God, the keeping of those commandments don’t simply keep a person breathing, but opens him to the truth of Deity. I’m not saying it is guaranteed that such a man will become a Torah theist, but he will still be a force of good, God’s good, in this world and is more likely to embract the truth of God.
So based on these quotes, God’s law, even for us Gentiles, isn’t “spiritually dead,” but rather are means for repairing the individual, the community and the world by encouraging righteousness.
It’s a horrible shame when Jews, like Asher Meza, and Gentiles (non-Jews) like the writer of that facebook post promote such distorted philosophies and misunderstandings about not just the seven laws, but the relationship between non-Jews and certain good deeds, that because they are not commanded they are forbidden, that because other deeds are not prohibited by force of explicit command they are not just permissible but also totally fine. It is such distortions that end in discouragement, hatred at God and other people, blasphemy, rejection of Torah (such as the oral tradition and the Talmud) and much more negativity. It makes Gentiles think they have to or should take on Jewish commandments that are irrelevant to Gentiles, such as some of the examples given by the non-Jewish facebook poster.
Hmmm … why haven’t I called him by his name? I’m not exactly sure.
Either way, I hope this post has gone some way to showing you that the potential for a Gentile is much more than is stated by those who sell it so cheaply. You don’t have to take on Jewish ritual or other irrelevant Jewish commands, blur the line between Jew and Gentile or go all the way to becoming a Jew. You don’t have to look in a book or go to a Jew or a rabbi to find out if you’re allowed to do a good deed. You don’t have to wait to see if you’re commanded to be moral. As long as you’re human, it’s expected of you.
- Posted in: Noahide Commandments