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Who is obliged to establish righteous courts?
06-05-2012, 12:48 AM (This post was last modified: 06-20-2012 02:43 AM by Director Michael.)
Post: #1
Who is obliged to establish righteous courts?
Hi Dr Schulman,

I'm speaking to a fellow Noahide, one much more learned than me who has studied a lot more Jewish sources than me, including Hirsch's Nineteen Letters and the commentaries of Ramban, who has gone through much more extensive Jewish learning than a simple reader like myself. He brings up a question that I find difficult to budge.

In the Path of the Righteous Gentile it states.

"The Children of Noah are commanded to establish courts of law that will carry out justice and maintain human righteousness and morality in accord with the Seven Universal Laws.[1] A court system that perverts justice by handing down rulings in conflict with the Seven Universal Laws is an instrument for driving G-d’s blessings out of the world. Anyone who fails to establish a court system, that is, who lives in a community or city in which there are no courts, and who does nothing to correct the situation, is punishable by death. One who establishes or maintains courts of law that operate contrary to the Seven Universal Laws is similarly liable." (Chapter 12, Chapter 1, Law 1)

The Noahide I'm speaking to points to the fact that we are not living in a righteous governmental system that upholds the Noahide laws. Even the page on AskNoah that speaks of this law admits we don't live in a time where governments uphold the seven commandments. In his eyes, we are not keeping this law as long as this is the current state of affairs. So if this law has to do with an observant community and no community is observant of this law and the other six, then aren't we guilty of breaking this law? I'm understanding this law as setting up a court that actually upholds the seven commands, not just setting up any court to go with any legal philosophy.

I live in a country that doesn't respect the Seven Commandments. I can't think of a country, not even the current secular government of Israel, that upholds the Seven Commandments. Yet I continue to live here. I know that personally I try to live according to HaShem's commandments and be a good example. I don't know if the videos I produce are enough. But if I didn't do such videos, but just tried my all to keep the laws that I can keep but under a godless, anti-Sheva-Mitzvos government, then am I breaking this law of courts of law? According to G-d's standard, am I guilty? Are we Noahides/Gentiles guilty?

I have pointed out to this person that seeing the law as he does, then the vast majority of "observant" Noahides throughout history, from the Syrian Naaman who returned to his own country, to the G-d-fearers of old, up until today, all of whom lived under governments that didn't uphold the seven commandments, are guilty. And thus according to Rambam who says that one only has a place in the world to come if he is careful to do all the commands [because G-d commanded them to Moses], not one Noahide has reached that level. So whether we think of the World to Come or just this world, we're all guilty. There is something within me that disagrees with this interpretation of this "seventh" commandment, but I don't think I have a good response at all apart from the fact that just as Jews are not punished for not being able to perform most of their laws because of the current state of the Temple, in the same way Noahides are not punished for this law because many of them are not in the position to change the current world government system except to teach their children and do their best with their example in the eyes of those around them.

Do you or Rabbi Weiner have an answer for this?
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06-20-2012, 03:24 AM (This post was last modified: 02-03-2017 04:21 PM by Director Michael.)
Post: #2
RE: Who is obliged to establish righteous courts?
This statement in "The Path of the Righteous Gentile" is one of several that is not correct (and this one in particular is very exaggerated in regard to reality), as the question poses:

(06-05-2012 12:48 AM)amenyahu Wrote:  In the Path of the Righteous Gentile it states... Anyone who fails to establish a court system, that is, who lives in a community or city in which there are no courts, and who does nothing to correct the situation, is punishable by death. One who establishes or maintains courts of law that operate contrary to the Seven Universal Laws is similarly liable.

The part quoted here is incorrect, even though some people have inferred it from statements that may be found in the traditional sources (for example, RambaM, Laws of Kings 9:14). However, in RambaN's explanations on the Book of Genesis, he disputes this even for the specific case of Shechem and Dinah that is mentioned as a proof-text by RambaM. This issue is quoted and explained in "Sheva Mitzvot HaShem" Volume 3, Establishment of Laws and Courts 1:9.

But more than that, as explained there in topic 1:11, the option for a Noahide court to apply capital punishment for transgressions of the Seven Noahide Commandments is only applicable when the majority of the population of a society is G-d fearing (except that it applies at all times for murder), if this righteous majority also have the societal agreement and thus the governmental power in place to make the Noahide Commandments the law of the land and to enforce them. Under those conditions, the commandment applies for the society to establish a true Noahide court and to judge the citizens correctly according the Noahide code.

Even if this would happen in some modern society, and individuals who negated this righteous legal process would be liable to capital punishment according to RambaM, there is still a basic point of disagreement from RambaN, who said that the Noahide obligation for Laws and Courts is a positive ("to do") commandment, and negation of a positive commandment by inaction does not incur capital punishment.

But when the majority of a society are not G'd-fearing observant Noahides, there is no punishment for an individual who fails to establish Laws and Courts that follow the Noahide Code, because it is not within the power of an individual to do so.

One must add a simple clarification. It is a basic Torah principle that no one ever incurs liability to punishment for doing an transgression that is forced upon him by circumstances that he has no power to change and are not under his control. Therefore, a Gentile individual today who cannot change the overall system of laws and courts in a given country is definitely not liable for any type of punishment on that account.

Obviously, we appreciate that the Noahide commandment to establish justice has practical application in many other specific areas as pointed out in "Sheva Mitzvot HaShem" Volume 3. (As just one example: an individual is forbidden to bribe a judge to influence his ruling, and a judge is forbidden to take a bribe.)
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06-20-2012, 03:18 PM
Post: #3
RE: Who is obliged to establish righteous courts?
Thank you so much. That's a very complete answer. Thinking about things myself, I did eventually realise that a person cannot be liable for something they are unable to do. But at least your answer dealt not only with that but what Torah tradition actually states about the state and obligation of society. Thanks for a full answer.
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08-11-2012, 11:48 PM
Post: #4
RE: Who is obliged to establish righteous courts?
(06-20-2012 03:24 AM)Rabbi Moshe Weiner Wrote:  This statement in "The Path of the Righteous Gentile" is one of several that is not correct (and this one in particular is very exaggerated in regard to reality), as the question poses:

(06-05-2012 12:48 AM)amenyahu Wrote:  In the Path of the Righteous Gentile it states... Anyone who fails to establish a court system, that is, who lives in a community or city in which there are no courts, and who does nothing to correct the situation, is punishable by death. One who establishes or maintains courts of law that operate contrary to the Seven Universal Laws is similarly liable.

The part I quoted here is incorrect, even though some people have inferred it from statements that may be found in the traditional sources (for example, RambaM, Laws of Kings 9:14). However, in RambaN's explanations on the Book of Genesis, he disputes this even for the specific case of Shechem and Dinah that is mentioned as a proof-text by RambaM. This issue is quoted and explained in "Sheva Mitzvot HaShem" Volume 3, Establishment of Laws and Courts 1:9.

But more than that, as explained there in topic 1:11, the option for a Noahide court to apply capital punishment for transgressions of the Seven Noahide Commandments is only applicable when the majority of the population of a society is G-d fearing (except that it applies at all times for murder), if this righteous majority also have the societal agreement and thus the governmental power in place to make the Noahide Commandments the law of the land and to enforce them. Under those conditions, the commandment applies for the society to establish a true Noahide court and to judge the citizens correctly according the Noahide code.

Even if this would happen in some modern society, and individuals who negated this righteous legal process would be liable to capital punishment according to RambaM, there is still a basic point of disagreement from RambaN, who said that the Noahide obligation for Laws and Courts is a positive ("to do") commandment, and negation of a positive commandment by inaction does not incur capital punishment.

But when the majority of a society are not G'd-fearing observant Noahides, there is no capital punishment for an individual who fails to establish Laws and Courts that follow the Noahide Code, because it is not within the power of an individual to do so.

One must add a simple clarification. It is a basic Torah principle that no one ever incurs liability to punishment for doing an transgression that is forced up him by circumstances that he has not power to change and are not under his control. Therefore, a Gentile individual today who cannot change the overall system of laws and courts in a given country is definitely not liable for any type of punishment on that account.

Obviously, we appreciate that the Noahide commandment to establish justice has practical application in many other specific areas as pointed out in "Sheva Mitzvot HaShem" Volume 3. (As just one example: an individual is forbidden to bribe a judge to influence his ruling, and a judge is forbidden to take a bribe.)

For someone not to incur libility does a commandment have to be entierly impossible to perform or is it enough that it be impractical?
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08-14-2012, 05:19 PM
Post: #5
RE: Who is obliged to establish righteous courts?
You misunderstood the words of Rabbi Weiner. First of all, in this explanation he is only talking about the Noahide commandment to establish laws and courts FOR A SOCIETY, which has a very different context than the other 6 Noahide commandments. The other 6 are prohibitions upon INDIVIDUAL BEHAVIORS, and they are therefore always in effect. All Gentiles are individually obligated to learn them and observe them.

The meaning of Rabbi Weiner's words, that "it is not within the POWER of an individual" to establish a Noahide court and to establish the Noahide Commandments as the law of the land, is that it is not within the AUTHORITY of an individual to do so. The obligation in this case is based on the person's authority over others (e.g, through the force of policemen), or the authority that is willingly delegated to him by others (e.g., the majority of the citizens in the society).
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03-29-2016, 07:09 PM
Post: #6
Creating a local Noahide Court
The Courts where I live do not enforce all of the Noahide laws. Because of this, I would like to create a new one that does. (Regardless of whether or not I am obligated to do so, I believe that I am permitted to do so, and this is something that I would like to do.)

Are there any special requirements for how a Noahide Court is supposed to operate?

The Court which I propose to create would not be able to enforce judgments of capital punishment due to the existing secular legal system. Is this a problem?
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03-31-2016, 11:40 AM
Post: #7
RE: Who is obliged to establish righteous courts?
Please see the previous post, which explains that it is not within the authority of an individual to establish a Noahide court, nor to enforce the Noahide Commandments as the law of the land.

Noahide Courts, when established and empowered as such, to have some special requirements for how they should operate, and this applies specifically to how they handle the cases of defendants who are on trial for transgressing any of the main/essential prohibitions within the 7 Noahide Laws.

A court which has no power to enforce its judgments is by definition not a real court.
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04-01-2016, 08:02 AM (This post was last modified: 04-07-2016 08:28 AM by Director Michael.)
Post: #8
RE: Who is obliged to establish righteous courts?
(03-31-2016 11:40 AM)Director Michael Wrote:  Please see the previous post, which explains that it is not within the authority of an individual to establish a Noahide court, nor to enforce the Noahide Commandments as the law of the land.

If the authority is willingly delegated to the Noahide Court by a majority of observant Noahides in my area, then I can't see the problem.

(03-31-2016 11:40 AM)Director Michael Wrote:  A court which has no power to enforce its judgments is by definition not a real court.

There are Beth Din in the diaspora who are in a similar situation to mine. They are unable to enforce their judgments in the secular courts without the prior consent of the parties involved. However, if a Jew does not give such consent, then the Beth Din makes an order that the person be shunned by everyone in his community.

Though the pressure to attend the Beth Din may be high for a Jew in such a situation, if they are willing to endure shunning, then the Beth Din has no power to make them go. Why couldn't a Noahide Court enforce its judgments through its power to make an order that a person be shunned by the Noahide community?
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04-07-2016, 09:07 AM
Post: #9
RE: Who is obliged to establish righteous courts?
The concept of an actual "Noahide Court" is one that is empowered by the society at large to try, convict and punish Gentile transgressors of capital sins within the Seven Noahide Commandments. The capital sin of first and foremost priority to be under the jurisdiction of an actual Noahide Court, or a system of Noahide Courts, is the sin of murder, since that is the only one for which punishment by a Noahide Court is mentioned in an explicit verse in the Torah (Genesis 9:6): "Whoever sheds the blood of man, among [a court of] man, his blood shall be shed..." This refers to a Noahide commandment to judge and penalize a murderer.

I don't know of any nominally stable society in which the established ruling court system is willing to turn its authority for judging felony crimes (including murder) over to free-lance or vigilante courts. What you're describing, rather than being an actual empowered court (which must include enforcement officers such as policemen), would be:

(a) a free-choice agreement between individuals, who are contesting about civil matters, to submit to a binding arbitration based on some agreed-upon ground rules (e.g., from the Noahide Code). To set that up in a way that would be enforceable by the society's ruling court system, you should consult with an attorney who is expert in the society's civil laws governing arbitration, and contracts to be bound by arbitration.

(b) a free-choice agreement among a group of people, that they will act in a certain way (while being careful not to break any of the laws of the society at large) towards a person who is not following a certain set of conditions (e.g., from the Noahide Code) that the group has stipulated.

Both of the above options seem to be very plausible to done within a society that allows for freedom of legal actions and individual liberties.
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