Prohibition of Blasphemy
Blasphemy: Evil or profane speaking of G-d. The essence of the crime consists in the impious purpose in using the words, and does not necessarily include the performance of any desecrating act.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Blasphemy in Jewish Law (for Jews)
- 3 Blasphemy in Jewish Law (for Noahides)
- 4 Rabbi Yoel Schwartz (Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah)
- 5 Blasphemy in Noahide Law
- 6 See Also
- 7 References
From Middle English blasfemen, from Old French blasfemer, from Late Latin blasphemare, from Greek blasphemein, from blaptein, "to injure", and pheme, "reputation". Blasphemy, which was opposed to "euphemy" (see euphemism), and has also given "blame" from Old French blasmer. This may be related to the Talmudic use of "nokev" (to pierce) as the source of the laws of Blasphemy. (Mishnah Sanh. vii. 5)
Blasphemy in Jewish Law (for Jews)
The Jewish law is based on the case of the blasphemer, one of the mixed multitude that went out of Egypt with the children of Israel. He blasphemed the name of the L-rd and cursed; was sentenced to be taken without the camp; and it was decreed that all who heard him should lay their hands upon his head, and that all the congregation should stone him. The judgment in his case was formulated in a general law in verses 15 and 16.
Beyond the reference to cursing in the text of Leviticus, there is nothing in the Biblical laws to indicate what constitutes the crime, and nothing to show that, to prove blasphemy, it was required to prove that the blasphemer had uttered the name of G-d. The Mishnah, however, laying stress on the term "nokev," declares that the blasphemer is not guilty unless he pronounces the name of G-d. The Gemara goes further and extends the crime to an impious use of any words which indicate the sacred attributes of G-d, such as "The Holy One" or "The Merciful One." As long as the Jewish courts exercised criminal jurisdiction, the death penalty was inflicted only upon the blasphemer who used the Ineffable Name; but the blasphemer of G-d's attributes was subjected to corporal punishment. According to Talmudic tradition, the Sacred Name was in early times known to all; but later its use was restricted.
Even in taking testimony during the trial of a blasphemer, the witnesses who heard the blasphemy were not permitted to repeat the very words, but an arbitrary phrase was adopted to indicate the blasphemy. Thus, R. Joshua ben Karhah said: "Throughout the examination of the witnesses, 'Yose' should be used, and they should say, 'Yose shall strike Yose,' to indicate the blasphemy". At the conclusion of the trial sentence of death could not be passed by such testimony only, and it thus became necessary for one of the witnesses to use once the very words which they had heard. The court directed all persons not immediately concerned in the trial to be removed, and the chief witness was then addressed thus: "State literally what you heard" - and when he repeated the blasphemous words the judges stooi up and rent their garments, that being the common sign of mourning. And the rents were not sewed up again, indicating the profound degree of the mourning. After the first witness had thus testified, the second and the following witnesses were not called on to repeat the identical words; but were obliged to say, "I also heard it thus".
The text of the law in Leviticus provides that the stranger, as well as the native born, is liable to punishment for blasphemy. Talmudic tradition states that blasphemy was one of the seven crimes prohibited to the Noahides, i.e., according to natural law...
The Talmud bases the custom of rending the garments in such cases upon the Biblical precedent in 11 Kings xviii. 37, where Eliakim and others rent their garments when they heard the blasphemy of Rab-shakeh: and in order to bring this view into harmony with the practise requiring the rending of garments only on hearing a blasphemy by a Jew, the Talmud states that Rab-shakeh was an apostate Jew.
According to R. Hiyya, the rending of garments was no longer required after the fall of the Temple ("He who hears blasphemy nowadays is not obliged to rend his garments, because otherwise his garments would be nothing but tatters,"); for the criminal jurisdiction of the Jewish courts had ceased, and the fear of death no longer deterred the blasphemers. The later law, however, restored the practice of rending the garments. In an opinion rendered by Gaon Rab Amram) he says, "He who hears his neighbor blaspheme must excommunicate him in these days, no matter what language was used. This is the practice of the pious. It is not necessary that the blasphemy be in Hebrew, and it makes no dif f erence whether the I nef f able Name or the attributes of G-d be mentioned, whether the offender be a Jew or a non-Jew, whether the language be Hebrew or any other. These distinctions were made to distinguish the capital crime from the lesser offense; but for purposes of excommunication, it makes no difference whether the blasphemer be a heathen or a Jew, whether he use the Sacred Name or the attributes, nor what language he uses, he must be excommunicated." And this opinion is, with slight modification, repeated in the Yoreh De'ah
Blasphemy in Jewish Law (for Noahides)
Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein
After discussing the Seven Laws as Categories, Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein attempts define which of the 613 laws, based on Maimonides' Book of Divine Commandments, would fall under the Noahide Prohibition of Homicide and therefore apply to Noahides, he says that perhaps the best way to achieve some insights into this area is to undertake an empathetic re-reading of the job narrative, wherein the frame of mind that is ripe for blasphemy is depicted.:
Whether Job should be thought of as a historical figure or as a character of literature only, is a question which the earliest commentators raise. They discuss also whether Job was, or represents, a Jew or Gentile. If Gentile, then the temptation to blaspheme pictured in the episode concerns the Blasphemy of Noahism. In any event, one may assume that the psychological realities of blasphemy are largely the same for the Israelite and the Noahite. However, the legalistic aspects may differ.
The Talmud records a complicated exchange of views over this possibility:
- Our Rabbis taught: (Any man that curseth his G-d, shall bear his sin,' it would have been sufficient to say): 'A man, etc:' What is taught by the expression 'any man?' The inclusion of heathens, to whom blasphemy is prohibited just as to Israelites: and they are executed by decapitation; for every death penalty decreed for the sons of Noah is -only by decapitation.
- Now, is (the prohibition of blasphemy to heathens) deduced from this verse? But it is deduced from another, viz., 'The L-rd,' referring to the 'blessing' of the Divine Name. - R. Isaac the smith replied: This phrase ('any man') is necessary only as teaching the inclusion of substitutes of G-d's name, and the Baraitha is taught in accordance with R. Meir's views. For it has been taught: 'Any man that curseth his G-d shall bear his sin.' Why is this written? Has it not already been stated. 'And he that blasphemeth the name of the L-rd, he shall surely be put to death?' Because it is stated, 'And he that blasphemeth the name of the L-rd shall surely be put to death,'l might think that death is meted out only when the ineffable Name is employed. Whence do I know that all substitutes (of the ineffable Name) are included (in this law)? From the verse,'Any man that curseth his G-d' - shewing culpability for any manner of blasphemy (even without uttering the Name, since the Name is not mentioned in this sentence): this is the view of R. Meir. But the Sages maintain: (Blasphemy) with use of the ineffable Name, is punishable by death: with the employment of substitutes, it is the object of an injunction, (but not punishable by death).
- This view (of R. Isaac the smith) conflicts with that of R. Miyasha; for R. Miyasha said: If a heathen (son of Noah) blasphemed, employing substitutes of the ineffable Name, he is in the opinion of the Sages punishable by death. Why so? – Because it is written, 'as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land (when he blasphemeth the name of the L-rd, shall be put to death).' This teaches that only the stranger (i.e., a proselyte) and the native (i.e., a natural born Israelite) must utter the ineffable Name; but the heathen is punishable even for a substitute only. But how does R. Meir interpret the verse, 'as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land'? - It teaches that the stranger and citizen are stoned, but a heathen is decapitated. For I would think, since they are included (in the prohibition,) they are included (in the manner of execution too): hence we are taught otherwise. Now how does R. Isaac the smith interpret the verse, 'as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land', on the view of the Rabbis? - It teaches that only a stranger and a native must revile the Name by the Name, but for a heathen this is unnecessary. Why does the Torah state'any man?'- The Torah employed normal human speech.
In his decision, Maimonides maintains that legalistic dissimilarities do exist in this connection. He writes:
- A Noahite who blasphemes the name is culpable, regardless of whether he blasphemes the Tetragrammaton or any alternate name in any language; but this is not so for the Israelite.
Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein says the most significant difference between Blasphemy under Noahism and Blasphemy for Jews rests with quite another contrast: Blasphemy as a division of the Noahide code represents a whole array of concepts and directives which are not intrinsic to Blasphemy under Israelite law. Contributing to such a view are the words of Reuben Margolioth (see below)
Based on this view of Blasphemy, the following imperatives can be added to the list of those having Noahide application:
1. "...to acknowledge the existence of G-d." Positive 1.
2. "...to fear G-d." Positive 4.
3. "...to pray to Him." Positive 5.
4. "...to sanctify G-d's name [in face of death, where appropriate.]" Positive 9.
5. "...against desecrating G-d's name [even in face of death, when appropriate.]" Negative 63.
6. "...to study the Torah . . . " Positive 11.
7. "...to honor the scholars, and to revere one's teacher." Positive 209.
8. "...against blaspheming." Negative 60.
Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh
Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein quotes Rabbi Elijah Benamozegh on Maimonides' disinction. In an attempt to make this distinction comprehensible, Rabbi Benamozegh writes:
- From the universal view of primitive monotheism that Judaism holds, we know that it was the different appellations of the unique G-d which engendered the different religions. Little by little, the variety and multiplicity of divine names caused men to believe that these words - which originally expressed but differing attributes of the single G-d - represented each a distinct, independent personage, as happened later in Christianity when the councils defined the Trinity. The Jewish doctrine, while proclaiming all these transcriptions of G-d's name legitimate, returns humanity to its beginnings; beneath the divers religions, which it respects but among which it sustains so much antagonism, it reclaims the fundamental unity. And nothing is more characteristic in this regard than the law on blasphemy, which forbids the Gentile to blaspheme not only the names of the G-d of Israel but also the names of the many pagan divinities, from which names Judaism teaches its faithful to find fragments of & divine truth.
It is difficult to judge Benamozegh's explanation, because he neglects to document or to fully substantiate his idea. A simpler and more direct approach to the distinction would be the following: One may assume that prior to the exile, and even after, every Israelite had an acquaintance of sorts with Hebrew, and that at the very least he knew the Tetragrammaton, G-d's proper name. As a result, any blasphemous pronouncement directed at one of the alternate names might indicate some reservation or hesitancy. Such a hint of restraint accruing to the Israelite could be technically sufficient to protect him from culpability. The Noahite, however, generally would not be expected to be very familiar with Hebrew or the Tetragrammaton. Consequently, a blasphemy involving any popular name of G-d would yield no evidence of reservations in the vehemence of such a declaration by a Noahite, and he would be subject to penalty.
Rabbi Reuben Margolioth
Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein says the most significant difference between Blasphemy under Noahism and Blasphemy for Jews rests with quite another contrast: Blasphemy as a division of the Noahide code represents a whole array of concepts and directives which are not intrinsic to Blasphemy under Israelite law. Contributing to such a view are the words of Reuben Margolioth:
- "Justice, Blasphemy, Idolatry…" It is astonishing that there is no mention here of that principal principle, the most fundamental of fundamentals: the belief in the existence of G-d! For regardless of whether the Ten Commandment phrase "I am the L-rd your G-d," is counted as a separate Positive Command, as Maimonicles maintains, or whether it is not counted as a separate Positive Command, as the author of Halakhoth Gedoloth maintains, in any event it is the belief in G-d which must serve as the foundation for all the commands and prohibitions .... It would seem, therefore, that it is to be reckoned as part of the law on blasphemy.
Two aspects of Margolioth's statement require attention. The first is that he obligates the Noahite to believe in a Divine Being; the second is that this obligation is seen as a concomitant of the Blasphemy law. In the first part of his statement Margolioth is not alone, for various writers ascribe to Noahism an obligation to believe in G-d. Probably, the earliest explicit mention of this view is found in the introduction to the tractate Berachoth, penned by the Gaon Nisim.
- Whatever is a matter of common sense and native intelligence has been incumbent upon mankind from the very day that G-d placed man on earth .... Concerning the Seven Laws which are exegetically derived, not all of them really required revelation, as for example, the obligation to recognize the L-rd, the obligation to obey Him, and the obligation to worship Him, all of which are rooted in native intelligence; and for example, Homicide and Theft which would be prohibited as a matter of native intelligence...
Aaron HaLevi of Barcelona concurs with the general aspects of this theme, when he considers the Noahites bound by the commandment on the fear of G-d. He writes:
- Imperative 430, that the fear of G-d be upon us always .... This imperative is in effect at all places, at all times, and for all manner of men, this being one of the commands that are incumbent on mankind with constancy - its obligation never ceasing even for one moment…
There is general support, then, for the first part of Margolioth's statement, that Noahites are expected to believe in G-d. Now where does this requirement fit in the scheme of the Seven Laws? Nisim Gaon does make it clear that the belief in G-d is somehow an integral part of one of the Seven Laws, and not an independent appendage to them, when he writes, of the obligation to believe in G-d, that it would have been deduced logically if it had not been established by the Seven Laws. Apparently, Nisim Gaon sees it in the Seven Laws. Where? Margolioth's answer is, with the law of Blasphemy.
Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein says there is much good sense to his grouping the belief in G-d with the Blasphemy area, and not with the Idolatry area, which is the only other that might harbor it. The logic at work in this categorization is that the Idolatry area regulates man's theistic affairs in his relationship with the mundane, and that the Blasphemy area regulates man's theistic affairs in his relationship with the Divine.
This conception of the division of labor between Blasphemy and Idolatry brings to the fore an obvious problem in terminology. Why select Blasphemy for the name or title of the area regulating man's theistic affairs in his relationship with G-d? Belief in G-d would seem to be a far better general title; why is the belief in G-d included under the Blasphemy law instead of having a blasphemy law included under the Belief in G-d? A , short statement in Sanhedrin 58b obviates this question, it reads, "Only the negative imperatives - but not the positive - are enumerated among the Seven Laws of Noah." Or, rendered more concisely, "Only the don'ts, but not the do's, are mentioned." The proper interpretation must be: Only the don'ts qualify for inclusion in the Noahic code as title laws, such as Theft, Homicide, Blasphemy, and so forth. It would be difficult to interpret this statement as excluding from Noahide legislation all of those do's which are implicit sub-divisions within the seven title laws. This becomes obvious when one glances at the numerous do's which are listed throughout this study as having application for the Noahites, and to believe in G-d is such a do.
There may be a profound reason for the stress on the don'ts in Noahism; no attempt at fathoming it need be made here. Whatever its reason, it is sufficient for the purposes of the problem at hand to note that the Talmud attests to that singular peculiarity in its codification of the Noahic law wherein the statutes are organized around a number of dont's. This, then, solves the problem raised above: the area which regulates man's theistic affairs in his relationship with G-d is not grouped around the belief in G-d because this would give the area a do title. Instead, the area is grouped around "don't blaspheme", which proscribes the extreme among the unacceptable modes of conduct relating to G-d.
Rabbi Menahern Azariah da Fano
Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein says further substantiation for Margolioth's broad conception of Blasphemy is found in Da Fano's treatment of the enigmatic "thirty laws of the Noahites." The phrase, "thirty laws of the Noahites," is mentioned but once in the Babylonian Talmud, Hullin 92, and only three of the thirty are disclosed there. Da Fano seeks to demonstrate that the seven law idea is not necessarily at variance with the thirty law idea. He begins by compiling a list totaling thirty laws which the Noahites must uphold - many of which the Talmud relegated to minority opinion. Then Da Fano proceeds to distribute these thirty among the seven basic Noahic areas and indicates thereby that the thirty constitute specific bylaws, offshoots of the larger seven. Under Blasphemy, Da Fano lists the following two bylaws: (a) to study the Torah (meaning the Noahic Law); (b) to honor the Torah (meaning to respect scholars and teachers of Torah).
That Noahites are obligated to show respect for the scholar, Da Fano obviously derives from the mention of this obligation among the three of the thirty, discussed in Hullin 92. The relevant lines read, ". . . and one of these laws [which the Noahites do observe] is that they show respect for the Torah." That Noahites are required to study their laws, Da Fano apparently derives from the following Talmudic discourse:
- R. Johanan said: A heathen who studies the Torah deserves death, for it is written, Moses commanded us a law for an inheritance; it is our inheritance, not theirs. Then why is this not included in the Noachian laws? - On the reading morasha (an inheritance) he steals it; on the reading me'orasah (betrothed) he is guilty as one who violates a betrothed maiden, who is stoned. An objection is raised: R. Meir used to say, Whence do we know that even a heathen who studies the Torah is as a High Priest? From the verse, '(Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments:) which, if man do, he shall live in them.' Priests, Levites, and Israelites are not mentioned, but men: hence thou mayest learn that even a heathen who studies the Torah is as a High Priest! - That refers to their own seven laws.
But irrespective of these sources, it is noteworthy that Da Fano designates Blasphemy as the heading under which those two requirements belong. In so doing, Da Fano like Margolioth views Blasphemy as covering the broader aspects of the G-d/man relationship. The fear of G-d is such an aspect; and, by extension,, the study of G-d's will (i.e., the law) is such an aspect; and by further extension, the veneration of those who teach G-d's will is such an aspect.
Chaim Clorfene and Yakov Rogalsky
Rabbis Clorfene and Rogalsky's work "The Path of the Righteous Gentile" they state: Blasphemy is the act of cursing the Creator. It is a deed so indescribably heinous that the Talmud, whenever referring to blasphemy, calls it by the euphemistic term "blessing G-d," to avoid directly expressing the idea of cursing G-d, the Father of all.
2. Blasphemy is the only means by which one transgresses the Seven Universal Commandments through the faculty of speech alone.
3. Blasphemy falls into the category of revenge. When someone is harmed by a person and seeks revenge, he may shout at the person or curse him. If the harm is great, the one seeking vengeance may not be satisfied by words alone but may physically strike out at the one who harmed him. In extreme cases, the vengeful person may not be satisfied till he kills. This is between a man and his neighbor. Between man and G-d it is somewhat different. Man cannot kill G-d nor can he strike Him physically. The ultimate revenge that man can take against G-d is to curse Him. Therefore, blasphemy is seen as the expression of the desire to hurt G-d, even to erase His existence or murder Him.
4. The prohibition against blasphemy comes to teach us not to speak evil against G-d nor to detract from His exaltedness in any way by intentionally using words to lessen the reverence and faith that are due Him.
5. As with any of the Seven Universal Commandments, before one can be tried in a court of law for having transgressed a commandment, there must be a witness to the deed who is willing to testify against the accused. This poses a problem, for how can the witness testify against the accused unless he repeats the blasphemous expression used, which would be a further transgression of this commandment?
6. In the Jewish courts of law, the matter was handled in the following manner. The witnesses during the entirety of the trial were directed to use a euphemistic phrase for the actual blasphemous utterance that they heard, eliminating reference to G-d in the phrase. Then, at the conclusion of the proceedings, the courtroom was cleared of all but those essential to the trial, and the witnesses were obliged to repeat the actual blasphemy that they heard. Upon hearing the blasphemy, the judges rent their garments as one does for the death of a parent or any other tragedy that elicits grief.
7. Rabbi Chiya declared that after the destruction of the Second Temple, one who heard blasphemy was no longer required to rend his garments, otherwise all would be walking around with their garments in tatters.
8. The Code of Jewish Law, which is the final word in determining the religious obligations of the Jew, states that a person who hears blasphemy is commanded to place the blasphemer under a ban of excommunication, regardless of whether the blasphemy was uttered against G-d's Name or any of His Divine attributes, whether in the Hebrew language or any of the other languages of the world, or whether the blasphemer was a Jew or a Gentile. This ban of excommunication means that the person has no rights as a member of the community and that all are forbidden to speak to him.
9. Profaning the L-rd of Hosts with one's lips, G-d forbid, is a transgression similar to, but worse than, idolatry. Whereas idolatry is the act of worshiping a creation and thereby denying the true existence of the Creator, blasphemy is an acknowledgment of His existence but a denial of His greatness or His goodness. The blasphemer denies the truth that everything comes directly from G-d solely for mankind's benefit and as a bestowal of goodness. Often the goodness is unrevealed, as with a person's pain and suffering. At these times, one with a coarse consciousness or without a sufficient degree of faith in G-d can come to verbally express dissatisfaction with his lot through blasphemy, and thus transgress the law.
10. We see the essence of this problem in the Book of Job. Job, G-d's faithful servant, was struck by Satan with boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. As he sat in agony from the affliction, his wife scolded him, saying, "Are you still holding fast to your integrity? Curse G-d, and die." But he answered her, "You speak as one who is despicable. Should we accept only the good from G-d and not also accept the evil? With all this, Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:9‑10).
11. Consistent with this, it is a Jewish tradition to bless G-d for the bad as well as for the good. Even when, G-d forbid, one hears news of a person's death, he responds by saying, Baruch Dayan Emet (Blessed be the True Judge).
12. Blasphemy as an expression of an incomplete faith in G-d is epitomized by the false notion that there are two powers and two kingdoms, G-d's and Satan's. All such theology denies that G-d is the L-rd and Master of all.
13. The Book of Job shows clearly that G-d is the Ruler of Satan as well as of everyone and everything else, for when Satan wishes to test Job, he first petitions G-d for permission, whereby G-d sets definite boundaries for Satan, commanding him not to take Job's life, saying, "Behold, he is in thy hand, but guard his life" (Job 2:6).
14. The teaching in Christian theology that the evil force rebelled against the L-rd and set up a separate kingdom is tantamount to blasphemy, for it denigrates the Creator and denies His infinite majesty.
15. Some authorities state that false oaths or meaningless oaths whereby one invokes the Name of G-d are forbidden under the category of blasphemy. An example of a false oath would be for one to take an oath in G-d's Name that a tree is a rock, and a meaningless oath would be for one to swear in G-d's Name that a tree is a tree. There is a difference of opinion as to whether one who delays fulfilling an oath violates the law.
Transgressing the prohibition of blasphemy; piety
1. The prohibition of blasphemy is transgressed even if one uses another term for G-d, for example, an attribute or epithet such as the Merciful One, the Father, or any other descriptive term. No matter how one curses G-d, and no matter in what language, the one who transgresses this commandment is subject to the death penalty by a court of law.
2. If anyone acknowledges that an idolatry is true, even though he does not serve it, it is as if he reviles and blasphemes the mighty and exalted Name of G-d. Whether a person is an idolater or a blasphemer, it is the same in that both deny G-d.
3. One who blasphemes and instantly retracts his words is nonetheless guilty if he blasphemed in front of witnesses. If he blasphemes in private and his words are heard by no one other than himself and his Creator, let him repent and G-d will forgive his transgression.
4. One who curses G-d in the name of idolatry is subject to being attacked and killed by zealots, who are, in turn, held harmless by the law. But one who is not a zealot, but seeks reprisal against a transgressor because of a desire for justice, must begin proceedings through due process of law against the accused.
5. It should be the goal of every one of the Children of Noah to strive to do more than the minimum that the law requires, for this is the idea of piety, and one who accepts the responsibility of fulfilling the Seven Laws of Noah is called one of the pious of the nations. Bearing this in mind, a person is well advised to withhold speaking evil about his fellow man as well as against his Creator, for in G-d's image was man created, and one who reviles his fellow insults G-d as well. If, by words alone, one destroys a favorable picture of a person in another's mind, this is considered killing him. And it matters not whether the destructive words are true or false.
6. Striving to go beyond, the letter of the law has no limit, for the commandments of G-d are as deep as the ocean and as wide as the sky. Since everything in creation reflects the hand of the Creator, a truly pious person withholds himself from speaking negatively against anything. There are times, however, when it is appropriate and even mandatory to speak out against someone. For instance, when someone is engaged in wicked pursuits and it appears that others will follow his lead, then it becomes a great kindness and even an obligation to speak in condemnation of the transgressor. But in the main, gossip, calumny, and tale‑bearing, even when the statements are true, will stand in the way of the individual's spiritual and moral growth.m
Rabbi Yoel Schwartz (Jerusalem Court for Bnei Noah)
1. The prohibition against cursing G-d by His name or by any other substitute for His name.
2. The prohibition against denouncing G-d or his Torah;
3. The prohibition against asking philosophical questions about what occurred before the creation of the world.
We should only contemplate what has occurred since the creation (and not before). This is so that we can try to realize and grasp the greatness of the one true G-d as we have already previously mentioned;
4. It is prohibited to interbreed animals or plants that are not of the same species.
5. It is prohibited to take on or initiate a new religion. But Noahides, fulfilling the seven commandments (mitzvot), are not taking on a new religion since these seven commandments are mentioned in the Torah. Noahides may perform commandments that were given specifically to the Jews in the hope that they will be rewarded for them, provided that they don’t consider these actions obligatory. It is also important to note that according to some opinions there are some commandments that Noahides should not fulfill because they are connected with holiness and given specifically to Israel. These are the commandments of Tefillin and mezuzah. All agree that the child of Noah should not observe the seventh day of the week, Saturday, as Shabbat, as given to Israel as a day of rest, but it is appropriate for him to inculcate the message of the Shabbat, as will be explained further on. It is important to study the laws of the Torah that apply to Noahides. However they are prohibited from studying those parts of the Torah that don’t apply to them. This refers mainly to the oral law (Talmud, Rambam etc.) but also when reading the Bible it is better to skip those laws that don’t apply to them.
Blasphemy in Noahide Law
Black's Law Dictionary reads as follows in its definition of blasphemy:
- In general, blasphemy may be described as consisting in speaking evil of the Diety with an impious purpose to derogate from the divine majesty .... it is purposely using words concerning G-d calculated and designed to impair and destroy the reverence, respect, and confidence due to Him as the intelligent creator, governor, and judge of the world. It embraces the idea of detraction when used toward the Supreme Being, as "culumny" usually carries when applied to an individual.
There has been a recent tendency in Western countries to deviate from Noahide Law and repeal or reform blasphemy laws, and these laws are only infrequently enforced where they exist. Blasphemy laws - nowadays often altered to include blasphemy regardless of religion - exist in several countries, such as in:
- Austria (Articles 188, 189 of the penal code)
- Finland (Section 10 of chapter 17 of the penal code)
- Germany (Article 166 of the penal code, see also the Manfred van H. case)
- Blasphemy laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran
- Ireland (See: Irish Constitution)
- The Netherlands (Article 147 of the penal code)
- New Zealand (Section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961)
- Spain (Article 525 of the penal code)
- Switzerland (Article 261 of the penal code)
- The United Kingdom
- Denmark (Paragraph 140 of the penal code).
The United States
In the United States, the First Amendment guarantees a relatively unlimited right of free speech, although some US states still have blasphemy laws on the books. Chapter 272 of the Massachusetts General Laws states, for example:
- Section 36. Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of G-d by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching G-d, His creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of G-d contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.
The history of Maryland's blasphemy statutes suggests that even into the 1930s, the First Amendment was not recognized as preventing states from passing such laws. An 1879 codification of Maryland statutes prohibited blasphemy:
- Art. 72, sec. 189. If any person, by writing or speaking, shall blaspheme or curse G-d, or shall write or utter any profane words of and concerning our Saviour, Jesus Christ, or of and concerning the Trinity, or any of the persons thereof, he shall, on conviction, be fined not more than one hundred dollars, or imprisoned not more than six months, or both fined and imprisoned as aforesaid, at the discretion of the court.
According to the marginalia, this statute was adopted in 1819, and a similar law dates back to 1723. In 1904, the statute was still on the books at Art. 27, sec. 20, unaltered in text.. As late as 1939, this statute was still the law of Maryland. It is unclear from the statutes and notes when Maryland's blasphemy statute was last prosecuted.
The last person to be jailed in the United States for blasphemy was Abner Kneeland in 1838, as decided by the Massachusetts case Commonwealth v. Kneeland. However, this was prior to the ratification of the 14th Amendment incorporating the Bill of Rights to apply to the states and not just the federal government.
The US Supreme Court in Joseph Burstyn, Inc v. Wilson 1952 held that the New York State blasphemy law was an unconstitutional prior restraint on freedom of speech. The court stated that "It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches or motion pictures."
Blasphemy laws in England have never been repealed. The last person in Britain to be sent to prison for blasphemy was John William Gott on 9 December 1921. He had three previous convictions for blasphemy when he was prosecuted for publishing two pamphlets which satirised the biblical story of Jesus entering Jerusalem (Matthew 21:2-7), comparing Jesus to a circus clown. He was sentenced to nine months' hard labour.
In 1977, Denis Lemon, the editor of Gay News was found guilty of blasphemous libel for publishing a poem (Whitehouse v. Lemon). Lemon was fined £500 and sentenced to a suspended sentence of nine months imprisonment. It had been "touch and go", said the judge, whether he would actually send Lemon to jail.
The last prosecution for blasphemy in Scotland was in 1843.
Among Muslim-majority countries, Pakistan has the strictest anti-blasphemy laws. In 1982, President Zia ul-Haq introduced Section 295B to the Pakistan Penal Code punishing "defiling the Holy Qur'an" with life imprisonment. In 1986, Section 295C was introduced, mandating the death penalty for "use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet".
In 1990 the Federal Shari’ah Court ruled that the penalty should be a mandatory death sentence, with no right to reprieve or pardon. This is binding, but the government is yet to formally amend the law, which means that the provision for life sentence still formally exists, and is used by the government as a concession to critics of the death penalty. In 2004, the Pakistani parliament approved a law to reduce the scope of the blasphemy laws. The amendment to the law means that police officials will have to investigate accusations of blasphemy to ensure that they are well founded, before presenting criminal charges.
However, the law is used against political adversaries or personal enemies, by Muslim fundamentalists against Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, or for personal revenge. Especially Ahmadi Muslims are victims of the blasphemy law. They claim to be Muslims themselves, but under the blasphemy law, they are not allowed to use Islamic vocabulary or rituals.
The Pakistani Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission complained in July 2005 that since 1988, some 650 people had been falsely accused and arrested under the blasphemy law. Moreover, over the same period, some 20 people accused of the same offense had been killed. As of July 2005, 80 Christians were in prison accused of blasphemy.
Christians in Pakistan protested Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code as blasphemous, with support of Muslims as well. On 3 June, 2006, Pakistan banned the film.
- Lev. xxiv. 10-23
- Mishnah Sanh. vii. 5
- Sanh. 56a
- Kid. 71a
- Mishnah Sanh. ib.
- Mishnah Sanh. ib.
- Sanh. 56a
- Sanh. 60a
- Sanh. ib.
- "Teshuvot Geonei Mizrah Uma'arav," collected by Joel Muller, No. 103
- Yoreh De'ah (340,37)
- Lichtenstein, Aaron. "The Seven Laws of Noah". New York: The Rabbi Jacob Joseph School Press and Z. Berman Books, 2d ed. 1986
- Benamozegh, Israel et L'Hurnanite, page 684
- Sefer Hahinnukh, Commandment 70
- Mishnah Sanhedrin, 7:5
- Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 60a
- Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah, 340, law 37
- Book of Commandments, Rambam (Maimonides), Negative Commandment 317
- Mishnah Brachot. 9:5
- Ibid., 9:2; Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim, chapter 222, law 2
- Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, chapter 10, law 7, Mishneh l'Melech, "Isaw..."
- Jerusalem Talmud, Nazir, chapter 9, law 1, Pnei Moshe, "Israel should not delay..."
- Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, chapter 9, law 3
- Ibid., Laws of Idolatry, chapter 2, law 6
- Ibid., law 9
- Note: A zealot is one who serves G-d with a selfless, passionate love and is jealous for G-d's honor. Reacting to a desecration of G-d's Name, the zealot takes immediate action to stop the desecration. If one has to ponder the situation or ask the opinion of another, wiser than he in such matters, his hesitation or intellectual inquiry takes him out of the category of the zealot, and he is forbidden to take action. The scriptural source for the action of a zealot is seen in the heroics of Phineas, who stopped a plague among the Children of Israel when he slew a prince of the tribe of Simeon and the Midianite woman with whom he was having forbidden sexual relations (Num. 25:7‑8).
- Job 11:9
- Horev, Rabbi S. R. Hirsch, chapter 90, notes 582‑584
- Ibid., chapter 53, notes 386‑392
- Noahide Commandments by Rabbi Yoel Schwartz, Translated by Yitzhak A. Oked Sechter, Reviewed and corrected by Yechiel Sitzman in consultation with Rabbi Yoel Schwartz
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, third edition. 5t. Paul: West Publishing Company.