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What is the 7th Noahide Commandment for Laws and Courts?

By Rabbi Dr Michael Schulman


Why is it so important to understand the Noahide commandment for Laws and Courts?


If society is to function successfully, it must impose upon itself a legal structure to ensure adherence to core values. Peace and success among the members of a society can only be fostered if a righteous moral code is used to establish enforceable boundaries of behavior. Every nation, state or province, and municipality is obligated to have a system of courts to uphold the Noahide Commandments. Beyond this, all societies must also establish civil laws according to righteous principles. Their courts must rule justly on civil matters, since these inevitably arise in daily life.

See here for our new course on Laws and Courts for Noahides.


For the good of the society, courts or governments may place necessary legal limits on activities that the basic Torah commandments do not address. This applies as long as the restrictions are acceptable to the population in general. Then, by the Noahide “Law of Courts,” citizens are required to observe the secular law. The courts can apply any non-capital punishment that the public in general accepts for those matters, as long as it is not cruel or unusual. This is called “going beyond the letter” of the Torah Law. It is a common concept in Jewish observance, and it applies to Gentiles as well.


On the other hand, even in the Torah Laws, there are built-in limitations and restrictions on when and how some of them can be applied. For example, in the Torah Law for Jews, there are many sins that make a Jew liable to capital punishment. However, the conditions for when that punishment can be applied are restricted to trials that are conducted by a valid Jewish Sanhedrin court. An actual Sanhedrin only exists at a time when the Holy Temple is built and functioning in Jerusalem.


We still face accusations from people who are largely ignorant about the details and application of the Noahide Code, who don’t want to learn it correctly and who would rather speak slander against a righteous movement that calls into question their anti-Torah dogmas. Therefore, it’s very important for Noahides to know what to answer regarding those challenges. Based on what I’ve seen, the most important one revolves around the Noahide commandment to establish laws and courts, and when and how it applies.


The Rabbinical authorities of our generation have taught that the Torah Laws concerning an obligation for Noahide Courts to administer capital punishment apply only if the majority of the society’s population (1) believes in the One True G-d and (2) specifically observes the Seven Noahide Laws as Divine commandments that they accept upon themselves. In that situation only, an individual who leaves the behavioral boundaries of the society to transgress one of those specific commandments would liable to the specified punishment from a governmentally-empowered Noahide Court.



In many countries, the majority of the population does not believe in the One True G-d or does not accept one or more of the Noahide Commandments.  (As a whole, they regularly permit transgression of at least one of these commandments.) The courts of those societies are not permitted to sentence a transgressor of one of the Seven Laws to receive capital punishment.


Why is this the case? If Gentile witnesses and judges do not accept and observe any of the Seven Noahide Laws, due to this being the case for society at large, then they are nevertheless forbidden to convict someone as liable for the death penalty. This applies even if they are considered trustworthy by society and do generally observe law and order. These witnesses and judges do not accept the “yoke of Heaven” and their Divine commandments. Therefore, the trials they conduct do not fulfill the conditions for an actual Noahide Court. Among Gentiles, only an actual Noahide Court is is permitted by G-d to fully apply the Torah Law in regard to His specified punishment for transgressing a Noahide Commandment.



There is one exception to this rule


There is one exception on a practical basis. If the secular courts decide that it is necessary to apply capital punishment for murder, they are permitted – but not required within Torah Law – to execute convicted murderers. This serves as a deterrent and strengthens the safety of the society Rav Moshe Feinstein o.b.m., was a main authority in Torah Law after World War I. He ruled that the non-Noahide Gentile courts in our modern secular societies may not impose a death penalty, even for homicide, unless they see that extenuating circumstances are forcing them to do so specifically for murderers. This may happen if the society becomes unchecked in transgressing the basic prohibition of murder.

See here for our new course on Laws and Courts for Noahides.



By Rabbi Dr. Michael Schulman, Executive Director of Ask Noah International

First Part Delivered as a talk at the 4th International Noahide Conference, Jerusalem, Israel, 5779 / 20’19 [1] the original article can be found here.


Brought by Rabbi Moshe Perets 

 
Rabbi Moshe Perets, Noahide Academy of Israel
Rabbi Moshe Perets

Rabbi Moshe Perets is the President of the Noahide Academy of Israel, Founder and Executive Director of NoahideAcademy.org, the world’s largest Noahide informational website. He accomplished his Rabbinical Studies at the Chabad Yeshiva and his medical studies at the University of Louvain in Brussels, Belgium.


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