Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Way of the Edomite, the Ammonite, the Moabite, and the Ishmaelite

THE SEVEN COMMANDMENTS of the children of Noah, the sheva mitsvot benei Noah (שבע מצוות בני נח), are considered by the Talmud to be laws binding upon all mankind. Also referred to as the Noahide Laws, they are listed by the Tosefta and the Talmud as follows:

(1) the requirement to establish a judicial system in society (דינים, dinim);
(2) the prohibition of blasphemy (ברכת השם, birkat ha-shem);
(3) the prohibition of idolatry (עבודה זרה, avodah zarah);
(4) the prohibition of wanton destruction of human life (שפיחת דמים, shefikhut damim);
(5) the prohibition of adultery, incest, homsexuality, and bestiality (גילוי עריות, gillui arayot);
(6) the prohibition of robbery (גזל, gezel); and
(7) the prohibition of eating a limb torn from a living animal (עבר מו החי, ever min ha-hai)

(See David Novak, Natural Law in Judaism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 149) (citing T. Avodah Zarah 8.4; B. Sanhedrin 56a).

While some posit the Noahide laws as being laws governing relationship of non-Jews living within a Jewish community (analogous to the Roman ius gentium), the Noahide laws are more plausibly considered as a Jewish statement of the Natural Law. Novak, 149-51. The Noahide "laws" are really more a "system of principles" than an "actual body of rules." Novak, 151. For this reason, the Seven Noahide Laws are frequently said to include as many as thirty separate commandments. E.g., Menahem Azariah of Fano in his Asarah Maamarot lists 30 commandments.

The acceptance of the Noahide Laws would seem to be a sort of preambulae fidei, or a preambulae legibus, in that accepting them is a prerequisite to being able to accept God's revelation in the Torah. In the rabbinic text Sifre: Devarim, no. 343, there is midrash on Deuteronomy 33:2. In the midrash, God is said to have proferred the Torah not only to Israel, but to all nations. Some of the immoral habits of the other nations, however, prevented them from being open to the gift of the Torah. Thus, the Edomites refused the Torah when they learned of its prohibition against murder. The Ammonites and Moabites refused it when confronted with the prohibition against incest. The Ishmaelites would not accept the Torah because it prohibited theft. It was these groups' failure to abide by the Noahide laws that led them to reject the Torah. (Novak, 161-62.)

Novak concludes:
The rejection of natural law by a community means that its law and culture are fundamentally unworthy of the human persons to whom they are addressed. Such a community is fundamentally flawed and it suffers accordingly. Being in violation of natural law, that suffering is akin to the suffering of any natural entity denied the basic conditions it requires for living well or living at all.
Novak, 162.

In his Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Melachim, 9:4), the great Jewish medieval scholar Moses Maimonides explicitly equates the killing of a fetus in his mother's womb with the Noahide prohibition against murder.

In light of our Nation's adoption of abortion as a national policy, and the increased acceptance of homosexual "marriage"--both repudiations of the Noahide law and the Natural Law--one wonders, in the words of Novak, whether our "law and culture are fundamentally unworthy of the human persons to whom they are addressed." One wonders whether our community is "fundamentally flawed" when it denies the "basic conditions it requires for living well or living at all."

On wonders why we have chosen the ways of the Edomite, the Ammonite, the Moabite, and the Ishmaelite.

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