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One of the seven laws of Noah for gentiles is to set up a system of courts.

Is the obligation to set up a system of courts a communal obligation on Gentile communities, or does every single Gentile have an individual obligation to make a specific minimum level of effort or contribution toward the establishment of Noachide courts? If it is individual, what level of effort or contribution is required from each Gentile?

For example, if a Gentile determines that setting up Noachide courts is politically very unlikely and that most Gentiles in his community actively oppose such courts, can he say "Well, I tried!" and move on with his life, or is he required to spend all that he has toward political lobbying, even if he ends up a bankrupt social outcast? If a Gentile finds that he is the only Gentile in his community interested in a Noachide court, is he required to just up and appoint himself as a judge and start issuing rulings (even though those rulings could never actually be enforced)?

In response to @heshy 's question about whether the courts themselves must be Noachide, that can be part of an answer to the question. One could argue that modern-day secular courts fulfill most of what would be expected from a biblical Noachide court, but do the gaps in practice invalidate them as fulfilling the obligation? For example, the regular civil and criminal courts in the area in which I live will not take action against a person for worshiping an idol (under the principle of Freedom of Religion) or for cursing God (Free Speech). The law against adultery is no longer enforced (they will laugh at you if you try to file a case). The courts do take action against murderers and thieves, though there are probably minor differences in how edge cases are handled versus how halacha says they should be. Do Noachides have an obligation to lobby their local legislature to make idolatry and blasphemy illegal? Is there an "eh, good enough" principle?

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    I think it's sort of discussed here in the Nosei Keilim, but I don't have it clear enough to answer... hebrewbooks.org/… Mar 23, 2018 at 20:02
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    are you sure the courts must be noahide? it sounds like that from rmbm, but i'm curious if they can't get away with any sensible court system (of course not like in sadom)
    – Hershy S.
    Mar 23, 2018 at 20:12
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    i believe this is also discussed in the acharonim, also see the meforshim by Shimon & Levi killing out the people of Shechem. Mar 23, 2018 at 21:20
  • Is this two separate questions?
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Feb 24, 2019 at 20:50
  • @Dr.Shmuel no, the question is in the title. The rest is just explanation. Feb 25, 2019 at 1:13

1 Answer 1

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This is a very good question and actually touches upon one of the fundamentals of Jewish belief.

The concept of 'Tzibbur' (ציבור), as in communal obligation does not relate to non-Jews. Tzibbur within the Torah is a unique characteristic to the Jewish people. That in addition to their status as individuals, they have another state of being where the collective of individuals is a distinct, unified, single entity.

This is expressed through the posuk from 2 Shmuel 7:23 which says:

וּמִ֤י כְעַמְּךָ֙ כְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל גּ֥וֹי אֶחָ֖ד בָּאָ֑רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הָלְכֽוּ־אֱ֠לֹהִים לִפְדּֽוֹת־ל֨וֹ לְעָ֜ם וְלָשׂ֧וּם ל֣וֹ שֵׁ֗ם וְלַעֲשׂ֨וֹת לָכֶ֜ם הַגְּדוּלָּ֤ה וְנֹֽרָאוֹת֙ לְאַרְצֶ֔ךָ מִפְּנֵ֣י עַמְּךָ֗ אֲשֶׁ֨ר פָּדִ֤יתָ לְּךָ֙ מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם גּוֹיִ֖ם וֵאלֹהָֽיו׃

And who is like Your people Israel, a unique nation on earth, whom God went and redeemed as His people, winning renown for Himself and doing great and marvelous deeds for them [and] for Your land—[driving out] nations and their gods before Your people, whom You redeemed for Yourself from Egypt.

And this same idea is also explained in Brachot 6a in the name of Rav Nachman Bar Yitzchok who says:

Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak said to Rav Ḥiyya bar Avin: What is written in the phylacteries of the Master of the world? Rav Ḥiyya bar Avin replied: It is written: “Who is like Your people, Israel, one nation in the land?” (I Chronicles 17:21). God’s phylacteries serve to connect Him, in a sense, to the world, the essence of which is Israel. Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak continues: Is the Holy One, Blessed be He, glorified through the glory of Israel? Rav Ḥiyya bar Avin answered: Yes, as indicated by the juxtaposition of two verses; as it is stated: “You have affirmed, this day, that the Lord is your God, and that you will walk in His ways and keep His laws and commandments, and listen to His voice.” And the subsequent verse states: “And the Lord has affirmed, this day, that you are His treasure, as He spoke to you, to keep His commandments”

(Deuteronomy 26:17–18). From these two verses it is derived that the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Israel: You have made Me a single entity [ḥativa] in the world, as you singled Me out as separate and unique. And because of this, I will make you a single entity in the world, and you will be a treasured nation, chosen by God.

This idea is also discussed by the Rogatchover Gaon in connection with the reasons behind why the judgements against the Rebellious City are different from those of the individual, even though the transgression is the same. For Jews, the Community, meaning Tzibbur, is a distinct entity.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe also discusses this concept, quoting the Rosh, in connection with the subject of ציבור לא מת, that the Tzibbut does not die. See also Yachin to Mishnah Temurah 2:16:1, Tosafot Yom Tov to Mishnah Temurah 2:2:3, Steinzaltz to Temurah 15b:6, and elsewhere.

The mitzvah for the Noahide is not to fail to establish courts of justice. The function of these courts is to arbitrate disputes between non-Jews and to educate them about their individual responsibilities as members in a civilized society. All of this promotes the general peace.

When you ask to what extent should the individual exert themselves in that direction, it would seem to be associated with the desired result. If an increase in unresolved disputes and the breakdown of society is being observed, it is an indication that there is a lack in establishing those courts of justice whether to resolve disputes or to educate the public about their commonwealth. It is clearly in their best interest as individuals when the society functions peacefully.

Regarding your discussion of whether modern day, secular courts fulfill the concept of the Noahide court, this would seem to revolve around who is a Noahide and who is not. Simply being a non-Jew does not qualify someone as being a Noahide. A Noahide acquires that status through meeting the legal definitions outlined within the Torah. In that context, none of the current, secular, civil courts among the non-Jews, that I am aware of, would meet that criteria simply by definition.

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  • Rather than just anonymous down votes, suggestions are welcome. Dec 16, 2019 at 19:15
  • I'm not seeing any conclusive support here for your contention that the concept of a Tzibbur doesn't apply to gentiles. Your sources show that the Jewish people is sui generis, and that the Jews have a concept of Tzibbur, but that is insufficient to establish your claim.
    – Double AA
    Dec 16, 2019 at 21:51
  • @DoubleAA That only means you don’t understand the redemption from Egypt and the giving of the Torah which is what the quote from Brachot 6a connects it to. Hard to believe for such a well read individual with a good grasp of Latin. Dec 17, 2019 at 1:10
  • Fortassis. But also fortassis you aren't writing clearly or you are misunderstanding something.
    – Double AA
    Dec 17, 2019 at 1:13
  • I liked the idea. It resonates nicely with the ideas of Hassidus you frequently represent. Well written and very informative. Sounds very plausible. We do however found the Torah referring to various groups of gentiles as nations, or families or kingdoms, etc, meaning they are not singles.
    – Al Berko
    Oct 15, 2020 at 21:50

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