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
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 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
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 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
    Commented Aug 9, 2013 at 14:47
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    Possible duplicate of Will A Non Jew who did not keep the Noachide Laws be Held Accountable?
    – Loewian
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 14:22
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    @Loewian msh210 beat you to it by 4.5 years.
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Jan 22, 2018 at 15:36

2 Answers 2


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."

However, R. Moshe Weiner in his Sheva Mitzvot Hashem (vol. 1, pp. 52-54) argues that the rule of היה לו ללמוד only applies in a society which observes sheva mitzvot:

ונראה לי דכל זה דוקא אם היה יכול ללמוד, כגון שהצבור בכללותו יודע אזהרת שבע מצוות בני נח, אבל בזמנים או מקומות שאין הצבור יודע כלל מהציווי, אין שייך לומר שהיה לו ללמוד, כי מנין ידע שעליו ללמוד כלל...במה דברים אמורים במצות ע"ז, גלוי עריות, ואבר מן החי [שאם לא למד לא ידע כלל שיש איסור בדבר], אבל איסור רציחה וגזל ומצוות דינים שגם אילולא נצטוו עליהם בני אדם מחוייבים בהם ע"פ המושכל לבד, אין לב"נ התנצלות שלא ידע שאסור לרצוח או לגזול.

R. Weiner distinguishes between murder, theft, birkat Hashem and dinim, in which one never has an excuse of ignorance, and the other laws. He bases this on the Avnei Nezer's comments in Orach Chaim 345. The Hit'orerut Teshuvah (4:186) similarly writes:

ונראה לי מה שכתב הרמב"ם בהל' מלכים (פ"י ה"א) דגוי שעובר על שבע מצות בחשבו שמותר הוא חייב, כי קרוב למזיד הוא שהיה לו ללמוד ולא למד...לענ"ד זה דווקא כשאנו שרוין בארצינו וידינו תקיפה...ובזה יש לומר שהי' לו ללמוד יען שרואה בכל יום כולם גירי תושבים ויש להם דת שבע מצות ויודע מכל זה ממעשים בכל יום ששומע ורואה, והיה לו ללמוד, אבל עתה בגלות שלא שמע ולא ראה ולא ידע מכל זה מאין יעלה על דעתו שיש לו ללמוד שבע מצות ולקיימם אשר לא שמע מעולם מכל זה, הגם שאין אנו רשאים להכשילו בהם משום לפני עור, אבל הוא שוגג גמור הוא יותר

  • 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
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 3:40
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    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
    Commented Jul 11, 2013 at 3:55
  • still the mekoros didnt answer if their is an inyan of tinokos shenishbeu Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 2:48
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    @Efraim The Rambam in Moreh Nevukhim is specifically talking about a person who was raised with those beliefs.
    – wfb
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 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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