Are the Seven Commandments Religious or Secular? – Part 2
So Elisheva Barre, one of the voices who had a strong formative role in my learning of the Seven Commandments, chose to shove her head into my cogitations … And I’m glad she did.
Now, have no doubt: just because I respect the woman quite highly, her work being very influential in my development in the 7M (shorthand for “seven commandments”), doesn’t mean I accept everything she says. But the insight she did give made it so that there’s a second part to this monologue.
So my initial written internal monologue asked the question: “are the seven commandments religious or secular?” And I attempted to answer that question on that basis. But there were some things that I wrote in that article and previously on this blog that should have raised some red flags.
I told the rabbi I was speaking to that there was no word in biblical Hebrew for “religion.” The concept doesn’t come from the Torah but from, I believe, Gentile thought trying to come to grips with what Torah and Israel was. So it forced a circle peg into the square hole of “religion” and made up the concept of “Judaism,” which many Jews up until now have absorbed and assimilated. So considering this is my view of how Torah interacts with the concept of religion, I should have noticed that this should have undermined the idea of “secular” being in the Torah as well.
I won’t conclude that thought just yet. Let me bring up another fact.
I wrote an article in the past about “The [Myth of the] Separation of Church and State.” In it, I said the following:
Although the sloppy statement “separation between church and state” has an American taint to it, the concept of separating “religion” or faith from the secular or worldly has much longer history and is accepted over much of the world. In fact, the concept may even have been influenced by christian thinking, oddly enough, with its statements about the spiritual and the carnal, the fleshy, giving to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
But despite its possible history and influences, there is something much more telling, more suspicious about this concept of “the separation between ‘religion’ and government/secular.” It is absent from the laws of the Torah, the Law of God. Its absence from Torah is both apparent with regards to the laws that apply to Jews, but also the laws that are directed towards the rest of humanity.
The absence of this artificial separation of life (God and the government) is fairly obvious in the Torah.
So putting both of these thoughts together, I have to wonder, does the question “Are the Seven Commandments Religious or Secular?” have any bearing in a Torah worldview?
In my previous article, when I asked that question, what did I mean? What was the fundamental question I was asking? It was this: Using English words and concepts, do the Seven Laws necessitate or overtly command belief in, worship of or devotion to God or not? That’s the question I was answering in the previous article since “religion” in my language (English) means “belief in some ultimate reality,” “religious” means “pertaining to such a belief,” and “secular” means “not pertaining to such a belief.” To me it is clear that the law concerning idolatry was originally not a positive command to belief in, acknowledge or worship God. The Talmud says this, that all the seven are simply prohibitions with only the law of Justice having a positive or active aspect (Sanhedrin 58b-59a). So the law of idolatry was only a prohibition against a certain action, namely idol worship. And the law of cursing God was only a prohibition against a certain action, namely cursing God’s name using his name. Therefore, taking the other laws into account, the laws do not command acceptance of or devotion to God. Therefore the laws themselves would fit the definition of “secular,” not pertaining to a belief in an ultimate cause.
But that’s in my current context, that’s the society I live in where they carve God away from day-to-day life. To quote again from “separation of church and state” article again:
“It is no longer fashionable to avow a belief in Satan or his entourage of evil archons, but the fact is, nonetheless, that we are dualists. We have divided the world between God and ourselves. Part of what we consider our own, we are willing to turn over to Caesar, but—believing in civil liberties—part we retain as our private domain. Some are willing to share part of this domain with God, but some are very jealous of their privacy and exclude Him from it; they divide the world only between themselves and Caesar. The dualist is either a total or partial atheist. If he totally excludes God, then obviously he is an atheist. If he excludes God from a substantial part of the world, then to that degree he is an atheist.” Konvitz, Torah & Constitution, 57. (quoted on pg 139, footnote 16 [in Secular by Design by Alan Cecil].)
What about based on the Torah worldview where such a distinction is meaningless? Where objective reality is that God is the source of the laws for Jews and Gentiles and we are simply to live by it?
That’s where I hit upon a problem. The written and oral Torah is in Hebrew where certain concepts don’t exist. And I’m English where the concepts do exist. But this part of the written and oral tradition, the seven laws, is meant for me, is an obligation for in my land, not as a Hebrew state but as a possibly English one. What happens then? Is there a problem in translation?
I guess that’s something I can ponder for part 3.