Dinim, or Courts of Justice, seems to be the latest hot topic these days. The confusion with Dinim has to do with the Rambam-onlyers who insist that the paradigm of the mitzvah of Dinim has to do with establishing courts in major cities and making sure judges and witnesses are men of good character.
Here is a quote from Rambam that was posted during a discussion:
“When a city does not posses two Sages of great knowledge – one fit to teach and issue rulings with regard to the entire Torah and one who knows how to listen [diligently] and knows how to raise questions and arrive at solutions – a court should not be appointed for it, even if thousands of Jews live there.” —Hilkhoth Sanhedrin, 1:5.
Here’s the problem with Rambam’s quote; it is about Jewish courts in Israel, not Noahide courts in sovereign non-Jewish states. The Torah isn’t simply about “religion;” the Torah is the “constitution” of Israel. It covers all the things a “secular” legal system covers including business, land ownership, etc. From a Torah point of view, there is no “separation” of “Church and State.” During the Temple era, the Jews could set up courts of justice because these courts were based on the Law. This is the hurdle most Noahides have a difficult time getting over.
As the Ramban (Nachmonides) explained in his commentary to Bereishis 34:13 about Noahide Law:
“Concerning the laws of theft, overcharging, withholding wages, the laws of bailees and of the rapist or the seducer of minors, the various categories of damages, personal injury, the laws of creditors and debtors, the laws of buying and selling, etc., comparable to the civil laws about which Israel was commanded. Understanding this approach, we see that Noahide law should be the legal basis of our contract law, property law, trust law, tort law, criminal law, and international law. Ramban’s approach viewed the Noahide Law in a much broader context than did Maimonides; instead of the Noahide having to set up individual courts of justice (having judges who based their decisions on Noahide Law) as Maimonides taught, Nachmonides maintained that a Noahide society should develop a body of civil law based on the Torah. The Noahide law is not to be as exact either in strictness or in severity, but it should follow the halakha as closely as possible. According to Ramban, Noahide law should be the legal basis of our contract law, property law, trust law, tort law, criminal law, and international law—basically everything we consider our ‘secular’ law. In the broader context of implementing Noahide Law in a society, the laws of idolatry and blasphemy are not simply prohibitions against the worship of false idols, but prohibitions against organized religion. This can be seen in the context of the discussion in Sanhedrin 56a–60a, where the focus of the discussion by the rabbis is on which mitzvah violation a non-Jew can be tried for in a court of law, not for setting up a ‘religion’ for the Noahide.” Secular by Design, P. 408
Before we can even talk about having “Noahide Courts,” we would have to get rid of not only our Constitution but our Roman-based legal system. Arguing about “courts” is a waste of time at this juncture; we are a long way off before that can be done. It’s like arguing about what sort of furniture you want in the house before the foundation has even been laid down.
The first step towards the goal of Dinim is education. People have got to understand what the problem is before we can fix it. And the obstacle we face is that of idolatry.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explained that “the Torah warns: ‘Do not turn to the idols’ (Vayikra 19:4), which the Gemara explains as a reference to conceptual idols, ideologies not based on the Torah (Shabbos 149a).” Americans have been indoctrinated to believe that our Constitution is Holy Writ, that it is the most superb form of government ever created, and the legal system it is attached to is second to none. This is nothing less than putting the Constitution over the Torah, a rather idolatrous notion.
People are also stuck on the idea that “religion” (Torah) is something separate and apart from our current legal system. This also is wrong; the Torah (as far as the Noahides are concerned) is a legal code as much as it is a moral one.
This should be our first task—instead of arguing about setting up courts, we need to organize and educate people about why our Constitution and legal system needs to be replaced by a Torah-based system. This should be our focus. Only when “we the people” want change, and decide to replace our current non-Torah government and legal system and put together something that is based on Torah law, will we be able to have courts of justice. This is what the mitzvah of Dinim is all about.