In Part 1 and the inaugural post, I argued that the Seven Divine Commandments constitute a universal and objective moral framework that guarantees a repaired and perfected world. The Commandments accomplish this by stipulating several important prohibitions: murder and injury, cruelty to animals, theft and deceit, illicit sexual relations, etc. In addition to such basic prohibitions, which are intellectually deducible and enforced by courts of law, the Noahide Code forbids idolatry and blasphemy against G-d, thus making the Code a superset of secular moral frameworks.
Because the Commandments are often framed in the negative as prohibitions and come equipped with a variety of rules, the reader may immediately conclude that the Code is a deontological ethic stemming from Halakhic Judaism. Based on Torah Judaism (including the Written as well as the Oral Torah), the Noahide Laws were commanded by G-d to Adam as mankind's duty to live holy lives. G□d reiterated the Laws following the consequences of the actions the corrupt pre-Deluge society took, thus making the Code also a consequentialist ethic. To prevent such societal degradation (thus, consequentialism), it is the moral duty of each of us (thus, deontology) to guide our lives by the Noahide standards. These normative ethics give mankind an opportunity to repair and perfect the world by distinguishing what is morally right and wrong based on G□d's teachings through His Torah, our "tree of life."
At first glance, it might seem that the Noahide Code subscribes to an absolutist position. Yet, the Code is pregnant with healthy exceptions to the many rules across its seven categories, a characteristic that in my view is uniquely well-positioned in moral theology. As Rabbi Weiner writes:(1)
Even if one is being forced to serve idols, he is permitted to do so, and he is not obligated to give up his life to avoid this. This applies to the other Noahide commandments as well, except for the prohibition against murder, for which a Gentile must submit even to being killed in order to avoid being forced to commit the transgression.
In this Talmudic interpretation, we notice an overall exception to each of the seven categories, with an absolutist position on the prohibition of murder, which in essence makes perfect sense. The categories themselves have injunctions and exceptions derived logically on a situational basis. To complement the absolutist norms of other moral theologies, abortion (under the prohibition of murder) in the Noahide Code is allowed when it may save the mother if her life is medically demonstrated to be in danger. Thus, the Noahide Laws as they are laid out traditionally subscribe to moderate objectivism, the view that accepts moral exceptions. Above, I presented a couple of counterexamples of the absolutist position.
G□d wants to see action besides our intent behind those actions. Traditional Chassidic wisdom mystically presented in the Tanya by Rabbi Schneur Zalman teaches as much:(2)
Thought alone is incapable of bringing about redemption. Prayer is not superior to action, nor is action superior to prayer. Both are desired by G-d.
In other words, G□d wants to see us reason and judge each situation, while being mindful of every action we take to ensure that it is objectively moral in the sense outlined above.
In the review of Louis Pojman’s instructive book on ethics, Prof. Arthur Kuflik refers to the Noahide Laws as an early instance of an absolutist position.(3) However, Kuflik’s viewpoint shows a lack of deeper investigation into the seven categories, where exceptions are cited frequently. Albeit an exception would suffice as a counterexample to absolutism, the Torah for Non-Jews includes exceptions for situations in each of the seven categories. As such, I posit the Noahide Code remains an objective moral code for the entire world that falls within Jewish normative ethics as moderately objectivist.
By Yair Borici
Yair Borici embraced the opportunity to observe the Torah for Non-Jews in 2014 upon running into a talk on the Crown of the Torah by Rabbi Manis Friedman while learning Biblical Hebrew on his own. He studied the Sheva Miztwoth Hashem (Divine Code) by Rabbi Moshe Weiner and took the various courses with Rabbi Moshe Perets in the World Noahide Academy starting in 2016. Yair also attended courses with Sephardi Rabbis going beyond the seven categories, including studying Mishneh Torah by the Rambam. Yair has studied is'lam and ch'ristianity extensively for the past 22 years. His focus is raising awareness of and edifying various audiences on the ancient faith in the one true God that the Jewish Nation has carefully preserved since they received the Torah at Sinai.
(1) Moshe Weiner. The Divine Code. Ed. by Michael Schulman. Trans. by Rabbi Yosef Schulman. 4th ed. Ask Noah International, 2022, p. 67.
(2) “The Necessity of Intent” in Rami Shapiro. Tanya, the Masterpiece of Hasidic
Wisdom. Skylight Paths Publishing, 2010, p. 119.
(3) See Note 1 in Louis P. Pojman. Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong. Fourth Ed. Wadsworth Publishing, 2001, p. 57ff.
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