The Foundation of a Peaceful and Just Society

The Meaning

If society is to function successfully, it must impose upon itself a legal structure to ensure adherence to core values. Peace and success among the members of a society can only be fostered if a righteous moral code is used to establish enforceable boundaries of behavior. Every nation, state or province, and municipality is obligated to have a system of courts to uphold the Noahide Commandments. Beyond this, all societies must also establish civil laws according to righteous principles, with civil courts ruling on civil matters, since these inevitably arise in daily life.

For the good of the society, courts or governments may place necessary legal limits on activities that G-d’s Torah leaves up to personal choice, as long as the restrictions are acceptable to the population in general. Then by the Noahide “Law of Courts,” citizens are required to observe the secular law, and the courts can apply any non-capital punishment that the public in general accepts, as long as it is not cruel or unusual. This is called “going beyond the letter” of the Torah Law. For example, a court system has the right to limit male citizens to only one legally contracted wife at a time (including both formally registered marriages and common-law marriages), if this is judged to be a benefit for the society.

Furthermore, G-d’s known standards for moral human behavior are part of His desire for “yishuv olom” (literally, “settling the world,” which is a Biblical term that refers to people making societies that are peaceful and proper in G-d’s eyes). Therefore, establishing righteous laws and courts also falls under the Noahide obligation to promote “yishuv olom” – people should be encouraged to act in ways that are morally proper according to G-d, or at least refrain from acting in ways that are known from the Hebrew Scriptures (which are authentic Divine revelation) to be abhorrent to G-d. This applies whether or not the undesirable actions are actually liable to punishment according to the Torah’s Noahide Code.

Adapted from the Introduction by Rabbi Dr. Shimon D. Cowen to the section on the Establishment of Laws and Courts, in “The Divine Code,” Part VIII:

The Noahide precept of justice, or dinim, is the obligation, incumbent upon societies, to establish the rule of law through courts in every district of the land. It is, however, not simply the establishment of law and order specifically in reference to the Noahide Laws, which have somewhat of a parallel in secular legal philosophy that might be called an order of “natural justice.” In actuality, it is the Divine template for human conduct, set out in the Hebrew Bible and its Oral tradition. This is what Rambam (Maimonides) intends when he states that the Noahide precept of establishing a system of justice is for the purpose of ruling on the other six universal Noahide Laws. That is to say, justice itself is one of the Seven Noahide Commandments, with its own parameters.

In defining the precept of dinim, the words of Rambam are “to judge in relation to these six [other] precepts” and this is understood to exclude judgment in certain areas where punishment is given over to the hands of Heaven instead of the courts. Still it would appear that the precept applies to three areas: (a) the actual prescriptions in the Noahide Laws as set out in the Biblical revelation to Moses at Sinai, and elucidated in the Oral tradition which also derives from Sinai; (b) an area of rules and arrangements in the realm of justice, mandated by reason for the purposes of social order; (c) a domain of adopted stringencies, whereby higher standards of justice are taken on and become part of Noahide law.

The normative legal system is thus not a mere reflection of community values or a repository of statutes given by a legislative body, but of the Noahide Code, within which community values – including legislated laws and norms – are included so long as these are consistent with the Noahide Laws. Judges, lawmakers and the enforcers of law all need to be cognizant of this higher, universal code. Where there is doubt as to the parameters of Noahide law in regard to new matters, the filling of this gap can be done only by a qualified Orthodox Rabbinic authority in the Noahide Laws.

The function of the system of justice is also put “negatively”: to disallow disorder. Here Rambam writes that the function of courts under Noahide law is to “warn the people” against its infringement. This therefore presupposes a responsibility on the part of the State’s agencies of justice: both of the duly instituted ruling government and the judiciary.

The precept of dinim is of particular contemporary importance, even in societies with high standards of impartiality and freedom from corruption in the administration of justice. This is because personal value judgments and beliefs can and do enter the rulings of judges, resulting in decisions which are at variance with the Noahide Laws. This we have seen in rulings permitting homosexual “marriage,” abortion on demand and euthanasia. The judge must first and foremost know and be beholden to the universal Noahide Laws as the background ethical conditions for all positive (human-made) law and its adjudication.

Scriptural Sources

G-d commanded Noah regarding the trial and punishment of a murderer, as it says in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, among man, his blood shall be shed…” This refers to a Noahide commandment to judge and penalize a murderer.

This is explained as follows by the Talmudic Sages: “Whoever sheds the blood of man” (referring to the murderer), “among man” (i.e., he is to be prosecuted in a court by a man who is qualified to testify as a witness), “his blood shall be shed” (if convicted, he is liable to capital punishment by the court). The Noahide Code commanded through Moses at Mount Sinai specifies that Gentiles are similarly obligated to bring transgressors of the other Noahide commandments to justice in a court of law.

Some Details and Related Principles
  • The ruling power must institute oversight over the courts to be sure that only proper and expert judges are appointed, and that the judges do not act corruptly or unrighteously. The ruling power also has the authority to institute a structure of “appeals” or “referral” courts.  Every individual must abide by a properly rendered legal decision he has received. It is forbidden for an individual to carry out judgments and punishments against others (vigilante justice). One must pursue a legal case within the legal system that has jurisdiction over the matter.
  • Standard types of evidence are admissible in Noahide courts.
  • Anyone who is known to transgress any of the Noahide Commandments is not to be considered as a reliable witness in capital cases.
  • All judges must deliver righteous judgments, and opposing claimants must be treated equally in all ways.
  • Bribing a judge is forbidden, and judges may not take bribes.
  • In civil cases, one should seek arbitration, mediation or other means of finding an amicable settlement or compromise.
  • If the majority of the society is not G-d fearing and does not observe all of the Seven Noahide Commandments, a court may only use capital punishment as a decree of the government to protect the society from very dangerous criminals, such as murderers.

Presented from the booklet Go(o)d for You with permission from the publisher, Ask Noah International (

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