The mitzvah of dinim, civil law, is one of the trickiest of the Noahide laws to both define and understand in terms of its real world applications. Much of this difficulty is historical in origin. Since the Jewish world has always maintained and used its own religious courts to judge monetary disputes, there was never a practical occasion or need to address the Noahide laws of dinim. This was the case until 1550 when a legal dispute prompted a massive evaluation by scholars of Noahide dinim.
The Basics of Dinim
Although the Talmud reads the earliest reference to dinim from Genesis 2:16, the Torah is abound with references to the concept and need for justice. For example, Genesis 9:5-6:
I will certainly demand the blood of your lives; at the hand of every beast I shall require it, and at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man's brother, I shall require the life of man.
Whoever spills a man's blood, by man shall his blood be spilled...
This verse clearly states a judgment and punishment for a murderer, requiring the punishment to be carried out at the hands of man. The Midrash expounds upon many other examples of pre-Sinaitic expectations for justice. Maimonides distills these allusions into the following description from Hilchos Melachim 9:14:
How do the gentiles fulfill the commandment to establish laws and courts? They are obligated to set up judges and magistrates in every major city to render judgment concerning these six mitzvot and to admonish the people regarding their observance.
A gentile who transgresses these seven commands shall be executed by decapitation. For this reason, all the inhabitants of Shechem were obligated to die. Shechem kidnapped. They observed and were aware of his deeds, but did not judge him.
Maimonides’s makes three very important points:
1) They are obligated to appoint judges and magistrates in every major city… Dinim obligates Noahides in the establishment of courts.1 The purpose of these courts, and indeed the essence of dinim, is to establish order between man and his fellow. This is because God places more emphasis on harmony between men than between Himself and man. Rashi2 points out that this is the reason the generation of the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, while the generation of the Tower of Bavel was only dispersed. In the times of the flood and of Sodom and Gomorrah, the main sins were between man and his fellow. Therefore, they were destroyed. However, in the times of the tower, their sins were primarily between man and God, therefore God was lenient with them.
2) …to render judgment concerning the other six mitzvos… What is the content of the laws of dinim? Maimonides states that these laws are fundamentally procedural: they apply to the courts and consist of rules and methods for administering judgment for the other Noahide laws. It does not appear, according to Maimonides, that dinim includes matters of substantive law – actual prohibitions or demands on societal or individual behavior.
3) … and to admonish the people in their observance. It is a requirement of the courts to engage in public education of the Noahide laws.3
According to Maimonides, it appears that Noahide courts fulfilling these three fundamental purposes meet the standards for dinim. However, this proposition is
not so simple. The question of content, point #2 above gets us into complicated waters.
1 See Sanhedrin 56b.
2 Gen. 11:9.
3 See Chemdas Yisrael 9:29; Machaneh Chaim II:22.
For a far more in-depth and advanced study of all the Seven Noahide Laws consider taking the Noahide Laws Yeshiva Course.