First Contact: First Revelation
It came before everything, the first Revelation of God’s “Teaching,” “Way,” or “Torah”: God informs all mankind (naturally, “mankind” takes in the whole family of man, including woman; the whole species), “in the image of God made He man.”
See Genesis 9:6. God declares:
B’tzelem (in the image of) Elo[k]im (God, literally, “the Powers” or “High Ones”: the all-powerful Hebrew deity El, the Ultimate Being, the Maker of All Things) asaw es Ha’Adam (made He man).
Put it this way: “B’tzelem elo[k]im asaw es ha’Adam, in the image of God made He man.”
Everything follows from this. The Golden Rule and the sheva mitzvot of the Noahide Law - the seven commandments (the mitzvot or, literally, “connections” with God) that make up the universal Torah – along with the all the so-called “rational” commandments, laws and ordinances of the Torah, together with the basis for the “priestly mission” of Israel – they all flow from here.
Please consider: If, God-forbid, God had made us God-like, in His holy image, but never Revealed it to us, the Golden Rule and the 7M wouldn’t make any sense. If God hadn’t open our eyes to the very basis of His laws, He couldn’t make us responsible for keeping them.
The Laws are Obvious
This is the great principle unifying principle of the Noahide laws. They all prohibit acts that refute – that contradict; that make a mockery of – the true principle that man knows or should know that he exists b’tzelem Elokim, made in God’s image, a semi-sacred being.
Unfortunately, we rarely see other writers make this point, that the Noahide Law is inherently obvious and logical; that anyone with any real respect for mankind should want to suppress any violation of these laws, everything – every single thing - that refutes this guideline. If God holds us responsible for knowing that we’re b’tzelem Elokim, made in His image, He makes us responsible for recognizing and outlawing the common crimes that contradict it.
Certainly, we appreciate that, despite their obviousness, these laws are controversial.
Consider the Universal Law against man-boy sex – against boys or men having sex with each other.
This, the Torah says, is perversion – to’eva, in Hebrew; “abomination,” like stealing from an orphan or blind man, say, or, e.g., presenting some repulsive sacrificial offering (like a human offering) – not just deviant behavior but perverse, oppressive behavior.
Indeed, all the Noahide crimes – the violations that contradict the seven universal laws – are to’eva, abominable. They are all cardinal sins - very serious sins - about as bad as it gets.
The general term for all the Noahide sex crimes is “incest.” The connotation, obviously, is wrongful misuse of human sex drives, at approximately the same level of awfulness and wrongfulness as an act of incest. The Sages of the Torah call all these crimes aroyot – “forbidden relations,” but “forbidden relations” with a twist of special intensity: giluy aroyot, essentially, aggravated forbidden relations; forbidden relations that are grotesque and despicable.
Besides man-boy sex, God – speaking through His prophets and Torah Revelation - asserts that these, the following, are the Noahide sex crimes. We can’t say which are most heinous; we list them in no particular order of heinousness.
·Adultery (a man having sex with another man’s wife – that is, with the mate who lives under the same roof with him);
·Incest (sex acts between very close family-members); and
· Bestiality, any human being, man or woman, having any kind of sexual relations with any animal.
(As for rape, it’s probably better regarded as a Noahide theft crime, like assault and battery, say, or criminal vandalism, as opposed to a crime of "incest.")
Put it this way, every society is supposed to know enough to outlaw – even if it can’t eradicate – the following:
· man-boy sex
What does it mean, to outlaw? It means that, even though we all recognize that we’ll probably never eliminate such conduct – in this case, the conduct that constitutes “incest” - we still need to address it. To fail to enforce sanctions against it is to make it licit, permitted, OK. And the society that makes these things OK is, to that extent, a sick, self-crippled society.
So… leaders and kings and and parliaments and legislatures must necessarily – this is the point of the Noahide Law system, that every grown-up man has a stake in government, to make and keep the laws, and do justice - pass ordinances to try to drive to’eva/perversion underground.
So long as society doesn’t make to’eva/perversion legitimate, so long as it has in place some prohibition against it, to enforce even at the level of a parking ticket – just so long as no one can say that society “approves” some Noahide crime, that the citizenry says "OK" to any of them – each nation has great leeway. The object should always be to accomplish justice. Every nation has its own history and needs, so every nation needs to determine the details of its laws itself and how to enforce them most justly.
Scholars of law say that government should never inflict punishment greater than the least amount of punishment necessary to accomplish the law’s object; that anything more than necessary is excessive and unjust.
Some people dismiss these prohibitions - one or all of the four “incest” prohibitions above-listed – as mere narrow-minded cultural prejudice. They point to the Law against man-boy sex and ask, is two boys “having sex” with each other really that different from two girls “doing the same thing” – that is, “having sex” - with each other?
Yes! Not to gross out anyone, but consider the actual - physical -acts involved, between the two females and the two males. Other than the fact of sexual arousal, they aren’t remotely the same thing! A man or boy who “lies with man as with woman” (Leviticus 18:22) uses or is used by another man or boy as a woman. When a woman or girl “rolls with woman” (Talmud, Yevamot 76a), nobody uses another person other than as who and what she is.
Lesbian sex is, if anything, less dramatic than what happens when a woman has sex with an impotent man. Man-boy sex, on the other hand, is penile sex; sex involving the penis, and one or another bodily orifice. Man-boy sex frequently causes real physical pain and harm, from the tearing of bodily tissue; it’s also a horrific vector for the transmission of disease. The men and boys who commit this sin also tend to be quite promiscuous, in having sex with many other men and boys; none of this is true of lesbian sexual activity.
Or take adultery, for instance. The man who engages in sexual relations with the wife of another man, or the wife who has sex with some man other than her husband, commits a Noahide crime. It’s a radically different kind of act than - say – that committed by the husband who has sex with another women, with a mistress or girlfriend, say, before coming home to his wife, or – for another example - the wife who “cheats” on her husband by “having sex” not with a man but with another woman.
Nothing complicates relations between men and boys like the prospect of one using or wanting to use the other as a woman – or wanting to be used, by the other boy or man, as a woman. Nothing diminishes wholesome family life like the lady of the house having sex with a man outside the family.
Certainly, we think, a husband who violates his marriage oath by philandering acts disgracefully. So does the wife who “rolls” with another woman. But one may sometimes act in a disgraceful, sinful way yet still not violate the Universal Law.
Commonplace things like prostitution or masturbation, say, or unconventional sex play, or sex between a couple during the lady’s menses, or conventional male philandering (the non-adulterous, non-incestuous kind), don’t undercut boys and women or derange the dynamics of human social intercourse – or, simply put, “harm the family” - like “incest” in the larger sense: adultery, man-boy sex, incest, and bestiality.
Why These Sins?
Why these particular sins? God, speaking in His own voice, through Moses, mentions some reasons why men need to suppress these four sex crimes: that, beyond constituting lewdness, as perversions of the sexual drives that He Himself has blessed, they positively, powerfully, foster lewdness: they fill the Earth with lewdness. (God loves modesty, particularly sexual modesty, as opposed to everything that is unnecessarily immodest, dirty-minded, or sex-obsesssed.)
We should also be capable of recognizing that all the four kinds of “incest” contradict the principle we’re discussing: that man knows or should know that he and his fellows were created to be holy; that he and his fellow in some ways resemble God.
Probably, to go against God by committing any of these sex crimes, doesn’t do a person’s soul a lot of good. But the Seven Laws are “social laws.” That is, they focus less on the spiritual aspirations of the individual than on the wholesomeness and decency of society at large. The sinner can repent and return to godly ways. But the society that doesn’t suppress the Noahide sex crimes will suffer.
Take man-boy sex, say. The nation that makes it licit, by not outlawing it, makes boys and men sexually permissible to each other.
This exact thing transpired in the United States not that long ago, mostly between 1968 and 1971. Has America, would you say, become cruder, lewder or more dirty-minded since – as the Torah would predict? Or, speaking of the obvious, doesn’t it obviously undercut men and boys - by making it radically more difficult for them to establish conventionally wholesome, non-sexual friendships and co-operative relations with each other?
We have, if we do say so, written some penetrating things about man-boy sex in Rainbow Covenant, by the way. Turn to page 164.
God gave the Torah to the Jewish People so that all nations might benefit from it. – Midrash Tanchuma (ancient rabbinic commentary), Devarim 3.
First Covenant, dedicated to the fullfillment of the Divine Plan and the greater glory of God