5758 - #1

The Question of Dual Moralities

The relationship of the Sheva Mitzvot B'nei Noach, the Noachide Code incumbent upon all humanity, to the Taryag Mitzvot, incumbent upon Jews, is one that demands further investigation. On the surface, the Halachic Code of 613 mitzvot would seem to be, simply, an expansion upon the 7 mitzvot that bind all Mankind. The additional mitzvot of Taryag would seem to represent additional stringencies G-d has placed upon the Jewish People which, while inherently beneficial,1. demand further duties and obligations. The general declaration in T.B. Sanhedrin 59a, that something cannot be forbidden to a Noachide yet permitted to a Jew, would seem to support this understanding. Proponents of this view would seem to perceive the relationship between the Sheva Mitzvot and Taryag in a manner similar to the way they would view the relationship, within Halacha, between acting lifnim meshurat hadin, beyond the letter of the law, and acting according to din, the law. Along the continuum of a value construct, a standard representing a minimum tolerable application of the value and another standard representing a superior level of application are identified. The Sheva Mitzvot would represent this tolerable base level, which is demanded of all humanity. Taryag would represent the superior level which is demanded of Jews.2. Inherently, pursuant to this view, one vision of morality and value constructs is postulated. The distinction between Noachides and Jews is quantitative: how much application of a value is to be demanded.

As presented in my Crisis in Jewish Identity, Part III, NISHMA Journal VI, this perception has its difficulties. The distinction between the Noachide Code and Taryag does not seem to be only quantitative but also qualitative. In various circumstances, the two seem to be demanding not only differing value applications but conflicting applications. An interesting example of this is the case of judgement. According to the Noachide Code, judgement can be rendered by one judge.3. Indeed Meshech Chochma, Parshat Noach sees in this right to judge by oneself a positive comparison to the One Judge. Yet within the Taryag system, judgement by one judge is generally not allowed. Even though there are limited cases where judgement by one judge is allowed,4. Devarim Rabbah 1:10 further states that judgement by one judge is incorrect precisely because it is the province of the One Judge. These two values are diametrically opposite to each other. The question is not simply whether one judge should or should not judge alone. Within the Noachide system the value of judgement includes judgement by one judge. Within the Taryag system the value of judgement precludes judgement by one judge. This is not differing points upon one value continuum. This is a projection of different value continuums.5. The difference between the Sheva Mitzvot and Taryag would seem to be qualitative. The two are presenting differing value systems.

One approach in explaining the distinction between the two systems focuses on the difference in the authority base of the system and their projected relationships with the Divine. Rabbi Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch,6. for example, argues that the authority base of the Noachide system is a relationship with G-d similar to the relationship between a doctor and a patient. The base of the Jewish system, he contends, is comparable to the relationship between a king and his nation. This fundamental distinction in connection between the Noachide and G-d and the Jew and G-d can colour the entire nature of both systems and yield qualitatively distinct directives.

Based upon different starting points for each system, it could be argued, the Torah is creating dual systems of morality.

An interesting argument can also be made that the qualitative distinction is founded not on a difference in the starting point or base of the system but rather its purpose. The Ohr Sameach7. makes a comparison between the Noachide system of judgement and the judgement powers of the Jewish king. He further compares these powers to the emergency powers of the Jewish courts to protect society.8. Law would seem to have two purposes. One is the protection of society. The other is the development of the individual. The focus of the Noachide system would seem to be the former; its primary purpose is the protection of society. Its evidentiary rules, thus, were demarcated to meet this goal.9. The focus of Taryag, though, would seem to be the latter; its primary focus is the individual. What is in question is not what society needs but the moral status of the individual and what he or she deserves.10. As such, the evidentiary rules of the standard Jewish court system -- two witnesses, the appropriate warning and the appropriate number of judges -- meet a qualitatively different standard. The differing moral systems present different Divine objectives.

Indeed this perspective could be used to understand distinctions in systems with Taryag as well. Differences are not always measurable solely on the continuum of stringency and leniency. They may represent qualitatively different understandings, each with the seal of the Divine.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


1. See T.B. Makkot 23b. See, also, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 268:7, in regard to a minor who wishes to convert to Judaism.

2. Lifnim meshurat hadin would thus be a more superior standard which is only binding upon selected members of the Jewish nation as determined through the halachic process.

3. See T.B. Sanhedrin 57b. As to whom may judge and the parameters on this judgement, see Margoliot HaYam. See also Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 9:14 including commentators.

4. See T.B. Sanhedrin 5a.

5. Other examples are presented in my Crisis in Jewish Identity article and there are more.

6. Shiurei Da'at, vol. 3, "Bein Yisrael L'Amim U'Bein Eretz Yisrael L'Eretz HaAmim". See further my NISHMA Study Materials on Kabbalat HaTorah which further investigates this issue and presents differing views.

7. See his comments to Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 3:10.

8. See, also, Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Rotze'ach 4:8,9.

9. T.B. Makkot 7a would seem to imply that protection of society is still also part of the goal of the standard Jewish court system. It would be hard-pressed to understand this gemara as applying to the emergency court power although that would be a defense to Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel's challenge of Rabbi Akiva.

10. As a demonstration of this focus, see, for example, T.B. Makkot 5a.

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