The personal side of Dinim
Just so you know, throughout this article, I’ll be referring to the seven commandments as “7M.”
If it’s not been stressed to you, then let me share with you a point of view. Remember, this is just my point of view. I’m not an authority or an expert. Again, I am not an authority or an expert. I’m a Gentile getting his own messages from what he learned. I may make mistakes. Yes, as I’m not an expert, you’re free to just close this article now. But at least here I’m sharing a point of view.
I believe the seven commandments are both for the community and for the individual, that each commandment has an individual or personal element and a collective element. Each command needs a community to implement it for it to have its full effect. And each command needs the individual to have an effect.
Now it’s particularly easy for me to see the individual aspect of the law prohibiting the worship of idols. I just personally have to avoid the act of accepting an idol as a god and worshipping it as such. The collective side is about the enforcement of the law (liability) and the shared responsibility of Gentile communities to keep this law. That shared responsibility would lead to the eradication of such idols.
But when I get to the law of Dinim and its consistent depiction as “courts [of judgment/justice],” it’s so natural or a common tendency for people to only interpret that as being out of the reach of the individual and only for a community which can establish such a court and install the judge(s), officer(s), and witness(es) (no jury, thank God!) and properly handle the case.
All manner of people seem to only understand it as this and therefore there’s the nagging, insistent claim that we Gentiles can’t keep this command at all because it needs a significant group of Gentiles who actually upholds the commands to be able to implement.
I want to share with you what I see as obligations that are still and always upon the individual.
I’ll quote Rambam first.
What must they do to fulfill their requirement regarding the Law of Justice? They have to set up magistrates and judges in each district to judge the people with regard to these six commandments; and they must issue warnings (about them) to the people. A non-Jew who violates one of the seven commandments is executed by means of the sword. How is this so? Anyone who worships idols or blasphemed or murdered or had sexual relations with one of those forbidden to him or stole even less than the value of a small coin or ate any amount from a limb or the flesh of a live animal or saw someone else violate one of these and failed to judge and execute him, is himself executed by means of the sword. It was for this reason all residents of the City of Shechem deserved to be executed. For Shechem kidnapped Dinah, and they saw and knew and failed to judge him.
A non-Jew is executed by the testimony of one, and with one judge, without forewarning, and by the testimony of relatives, but not by the testimony of a woman. A woman may not judge for them.
A non-Jew who accidentally violates one of his (Seven) Commandments is exempt from punishment, except for an accidental murderer. For if a Blood Avenger kills him, he is not killed. He [The accidental murderer] has no City of Refuge and their courts do not execute him.
To what do we refer? To someone who accidentally and without intention violates one of the commandments as, for example, if he had sexual intercourse with his friend’s wife and thought that she was his wife or that she was single.
However, if he knew that she was his friend’s wife, but did not know that she was forbidden to him and thought this was permitted for him, or if he killed someone and he did not know that it is forbidden to kill, this is considered to be “close” to having committed the act “on purpose”, and he is executed. This is not considered as an accidental sin for them since he should have learned what the Law is, and didn’t. (Mishneh Torah, Law of Kings and their Wars, chapter 9 halakhah 14 to chapter 10 halakhah 1, as translated at sefaria.org)
So we see Rambam’s depiction of the law of Justice. I’m not saying his view is universally accepted, but it is something to learn from.
For some time, I looked at this law and thought it was just about making courts and appointing judges to judge according to God’s Law for the nations, something a 7M-observant Gentile is unable to do for various apparently insurmountable reasons. Focusing only on that made this law somewhat redundant in this day and age.
But, because of the guidance of my teachers, it was shown to me that each command has much more to it than the simple wording. The law against adultery needs a proper definition of marriage. The prohibition against theft presupposes and necessitates the concept of property. So the 7M don’t just exist in a vacuum within which are seven simple statements. No, there is a necessary framework within which the laws are grounded and provide foundation for othe rulings.
So look at the statements about witnessing a 7M infraction and then judging it, and the statement about inadvertent offenses, something should be clear.
This is not considered as an accidental sin for them since he should have learned what the Law is, and didn’t. (ibid.)
This statement, compounded with the fact that a child of Noah should be able to see an act and know if it can be brought before a 7M-abiding court, shows that all Gentiles, especially those who claim to keep the 7M, should learn the details of our laws. This would be considered an obligation.
So, I believe a personal, individual, aspect of the 7M is to learn the Torah Law for Gentiles. This is true regardless of whether there is a court or not because the obligation to keep these laws remain with or without a court and it is possible to be done.
The first part of Rambam’s depiction of the law concerning justice said the following.
What must they do to fulfill their requirement regarding the Law of Justice? They have to set up magistrates and judges in each district to judge the people with regard to these six commandments; and they must issue warnings (about them) to the people. A non-Jew who violates one of the seven commandments … (ibid.)
So non-Jews should set up judges to judge people according to …
Now, don’t shoot me here, but I kinda take issue with Rambam’s wording here. I’m sure people will give reasons for Rambam’s statement so I’ll wait to hear those reasons. But Rambam first states that the judges must judge six laws and teach the people about them, referring to the six. But there are seven laws! Even the next sentence, which I included, states “a non-Jew violating one of the seven laws …” And the text continues about people witnessing the crime and judging it. Therefore a Gentile must know and judge all seven laws, not just six.
Anyway, why did I bring up the first part of that law again?
OH! Oh yeah. So it’s a divine obligation for Gentiles to not only set up the proper structure for courts, but to set up righteous courts that judge according to divine, secular law.
Did I contradict myself? “divine, secular law?”
I mentioned in another article that the division between “church and state,” between a person’s “faith” and their so-called “worldly affairs” is an unrealistic and artificial one, especially in the Torah worldview, especially for the Gentile. The same law that prohibits cursing God using his name also prohibits theft and murder. In light of that, maybe my mistake was typing “divine, secular” rather than “divine-secular.” [If you’re listening to this with a read aloud app, then I initially used a comma to separate the terms rather than a hyphen to join them.]
And no, a person doesn’t have to accept the existence of God to be keeping divine-secular law because being innocent (being law-abiding) is about action, not belief.
I got off-track again, didn’t I?
Or did I?
Anyway, it’s a positive obligation for Gentiles to set up righteous courts. This calls for a community to get this job done since an individual can’t do the whole job.
But what does a child of Noah, a member of non-Jewish humanity, do when the vast majority of those around him are either ignorant of the 7M or just want to set up courts that ignore or go against the seven, either by ignoring divine dictate or protecting those who break the laws? Does such a scenario mean that an individual Gentile no longer has to keep this law?
For me personally, I look at it this way. I believe that when God commanded the children of Noah the 7M, he commanded both the group and the individual. A group is made up of individuals anyway. So when he commanded upon us “Justice,” it’s still incumbent on the individual to uphold this law as well.
So the positive aspect of the law according to Rambam is that Gentiles should set up courts that uphold 7M-justice as a minimum. I believe the individual Gentile should do what he can to support this endeavour. But breaking this law, or at least going against it, would be to do the opposite of it or what is contrary to it. What would that be?
If the law is to set up courts that uphold the 7M and warn people concerning them, then what is contrary to that law is to set up courts that do not uphold the 7M, or worse, to set up courts that oppose the 7M.
And if the individual should do what he can to support the setting up and maintenance of courts of righteousness, then what is contrary to that? To support the establishment and maintenance of courts that either don’t uphold the 7M or oppose the 7M.
So I would avoid supporting, as much as I can without risking the safety of my family, legal causes that don’t uphold or oppose the 7M. For me, that includes political parties and governments. So yes, I live that out by not vocally supporting the British govt or its political parties or its legal system. I don’t vote because by doing that I’m, with my free choice, actively supporting a legal system, a government system and a judicial system contrary to the 7M.
It should be fairly obvious that when it comes to the 7M, I’m more into principle than I am into pragmatism. That means that I hold the principles of the 7M to a much higher priority, where I’ll do my best not to aid that which contradicts the principles, the laws, rather than support a system that appears to work on some level while sacrificing the upholding of the seven laws.
To give a concrete example, the British legal system promotes freedom of religion and that women are allowed to kill unborn children after the 40-day mark after conception (amongst other things). But it is the current legal system at work in this country and most political parties in the UK will maintain these freedoms. But the seven laws says that these freedoms are illegal. So the British legal system not only doesn’t uphold the seven laws, it opposes them in one form or another. I, based on principle, will reject the British legal system. I make do with the anti-7M legal system simply and only by doing what I’m forced to under threat of “legal” action, and avoiding any willing aid to the system.
If I preferred the pragmatic approach, I would willingly and actively keep the current anti-7M system going (whether I try to change it or not), and support it because that’s what we have now, trying to appreciate the good bits, the bits that agree with the seven, but actively giving aid to those parts that undermine the seven as well. The pragmatist will do his part to do that which is contrary to Rambam’s depiction of the law of Justice: willingly doing his part in maintaining a system which does not uphold the 7M and actually opposes and undermine them.
To quote some support for this idea, let me quote from footnote 2 from Sanhedrin 59a in the Schottenstein edition of the Babylonian Talmud:
The Noahide commandment of civil law includes a prohibition against performing any act to pervert justice. Thus, if for some reason a Noahite is not in th process of administering justice but is sitting idle, he is still prohibited to do anything that perverts justice. This negative aspect of the commandment then does not require the Noahite to take any action to administer justice. Rather, it obligates him to refrain from taking any action that perverts justice.
If justice is the upholding of the seven, then doing things like maintaining a system that undermines the seven laws is a perversion of justice. It’s similar to democratically appointing a judge who is ignorant (of the 7M) or who refuses to judge according to them. To me, it wouldn’t matter if the community knew and accepted God’s law or they didn’t know. For me, the principle still holds that I’m not supposed to support injustice, voting for a person, party or system which opposes the 7M. To me, that’s an act that perverts justice, that goes against the implementation of the basic laws of humanity.
So that’s two individual aspects to the law of Justice so far: 1) learning the 7M; and 2) a teaching against setting up legal systems that oppose the 7M.
Now there’s another part of Rambam’s depiction of the law of Justice states the following.
… and [the judges] must issue warnings (about them) to the people.
The judges’ implementation of the seven law would warn the people of the land about the bedrock laws.
So, I can guess what part of me is thinking.
Hmmm … that … that sounded weird.
Anyway, so that other dude is thinking, “that’s for judges, David, not the individual Gentile.” And I wouldn’t disagree that the wording applies to the judges who would send out this message.
But when I think about this deeper, I get the impression that the judges wouldn’t just have a nationwide or community-wide loudspeaker, but the warnings or teachings of the judges would filter through the means of media and education throughout the community. This is necessarily true because, as I said before, this law does need community, not just some authoritative dictators to force the Seven Laws on the people.
But what does this imply? To me, this law teaches the importance of spreading the seven laws. Yes, a judge is principally mentioned, but he is no good without a community of individuals to also spread the judgements and the laws. Therefore, there is at least a responsibility for Gentiles who embrace the seven laws to spread them. Is this what is reflected in the Divine Code when it says the following?
Parents are obligated to provide education to their children, and specifically in the fulfillment of the Noahide Code. This education for the children is an obligation within the commandment of dinim, to strengthen the observance of the Noahide precepts in the world. (pg 83, The Divine Code, by rabbi Moshe Weiner)
The highlighted text would seem to agree with my thoughts on the topic.
But I’m gonna take this a step further.
Although there are rabbis and Jews that teach against this, I would say that if a Gentile is supposed to their children about the 7M, then it is also permissible, allowed and encouraged that if a Gentile is able to teach the 7M to others, then he or she should do so.
Now some may accept this but include the idea of the Gentile teacher needing approval or approbation from a rabbi. And this may be a good thing, in order to show other Gentiles that this teacher has taken the time to learn the laws systematically, with effort and diligence. It’s ok in this time where we don’t have the 7M incorporated into our society and education system when we Gentiles will take the reins when it comes to both judging and teaching the 7M formally. But is such approbation necessary? Like any approval, it is definitely a positive sign, but it’s not a necessary one. In places where such approval may not be granted but knowledgeable Gentiles are more accessible than rabbis, then that knowledgeable Gentile, one knowledgeable in the 7M, can teach and give advice.
Think about it. There are Gentiles, “noahides,” who will build a sukkah, a temporary dwelling, or go to hotels and conferences during the Jewish festival period of Sukkot because there is a prophecy that in the future Gentiles will celebrate that festival. So if it going to be that, in the future, Gentile nations will embrace the universal laws and take more seriously the implementation of them into our education system, where Gentile teachers will teach students about the divine international law, then should Gentiles also prepare for that now, trying to gain the expertise on the 7M to teach them?
Just a thought.
So how many individual teachings or responsibilities have I seen so far in Rambam’s depiction of the law of Justice?
1) Gentiles who learn the seven laws.
2) Gentiles should not support political parties or systems that oppose or neglect the seven laws (even if they promise to treat the state of Israel nicely).
3) Gentiles should spread the teachings of the 7M, and, if possible, teach them to others.
These teachings aren’t just for a community in the ideal time when the 7M are part of society. They are teachings that are possible for individuals right now.
So, yes, according to Rambam’s depiction of the law of Justice, there is an individual aspect to the law.
I’m currently learning about RambaN’s approach to this law of Justice to see whether it too has implications for the individual. But this is just a start of my thinking about the law of Justice, to promote it, to show to anyone who reads this that, unlike what some teach, this law isn’t just theoretical and it’s not just obsolete or irrelevant to our times. In fact, in a time when communities reject the 7M, it becomes all the more important for the individual to take grasp of all the seven laws, including the law of Dinim, of Justice, and live them and share them.