Sorcery, mixing species, castration
In the discussion surrounding the canonical enumeration of the Noachide Commandments in the Talmud, from which comes the seven universal laws that we all know about today, different scholars had their own views on what needed to be included in the listing.
Besides the laws we now have –
against murder, stealing, depraved dining, “incest,” depraved worship and sacrilege defaming the very concept of divinity, and anarchy (or, giving a free hand to oppression and injustice)
– arguments came up for including sorcery, as the Torah prohibits sorcery (Deuteronomy 18), against emasculation (Leviticus 22:24, Deuteronomy 23:2), and “the forbidden mixture” of mixed-breeding species (Leviticus 19:19, Deuteronomy 22).
None of them made the cut. But we should consider the thinking of the Sages, that these three Torah prohibitions, designed to elevate Israel as “kingdom of priests and holy nation” apply, in essence, to all Creation; that they matter so much to God, prohibiting acts so abhorrent to Him and poisonous to the world, that every nation should ban them.
Just by glancing at the three together you get an inkling of what the Sages had in mind. In “Rainbow Covenant” we catalogued them all, not as separate criminal categories in themselves, but as different species of sacrilege, below the level of Noachide Law/Universal Law felonies: conduct defaming the inherent goodness of Creation.
Sorcery defames God. No deity worth worshipping would make a world where sorcery works, where reality operates like the sorcerer says it does.
To teach people to regard God’s Creation as a place where unfairness and irrationality rule, where self-proclaimed adepts with secret knowledge - supposedly giving them unique power over the ultimate forces of the universe - can make the world do different tricks…
Sorcery insults the wise order of Creation.
Mixing Species and Emasculation
The God Who gave us dominion over this planet requires us to respect His creatures’ basic nature. We have no right to tamper with the inherent goodness of Creation, the Divine order of the species, or the underlying nature of each being. -
We can’t improve on individuals by removing their masculinity, which changes their basic nature – and incidentally, obviously, also violates His will, already clearly expressed, and His pre-existing plan for them.
We can’t improve the individuals of any species by trying to breed them with another species. It violates His will, already clearly expressed, etc.
To hijack a being that was divinely designed to serve God as a male and neuter it for man’s pleasure, to convert it solely for human use, to creature a being neither male nor female….
To take a being designed to serve God “after its own kind” in the manner of its species, and join it to some other species, to try to create, for man’s pleasure, a newborn being of a new and artificial species….
Part of the point of the Seven Noachide Laws system as a whole is to ban hurtful acts against God’s good order – His wise, good order - of Creation.
The Seven Universal Laws
*Don’t take what’s not yours to take,
*don’t murder him whom God has made alive,
*don’t oppress others with your sexuality,
*don’t give a free hand to oppression and injustice,
*don’t eat or prepare food like a monster,
*and don’t do things that make the God Who made you regret that He made you (“sacrilege” and “strange worship”).
Transgressing any of these seven criminal categories, simply put, makes a mockery of God’s gift to man of dominion over planet Earth, and our “made in the [Divine] image” character.
Keeping the Seven Laws – not just to avoid committing awful felonies but to go where the Laws lead, to do the opposite of what the Laws forbid, to fight for goodness and justice and peace, etc. – helps improve the world. Violations do the opposite. And, as the Sages saw, these three things - sorcery, hybridizing species and castration - also tend away from improvement.
Nonetheless, the hallmark of God is freedom. The nations are supposed to learn from Israel’s wise Torah – “the Guidance” - but they’re not commanded to make its commandments their own Law.
In fact, sorcery, or witchcraft, is banned by lots of man-made laws in lots of places. But in the United States the Constitution protects many acts of sorcery as free speech, or the free exercise of religion.
Emasculating house pets, farm animals, strays and horses is an ages-old common practice almost everywhere.
Hybridizing species, from grafting vines to tangelos and weeping cherry trees to modern genetic engineering - mixing different species’ strands of DNA to create hybrids that couldn’t possibly exist in nature - is common too. The Torah forbids the Jewish people from engaging in them – but not other peoples.
Unless Noachides choose to personally refrain from them, or legislate a ban on them based strictly on a free will decision to do so, they can do as they please.
It’s different with the Seven Noachide Laws. There is no such thing as a good rape, a good murder, a good theft. (To take something that doesn’t belong to you to save life in an emergency usually does not constitute “theft,” so long as there’s intent to ultimately return it.) No act of “incest,” no suicide bombing to please Allah, can be justified. An idiot should know better than to tolerate any of the Seven Noachide Law sins. But you can’t say that about these three precepts.
It’s interesting that the Torah itself doesn’t put these things into the category of the worst crimes, the capital crimes. Which is, by the way, the clearest indication possible that they don’t come under any universal prohibition. Taking a wild animal that would otherwise need to be destroyed and changing it, radically, to tame it… Reciting words over a wound to bring a patient comfort, or imprecations over an enemy, to comfort oneself and the enemy’s other enemies… Bringing a donkey and a horse together to produce a mule….
Obviously, you can’t say, about these things, that “any idiot should know better.” Plainly, the world can – and should – learn from these three Torah prohibitions, but God doesn’t require their enactment.
What a Body of Law!
One more thing to take away from this study today. The Seven Noachide Laws are, obviously, a treasure beyond price, one of the greatest pearls of the Hebrew Revolution.
Just look at the great source-text, in the Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin, folio page 56: just seventeen (17) Hebrew syllables, bearing genius and inspiration on their face, encapsulating a complete criminal law code and standard for human morality and government and ethics, applying justly and equitably and in full force to all people at all times – that’s an accomplishment!
By the way, seventeen (17) syllables. To get a sense of that, take the Gettysburg Address, one of the greatest, shortest, most concise expressions of moral and historical genius in the English language. From President Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863, this is seventeen (17) syllables, plus one: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent….”
Naturally, the Seven Laws attract calumny with ignorance-based claims that they’re illegitimate, unsupportable “man-made” prohibitions, from over-reaching “so-called Sages” of Israel. But the logic of the Law itself contradicts all that nonsense.
You can see why the Seven Laws are indispensable. By looking further, at the process by which the Sages of Israel settled on the Seven, excluding other claimants, you see why it’s the Seven, and only the Seven, that have a claim on all humanity.
By Michael Dallen
Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things out of Your Torah.
Bless HaShem, all you His hosts; You ministers of His, that do His pleasure. Bless HaShem, all you His works.
My ordinances shall you do, and My statutes you shall keep, to walk in them: I am HaShem your God.