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Inspired by this interesting question, I wonder if the principle of תינוק שנשבה (a child taken captive) can be applied to non-Jews who grew up in cultures antithetical to those that the mitzvot bnei noach require of them to adopt? In the same way that a Jew who was raised in an environment antithetical to rabbinic Judaism might be forgiven for not observing the mitzvot required of him, can we make the same argument as regards non-Jews?

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Very similar to and possibly a duplicate of judaism.stackexchange.com/q/20528. – msh210 Jul 11 '13 at 20:24
Doesn't that principle apply specifically to whether a penalty is given by a human court? Of course, in terms of how God judges a person, that is between Him and them in the circumstances, and this conversation doesn't touch on that. So my question is, who would actually be imposing the death penalty here? Wouldn't it be the Noachide court of the society in which that person is a member? And if they were taken captive, then how could they be punished by a society they were no longer in? – Annelise Aug 9 '13 at 14:36
There's a link between this question and the end of Jeremiah 16: "Lord, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in time of distress, to you the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, Our ancestors possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them no good. Do people make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods! Therefore I will teach them—this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the Lord." – Annelise Aug 9 '13 at 14:47
Also in Isaiah 60, "See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." Anyway, these two verses and others like them imply (to me, when I read them) that there is a level of judgment about people being content to follow lies, but there is also a big level of understanding regarding the fact that until light was revealed, the nations just didn't know, but in future they will have more and also be accountable for more. – Annelise Aug 9 '13 at 14:48
up vote 4 down vote accepted

In Noahide law, ignorance is no excuse (this, by the way, is true in secular law as well). The reason for this is, as the Rambam says (Hil. Melakhim, 10:1), היה לו ללמוד ולא למד--he should have learnt the law and he did not learn it:

אבל אם ידע שהוא אשת חבירו ולא ידע שהיא אסורה עליו. אלא עלה על לבו שדבר זה מותר לו. וכן אם הרג והוא לא ידע שאסור להרוג. הרי זה קרוב למזיד ונהרג. ולא תחשב זו להם שגגה מפני שהיה לו ללמוד ולא למד

See also: R. Chaim Hirschensohn, Malki ba-Kodesh, vol. 1 p. 21; Moreh Nevukhim, 1:36 (end); R. Nissim Gaon, introduction to the Talmud; R. J.D. Bleich, "Judaism and Natural Law."

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Thanks for the source! I can see why that would be the case for those two laws (I think the first pronoun should be שהיא), but I can't see why that would be the case for some of the others. How is someone to "know" that idols are unworthy of worship unless they are told to believe that? Do we blame those who were born into idolatrous societies for not abandoning the religious practices of their ancestors? – Shimon bM Jul 11 '13 at 3:40
If we assume that idolatry is part of natural law, then we expect them to figure out that their beliefs do not make sense. Alternatively, we don't expect them to figure it out, but they still have to follow the law--just like in the secular system, ignorance of the law does not work as an excuse. – wfb Jul 11 '13 at 3:55
still the mekoros didnt answer if their is an inyan of tinokos shenishbeu – Efraim Nov 19 '13 at 2:48
@Efraim The Rambam in Moreh Nevukhim is specifically talking about a person who was raised with those beliefs. – wfb Nov 19 '13 at 3:30

The question seems to be a little bit open ended but I see two somewhat related issues.

The first is the mental/emotional burden of abandoning beliefs one has been raised with. This can certainly be difficult but isn't necessarily unique to "religious" beliefs. People have many ideologies that they cling too tightly despite their being inappropriate or even hurtful to themselves or others. It is hard to suggest that they need not revisit such beliefs out of these concerns.

The second is whether they have a fair opportunity being ignorant of the Noachide laws and often accustomed to forbidden beliefs from their youth. In this regard, it seems to me, that we can simply trust that Hashem's judgement is just. Perhaps they were presented with an opportunity to learn which they failed to give its proper respect. Perhaps they have merits which Hashem may feel outweigh the transgressions brought about by their environment and they receive a portion in the world to come. In the Jewish sources we do not find the belief of others that one will be sentenced to eternal punishment in the event that they have not repented/atoned of each sin, but instead they may go through a period of purging such transgressions. Perhaps they were simply mediocre and received their reward in this world, receiving neither life in the world to come nor punishment.

We know that there is reward and there is punishment but the precise determination of such issues are left up to the Judge.

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This question has been closed as a duplicate of judaism.stackexchange.com/q/29878. IMO your answer will serve as a good answer to that question or to judaism.stackexchange.com/q/20528, and I plan to merge it over to judaism.stackexchange.com/q/29878. I figured I'd give you a chance to object first. – msh210 Jul 11 '13 at 20:21
That sounds appropriate, please do so. – Yirmeyahu Jul 12 '13 at 1:32
I've merged it over. – msh210 Jul 12 '13 at 7:14

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