Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Medieval Commentators on Equality In Judaism

I was looking for the Meiri's position that further discusses Judaism and Morality. So to follow up on my previous post, found here, I wanted to translate a Meiri in Bava Kama that discusses this equality. He says (Bava Kama: 37B),

"An ox that belongs to a Jew that gores an ox of a non-Jew is exempt from paying from the law of neighbor and if a non-Jew's ox gores the ox of a Jew, whether it is a delinquent ox or not, pays full damages. This law only refers to a non-Jew that is not careful for the property of others (damaging them without care), therefore, we fine him that he, the non-Jew, should not become used to this type of action of damaging other people's property without care. This which is stated in the Gemorah only applies to nations that do not have laws and are barbaric people. For these types of people the Gemorah says that the non-Jews accepted upon themselves the seven Noahide commandments and if they are not followed then their property becomes unprotected by the law. However, all non-Jews that keep the seven Noahide commandments are considered like full fledged Jews."

First just to state the seven Noahide laws are:

1)Prohibition of Idolatry
2)Prohibition of Murder
3)Prohibition of Theft
4)Prohibition of Sexual Promiscuity
5)Prohibition of Blasphemy: You shall not blaspheme God's name.
6)Dietary Law: Do not eat flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive. (Genesis 9:4)
7)Requirement to have just Laws: You shall set up an effective judiciary to enforce the preceding six laws fairly.

With these ideas in mind it is clear to see what the Meiri is saying. If a state does not have just laws, like protecting people's property then their property, in turn, is not protected. These seven Noahide laws are very moral laws, I don't know why anyone would say they are not a just basis for a law. Thus, if a person is unjust and cheats and steals, the Gemorah tells us that you do not have to respect his protection under the law. Obviously, you can not make these decisions yourself, but there must be a court that decides this, a beis din.

With this idea from the Meiri in mind, it is clear to see that even a Jew that acts unjustly would fall under this category of the "non-Jew" that does not have protection under the law. Therefore, I see equality in the laws of the Torah. The non-Jew is protected just as much as the Jew. If a state is unjust then their rules do not apply, because they are unjust. However, in a country like America since the laws are just a Jew must follow them. Anyone who says otherwise clearly misses the point of the laws of the torah.


The Rambam on the same Gemarah as the Meiri (Bava Kama 37B) states a very similar Halacha as that of the Meiri. He says,

"An ox of a Jew that gores the ox of a non-Jew, whether it is a delinquent animal or not, is exempt. This is because the non-Jewish courts do not require a man to pay for the damage his ox does, therefore we judge this case like they would judge it. An ox of a non-Jew that gores the ox of a Jew, whether it is delinquent or not, pays full damages. This is a punishment that is enforced on non-Jews since they are not careful in the laws and do not try to prevent damage. For if they were not punished in this manner they would not watch their animals and they would let them damage everyone and everything."

This Rambam clearly tells us the qualifications of what is going on in this case. At first glance, one would think that a non-Jew is discriminated against. However, this is not the case. The only reason the non-Jew is treated like this is because he is not careful to prevent his ox from damaging other people's property. However, if he would treat his ox like a Jew treats his ox, namely trying to prevent his ox from damaging other people's property, then this non-Jew would be treated like a Jew.

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