On the Torah Obligation to Influence “Civil Matters”

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Divine Law is Universal

Non-Jews are obligated to follow the Noachide Laws. We are accustomed to hearing about the Noachide Laws as if they were general, abstract principles. Or if we have studied some Talmud, in very technical, theoretical terms.

But this is a mistake.

The Noachide Laws are not some kind of fuzzy symbolic principles meant for a sermon, nor are they recommendations and good advice, or a topic for scholarly pilpul. They are (I know, it sounds obvious) laws.

So just as Jews are obligated to follow Shulchan Aruch, so are non-Jews obligated to follow the Noachide laws. The Noachide laws are their Shulchan Aruch.

Just as Shulchan Aruch is divine and therefore eternal and unchanging, so are the Noachide laws eternal and unchanging.

Moreover, for both Jews and non-Jews, obeying divine law is not a secondary part of life. We are not here on earth to enjoy material pleasures, even most worthy ones like Yiddishe nachas from our family. Our eternal souls were planted in temporal bodies in this lowly world for a brief while in order to perform a mission—to serve Hashem. And our personal fulfilment depends upon this, but there is a difference between Jews and non-Jews:

  • Jews were created in order to serve Hashem by following their laws, as detailed in the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, and only by so doing do they fulfill their personal mission and attain happiness.
  • Non-Jews were created for the purpose of following the Noachide laws, and only by so doing do they fulfill their personal mission and attain happiness.

Universal Duty to Influence Others to Follow Torah

Part of our mission, both as Jews and non-Jews, is to exert a positive influence on others. This too is not merely good advice, but a halachic obligation.

In particular, Jews are duty-bound to influence fellow Jews under their influence to improve in their Torah observance. This is the mitzvah of tochachah, rebuke, which is an explicit verse: “You shall surely rebuke your fellow [Jew]” [1]. Likewise, “all Jews are responsible for one another” [2]—responsible to encourage fellow Jews to observe Torah.

When is one obligated to exert influence? Whenever and to whomever one can. “To the one who will accept [rebuke] from him”[3] and one should do so repeatedly, even “until 100 times”.[4]

Likewise, non-Jews are obligated to influence fellow non-Jews to follow the Noachide laws. The Rebbe states[5] that this duty is included in the Noachide mitzvah of dinim, the mitzvah to establish and maintain courts of justice. Just as courts are obligated to promote observance of the Noachide laws (see further below), so are individual non-Jews obligated to do so via whatever legitimate means of influence are at their disposal in that time and place.

In particular, Maimonides rules[6] that all the inhabitants of the city of Shechem were in violation of the mitzvah of dinim because “they saw, knew, and didn’t judge” Shechem (the ruler, after whom the city was named) for violating the prohibition of kidnapping. Maimonides holds that when regular citizens sit idly by and allow violation of the Noachide laws to occur, those individual citizens violate the Noachide laws. Even Nachmanides,[7] who holds that the citizens of Shechem were not liable for punishment for this neglect, clearly still maintains that they should have protested to the extent they were able.

Laws Violating the Noachide Laws Are Fundamentally Illegitimate

This brings us to the topic of the approach of Judaism to civil law. Judaism maintains that the concept of a civil law system is not merely a useful secular tool for maintaining civilized society devised by clever mortals. Rather, it is a divine mandate, as per the Noachide mitzvah of dinim, which contains two elements:

  • The duty to set up courts of justice to enforce the other six Noachide laws—“[non-Jews] must set up judges and magistrates in every major city to render judgment concerning these [other] six Commandments, and to admonish the people [regarding their observance].”[8] (In fact, not only is the role of the justice system to enforce the Noachide laws, but it is incumbent upon the judges to actively educate the people on the Noachide laws, even if doing so involves considerable inconvenience and sacrifice.[9])
  • The duty to pass laws to maintain civilized society and peaceful interactions between citizens such as laws of business contracts, road rules, and so on, as long as they conform to Torah-based principles of fairness and decency.[10]

As part of enforcing the Noachide laws, each country and nation is invested with divine authority to appoint lawmakers and judges to pass and enforce laws as safeguards (harchakos) against violation of the core Noachide laws, after considering environmental and cultural circumstances.[11]

It is precisely because Hashem requires the establishment of a civil law system that there is a divine mandate to obey that law in all its details incumbent upon both Jews and non-Jews, as the Talmud rules: “The law of the land is the [Torah] law”.[12]

However, this only applies to religiously neutral laws. If, however, a legal system requires a Jew to violate the Shulchan Aruch, that law is fundamentally illegitimate and the Jew must disobey it.[13]

Likewise, if a legal system requires one to violate one of the Noachide laws (such as, very notably, in the biblical city of Sodom), that law is fundamentally illegitimate and both the Jew and the non-Jew must disobey it.

Thus, a civil law that violates one of the Noachide laws and encourages the people to violate such a law is by definition corrupt and fundamentally illegitimate. Such laws of the land are absolutely not Torah law, neither for Jews nor for non-Jews.

Leadership Role of Jews

But how, as Jews, should we relate to morally corrupt, illegitimate laws of the land (aside from stubbornly refusing to obey them)? Is it our place to get involved with how non-Jews fulfill their mitzvah of dinim?

This is really a broader question: Is it our place as Jews to influence our gentile neighbors to follow the Noachide laws?

Absolutely.

In fact, this mission is crucial to our national purpose. G-d charged us, through the prophet Yeshaya,[14] with being a “light unto the nations.” What do these flowery, oft-quoted words mean? Rabbi David Kimchi, the Radak, explains that Jews reveal this divine light by directly teaching non-Jews the Noahide Laws.

In fact, Rambam rules unequivocally that Hashem explicitly commanded Moshe Rabenu at Mount Sinai to charge the Jewish people with the mission “to compel all the world’s inhabitants to undertake the laws commanded to Noah’s descendants”.[15] Tosafos Yom Tov explains[16] that Rambam means that we are obligated to compel observance of Noachide laws to the extent that as we are able, and so this law applies even during the era of exile, via kefiyas devarim—“verbal coercion”, i.e., persuasion.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe has stated[17] that in past times, spreading the Noachide laws would have brought danger upon the Jewish people and hence they were exempt from this duty. However, in modern times, there is not even a remote concern[18] that promoting the Noachide laws to the non-Jews in our host countries would provoke antisemitism, and therefore this obligation applies in full force. And not only should we influence non-Jews to observe the Noachide laws; we should influence them to spread the Noachide laws themselves,[19] until they build up into a mass Noachide movement.[20]

Thus, as regards the mitzvah of dinim, it follows clearly that according to Rambam’s halachic ruling, to the extent that Jews are able to exert such an influence, they should encourage non-Jews, whenever possible, to reform their legal system to bring it ever more in line with the Noahide laws.

Moreover, if we ought to even influence an individual non-Jew to observe the Noachide laws, all the more so is it imperative to influence non-Jews to reform a law so that it is closer to the requirements of the Noachide laws, for that impacts all the citizens and therefore dramatically elevates the entire society for the better. The same principle would surely apply to the imperative to get involved when possible in order to avert a proposed law that violates the Noachide Laws, G–d forbid.

This principle is based on the concept of communal and societal responsibility taught by our sages:[21] “Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai taught: One can compare this to a group of people sitting on a ship. One of the group takes out a drill and starts drilling a hole in his place. The others protest, but the man retorts, ‘What difference does it make to you if I drill a hole in my place? I am not making a hole in your place!’ They replied to him, ‘Will not the water rise and sink the whole ship?!’”

Likewise, one who stands idly by, ignoring the spiritual drowning of those around him without making any effort to save them, transgresses the prohibition of “Thou shall not stand idly by your brother’s blood”[22]. Moreover, “spiritual death is worse than physical death”.[23]

Current Application

In Australia now, there is a plebiscite, a national postal vote to determine the will of the people on the legalization of same-sex marriage. Such a law, G–d forbid, entails a gross, obscene violation of the Noachide mitzvah of dinim, to the extent that the Medrash testifies according to one opinion[24] that despite all their other sins, all of civilization was utterly annihilated during the generation of the Flood due to the severity of this very sin. Likewise, although the Romans were infamous for their utter brutality and degeneracy, and they violated all the Noachide laws, the Talmud praises them for at least not sinking to the ultimate depravity of legalizing same-sex marriage.[25]

In light of all the above, Jews and non-Jews have a clear and strong moral and halachic duty to vote No and to influence other Jews and non-Jews to do likewise.

Of course, the same principle also applies to elections in general, where every individual Jew and non-Jew can exert some influence and therefore is morally and halachically obligated to do so:[26] Every individual should influence their fellow citizen to use their voting power to vote first and foremost, before all other considerations, for the party whose platform and policies are more in line with the Noachide Laws.

_______________________________________
[1] Vayikra 19:17.

[2] Shavuos 39a.

[3] Yevamos 35b.

[4] Bava Metzia 31a.

[5] Likutei Sichos, Vol. 30, p. 226, fn. 52.

[6] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 9:19.

[7] On Bereshis 35:15.

[8] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 9:14.

[9] Sefer HaSichos 5746, Vol. 3, p. 152. There the Rebbe equates the role of gentile judges to that of the Jewish Sanhedrin, of whom it is written: “They were obligated to go, tie iron garters around their loins, lift their robes above their ankles … and travel throughout the villages of Israel … teaching the people” (Tanna Devei Eliyahu Rabbah ch. 11).

[10] Cf. Hisva’aduyos 5747, Vol. 3, pp. 428-430; 432-434.

[11] Cf. Rashi on Bereshis 34:12:

.וכן לא יעשה לענות הבתולות שהאומות גדרו עצמן מן העריות מפני המבול

[12] Gittin 10b. Hisva’aduyos 5744, Vol. 2, pp. 612-613.

[13] Hisva’aduyos 5744, Vol. 2, pp. 612-613.

[14] 42:6.

[15] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 8:10.

[16] In his commentary on Avos 3:18. Quoted by the Rebbe in Likutei Sichos, Vol. 26, pp. 133-134; 139-141. Hisva’aduyos 5743, Vol. 2, p. 1577; Hisva’aduyos 5745, Vol. 3, pp. 1979-1980.

[17] Hisva’aduyos 5747, Vol. 2, pp. 615-616. See also Hisva’aduyos 5747, Vol. 2, p. 615; Likutei Sichos, Vol. 26, p. 143; Hisva’aduyos 5745, Vol. 4, pp. 2466-2467.

[18] In the Hebrew, “chashash de’chashash.”

[19] Hisva’aduyos 5744, Vol. 2, p. 620; Hisva’aduyos 5743, Vol. 1, pp. 59-60; Hisva’aduyos 5745, Vol. 3, pp. 1840-1842.

[20] Likutei Sichos, Vol. 26, pp. 143-144.

[21] Vayikra Rabbah 4:6.

[22] Vayikra 19:16. Cf. Hisva’aduyos 5746, Vol. 3, p. 260.

[23] Derech Chaim 5a; Igros Kodesh Admur HaRayatz, Vol. 3, p. 520; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 1, p. 111. Thus, “One who causes another to sin is worse than one who kills him”—Bamidbar Rabbah 21:4-5.

[24] Vayikra Rabbah 23:9:

.(ג”א ולנקבה) רבי הונא בשם רב יוסף אמר דור המבול לא נימוחו מן העולם עד שכתבו גמומסיות לזכר ולבהמה

[25] Chullin 92b.

 

[26] The Rebbe clearly came out in public for voting in order to influence the government to be more in line with Jewish law in the context of Eretz Yisrael, and the same principle clearly applies in the diaspora, where anti-religious heretics seek to uproot and oppose any vestige of faith in a Higher Force using the club of the civil law, and first and foremost by promoting the evil homosexualist agenda.

See Igros Kodesh, Vol. 11, p. 168:

… Anyone who has a passport in his hand automatically has the ability to vote. By registering for the passport he acknowledges, and not under coercion, the [political] leadership there. If after this he does not participate in the elections, and others see and do likewise, and this is liable to affect the determination of a “major” law or even a minor one, when they [the politicians voted in] vote for the legislation incorrectly, then he shares the blame for the calamity of many.  I have not yet found the person with the “broad shoulders” to be able to take responsibility for such a calamity. … Those who are there, and who take part in whatever manner there [but refuse to vote] … do damage to the many, as mentioned above. Especially after they have tangibly seen over the course of the years that have passed how the vote of one political representative could have prevented a stumbling block to the many that constituted violation of a rabbinic prohibition and even of a biblical prohibition. This will suffice for the understanding. It is self-evident that you have permission to write all that I have written here concerning the elections to the one mentioned above, and you may also add sharpness, because no matter how much you add, it will not do justice to the matter.

The Rebbe said how one should vote (ibid.):

Obviously, one should vote for the most G–d-fearing parties.

And again, from Igros Kodesh, Vol. 4, pp. 345-346, this time in a letter to Agudas Chassidei Chabad, the Chabad umbrella organization:

I have come to emphasize … the holy duty and privilege, that every one of those who tremble and fear the word of Hashem should take part in the elections. He should do so himself, and he should influence others, to vote for the most G–d-fearing parties, so that not even one vote goes to waste. I hereby give permission and authorization to publicize my opinion with full vigor and full force: Every single male and female among those who fear Hashem and think about His Name should do all in their power to increase the number of voters for the most G–d-fearing parties.

In Igros Kodesh, Vol. 11, p. 279, the Rebbe also stressed the disastrous spiritual effects on the country of simply failing to vote for the most G–d-fearing party:

… Refraining from this [voting for the most G–d-fearing party] automatically augments the strength of the parties who oppose Hashem, His Torah, and its Mitzvos.

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