- Category: INTRODUCTION TO THE NOAHIDE LAWS
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II. "Blessing" the Name
One of the Laws not understood in the non-Torah world is the prohibition against “blessing”22 the name. In Sanhedrin 56a the Talmud describes the legal proceedings against a person who “blesses the name.” During the trial the chief witness is asked to tell the court what was said using a euphemism “may Yosi strike Yosi.” Once this is done the court is cleared and only the judges and the witnesses remain. The chief witness is asked to tell the court exactly what the person in question said without the euphemism, using instead the name of God. Once this is done the other witnesses will say “I too heard as him.”
The penalty for “blessing the name of God” is a death penalty. In the case of the Jewish person they are executed by stoning. In the case of the non-Jew he is always executed through decapitation;23which is considered a faster and less painful death than death by stoning.
Very often this Prohibition is confused with the prohibition in Shmot 20:724 against swearing falsely by God’s name. Swearing falsely by God’s name is much different but related to using God’s name to “bless” him.
Murder is the most destructive crime one person can commit against another. The effect of this crime is permanent and for the penitent only his or her own death can, in part, remove this stain on the human soul.
From the modern worlds view point it is not always clear what ought to be characterized as murder. Part of the problem is the common mistranslation of thou shalt not "kill", which is more general than "murder." Leading to pacifism, as well as the prohibition of death penalties, which is surely not sound from the Torah viewpoint, this misunderstanding is part of the confusion over what constitutes murder.
Although it is clear that murder is a great evil no matter what perspective you come from, your perspective will determine what is and is not murder. Murder is as relative as style without divine revelation. Anthropologists recognize moral relativity in cannibalistic cultures where eating members of competing tribes is not considered murder, but eating members of one’s own tribe is.
Moral relativism has brought to the surface an issue recognized by the Sages of Israel. Human reason although a powerful tool does not, on its own, reveal absolute moral truths. Only divine revelation can establish absolute moral truth. The exception is with the first two of the ten commandments: That God exists, and His Unity-which the Rambam claims are the only two commandments that human reason, unaided by revelation, are capable of learning on its own.25
Although it may seem as if this is incorrect because it is very naturally understood what murder means, but we must realize that we know what murder is because our culture has been shaped, in many ways, by the Tanach. We begin with generally correct notions. However, because our culture is becoming increasingly secular defining murder outside of the Tanach has become increasingly popular.
The popularity of secular reasoning has lead to an ambiguous definition of murder. The ethical discussion of murder has taken many strange turns. Most notable of the debates on the definition of murder is coming from the Abortion front (we will cover that later in this paper). Essentially “moral truth” is determined through voting.
It must be admitted that absolute moral truths are only truly known through revelation. God alone can tell us what is good and bad. We see that human beings are capable of mixing things up—sometimes intentionally.26 Human reason27 is not up to the task of determining moral truth. We must look to God for guidance. According to Judaism God’s guidance exists in a very practical format-Halachah.
Murder versus killing
There are two primary categories of death caused by humans to other humans. The first is killing and the other is murder. Killing, although not good, is distinct from murder in that it does not have the judgment of evil that murder does. Killing involves issues of self-defense, certain kinds of wars, and executing criminals. Murder is the intention of stealing the life of one human being for reasons not recognized as tolerable by God. Under Murder we find abortion, euthanasia, putting someone in harms way and so forth. There are wars where the killing is considered murder and is not excusable as simply killing as it might be for legitimate wars.
The heinousness of murder compels us to understand it in all of its facets. Controversy in our world over what is and is not murder surrounds us. Allowing the innocent to die because we do not correctly acknowledge acts of murder is reprehensible. It is our duty to understand what murder is.
Killing, although not good, is sometimes necessary. We will examine a variety of categories of types of killing and we will learn where killing is “allowed” and where it is not.
War is perhaps the best example of killing that may not be murder. However, war is also an excuse, often, for murder. Killing in a war is morally wrong when the object of that war is not just. If it is a grab for power or money or some other unjust reason killing in war is murder. A war may be just but individuals can still commit acts of murder. [while this is OK as far as it goes, it is NOT clear; it raises perhaps as many questions as it answers.]
If a person is attacked he has every right to protect himself. However, just because a person is attacked they do not have complete freedom to kill their attacker. Even if the attacker’s intent was to kill their victim this does not open the door to killing the attacker if you can stop the attacker by destroying one of his limbs then that is how he must be stopped. If there is no alternative then you are allowed to kill to protect your life or the life of someone else.