Does the Noahide Code include Law of the Land?

Question: If the Noahide Law to “Establish Laws and Courts” includes to keep the laws of the state, it would impose different obligations depending on where and when somebody lives. Since the details of the other six commandments can be derived from the Torah and classical rabbinical sources, they are constant obligations. But is it true concerning the laws of the state as well?

Anwser (from Rabbi Moshe Weiner’s response in the Q&A Forum):

The Noahide Commandment and obligation for Laws and Courts is not only for Noahide courts to judge according to the other 6 Noahide Commandments if and when the society accepts this. Independent of that, any court of law that is established has an obligation within that commandment to guard the morality and safety of society. This includes making civil laws that uphold morality and prevent the people from acting in harmful ways, and any other laws necessary for the establishment of a just, safe and peaceful society.

Gentiles are therefore commanded in general to also make civil laws that are effective for all the society regarding dealings between people. The people who write the civil laws, and the judges who rule on the applications of those laws, must establish them according to their knowledge of the true needs of the country’s population, and the establishment of moral society. The Gentile’s monetary and other civil laws (outside of the scope of the specific 7 Noahide Commandments) may rule based on their society’s own view of what is necessary for the specific societal needs of their country. The civil laws must obviously conform to logical and moral standards (and they obviously must not be similar to the evil and cruel laws of the Biblical city of Sodom).

If the society fulfills this civil obligation in an upright way, but they do not abide by some of the Noahide Commandments, then they are only partially fulfilling the Noahide Commandment for Laws and Courts. But this partial fulfillment is definitely better than no fulfillment at all, and corruption of the legal process in the courts even in these civil areas is a transgression of the Noahide Commandment itself.

In direct answer to the question: the obligation upon the people to know and abide by the government’s civil laws in civil matters is not like the commanded Divine service to learn and abide by the Noahide Commandments specifically, and the Noahide Code in general (which involves matters that are logical and moral obligations in the eyes of G-d, that are obvious from G-d’s Torah, and which are counted as sinful if they are transgressed – e.g., people should not dishonor their parents, they should not engage in prostitution, and other boundaries of moral behavior that are taught in the Noahide Code). Rather, in civil matters, a person is answerable to the civil courts based on their own power and authority, and liable to the punishments and fines that they establish. I.e., the civil laws become the law of the land – for both the Gentile and Jewish citizens.

Expounding upon the above answer:

This precept is referred to as dina de’malchusa dina, which is translated literally as “the law of the kingdom is the law,” meaning, the obligation to abide by laws of the land. As it is mentioned in the Talmud and by the major Torah-law codifiers (for example, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Theft, Chapter 5), it is not a law based on a verse in the Written Torah, nor is it a law that was expounded upon in the Oral Torah that was received by Moses at Mount Sinai. Rather, the Sages of the Talmud taught that all people should heed – as a law – a certain underlying principle that goes by this name, for the benefit of their society.

First of all, the governmental power of enforcing a society’s laws is given to a king, or to a person who is elected by the people of the country by their own free will, in order to govern over them. This power of governance is not rightfully taken by a dictator who rules over the people by force.

The principle that “the law of the kingdom is the law” specifies that there must be certain laws incumbent on a country’s inhabitants in order for them to live as a functioning society. Otherwise, every person would do as he pleases, and the whole fabric of the society would fall apart. This Torah teaching of the Jewish Sages is mainly meant to apply in regard to MONETARY LAWS, which are a group of laws that deal with normal and necessary monetary interactions: (a) between one individual and another, and (b) between an individual and the society at large (for example, the necessity to support necessary governmental functions through taxes).

Within this limited scope, the Rabbinical injunction of “the law of the kingdom is the law” is a rational law, and therefore is it included for Gentiles as part of the Noahide Code within the scope of the commandment for establishing Laws and Courts, since it is for the good of society at large. It was understood by the Sages and the subsequent major codifiers of Torah Law that not only Jews, but also the Gentiles themselves, have an obligation in G-d’s eyes [1] to abide by their government’s monetary laws that fall within the scope of the societal necessities described above. This is called Torah-based, because the Sages of the Great Sanhedrin agreed on this within their G’d-given authority to identify modes of conduct that are necessary, whether for the good of the Jewish people or for the good of the world at large.


Director’s Footnote:

[1] The phrase “in G-d’s eyes” as it is used here is not arbitrary. From a Torah perspective, we look to the moral lessons which the Sages taught should be learned from the words of the true prophets that are recorded in the Hebrew Bible. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible communicated their words with Divine inspiration. That is how we know that they are expressing lessons that are proper “in G-d’s eyes,” and they are included in the canonized text because they are relevant for all generations. Most of the messages from the Biblical prophets are intended specifically for the Jewish people, but some of the messages are also universal, for all people. To explain further:

(1) In the words of Isaiah 45:18: “…the Creator of heaven, Who is G-d, Who formed the earth and made it – He established it; He did not create it for tohu, He formed it to be inhabited…”

In the Oral Torah tradition from Mount Sinai, it is explained that G-d formed the entire world for the purpose that it should be “inhabited” by mankind, and that this applies mainly to the Gentiles, because they are the great majority of the world’s population. Furthermore, the prophet Isaiah says that G-d wants their inhabiting of the world to be in such a way that it is not tohu. The explanation is as follows.

- The word tohu first appears in the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 1:2: “when the earth was “bewilderment” (tohu) and void…” Rashi explains there that the word tohu means “astonishment and bafflement, that a person would be astonished and baffled over the void [the emptiness and desolation] within it.” In the context of human relations which is the subject of Isaiah 45:18 above, a state of tohu basically means that people are living by the “law of the jungle” – those who are stronger are overpowering and taking advantage of those who are weaker, to an extent that the society breaks down so much that a reasonable person would be astonished and baffled as to how people could act so wickedly toward each other, as the human living condition becomes empty and desolate of what we recognize as civilized behavior.

- Let us consider what you would think of as an ideal society, and then how it would degenerate in increments toward tohu / law of the jungle. Obviously, this would begin by some people taking advantage of other people economically, because people have a lust for money and possessions.

- Tohu also means a condition of chaos, which we learn from Genesis 1:4, in which G-d ended the initial condition of tohu by separating the primordial light from the primordial darkness, because initially He created the light and darkness together in a primordial chaotic jumble (see Rashi’s explanation there). In the context of human relations, this connotation of tohu means chaos in the society, i.e. a state of anarchy.

The Oral Torah tradition from Mount Sinai explains that G-d’s desire for the world “to be inhabited” is that there should be Gentile societies that are the positive opposite of the negative tohu of tyranny and anarchy. This positive human societal condition that is desired by G-d is expressed by the famous phrase, yishuv olom (“settling the world” – that the world should be “settled down”), which means civilized and peaceful coexistence in which people form societies in which they benefit from each other, rather than being harmed by each other.

(2) Next we need to identify what “in G-d’s eyes” is the way to accomplish His desired condition for human society, which is expressed by Isaiah 45:18.  The full verse states: “For so said the L-rd, the Creator of heaven, Who is G-d, Who formed the earth and made it – He established it; He did not create it for tohu, He formed it to be inhabited – ‘I am the L-rd and there is no other.’ ”

Isaiah, while informing the Gentiles about the societal condition they should have in G-d’s eyes, also informs them about the one and only G-d, Whose desire they should aspire to fulfill. And Isaiah goes on to describe certain things about G-d:

45:19 – “Not in secret did I [G-d] speak, in a place of a land of darkness; I did not say to the seed of Jacob, Seek Me, in vain; I am the L-rd, Who speaks righteousness, declares things that are right.”

Rashi explains:
- “Not in secret did I speak”: When I [G-d] gave the Torah… to the seed of Jacob… [This means that it is not a secret being kept from the world that G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people. Rather, it is public knowledge.]

- “I am the L-rd Who speaks righteousness”: …I [G-d] told them things that are right, My statutes and My laws…

This means that the statutes and laws commanded for the Jewish people in the Torah, i.e. the details as communicated and expounded in the Oral Torah, are “right” and “righteousness” in G-d’s eyes. Among these commandments are many that logically – according to G’d-given human intellect – include an aspect of universality for all human beings. It is in this context that the Jews were told by G-d through His prophet in Isaiah 42:6: “I am the L-rd; I called you with righteousness … for a light to nations.” I.e., through the universally righteous laws of the Torah, the Jews serve as a spiritual light to the Gentiles.

For example, the simple general concept of the Jewish commandment to “honor your father and your mother” is logically recognized as right and righteous in G-d’s eyes for Gentiles as well. When Gentiles honor their parents (without being in violation of the Seven Noahide Commandments), it contributes to G-d’s desired societal condition of yishuv olom that is explained above, and when Gentiles do not honor their parents, it pushes the society toward the chaotic condition of tohu which is against G-d’s desire. Since this is clear from human logic, we know that it is an obligation in G-d’s eyes for Gentiles to honor their parents, even if they have not heard of this Torah commandment. Thus, when a Gentile honors his parents, even if he does it just out of his own love or respect for them, or as logical correctness, and even without acknowledging G-d, he is doing something that is right “in G-d’s eyes.”

In terms of the yishuv olom which G-d desires for Gentile societies, this principle applies first and foremost to the many Torah laws that govern financial interactions between people. Consider an example that also happens to be connected with honoring parents: the laws of inheritance. From these Torah laws, it is logically understood that it is right in G-d’s eyes that a society should establish laws of bequeathing and inheritance, such that when a person passes away, the estate will be required to be divided among the inheritors in an orderly fashion and in accordance with a certified “Last Will and Testament” if one had been made, in order to avoid chaos and individual tyranny in the processes of disbursing the estate.

Of course this extends to all matters of personal and corporate business and commerce: buying, selling, borrowing lending, employment, etc. There should be governmental laws to the extent needed to establish righteous societal order and to avoid a descent into a condition of tohu. In the Talmud, the obligation for individual Gentiles and Jews to follow these laws that are established by their ruling Gentiles governments is referred to by the phrase dina d’malchuta dina – “the law of the government is the law [that one should follow].”

(3) This principle is taught to us through the following universal Divine messages that were communicated by true prophets in the Hebrew Bible:

Zechariah 8:16 – “Administer truth and the judgment of peace in your gates.”

Jeremiah 29:7 (addressing the Jewish exiles in Babylon) – “And seek the peace of the city where I have exiled you and pray for it to the L-rd, for in its peace you shall have peace.” The Divine message that “in its peace you shall have peace” also applies for the Gentile citizens of the city. The peacefulness of the city is only possible as a result of its government’s laws which contribute to peaceful coexistence and commerce among its citizens.

This concept is expounded upon in the Mishna, in Ethics of the Fathers 3:2, which states: “Rabbi Chanina, deputy of the priests (kohanim) said… ‘If it were not for the fear of the government, each man would eat his neighbor alive!’ ”

Quoting about this from “As for the expression ‘each man would eat his neighbor alive,’ Rav Ovadia of Bartenura explained that just as larger fish in the sea eat smaller fish, if it weren’t for the fear of the government, greater men would ‘swallow’ up smaller men. In other words, without law and order, people would take great advantage of each other — or worse.”

The first victims of economic tyranny and chaos are those who are weak and vulnerable: the poor, widows, orphans, foreigners, etc. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, G-d insists that in His eyes, the rights of vulnerable people in society should should be protected, and the only way to do this is to have societal laws that provide for this protection.

There is also an obvious corollary: if a government “eats its citizens alive,” it is unrighteous in G-d’s eyes.